Senator John Kerry has posed this same question about Vietnam, and also later during his presidential campaign with regard to Iraq. I believe that Kerry’s basic premise was how you can ask a man to be the last one to die for a mistake. Kerry’s characterization of his own war, Vietnam, or mine, Iraq, is all an argument for history. However, with the current operations in Afghanistan we have to ask ourselves this same question again. How do you ask a man to be the last to die in a country where the government places no importance on their sacrifice?
President Obama has set what appears to be a clear agenda for the military strategy in Afghanistan. While visiting troops there recently the President attempted to lay out for the deployed soldier his assessment and plan as Commander-in-Chief. The President explained to the troops that direct changes as a result of their presence could be directly seen, and that there will be an increased focus on making progress in the civilian sector including anti-corruption and rule of law.
“All of these things end up resulting in an Afghanistan that is more prosperous and more secure”
But how can President Obama even envision such a plan given the Afghan government’s complete inability to lead, and what’s more, the hostile incompetence of its leader, Hamid Karzai?
Recently in a meeting with Afghan lawmakers, Karzai accused the United States of interfering with his country’s affairs, and surmised that this meddling would cause the Taliban to become a legitimate resistance movement. Karzai did not stop there but went on to say that if the parliament did not back Karzai’s attempt to seize control of the country’s electoral watchdog from the United Nations, he would consider joining the Taliban.
This is the second round of anti-Western statements by Karzai in as many weeks. More importantly this is just the latest in what has become a troublesome reign by Karzai. A reign which may lead to a failure of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan, whether military or civilian
The timeline begins with Karzai’s shadowy election in 2009 in which over one million votes cast in his favor were disqualified by Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). This caused a runoff election which never took place because the second place candidate withdrew from the race. Karzai now wants the authority to appoint all five members of the commission instead of including the three members previously appointed by the United Nations. Karzai’s election is still associated with his government’s widespread corruption. Instead of making any showing to the West that he is serious about stopping this corruption, Karzai instead chooses to seize control of one of the few checks on corruption within the country. Luckily, Karzai’s meeting last week with lawmakers came about as a result of parliament’s rejection of his plan. The lower house of parliament rejected Karzai’s attempt, almost unanimously.
The last year has also seen Karzai continue to reach out to traditional rivals and enemies of the United States to include Iran. This really just continues a pattern from Karzai beginning in earnest in 2007, when he described Iran as a “very close friend.” Karzai used this friendly characterization even as United States officials informed him that Iranian made weapons were flowing to Taliban fighters. There is no evidence that the Iranian government is behind the alleged shipments, but I think we’d have to look very hard to find the country with a more legitimate interest than Iran in flooding the Taliban with Iranian made weapons to use against U.S. troops.
Karzai hosted his friend Mahmud Ahmadinejad while Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Afghanistan, and then returned the favor by visiting with Ahmadinejad this past March. This is counter to President Obama’s diplomatic campaign to “isolate” Iran in the region. It leaves the foreign policy of the Obama administration and the reputation of the United States in a laughable position worldwide.
Karzai currently presides over a country where bribes are equal to a quarter of the GDP. According to recent United Nation’s statistics, 59% of the country’s citizens point to corruption as the greatest problem facing the country. During 2009 Afghan citizens paid $2.5 million in bribes. Almost half of those Afghans surveyed, 40% said that during recent contact with a government official they were asked for a bribe. This pervasive corruption makes any governance progress next to impossible. But more than that, this corruption makes citizens lose their faith in the state and look for security elsewhere. Karzai spoke just weeks after his election “victory” and promised to take steps against corruption. However, almost five months later the Afghanistan government has yet to announce any strategy for dealing with corruption, nor has Karzai created any national entity or agency to address the problem.
The billions of dollars in Western aid and the 100,000 men and women waging war against the Taliban require that the government of Afghanistan do its part. It requires Karzai at least make a bumbling attempt at transparent and honest government.
But President Obama also has some decisions and changes to make of his own. How long can the President legitimately ask his country to sacrifice some of its best and brightest for a man who could care less about their sacrifice?
This Karzai mess represents perhaps a larger problem with President Obama’s diplomatic course. The man whose corruption continues to leave his country in a state of disarray is rewarded with an additional 30,000 American lives. Meanwhile we turn a blind eye to his close relationship with our enemies. But perhaps that is the consistent course; after all we’ve been just as hands off with Iran’s human rights violations as Afghanistan. It is not that this President has a problem articulating a foreign policy; he has a problem wielding the stick to enforce it.
Mr. Obama, friend or foe, what is the difference? How will you ask a man to be the last to die in Afghanistan?