October 14, 2009

Hezbollah Isn't a Model for Afghanistan

According to the Washington Post, some White House foreign-policy hands may be willing to call it a day in Afghanistan if the U.S. military can beat the Taliban down into something that resembles Hezbollah. I suppose I can see why this appeals to those who know just enough about the Taliban to think it's possible, and just enough about Hezbollah to think it's desirable.

Hezbollah is moderate and almost reasonable compared with the Taliban. It participates in democratic politics and even conceded the most recent election to Lebanon's "March 14" coalition. Not even its worst fanatics throw acid in the faces of unveiled women as the Taliban does. Its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, doesn't require women to wear headscarves, let alone body-enveloping burkhas, in territory he controls. While the Taliban destroyed ancient Buddha statues in Bamyan with anti-aircraft guns in 2001, the Roman Empire's Temple of Bacchus, where Western imperialists used to hold pagan orgies, remains an unmolested tourist attraction bang in the middle of Hezbollah's Bekaa Valley stronghold. Oh, and Hezbollah hasn't killed any Americans in Lebanon lately.

So, yes, Afghanistan would be a better place if it suffered the likes of Hezbollah instead of the Taliban. But prosecuting a war for that outcome would be bonkers. Hezbollah is an Iranian proxy militia and a Lebanese guerrilla army that starts wars with the country next door and violently assaults its own capital. It's also a global terrorist network with cells on five continents.

Last year, authorities in Azerbaijan arrested Hezbollah operatives who planned to detonate car bombs alongside Baku's Hyatt Tower, where the Israeli, Japanese, and Thai embassies are located. Twenty-two members of an Egyptian Hezbollah cell are on trial right now for plotting terrorist attacks against tourists. A Hezbollah suicide car bomber killed 29 people at the Israeli embassy in Argentina in 1992, and another suicide bomber killed 85 more at a Jewish community center there two years later.

The Iraqi branch of Hezbollah is hardly an improvement over the Taliban. "Hezbollah kills civilians as well as Americans with total disregard for Iraqis," an American soldier told me in Baghdad recently. "I don't know why Hezbollah is so much more ruthless [than Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia], but they are."

A senior administration official said the Taliban is "a deeply rooted political movement in Afghanistan" and therefore must be treated differently from al-Qaeda. That's true of Hezbollah in Lebanon, but it's not true of the Taliban. The last thing a senior administration official should want is for it to become true of the Taliban.

Hezbollah isn't popular enough to win an election in Lebanon, not even as part of a diverse coalition of parties from more than one sect. Hezbollah is, however, supported to one extent or another by a majority in Lebanon's Shia community.

The Taliban's popularity, meanwhile, is around 6 percent in Afghanistan. Most Afghans and Pakistanis who submit to its rule do so because they've been conquered. The Taliban doesn't even have popular legitimacy in the ethnic Pashtun community it hails from. It is no more "deeply rooted" than al-Qaeda was in Iraq's Al Anbar.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 14, 2009 10:48 AM
Comments

Taking the easy way out was what drove the Vietnam effort into the ground too. This is stupid. It's antidemocratic, and it's an outside power helping a distinct, powerless minority dictate a disproportionate role in their society. At least with genuine imperialists, the distinct minority is friendly to the outside power. How is it that this administration is ending up courting all the drawbacks of open imperialism with none of the advantages? No, I'm not saying the US should just turn into an openly imperialistic power; what I'm saying is that this whole effort to paint themselves an being the opposite of the Bush policy is not only not achieving the goal of not looking imperialistic, but it's also turning the aftermath into the exact same sort of dysfunctional society that the ex Soviet Union left behind. Like I said, all of the bad factors and none of the gains.

It's stupid. Just plain stupid.

Posted by: ElMondo Author Profile Page at October 14, 2009 11:25 AM

Oh. And another thing:

"A senior administration official said the Taliban is "a deeply rooted political movement in Afghanistan""

Which was exported by Pakistani intelligence in order to further Pakistani goals.

Look, I actually don't argue the deep rooted part. Not after all these decades. But it's absolutely oblivious to paint the Taliban like it's a grass roots movement. Not with it's ultimate seeds having been sown by the ISI. That's just further stupidity.

Posted by: ElMondo Author Profile Page at October 14, 2009 11:28 AM

Thanks for the article, Michael.

Given the Taliban's low popularity in Afghanistan, who do you think is funding them? Some faction of the Pakistani government?

Posted by: AisA Author Profile Page at October 14, 2009 1:05 PM

AisA,

I don't know if the Taliban is still getting money from any ISI people, but they're definitely getting a huge amount of money from drugs.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at October 14, 2009 1:20 PM

According to the Washington Post, some White House foreign-policy hands may be willing to call it a day in Afghanistan if the U.S. military can beat the Taliban down into something that resembles Hezbollah

Yet more 'wisdom' from foreign hands, those malign gargoyles who are never fired and who never fade away. And, of course, they're all ignoring the fact that al Qaeda has mostly left Afghanistan, and is currently setting up shop in Yemen.

About a month ago, there was an article in Foreign policy, "Hitting Bottom in Foggy Bottom" that observed that our foreign policy hands are hopelessly incompetent. They follow old, outdated habits that never worked, and they're completely out of touch because they only focus on one country, ignoring what is going on in the rest of the world. The author suggested that the State Department is in such bad shape that the only way to fix it is to destroy it.

That would solve a lot of problems.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at October 14, 2009 2:53 PM

Hezbollah is, however, supported to one extent or another by a majority in Lebanon's Shia community.

Does anything happen to Lebanese Shia who don't support Hezbollah, or support an alternative Shia leadership?

Posted by: Solomon2 Author Profile Page at October 14, 2009 4:59 PM

Does anything happen to Lebanese Shia who don't support Hezbollah, or support an alternative Shia leadership?

Generally, no. But it depends. They can vote for whoever they want without getting into trouble.

Shias who actually run for office against Hezbollah, though, are severely suppressed.

There are no viable Shia leaders who challenge Hezbollah, but there are prominent Lebanese Shias in the March 14 movement who challenge Hezbollah. They just don't have their own parties with seats in parliament.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at October 14, 2009 5:14 PM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 10/15/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by: David M Author Profile Page at October 15, 2009 8:30 AM

When I first started hearing rumors that we were trying to get the insurgents in Anbar on our side, I thought it sounded ridiculous and counter-productive. And I was wrong. Normally I try not to be wrong in the same way twice. But since it is the state department coming up with this scheme this time rather than military strategists, i feel comfortable saying this idea is sounds ridiculous and counter-productive.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at October 15, 2009 11:38 AM

Hello, maryatexitzero...

From the Some Things Never Change Department:

I'm 78 years old and have been hearing that sentiment for a long as I can remember. ....which brings up the question of "careerists" versus short term political appointees...I'd seemingly prefer careerists for their experience, and leaven them with aggressive political appointees. But, good grief!....we then run the risk of such disastrous political appointees such as Hillary.
And, we run the risk of such as the entrenched Arabists wanting to tape over everyone else's mouth in their smug certitude. There is no one more smug than and old State hand. Wasn't it Stimson who said "Gentlemen don't read other gentlemen's mail?"
Additionally, someone very famous once said that Democracy is very messy and troublesome at times, but it's better than any alternative we've seen so far.
So we've got to continue to rely on our checks and balances. What else is there?

Posted by: Morningside Author Profile Page at October 15, 2009 11:41 AM

...pardon my obvious, relentless, elusive Jack-In-The-Box typos...whack-a-mole is the best approach.

Posted by: Morningside Author Profile Page at October 15, 2009 11:57 AM

This just seen on Google news:

"Lebanon wins Security Council seat."

Am I the first here to predict that Life is just about to be more complicated?

Posted by: Morningside Author Profile Page at October 15, 2009 12:18 PM

The Taliban/AQ are vicious enemies with Hezbollah. Several Taliban militias have massacred Shiites. Afghanistan's 18% Hazara Shia minority detest the Taliban.

The Taliban is a loose coalition of many groups, many of them not born in Afghanistan. Many are born in the Pakistan, other Stans, Iran, Chechnya and Kashmir.

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at October 15, 2009 2:41 PM

I appreciate and admire your courage, Michael. I wish I would do what you do. I read everything you write here.

When you write, "I suppose I can see why this appeals to those who know just enough about the Taliban to think it's possible, and just enough about Hezbollah to think it's desirable," you seem to set yourself up as someone who knows better than to do that.

But I think you've set up a straw man, which of course you ably knock it down.

No one outside the Washington Post, and, as it sources it, "Some inside the White House," thinks Obama will endorse a Hezbollah style government in Kabul.

Citing ancillary Hezbollah atrocities doesn't argue more loudly for your viewpoint. It's a non-sequiter, really.

It's a difficult decision that the President is about to make, and I'd like to think everybody would wish it success. What creeps me out is that your basic argument sounds like, "kill the bastards," and - right or wrong - I just don't think that's very realistic.

All the best, otherwise, and Godspeed.

Posted by: Bill Author Profile Page at October 15, 2009 7:11 PM

Bill,
Count me among those who think "killing the bastards" is wholly appropriate and and should be pursued with any means at our disposal, at times and places of our choosing. Perhaps with consultation with favored "allies", or perhaps not. After all, our Islamic enemies are demonstrably out and organized for killing "us", you and me, right now, aren't they?
Being in the midst of fighting active wars after being attached on our shores is no time for discussion of whether to pursue those wars and killing our enemies wherever we may be effective.
How is this current situation much different from the end of December of 1941? One difference is the time-lapse, insidious, metastasizing cellular growth of this malignant Islamic tissue. It seems the subtlety of our new enemies' tactics and strategy is escaping the likes of the Washington Post's reporters, and too many others, who in the main are out to be momentarily attention getting.
Our disgusting political dithering is working to the advantage of our sworn enemies.

Posted by: Morningside Author Profile Page at October 15, 2009 7:56 PM

An after-thought...
Why in the name of common sense we Americans should be concerned with the triviality of our "popularity" after being attacked on our own shores is nothing short of astonishing.

