On the Sunday shows this week, Sen. Kerry and Rahm Emanuel both spoke about the importance of reviewing the Afghan government before making any major shifts in strategy, particularly before committing the 40,000 troops Gen. McChrystal is asking for. The review would attempt to answer very basic questions, such as whether the national government there is capable of sustaining a security force and whether Karzai actually did win the election.

This course of action comes as sort of a relief. Certainly, even after the White House has a clearer idea about how effective the Karzai government can be, there will still be many tough decisions to make about how to proceed. But it seems that in the weeks since Gen. McChrystal’s report was leaked, that the Afghanistan discussion has been limited by a false binary: Is it better to send more troops to protect civilians or is it better to draw down troops and increase air strikes on Al Qaeda targets? Since the success of a greater troop commitment ultimately relies on the legitimacy of the Afghan government, a third and probably far better option is to first establish how legitimate that government can possibly be.

It’s also encouraging that President Obama is more concerned that the Afghan government is actually legitimate, rather than just appear legitimate. While the latter can give a president political cover domestically, the former is essential to making real progress. From interviews with Afghanis, my impression is that insofar as they even notice the presence of the national government, they don’t like it that much better than the Taliban. And they certainly don’t like it enough to risk life and limb. Securing support from the Afghan people will require much more confidence and a rigged election is a poor way to start.

With Karzai in power, how can we expect the Afghan people to take a national government seriously? For Americans, an analogous situation might be if the hundred craziest people from Kansas raised and army, which came to our towns and started destroying schools and forcing everyone to conform to their dogmatic sense of morality (if you can even imagine that, Fred Phelps). What’s more, they all have assault rifles and RPGs and so ordinary citizens, not having assault rifles, are easily coerced by these lunatics and there’s no real government to keep the peace. But then, the Chinese army rolls in and you leave your house one day to find yourself surrounded by Chinese soldiers. The one guy who kind of speaks English then comes up to you and explains that he can help you out, but you have to assume a great deal of personal risk and support a national government led by Rod Blagojevich. I know what my answer would be.

Similar Posts: