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Vested Interests in Afghanistan

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Bruce Riedel at Brookings says we have a vested interest in shoring up Karzai's legitimacy. That's not surprising, given that Riedel certainly has such a vested interest. From The New York Times:

"Even if we get a second round of voting, the odds are still high that Karzai will win," said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who advised the administration on its Afghan policy. "We have a fundamental interest in building up the legitimacy of the Karzai government." ... "This requires delicacy and a deft hand," he said. "You don't want to create a downward spiral in U.S.-Afghan relations."

The U.S. has a vested interest only insofar as we're willing to sink our moral standing and our regional credibility into building up a national security apparatus to be left at the disposal of a group of warlords, drug lords and human rights abusers. That's the ugly fine print hiding in the poor choice by the Obama Administration to continue to view Afghanistan through the poisonous counterinsurgency (COIN) paradigm. See El Salvador during the Carter/Reagan era for an example of what "success" looks like according to the COIN manual.

But Riedel's vested interest in legitimizing this mockery of an election is far more personal than the fate of a people halfway around the world, sure to suffer under a narco-state armed to the teeth by the U.S. As I wrote this past weekend:

...[T]he president has surrounded himself with advisers who counsel escalation when they ought to know better. These advisers know full well all of the information described above. They've also engaged in severe intellectual dishonesty to avoid reckoning with the failure of strategies they helped construct.

Foremost among these advisers is Bruce Riedel, who chaired the last policy review that resulted in the prior escalation. Riedel co-wrote a recent article in which he claimed that the results of an Afghan public opinion poll conducted July 16-26, 2009, prior to the Afghan elections, indicated "a fresh burst of hopefulness among Afghans." On that basis, Riedel claimed we had one last "fresh start" in Afghanistan, tied by the pollsters and by Riedel to the success of the vote.

Just a few days before the election, Riedel wrote an articled titled "Obama's Afghan Test," in which he said that "Thursday's election in Afghanistan is a critical early test of America's new strategy in the war," and that "[t]he 'metrics' to measure Obama's war--which many are calling for--will be in Thursday's votes."

The election was a disaster, marked by pervasive vote fraud, intimidation and violence. Thousands of fraud accusations surfaced, hundreds serious enough to flip the election results. Officials in the Shobarak district assert that some 23,900 votes were stuffed on President Hamid Karzai's behalf. Up to 70,000 fraudulent votes may have been cast in a cluster of polling stations east of Kabul. Officials responsible for ensuring vote integrity sold voter cards for cash.

Political alliances made to swing large voting blocs will likely increase the power of Afghanistan's narcotics-fueled warlords. According to The Washington Post's Pamela Constable, the elections left Afghans "confused, jittery and bracing for street violence -- or at least a protracted period of political polarization and drift."

So much for the fresh start.

Despite this failure of the test Riedel set up for the Afghanistan strategy and the obliteration of the hypothetical opening offered by a legitimate election, he continues to assert the existence of a new start. Five days after the election, when reports already indicated massive election fraud, he told a panel audience, "[T]his really is the last chance." Riedel now says we need another 12-18 months before we can assess the President's new strategy. He has not acknowledged the failure of a strategy he helped to craft nor explained how the supposed "fresh start" persists after the collapse of the legitimacy of the election.

Lest anyone think I'm over-hyping the degree to which the Afghan elections were in fact a failure, here's counterinsurgency blogger Andrew Exum, himself a supporter of continued military action in Afghanistan, on the situation [h/t Eric Martin]:

Before the Afghan elections, every assessment you could read and every opinion you could solicit from policy-makers was the same: the worst outcome of the Afghan elections would be one that, in either the first or second round of voting, delivered the election to Hamid Karzai with a narrow margin of victory amidst wide-spread allegations of corruption and ballot box-stuffing. The overwhelming fear was of "another Iran" -- only with our fingerprints all over it.

The worst-case scenario now appears to have been realized.

But remember: If we don't legitimize these elections, Riedel might have to face the music for the failure of all his clever theorizing. Hate to see that happen.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. You can learn more about the dangers posed to U.S. national security by the war in Afghanistan by watching Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six): Security, or by visiting http://rethinkafghanistan.com/blog.