Posted by: Morningside Author Profile Page at October 15, 2009 9:10 PM

What creeps me out is that your basic argument sounds like, "kill the bastards," and - right or wrong - I just don't think that's very realistic.

Bill, I didn't get that vibe from this post, but lets assume that is MJT's basic argument. You said it "creeps you out" and said the reason why is that it's not very realistic. Do unrealistic plans normally give you the creeps? I'd have to guess not. So I'm left having no choice but to assume that the reason it creeps you out is that you don't believe the bastards deserve to die. Why not just say so? And this part here:

No one outside the Washington Post, and, as it sources it, "Some inside the White House," thinks Obama will endorse a Hezbollah style government in Kabul.

That's not what MJT claimed. Nor did he even imply that was a plan. It was pretty clear from context 9all around) that "Hezbollah style" meant some kind of state-within-a-state kind of thing like exists in Lebanon, where nobody but HA is really happy with it but nobody can do anything about it and they've come to some sort of arrangement.

Considering you chastized MJT for being for not being intellectually honest with this post, I have to say your comment strikes me as quite disingenuous. This post wasn't hard to understand at all... why insert things that aren't there?

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at October 16, 2009 12:17 AM

Additionally, someone very famous once said that Democracy is very messy and troublesome at times, but it's better than any alternative we've seen so far.
So we've got to continue to rely on our checks and balances. What else is there?

There are no check and balances regulating the State Department, which is why our foreign policy has been such a disaster. There is no question that the department needs to be dismembered and reconstructed, but we do need to find a way to make the State Department accountable to the American people. We do pay their salaries, after all.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at October 17, 2009 7:41 AM

"There are no check and balances regulating the State Department, ...."

".... but we do need to find a way to make the State Department accountable to the American people....."
-------
It mustn't be forgotten that we have that popular check-mating game of Congressional Confirmation Hearings for Sec'y. Of State. These occur at every change of Administration. Other Hearings are always just waiting (or lurking) in all the Committees of the House and Senate, and leap into the media as soon as any aggrieved party lobbies hard enough. An example is the recent State Department Security Contractors in Iraq seemingly over-stepping their contractually- mandated bounds. What a bruhaha that was..is remaining. State Contracting is always fertile, never fallow.
The most damaging and career wrecking at State, for both good and ill, was accomplished during the vendetta by Senator McCarthy which involved the sensational messages-in-a-pumpkin-in-a-farm field (Maryland I believe) along with Communist infiltrators in out Gov't', primarily at State. Recall Alger Hiss (still controversial) and Whittaker Chambers. John LeCarre was envious. That total upheaval and furor still quivers inside Foggy Bottom (..love that nickname...) You, maryatexitzero, would've been in your element. The Department of Justice is always available, as is the Supreme Court in really egregious messes. History is better'n fiction. The media just scratch around the edges.

Just wait...be patient, the checking and balancing mechanisms do exist, are well oiled, have been well exercised in the past, and best of all....the Obama Administration is still very young.
Don't forget the mid-term elections, with salivating candidates just waiting for their chance.

Posted by: Morningside Author Profile Page at October 17, 2009 12:37 PM

My chronic NativeWashingtonianItis produced this quote from Google for that area of our Nation's Capitol..(...al) depending on on various biases.

"Foggy Bottom was once a community of Irish, German, and Black laborers employed at the nearby breweries, glass plants, and city gas works. These industrial facilities are also cited as a possible reason for the neighborhood's name, the "fog" being the smoke given off by the industries. The historic neighborhood is preserved and listed on the National Register of Historic Places."

Okay...now everyone can determine for her/himself if this is still a valid name. The State Department's nom de fume, as it were.....

Posted by: Morningside Author Profile Page at October 17, 2009 2:38 PM

they're definitely getting a huge amount of money from drugs

Rule of Law based democracy can NOT win while heroin remains both illegal and highly desired.

The locals with the cash will be dealing drugs directly, or indirectly as laundries for those who deal direct.

The poverty and unattractive alternative choices for making money other than thru drugs is a huge reason Iraq was more 'nation-buildable' than is Afghanistan.

In realpolitik, the US can choose which drug-lords to support, and help them win. There will be almost no viable local leaders who aren't mixed up with drugs.

It might even be better if the US bought the pre-drug poppies, at drug prices, directly from afghan farmers. Preferably using US exports of consumer goods rather than cash (that can easily be stolen by the corrupt local officials).

Poor Afghans desperately need better ways of making money, and the war can't be won without economic possibilities.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at October 18, 2009 8:36 PM

Morningside - I'm 78 years old and have been hearing that sentiment for a long as I can remember

Proof that State is like an inoperable tumor, affecting an otherwise healthy body. The usual checks and balances don't solve the problem.

That's why the article in Foreign Policy is so encouraging. Like the search for a cure for cancer, it's good to know that people are looking for a solution to the problem, even if they haven't found it yet.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at October 21, 2009 12:20 PM
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