Sunday, November 14, 2010

When Even Renting Does Not Work

The classic line about foreign aid is that you cannot buy a politician/leader/country, but you can rent one.  But as Afghanistan President (for life?) Hamid Karzai repeatedly shows, even a rental often acts against one's interest.  "The time has come to reduce military operations."  Surely, you just.  And, yes, I can call him Shirley if I want to do so.  While we can question military reports as much as we want, it does seem to be the case that the surge has facilitated some progress on the ground.  The alliance has gotten much better at avoiding civilian casualties, although some still occur.  Just as the pressure seems to be paying off, Karzai of all people wants to give the Taliban more breathing space.  Haven't we tried that before?
He described his own deep skepticism with American policy in Afghanistan - from last year's presidential election, which he said was manipulated by U.S. officials, to his conviction that government corruption has been caused by billions of American dollars funneled to unaccountable contractors.
Um, I think the psychological term is projection, right?  While the US and its allies have not always made the right decisions and have often faced choosing among bad alternatives, Karzai must be fooling himself if he thinks that blaming the election fiasco on the US in an American newspaper will buy him any credit anywhere except perhaps among the Taliban.  Indeed, he says that Afghans are tired of American troops and vehicles on the roads in Afghanistan.  Maybe so, but they are also tired of his family robbing the country blind and his agents abusing their power.

Focusing on the special ops efforts at night, "A senior Afghan official said that Karzai has repeatedly criticized the raids in meetings with Petraeus and that he is seeking veto power over the operations."  Karzai is apparently tilting at the wrong windmills.  There is no way that Karzai is getting to get a "Double-Key" situation like the UN had in Bosnia--that system facilitated genocide (as I was reminded while interviewing a Dutch diplomat last week when their troops got stuck with responsibility but no power in Srebenica).  The US military will not subject itself to any Afghan veto, especially one held by the least responsible and even least accountable guy around.
"It's not desirable for the Afghan people either to have 100,000 or more foreign troops going around the country endlessly," he said.
Oh, Karzai need not worry.  The end is nigh.  His efforts over the past two years have done more to weaken support for the mission from Denmark to the US than anything else.  Karzai can play the xenophobic card all he wants, and which opponents of the mission have been overplaying for years.  But putting the blame on the foreigners for the violence forgets that the Taliban get a vote.  If they don't plant bombs on the sides of roads and don't send suicide bombers into markets, things would be more "normal."  Indeed, the Taliban and their allies have been the source of the majority of civilian casualties.  But sure, they might become less violent if the US and its allies shrink their presence because they will have won.  No need to contest territories they own. 

This whole interview suggests that Karzai sees much more in common with the Taliban than with the folks propping him up: "They [the Taliban] feel the same way as we do here. That too many people are suffering for no reason. Their own families are suffering," he said, and it is this "national suffering they'd like to address with us." Sure, they would end the suffering.  Just ask the women who will die when they cannot receive appropriate medical care while giving birth.  Oh, and Karzai's suffering would stop as well.  I am pretty sure that a Taliban regime would have no use for the guy, given how unreliable he has proven to be.

About accusations that he is a lousy partner: "If a partner means a silent spectator of events conducted by Washington, if that kind of partner you seek, well, I'm not that partner," Karzai said. "Nor will be the Afghan people."  No, not a silent spectator, but I think the US would have liked someone who was leading the effort, rather than opposing it.

In my earliest posts on this blog, I was less ambivalent about the effort.  But then Karzai did his magic, making me much less certain about my views.  Now, it is hard to argue that it is worth the cost to stick around.  But what keeps me from recommending a withdrawal by NATO and the US is this: when we scampered from Vietnam, many folks paid for it, including ultimately Cambodians.  If we leave Afghanistan precipitously, the consequences are uncertain but unlikely to be good.  Staying around may or may not produce a desirable outcome.  Not a bunch of great choices, but then Karzai seems to be trying to make it much clearer and easier.

No comments: