Michael Totten

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”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/08/AR2009100804329.html 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”:http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1089204.html, 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”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8216842.stm. A Hezbollah suicide car bomber “killed 29 people”:http://www.economicexpert.com/a/Israeli:Embassy:Attack:in:Buenos:Aires.html 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”:http://www.michaeltotten.com/archives/2009/07/the-future-of-i-2.php. “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”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/hezbollah-isn-t-a-model-for-afghanistan-15256.

Join the conversation as a VIP Member