McChrystal Speaks in London, Defends Obama — and Karzai

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Thursday, October 01, 2009 at 2:20 pm

The New York Times plays up Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s contention before a British think-tank audience that the U.S. ought not to adopt a counterterrorism-heavy strategy that’s agnostic to the overall stability of Afghanistan. But really, what else can you expect an Afghanistan commander to say?

I suppose there’s a question of whether McChrystal should be making any public comment ahead of President Obam’s decision on the proper strategic course for Afghanistan and Pakistan. But it’s not like he’s advocating anything he hasn’t already been publicly revealed to advocate by the leak of his strategy assessment last week.

And he defended the review: “The process,” he told a reporter who tried and failed to get him to disclose details, “of going through a very detailed, policy-level debate, is incredibly important and incredibly healthy. The president led that very effectively, and so I think this is a very necessary process to go through so we come to a clear decision and then move forward.”

What’s more problematic are his remarks about Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Asked by a reporter whether Karzai fell within a cohort of ineffective Afghan officials, McChrystal replied:

I think President Karzai is serving, and has served now for a number of years as president. Is his leadership perfect? No. I don’t know many senior leaders whose leadership is perfect either. Mine is not. I think that he operates in an incredibly complex environment. So I think we need to make allowances for that.

Let’s be clear. Hamid Karzai helped steal an election that he was probably already going to win. The fraud accompanying the August 20 election was sufficiently widespread and worrisome to cause an internal crisis in the U.N. assistance mission to Afghanistan and prompt the Obama administration to reconsider strategy. I appreciate that McChrystal will have to work with Karzai and can’t realistically denounce him. But this is a rather anodyne presentation. If there’s, as McChrystal said, “predatory corruption by some officials” that must be “tackle[d],” it doesn’t make any sense to downplay election fraud. Indeed, why believe that a government that would steal an election it would probably win will be willing to tackle such corruption?

Update: McChrystal said more about the elections at the forum, and I have to say this is a fair point:

That’s in the eye of the beholder. When I talked to you about complexity in Afghanistan, the outcome of the elections is just that way. What I would ask you to do is make sure you don’t just put the lens of your own experience on when you view the elections. I have not talked to all the Afghans, but some of the  Afghans I’ve talked to have a different view of the credibility of the elections than some of the western press and world does. They view that it was relatively legitimate in their eyes. Again, I don’t say that speaks for everybody, but I just ask everybody to consider different perspectives on that. At the end of the day, the most important consideration or vote on whether the Afghan vote was legitimate or not is the Afghan people. They will accept it, or not.

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