Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Afghanistan Moves onto the Stage

In the past few weeks Afghanistan has been slowly moving to center stage.

The election there that turned out to be not much of an election at all. Something like 1 million votes were fraudulently cast for the current president Hamid Karzai. It sounds like there was a great deal of arm twisting but Karzai finally agreed to a run off (the Afghan constitution says there has to be a runoff if no candidate receives 50% of the vote):

Having pushed for a do-over, U.S. officials have even less ability to scold the winner. That winner is likely to be incumbent Karzai, who conceded Tuesday, under heavy international pressure, that a runoff was “legitimate, legal and according to the constitution of Afghanistan.”

Here’s an interesting take from Secretary Gates on the election:
“The outcome of the elections and the problems with the elections have complicated the situation for us. But the reality is, it’s not going to be complicated one day and simple the next,” he said. “We’re going to have to work with this going forward, and I believe the president will have to make his decisions in the context of that evolutionary process.”

The question has to be asked will the election this time around be any different from last time.

As to the war itself well there are decisions to be made. The background for this is of course the failure of the Bush administration for finishing what it started. Instead it spun fantasies about Iraq and then got us into a war there. We took our eyes off of Afghanistan and that’s come back to bite us in the ass.

The debate is on going on what exactly to do. The debate needs to thorough but it needs to be done with some dispatch. General Stanley McChrystal wants an increase of 40,000 troops to help fight the Taliban. This is based on the situation on the ground.

But is also came from a meeting in March that decided on:

>>That conclusion, which was later endorsed by the president and members of his national security team, would become the first in a set of recommendations contained in an administration white paper outlining what Obama called “a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Preventing al-Qaeda’s return to Afghanistan, the document stated, would require “executing and resourcing an integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency strategy.”<<

But it seems not everyone interpreted this to mean a huge increase in the number of troops:

To some civilians who participated in the strategic review, that conclusion was much less clear. Some took it as inevitable that more troops would be needed, but others thought the thrust of the new approach was to send over scores more diplomats and reconstruction experts. They figured a counterinsurgency mission could be accomplished with the forces already in the country, plus the 17,000 new troops Obama had authorized in February.

Not having everyone on the same page seems to have slowed down the decision process on the part of the Obama administration. As I said before, they need to decide something soon.

The bottom line is we need to finish what we started in Afghanistan but we need to have an idea of what being “finished” is. If not we'll end up like so many countries before us (Soviet Union, Britain etc) that have been sucked into Afghanistan and then spit out years later with the country being in just about the same shape before we came. And that cannot be acceptable.

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