August 28, 2009

Elections in Afghanistan: A Heritage Foundation Event

Pretty interesting panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation. I was wondering what Barno's thoughts on all this were...

In other news, Hamid Karzai is doing his best to exhaust the patience of the United States.

Case in point: a now widely reported exchange the day after the elections last week between Mr. Karzai and Richard C. Holbrooke, Mr. Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, at Mr. Karzai’s presidential palace in Kabul.


American officials initially described the meeting, which also included Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, and his deputy, Francis Ricciardone, as routine. The three men, the officials said, told Mr. Karzai that the United States was maintaining a neutral position on the elections and was leaving decisions about whether there needed to be a run-off to the Afghan elections commission and the electoral complaints commission.


But a few days later, reports surfaced in international and Afghan news outlets that Mr. Holbrooke had demanded a run-off election in the “explosive” meeting with Mr. Karzai, a charge which the Americans deny. Administration officials accused Mr. Karzai’s agents of leaking select portions of the meeting to make it look as though the Obama administration was trying to force Mr. Karzai into holding a run-off.


Mr. Karzai, a senior administration official said, “has a longstanding pattern of creating a straw man of America’s positions, and rallying people around that.”


“But contrary to those reports,” the official said, “no one shouted, no one walked out” of the meeting.


Mr. Holbrooke, administration officials said, did not demand a run-off during the meeting but did express concern about the complaints about fraud and ballot-stuffing. The Associated Press quoted Mr. Karzai’s spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, as refusing publicly to discuss the meeting.


Whatever the case, the atmosphere may now have become so poisoned between the United States and Mr. Karzai that the Obama administration will be hampered no matter what course it takes. Administration officials said that initial characterizations of the success of the elections referred solely to the fact that they took place at all, despite threats by the Taliban and more than 200 rocket attacks that rained on southern Afghanistan on election day.

You know, Hamid Karzai is playing a dangerous game. There are plenty of senior-level folks in the Obama Administration questioning our continued involvement there, and the president himself seems to be worrying Afghanistan could be his Vietnam. I have made the case that both the United States and our allies have clear interests in Afghanistan, but I do not think this administration is nearly as enthusiastic about this war as I am. (And I'm not that enthusiastic.) I wonder if Karzai understands this. I wonder if he gets that while Bush was willing to bet his entire presidency on Iraq, Obama does not appear ready to bet his entire presidency on Afghanistan?