Thickening the plot

By now any casual reader of the news should have gotten the picture that the Obama administration would prefer different leadership in Kabul. The whisper campaign began almost as soon as Obama took office and grew to crescendo with the charges of election fraud. Along the way we were treated to plenty of accusations that senior, Afghan officials are linked to the opium trade. And by all accounts, Abdullah Abdullah was the D.C. preferred candidate. With Abdullah dropping out of the Western imposed run off, things are likely to get even more complicated in Afghanistan.

Karzai stuffed ballot boxes, that’s clear. Most western media has not been entirely forthright in its role of public informer. There was plenty of vote rigging on the part of Abdullah’s allies too.

But the arm twisting seems to have come to naught. Abdullah has withdrawn and the Afghan Election Commission sees no point in holding an election with only one candidate.

As far as i can see, it means that the Obama administration has painted itself into a corner. For months it has talked about needing a “legitimate” government to partner with for the sake of the COIN doctrine. Now it’s stuck with a government that the administration has spent plenty of time and energy painting as illegitimate.

This situation would, of course, be the perfect moment to bring deescalation and withdrawal to the table. That’s unlikely. The military will oppose it, the neo-liberal interventionists within the administration will oppose it and the chances are slim that Obama will play with the fire it would create domestically.

That and pouring money into the effort is the only way left for the administration to run economic stimulus.

There’s a very large “but” in all of this. After the smear campaign, the rumors about his brother and the public loss of honor that the Obama administration put Karzai through, it shouldn’t surprise us if he starts turning away from the US.

I expect him to no longer even attempt to please DC, and it won’t surprise me if he moves closer to both Iran and the Russia-China-India alliance gearing up to fill the vacuum of America’s failure or withdrawal. That will be tricky, but dancing between foreign powers is a long-standing practice of Afghan politics.

The CIA-opium attack on Ahmed Karzai looks particularly ripe for blowback. An excellent analysis by the Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar, suggests that some in the Afghan government are ready to bring Western involvement in the opium trade to the public if Washington goes through with the threatened, congressional  inquiry.

The rest of Bhadrakumar’s article is in direct opposition to the standard narrative in the American media. He sees Karzai as the winner in this, and, like myself, expect Karzai to start maneuvering without US approval or direction. He thinks that Hekmatyar might break ranks with the insurgency and ally with Karzai. That would change everything.

Perhaps most importantly, Turkey is slated to lead the ISAF. Having a Muslim nation with a track record of dealing with several of the players on the Afghan scene can only be helpful. If Karzai’s government can work well with regional neighbors as Bhadrakumar thinks it can, and if Karzai can split the insurgency we may see significant improvements.

But the case for optimism is in spite of the US rather than because of anything we’re doing. If Obama is smart, he’ll stand the generals down and find out how he can be of assistance to the situation as it really is…rather than how those in Washington wish that it were. He’d probably be asked to start withdrawing American forces, and unfortunately, it does not sound like that possibility is part of the discussion.


~ by Lex on November 2, 2009.

One Response to “Thickening the plot”

    re Abdullah, Abdullah

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: