Monday, November 2, 2009

Understatement of the Year of the Week

Today's NYT headline on Afghanistan:

With Karzai, U.S. Faces Weak Partner in Time of War

We knew that before the election, and we knew that before Abdullah decided to drop out.  What does Abdullah's withdrawal, if it sticks, means for the legitimacy of the Afghan government and the future of the country?  It is certainly meaningful--institutions only develop heft and meaning through repeated respect for the rules.  If the rules are ignored, then the institutions never develop to the point that people follow the rules because that is what is expected.

 On the other hand, what really matters in the months ahead is how Karzai governs.  Does the election and the decline in US enthusiasm for his government serve as a wake-up call?  Does he start seriously addressing the corruption problem?  Does he support those who do governance better?  If so, then the legitimacy of the government will increase.

But I would be reluctant to bet on it, and that is what NATO is doing every day--putting the lives of its soldiers and placing its money that the counterinsurgency effort can be attached to a barely adequate government.  My position on the potential surge being considered by Obama now is that failure is an option but we should give our best shot before we start to minimize the damage of defeat.  I do think the population centric approach with more American troops to do the job is the right idea, very late in the game.  Too late?  That depends on whether the Afghan government, at least at the local levels, can get its act together.


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