The Stumbling Block to [Fill in the Blank] that is Afghanistan

Posted on 01. Nov, 2009 by in Uncategorized

Earlier today, Abdullah Abdullah confirmed weekend rumors that he is withdrawing from the November 7 run-off against President Hamid Karzai. “A transparent election is not possible,” he said. I suppose not, if the Karzai-appointed head of the Independent Electoral Commission counts one vote as 10, as Abdullah (and Human Rights Watch) alleges.

What struck me was Secretary Clinton’s response to Abdullah’s withdrawal:

“We see that happen in our own country where, for whatever combination of reasons, one of the candidates decides not to go forward,” she said. “I don’t think it has anything to do with the legitimacy of the election. It’s a personal choice which may or may not be made.”

I’m not against lying in statecraft. I am, however, against lying when a black backdrop of “incidents” neon-colors your lie.

Afghans are, if anything, highly cynical. Whereas Americans, due to a relatively uninterrupted chain of strong federal governments, tend to believe both their government and the media (this always fascinates me, btw), other parts of the world distrust the same by default. If the U.S. continues to back Karzai, even after he undermined a process that Americans supposedly hold dear, it can forget about winning the trust of ordinary civilians.  No Afghan will warn a Marine where IEDs are planted if U.S. forces are seen as muscle for another criminal politician.

I need Obama to tell me then, why our political and military objectives in Afghanistan hinge on Karzai.   Supporting a man whom Afghans wouldn’t pull from a burning building doesn’t jive with McChrystal’s strategy, which centers on winning the population’s trust. This obvious disconnect between military and political tactics can only add up to failure.  This fundamental blunder is a sign that everyone on the red-white-and-blue team isn’t on the same page–which means, there’re multiple playbooks.

Are we in Afghanistan because that’s the closest we can get to sovereign Pakistan, the nuclear powder keg next door? To make sure it doesn’t again become a terrorist training ground? Shore up our geo-political stakes in the competing Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) or India-Pakistan-Iran (IPI) pipelines? Nation-build?  Thwart Chinese and Russian influence? — McChrystal is reading from one manual, Clinton, another.

Meanwhile, the world order is being re-ordered and chances are high–higher than probably most ordinary Americans realize–that the U.S. will lose its dominant position as The One amongst many.  Afghanistan, nor Bush’s misguided invasion of Iraq, was never about ensuring human rights in the latter nor saving women in the former. Liberal ideologues can wail all they want but no national security adviser worth the title would ever advise any president to endanger American soldiers and bankrupt the Treasury for either.

No one can convince me that Afghanistan is about anything less than cementing U.S. power and influence in Central Asia.  It’s why Obama has been, as navel-gazing pundits (or talkative incompetents) describe it, “dithering.” He’s not really drumming his fingers over Afghanistan.  He’s trying to figure out what Afghanistan can win or lose the United States in the long long-run.  Ordinary citizens don’t care about that time-frame. But they will when the floor for a tank of gas flatlines at $10. Or, when a bloc of nations at the World Trade Organization tells the lead U.S. dictator-turned-negotiator to go f#&k himself–literally.  So dither on, Mr. President. Dither on.

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