Monday, June 14, 2010

More Bad News from Afghanistan

The bad new keeps rolling in from Afghanistan. In Friday’s New York Times, Dexter Filkins reported that sources within and without the Afghan government are saying that President Karzai no longer believes that NATO counterinsurgency operations will work:

“People close to the president say he began to lose confidence in the Americans last summer, after national elections in which independent monitors determined that nearly one million ballots had been stolen on Mr. Karzai’s behalf. The rift worsened in December, when President Obama announced that he intended to begin reducing the number of American troops by the summer of 2011.

“‘Karzai told me that he can’t trust the Americans to fix the situation here,’ said a Western diplomat in Kabul, who spoke on condition of anonymity. ‘He believes they stole his legitimacy during the elections last year. And then they said publicly that they were going to leave.’”
I know that a lot of this chatter comes from people with an axe to grind, but it’s perfectly consistent with what a lot of people inside the Obama administration, most notably Joe Biden, have been saying for the last year. I haven’t yet heard a convincing answer to the question Biden was reportedly asking last fall: how is a counterinsurgency strategy supposed to work as long as there's a credible appearance of a lack of commitment and capacity on the party of the Afghan government to hold and legitimately govern the areas that NATO troops clear?

To neocons like William Kristol, of course, this just shows the folly of Obama’s having announced at the time of last fall’s escalation that our commitment isn’t open-ended. But the idea that Karzai and the Taliban would have believed that our commitment is open-ended absent Obama’s expressly saying it isn’t is pretty far-fetched. I suspect the July 2011 wind-down date is a realistic, and widely acknowledged, estimate of the extent of the American public's endurance.  Does anyone really believe that any American president, much less one who secured his party's nomination by opposing the war in Iraq, could persuade the American people to prosecute the Afghan war into the indefinite future?

I assume that, because it’s so alien to Obama’s worldview and it worked out so well in Vietnam, engineering a coup that installs a government ready to do our bidding is out of the question. But is there any way, short of that, of executing a counterinsurgency strategy with a substantial expectation of success? I'm not seeing it.

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