Troops won’t help troubled Afghanistan

Freedom New Mexico

Secretary of state Hillary Clinton, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner and four straight days of intensive discussions with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry provided the pressure.

The result was to convince the current and probably future President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, to agree to a runoff election Nov. 7 between Karzai and his chief opponent, Abdullah Abdullah.

That may have been the least-worst option available, but then none of the likely options available in Afghanistan is attractive.

The pressure from foreign governments reflected the conviction that the Afghan election held Aug. 20 was riddled with fraud — enough to reduce Karzai’s vote total to 49.7 percent, less then the 50-percent-plus-one required to declare an outright winner, according to Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission.

It also suggests, however, that politics in Afghanistan, and the perception that a government that emerges from the tortuous election process is considered “legitimate,” are at least heavily influenced by foreign forces.

Karzai never admitted there was enough fraud in the earlier election to deny him the majority early results claimed he had won, but veiled threats that western military and economic support, the main factors that have kept him in power these last several years, might be cut off, seem to have helped him come to the decision his foreign supporters desired.

The prospect that a run-off election will produce a result that many Afghans will consider legitimate is hardly promising. About half the Afghan election supervisors from the earlier election have been fired on suspicion of fraud, and it will be difficult to replace them.

It is far from clear that enough election monitors can be put in place to reduce the likelihood of fraud in the run-off. The bitter Afghan winter is coming on, which will complicate logistics and probably reduce turnout. And Taliban insurgents are expected to step up attacks to reduce turnout, intensify the impression that the Afghan government, even with U.S. and other foreign forces, cannot keep the people safe.

The pressure before Karzai’s reluctant acquiescence increases the widespread impression that he is nothing but an American puppet, although a puppet the Americans consider less than satisfactory.

Recent events suggest that whether or not it increases U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan by a lot, a little, or nothing at all, the U.S. is determined to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan willy-nilly, and will pretend an Afghan government notorious for being ineffectual and corrupt is a “reliable partner” in that fight.

You would think the sheer quantity of make-believe surrounding Afghan politics might cause U.S. officials to have second thoughts about whether trying to stabilize a government to which most Afghans are indifferent is worth the cost in the blood of U.S. troops.

Since the group that has the potential to pose a real threat to the U.S., al-Qaida, is not active in Afghanistan but in neighboring Pakistan (which has its own complex troubles), an increasing number of Americans are questioning the wisdom of a commitment that could stretch for many years.

Every option in Afghanistan is fraught with potential danger, but the least dangerous course is to phase out the U.S. military commitment rather than increasing it.