Victory for Karzai, minefield for Obama?

November 2, 2009

Former President George W. Bush used to talk about the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” He was talking about education in the United States.

But these days, that phrase could easily refer to the U.S. government’s attitudes towards Afghanistan. Just look at the following phrases from American officials this year.

“We never promised Afghans a perfect democracy,” “Afghans have lower expectations in terms of security,” “we have to recognise Afghanistan will always remain a poor, conservative land with a low-level insurgency,” “our goal in Afghanistan is simply to prevent al Qaeda using its territory to attack us.” AFGHANISTAN-ELECTION/KARZAI

All perfectly reasonable in many ways, but hardly a compelling manifesto to win Afghan hearts and minds.

The concern is that there has been such a concerted effort to lower the bar in Afghanistan this year, and to downplay what is achievable, that failure sometimes seems almost inevitable.

The United States convinced Hamid Karzai to agree to a run-off election, but failed to convince him to clean up the Election Commission that had perpetrated the fraudulent first round. That made more controversy almost inevitable.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs just declared Karzai the “legitimate leader of Afghanistan” and that the world could take heart that the laws of Afghanistan had prevailed.

Abdullah Abdullah and many Afghans would surely take issue with that bold statement. The laws of Afghanistan do not allow for elections to be rigged and for perpetrators to go unpunished.

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies argues that the Afghan decision is the “defining test” of Obama’s leadership.

“President Obama will have to take personal responsibility for the outcome of the war in Afghanistan, betting his historical reputation and second term on the outcome,” Cordesman said.

OBAMA/The United States, some experts argue, needs to show a clear and unwavering commitment to winning the war in Afghanistan — and demand a clear and unwavering commitment from the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the same goal.

Half-measures will never work. Weakness or a lack of commitment will embolden the worst elements of Karzai’s government, encourage the Pakistanis to keep playing both sides, and be exploited ruthlessly by the Taliban.

It isn’t just a question of how many troops are sent, but whether there is a coherent strategy that will leave Afghanistan standing on its own two feet.

If the war, as Obama once said, is one of “necessity,” then it is surely time for what Cordesman calls “real leadership.”

Much as the president likes to find a middle road, there simply does not seem to be one any more in the Hindu Kush.

What do you think is the best route for Obama to take through this potential minefield?

Photo credit: Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl (Afghan man dances in celebration of Karzai’s victory),  Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (Protest group Code Pink near White House on Halloween)

9 comments

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Incorrect, this is a victory for Obama. He’s got himself another US puppet in the middle east to go along with King Abdullah, President Mubarak and now Karzai along with a host of others.

Victory for Obama, victory for Karzai, loss for America, loss for Afghanistan.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

How’d he rig the election? Did Maobama send ACORN over there?

Posted by rey | Report as abusive

White House press secretary may call Hamid karzai a legitimate leader, and, since time immemorial, other occupying powers have called their installed puppet regimes legitimate. But legitimacy in history had never come from invading barbarians, nor was ever recognized to local despots and tyrants – as Aristotle clearly
defined political legitimacy.

Afghanistan is no exception. And it doesn’t really matter that Abdullah dropped out, or if the Second Round of elections was cancelled, or if Karzai remains a figurehead president. The elections in Afghanistan was an American farce to convince the world that the U.S. presence in Afghanistan is a presence by invitation of the duly elected Afghan government – if anybody believes that! Hamid Karzai is today an anachronistic puppet president akin to Philippe Petain, the head of the Vichy regime established in occupied France by the Germans during World War II. He will serve the occupier -like Petain did, but when the war in Afghanistan ends, he will not be there – as Petain wasn’t. He will have the faith of either Babrak Karmal, or Hajifullah Amin, or he will live in exile- like Vietnam’s last U.S. puppeteers, Diem Van Thieu and Van Cao Ky. Some Muslims have commented that Karzai get directs deposit of his presidential salary from the U.S. at a Bank in Virginia, where the son of the former Shah of Iran, Reza, also lives. Virginia has become a repository of off-the shelf- puppet leaders for CIA pick up – whenever such a need arises.

Now. How Obama’s long term strategy in Afghanistan will then succeed in the much touted 10-year plan? It won’t! That is why Joseph Stalin said about the German forces marching to Russia: “Let the dead march!” He knew the Germans couldn’t fight effectively in the Siberian winter, and he knew he could destroy them in the long term. Also, Van Gao Giap, the famous North Vietnamese Defense minister, said after the U.S. defeat in Vietnam: “We knew that we will prevail, even if it took time, because “victory” is was the ultimate goal of the Vietnamese military sciences.” And as it happened in France, in Russia, to imperial Japan, and in Vietnam, it will happen in Afghanistan too. Invaders and puppet regimes don’t last for ever. Karzai may be temporarily happy, but he knows his tenure is borrowed time from the U.S. forces. He can continue to be what is cynically describer as “the Mayor of Kabul” inside Afghanistan, and titular president outside of it. But his cosmetic presidential title, and Obama’s cosmetic Nobel prize laureate title, won’t solve the Afghan war. The Afghan war will be resolved according to the precedents of history – as aforementioned above. And history always repeats itself, because those who don’t know history repeat the errors of the past. Nikos Retsos, retired professor

Posted by Nikos Retsos | Report as abusive

America Needs To Pursue Peace Deals With the Taliban.

Posted by hsr0601 | Report as abusive

After 9/11, GW Bush needed to provide the American people with a military victory.
However, he knew very well that the war in Afghanistan was unwinnable.
That is why he made the case for invading Iraq. Instead of Ossama Ben Laden, he caught Saddam Hussein and rushed to declare mission accomplished.
The war in Iraq drew US troops into a guerilla war against jihadists in a country that was previously under the secular Baath regime.
The situation is now unmanageable for Obama.

Posted by JeanT | Report as abusive

1) People who state that Afhgan was is unwinnable as it has been the case for thousand’s of years are wrong.This time it is US and US does learn things innovatively and does take lessons learnt from past into account. They will fight this war differently; only you don’t see the difference is because it has to be done in small steps otherwise there will be lot of opposition.

2) Big changes require big sacrifices. So this war in Afgn & Pakistan is going to be accompanied by a lot of pin. US understands that. So these minor setbacks can’t be seen as failures. Things first deteriorate to the bottom est depth of the cycle before looking up. Everything in nature happens in cycles. Example- Where Pakistan saw the war against Taliban as a US enforced war (which it was), now see it as their own war. Example 2- Pakistan military has been tamed and that is the begining of breaking the nexus of Pakmilitary-ISI-ruling elite-landlords to the exclusion of Pakistani people. The first step is to achieve a divorce of military from political domain and a marriage of Pakistani people to the democratic dispensation which will be an evolving process. The next step would have to be a divorce of ISI and Pak military. The next step will be to give power to Pashtuns to govern themselves but in the right way.

3)Karzai may be only the Mayor currently but it is still a step in the long term plan. At least the Taliban are not at the helm.

Posted by AJ | Report as abusive

Whats the difference between Mr Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Karzai of Afghanistan? Is there something called double standards?

Posted by Tony | Report as abusive

It is not a necessary war. We already fought this proxy war in the 1980s vs the soviets and what we encounter today is the remnants of that time. The Pakistanis continue to lie to us and the ISI continues to fund terrorists in both Afghanistan and Kashmir with US aid. And they have the audacity to complain when we attach basic conditions when giving them $7.5B. We Should have supported Ahmed Shah Massoud in the 1980s rather than supporting the mujahedeen, but now he is dead and the best leader we can work with is Hamid Karzai. It is an impossible situation to rectify. We cannot provide long term security to the region, it is too costly and provides little benefit. If terrorists cant train there, they will go to Yemen or Somalia. We cannot provide security to the entire world. We should just use special forces and drones to monitor and destroy hostile elements. It is a long term strategy that is economically viable and provides security to US citizens. I dont care to provide security to Iraqi and Afghanistani citizens on my tax dollars.

Posted by Vishal | Report as abusive

Irrelevant. Obvously, he will send more troops because we simply cannot leave a leaderless nuclear power to the whims of local terrorists.

Afghanistan borders Pakistan, a proven nuclear power with a revolving-door pseudo-democracy. Pakistan, has been rendered nearly leaderless by the same terrorists that attacked the US and have been building bases on the Pakistan/Afghan border. On Dec. 27th, 2007 they assasinated Bhutto who had returned to Pakistan to oppose Musharraf in democratic elections. Now her nutty, manic-depressive husband is “running” the country while suicide bombs go off monthly.

The reason Obama “dithers” is to figure out a specific strategy and mission so that we don’t continue a “US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.” (from his 2002 speech on Iraq). Dither a bit longer, but get it right, Mr. President.

Posted by Young Atheart | Report as abusive