Monday, August 3, 2009

Eikenberry Throws Stones From His Glass House

Karl Eikenberry, the current U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and former military commander there, has an op-ed in today's Washington Post arguing that Afghanis have a choice coming up about the future direction of their country in the August 20th election. No doubt that's true. As he says,
"Five years ago, with guidance from the international community, Afghanistan held its first elections and began the process of building a new state -- a complex and difficult effort following 25 years of invasion, civil war, oppression and foreign-inspired terrorism. This time, Afghan authorities bear the full responsibility for fulfilling their people's right to choose their leaders, with the international community assisting, not leading. But none of this will matter unless the voters have a real choice and know what each candidate stands for. There must be a serious debate among the candidates and by the Afghan people."
But equally important is the debate, or lack of debate, here in the United States about what to do in Afghanistan. We don't have a real strategy, for staying or going, in Afghanistan. We don't know how long we plan to be there. We don't know if the Afghani government will survive without massive support from U.S. and NATO troops and civilians; almost certainly it and the Afghan National Army cannot survive without continuing massive amounts of foreign aid. All the reviews in the world haven't given us answers or even multiple possible solutions or futures to choose from. General McCrystal's review seems unlikely to change that, especially since his team contained no experts on Afghanistan or Pakistan, just military historians and strategists (Exum did serve in Afghanistan, but his academic work is on counterinsurgency elsewhere).
Equally disturbing to me is Eikenberry's between-the-lines endorsement of re-election for Karzai. Despite his talk of "We stand with absolute impartiality regarding who should be president of Afghanistan" parts of his article sound almost like a politician on the stump, talking about the future versus the past, progress or stagnation, and reforming society. All this while Karzai's brother has become the richest man in Afghanistan. I wish viable alternatives existed in the presidential election in Afghanistan, if only to strengthen the debate and force the candidates to be more honest.
U.S. policy makers need to be equally honest with themselves and with the American public. We need actual strategic options and policy decisions in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Until then progress will be impossible.

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