Juan Cole on Afghanistan and al-Qaida

Very interesting interview in the City Paper (Baltimore) with University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole, whose scholastic work has focused on Islam, on the situation in Afghanistan:

CP: One version of events of 9/11 is that it was part of bin Laden's strategy to lure us into Afghanistan and bleed us the way the Soviets were bled . . .

JC: Bin Laden said this explicitly in 1996.

CP: So why do you think we fell for the trap?

JC: It's just so tempting for a great power to have an area to go into. Central Asia is rich in resources--natural gas, and Kazakhstan has petroleum and gold--and there was this opportunity to assert U.S. interests in Central Asia and push Russia back. There are all kinds of reasons for which bin Laden was making us a very attractive offer. He was offering us a very large, delicious piece of cheese. Of course, it turns out that there was a very large mousetrap attached to the cheese.

CP: What about the terrorism component of this--the fear that the Taliban will shield al-Qaida and provide a safe haven that will give them a staging area to plan another attack on the United States?

JC: First of all, that premise is flawed. There is virtually no al-Qaida in Afghanistan. As we speak, something on the order of 10 to 15 percent of Afghanistan is more or less controlled by Taliban. And yet, there is virtually no al-Qaida in Afghanistan. So if the idea that Taliban equals safe harbor for al-Qaida isn't true in the present, why would it be true in the future?

In fact, why is it we don't think the Taliban can learn? They're pretty smart people. They took on the Soviets and defeated them. Surely they're dismayed at what happened to them after al-Qaida attacked the United States. I imagine a lot of them would slit al-Qaida's throats if they came anywhere near, out of anger at them for ruining the good deal the Taliban had in Afghanistan.

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