The same can be said for the Afghanistan crisis, which is lurching from bad to worse. The Taliban, flush with opium money, is making inroads while the corrupt and ineffective government fiddles, and Kabul is close to burning.
But one has to be clear that the other side wants some sort of serious back and forth. This is what is missing in both cases.
One must start from a recognition of what it is Iran wants: the abolition of Israel, the unimpeded sponsorship of armed non-state actors (Hezbollah and Hamas, with the dalliance with al Qaeda when convenient), and imposition of a global theocracy. None of these issues is negotiable.
From this Wall Street Journal piece, it is quite clear that Iran sees nothing to be gained by talks, and much to be gained by trying to humiliate the incoming administration. Perhaps they are simply recognizing the reality that their basic goals leave little room for substantive negotiations.
It seems to me that Fareed Zakaria makes serious mistake in his assessment of Afghanistan policy in calling for talks with the Taliban.
This is largely for the same reason: the lack of a understanding of what the Taliban want and what they are.
Like the Iranians (yes, the Taliban is Sunni and wahhabist, and yes the Iranians are Shi’ite and they have much disdain for each other on many issues) the Taliban has as its bottom line the establishment of a global Islamist caliphate that starts in Afghanistan and from there, the world.
The differences with al Qaeda are cultural clashes and discomfort with the way the Arab forces treat the Taliban, but not over fundamental beliefs, tactics or strategy. A world under Sharia law, as understood by both groups, is a divine mandate and therefore not negotiable.
Zakaria writes that:
The United States is properly and unalterably opposed to al-Qaeda. We have significant differences with the Taliban on many issues—democracy and the treatment of women being the most serious. But we do not wage war on other Islamist groups with which we similarly disagree (the Saudi monarchy, for example). Were elements of the Taliban to abandon al-Qaeda, we would not have a pressing national security interest in waging war against them.
That is simply not true. As he notes later, al Qaeda (the old guard, perhaps less relevant than ever) is essentially a parasite, living off host groups and nations. But in the case of the Taliban, the host has welcomed the parasite, fed it, clothed it, protected it and embraced it.
The idea that the Taliban would, in a verifiable way, renounce and cut ties to al Qaeda, is simply not realistic. The idea that we should stand by and deal with-and likely assure the ascent to power of-a group whose basic philosophy is to return everything they can back to the Middle Ages is an abandonment of everything we claim to stand for. The fact that we tolerate Saudi Arabia’s abysmal behavior is no reason to watch another country fall under the worst kind of enslavement and barbarism.
Finally, the line about having no pressing national security interest in the Taliban repeats exactly the misguided analysis that led the Taliban to facilitate the execution of the 9/11 attacks. Every major attack (1998 East Africa bombings, USS Cole, 9/11) were carried out by non-state actors (al Qaeda) operating from a “failed” state or sympathetic state (Taliban and Sudan).
Dialogue is a useful, vital tool in international relations. But it is only useful when the bottom lines of both sides are understood and the areas of overlap can be discussed. Otherwise, it is a waste of precious time and resources.