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Our Favorite Afghans

So it used to be that the Obama administration wanted Ambassador Zal Khalilzad to be something like a CEO for Afghanistan, because, you know, who doesn’t trust the competence and wisdom of a CEO? Now the administration thinks ex-Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, who’s opposing President Hamid Karzai in the election on Aug. 20, should be the CEO, and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and special envoy Richard Holbrooke are reportedly nudging Karzai to take the job. To some degree, the administration sees the position as a mitigation strategy to Karzai’s likely reelection. But as this guy quoted by The Washington Post’s Josh Partlow notes, the move is actually commensurate with the failed governing strategies that Karzai typically employs:

“Karzai doesn’t think in terms of growth in GDP in Afghanistan, unemployment, more services or security,” said Haroun Mir, director of Afghanistan’s Center for Research & Policy Studies. “He’s a consensus builder. As long as he could win a consensus of important power brokers, he thinks he’s a very successful man.”

And that goes a long way toward explaining why Karzai is the favorite to win. It’s ironic that the United States is turning to Ghani to provide a measure of what Partlow characterizes as “an Afghan government with a more technocratic bent,” since the line on Karzai during the years when no one in America cared about Afghanistan was that Karzai was a supreme technocrat. But no one ever accused the United States of failing to personalize institutional failures, and Joshua Foust has an excellent meta-observation:

[H]ere’s an idea: we stop playing “who’s your favorite pet Afghan” and actually try discussing the country’s needs and concerns. Despite years of unbelievable failure doing it, we’re still desperately searching for our favorite magic Afghan who will rule the land in peace and unity.

As a political strategy, I suppose the Obama administration can’t walk back its public antipathy for Karzai. But does the administration have to deepen it? How does Karzai not interpret the Ghani maneuver as a naked bid to undercut him, since that’s transparently what it is? And how will Karzai return the favor once he’s reelected?

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