The Dangers of a Hasty Retreat from Afghanistan

Oct. 26 2020

As U.S.-backed negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban continue, and the latter engages in shows of force and deadly attacks, the White House has promised a steep draw down of American troops there. Noah Rothman explains the perils of a precipitous departure:

On Wednesday alone, Taliban forces killed 34 soldiers loyal to Kabul, including a provincial police chief, in overnight attacks in a province bordering Tajikistan. There were two Taliban-linked suicide car bombings in nearby Kandahar province on Wednesday amid sporadic engagements between terrorist elements and Afghan troops. And Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand province, has been host to frequent clashes between Taliban insurgents and government forces, and more than 200 casualties are now attributable to the fighting.

Americans are and have been eager to wash their hands of the seemingly fruitless conflict in Afghanistan, but a rushed withdrawal that is obviously timed for maximum domestic political benefit isn’t strategically sound. . . . Republicans accused Barack Obama of pursuing just such a heedless strategy in Iraq, and they were vindicated when U.S. troops were redeployed to that Middle Eastern country after the Islamic State militia spilled over the Syrian border and rapidly routed the unready Iraqi Security Forces. That should be a sobering legacy even for those who want out of Afghanistan regardless of the country’s security conditions.

The only thing worse than keeping troops in Afghanistan one minute longer would be having to go back at a time and place that is not of our choosing and in response to a grotesque human-rights violation or the revitalization of the transnational terrorist groups who call that country home.

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Read more at Commentary

More about: Afghanistan, Barack Obama, Iraq, Taliban, U.S. Foreign policy, War on Terror

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy