Run-off, Delay and the Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan

Vietcong Legs

President Obama’s third way, between the diametrically opposing choices to ramp up or draw down troop numbers, is to argue that his response to Gen. McChrystal’s assessment on Afghanistan turns on the resolution of the August presidential election.   This is a fine strategy.  It buys Obama some time to rethink his choices and to de-link the spectre of the cost of health care reform from the cost of war.

Gen. McChrystal argues that his favored counterinsurgency tactic will sink or swim depending on 1) increased troop presence in urban areas to protect non-aligned Afghan  2) the Afghan government doing its part to incentivize non-cooperation between non-aligned Afghans and the Taliban.  The move, reported today, sends a strong signal to Hamid Karzai that the Obama adminstration wants to focus on the Afghan government as the more important of the two solutions to a successful counterinsurgency tactic in Afghanistan.

The gist of the argument is: Unless we know that we have a reliable partner, we will not send in more troops.  We cannot know that we have a reliable partner unless the will of the majority of Afghans is acknowledged.  Hence, only after an unquestioned victor emerges from the election, will we make our move.  However, we know the post-run-off result: Karzai will win.  If he doesn’t, Afghanistan will collapse into a state of civil war.  So here’s to hoping that the decision to put 40,000 more troops on the ground has been made and that the delay tactic is simply, and only, a signal to Karzai that Obama wants him to shape up.   Moreover, if we wait too long and the election is posponed into the fall and the winter, the results, though legitimate, will not account for anything close to majority opinion on who should be the unquestioned ruler of Afghanistan.  Voters will not turn out to vote and– even though, in any case, the conduct of the escalated war, itself, will have to wait until the spring to allow our troops to train and prepare for Afghan terrain–if Obama, then, decides to put more boots on the ground, it will take the U.S. military at least a few more months to engage the enemy on the field.  Note, this is exactly what the Taliban want to have happen.

Note furthermore, that even if one unquestioned victor emerges, it still leaves unresolved the question whether that leader will be a reliable on the ground.  Reliability and legitimacy are entirely separable arguments; Obama wants to merge the two together and get an honest broker for peace and stability.  That will not happen.

~ by Faheem Haider on October 19, 2009.

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