Barnett Rubin has a compelling analysis posted today, in which he argues that "the U.S. can have a confrontation with Iran or a chance for some success in Afghanistan. It cannot have both."
His reasoning is as follows:
The Iranian government has been preparing for the possible collapse of the much weakened Karzai government. They have been doing so mainly by providing extensive military and political assistance to the former Northern Alliance, the grouping of commanders supported by Iran, Russian, and India that was funded by the U.S. to occupy the territory vacated by Taliban and al-Qaida fleeing U.S. air strikes in the fall of 2001. Iran denies the charges by the U.S. that it is aiding the Taliban, but it may well be doing so despite longstanding enmity because it now gives a higher priority to creating problems for a U.S. that it sees as bent on forcible regime change.In other words, yet again the Bush administration are looking like they will throw away any chance of winning the original war to pursue a war of choice in the Middle East, just as they did in Iraq.
U.S. officials may be deceived by the illusion of stability in northern and western Afghanistan. If those areas are quiet, it is because Northern Alliance leaders, under pressure from both the U.S. and Iran, have placed a premium on keeping the anti-Taliban coalition together and have only intermittently openly opposed the government. A U.S. attack on Iran may change this calculus. While some northern leaders will try to maintain an agenda independent of Iran, which is not popular in Afghanistan, the region could quickly move out of government control, as it did when these same commanders' calculus changed in January 1992.
...where are the Democrats and sensible Republicans? It's time to amend the Authorization for the Use of Military Force to make clear that it does not authorize a pre-emptive war on Iran. Congress should also stop the policy of crop eradication that is driving Afghans into the arms of the Taliban while actually increasing the size of the opium economy, Congress should shift the funding allocated for eradication to alternative development. At the moment, according to Bergen and Lalwani, in the new U.S. Strategy for Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan:The increased funds set aside in the new plan to help farmers find alternative livelihoods -- $50 million to $60 million -- are woefully inadequate and constitute a paltry 6% of American counter-narcotics spending in Afghanistan for 2007. Eradication continues to receive the largest share of the budget.It is difficult to see how the effort in Afghanistan can survive the Cheney-Bush administration's policies on Iran and narcotics. All who believe, as all Democratic presidential candidates and many Republicans claim, that the effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the core of our strategy against those who attacked us on 9/11, should be doing all they can to halt this course.