The decision by challenger Abdullah Abdullah to withdraw from the run off election for a new Afghan president appears to throw U.S. plans for a new strategy in that country into disarray. Without honest elections, there is no way to remove the stain on Hamid Karzai’s presidency created by the rampant fraud in the first round of elections. So much for all the shuttle diplomacy conducted by Vice President Biden, Senator Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Kerry, Special Envoy Holbrooke and others. Now the President faces the terrible choice of sending more American soldiers into battle to support a government that appears to lack basic legitimacy.
The sudden collapse of the U.S. engineered run-off elections raises a larger problem for the administration’s national defense strategy. This strategy is centered on being able to conduct successful counterinsurgency and stability operations first in Iraq and Afghanistan and, in the future, in situations that could arise in the Middle East, Africa or South America. The Pentagon has been tying itself in knots trying to develop new capabilities to build the security capacity of partner countries and to support stabilization of failing states. To what end all this effort and expense if the local government is corrupt and dysfunctional? Why ask one U.S. soldier to risk his or her life for such a government?
The problem is that virtually all the administration’s attention has been focused on the military aspects of partnership building and stability. What has been ignored is the basic reality that virtually all the so-called failed or failing states, those most likely to be safe havens for Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, have suffered a collapse of governance. These states are the way they are in large measure because of the failure of their political processes, if any existed at all. The United States can pour all the troops and resources it has into such countries and engage in all the partnership building exercises it wants but without credible, functional local governments these efforts are likely to prove futile. As the experience in Iraq and Afghanistan clearly demonstrates, the U.S. efforts to train foreign security forces will be rendered irrelevant if those forces do not have a legitimate government for whom to fight.
Missing from the U.S. strategy are the means and methods to help establish credible, functioning governments in these countries. Our armed forces can conduct counterinsurgency operations and help train partners’ military and police forces. Somebody else needs to be responsible for developing credible and functional political institutions and governments.
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