October 1, 2009

Speaking for Afghanistan

The issue isn’t so much what he said as why he said it. Peter W. Galbraith, deputy UN representative to Afghanistan, was forced out his post for suggesting a total recount of the recent election. Though this motion sounds extreme, it should be viewed more as a warning to President Obama not to let Hamid Karzai waltz into power.

Rescuing him now is a recipe for destruction.

According to Galbraith, his last act was attempting to present evidence of “extensive fraud” to the Afghan Election Complaints Commission. But he was blocked by Kai Eide, the UN’s chief representative, who differed on both the scale of fraud and how much to speak of it, and eventually Karzai himself. Galbraith claims Eide, “did not want this information disseminated.”

Has the West learned nothing of propaganda in counterinsurgency? Didn't President Obama just learn a lesson from being Woodwarded? Suppressing the truth always backfires.

Now Galbraith is going public, claiming Eide, “tended to dismiss the fraud. He didn't want the UN staff to talk about it, he didn't want us to discuss issues, for example of turnout, with the ambassadors in Kabul because we knew the turnout was very low in the southern provinces although a very large number of votes were in fact being reported from those areas. Later, when the evidence of the fraud was inescapable he did talk about it but he's consistently minimized it.”

But this story grows far more disturbing when the UN is pealed away to reveal its true controller. State spokesman Philip J. Crowley did his best to cover up the firing, but reporters weren't biting with the truth so apparent. Four days before Galbraith was relieved, State Secretary Hillary Clinton told Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta that Karzai would likely emerge victorious. A runoff was briefly mentioned, but the meeting implied that Karzai was the next president.

The NYT reports, “Officials said they wanted to send a message that NATO remained committed to helping Afghanistan’s government combat Taliban militants.”

But supporting Karzai sends the wrong message.

“I think it sends a terrible signal when the UN removes an official because he was concerned about fraud in a UN-sponsored and funded election," Galbraith said. “I find it extraordinary that the United Nations would dismiss an official because he was concerned about fraud in an election funded by the United Nations.”

Hamid Karzai currently stands with 54.6% of the vote, but this number is bound to dip below the 50% required to avoid a runoff. At least 12% of the polling stations have been ordered recast after proof of ghost-polling. Separately EU election observers found about 1.5 million votes - roughly a quarter of all ballots - cast in the election could be fraudulent, 1.1 million of them for President Karzai. A runoff is all but certain.

Why, knowing these numbers, would the White House throw an ounce of support behind Karzai before the process completes itself? Why do President Obama and Congress believe they can “push him hard on governance and corruption,” according to one senior official, when he and his associates just rigged Afghanistan’s election in the face of the world?

Answer hide in plain view. Desperation is the word in Afghanistan for all things Obama.

It may seem contradictory to support Karzai given how alienated he reportedly is from the White House, but Karzai’s corruption and low popularity also make him controllable. American officials have been lured into believing they will own Karzai if they prop him up, but threat as a means to good governance is a ridiculous premise. Overlooking the very warlords and corrupt relatives who they blame Karzai for is similar foolishness. Do they expect Karzai to ride into power on their backs, only for them to be shut out once he’s in?

A bad gamble, just like assuming he wouldn't rig the election in the first place.

A second reason to support Karzai is more to the point. President Obama may claim he’s still deliberating troops levels and analyzing his strategy, but he’s really waiting for the election to end so he can send more troops. General McChrystal’s estimate of 30-40,000 can be questioned, but current troop levels obviously aren’t holding. Obama doesn’t have time for a runoff.

Pushing Karzai into power is the quickest method to settle the election and deploy new troops, but not so soon as a runoff demands.

The BBC reports, “The US, along with other foreign missions in Afghanistan, appears to want to move on from the election dispute to deal with the country's other considerable problems.” As in security problems. Karzai is essentially the only way to deploy more troops by next early next year, in time for the deciding 12 month window so frequently cited by Pentagon officials, but exploiting him would be a grave mistake. Obama would make a bad situation worse, then send troops into that very environment.

Though he speaks of forming a legitimate government before sending more troops, President Obama will create nothing of the sort with Karzai in power. He can’t be sold to all Afghans after committing such a wide level of fraud, especially if he comes to power with American protection, and won't form a government Afghans believe in. A Karzai victory announces “Afghanistan isn’t going to change” and punishes the Afghan people as a whole, contradicting America's mission.

It also screams Taliban victory. Militants are already taking full advantage of the political and security vacuum engulfing Afghanistan and further delays give them life. But a Karzai victory would throw wood on their blaze. He is the American stooge, the infidel, the corrupt Pashtun who lost touch with his people and is selling his country to gain power. He gives the Taliban a symbol of resistance for the next five years.

And that’s if Karzai cleans up his act somewhat. Nobody can expect him to purify his regime, but more of the same is a definite possibility. Karzai will likely make minor improvements - he won’t have a choice with, according to Senator Lindsey Graham, “his feet to the fire.” As if this sounds logical though, to pressure an already breaking man. What if corruption continues? What if insecurity continues, if food is short and complaints go unheard, if police and trials still live by bribe?

The Taliban’s dream is coming true - and President Obama is working to make it happen by prematurely supporting Karzai. He must stay neutral and remember Mr. Galbraith has his own powerful supporter.

"If the firing of Mr. Galbraith was on some technical issue, I have no say in it,” said Karzai's main challenger Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who’s been sounding alarms all month. “If the issue was based on the fact that he was for a vigorous look into the issue of fraud, in that case, I would say that he has been talking on behalf of the people of Afghanistan.”

President Obama should be too.

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