THE OBAMA administration should put off any decision about strategy or troop levels in Afghanistan until it is clear what kind of government will emerge from that country’s fraud-skewered presidential election.
As things now stand, an Electoral Complaints Commission - with three of its five members appointed by the United Nations - has voided enough fraudulent votes from the August balloting to bring Karzai’s total below 50 percent. According to the Afghan constitution, the next step should be a second-round runoff within two weeks. But Karzai and the warlords around him do not want to take any chance of surrendering power at the ballot box. Thus, they have refused to accept the commission’s decisions.
Last week, both Senator John Kerry and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner implored Karzai either to participate in an early November runoff or form a power-sharing government with his challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.
The unpalatable reality is that either of these two scenarios is likely to extend the reign of Karzai and the larcenous warlords. And perpetuation of that kleptocratic government makes it hard for any US military strategy to succeed in Afghanistan. Many Afghans assume that Karzai’s cronies are plundering the country with the approval of the United States.
The administration and the United Nations ought to have foreseen the electoral cheating that took place in August. They made a mistake in allowing Karzai’s backers to run that election. To have any hope of saving Afghanistan from another Taliban takeover, the administration must now demand an honest, accountable government in Kabul - whether Karzai remains as its nominal leader or not.
Only then can Obama made a fully informed decision on whether to risk the lives of an additional 40,000 American troops in this most difficult, but still very important, mission. The president is right to take the time to make an informed decision. Waiting a few more weeks for the resolution of the election crisis is only reasonable.