What to Do About an Afghan Legitimacy Crisis?
So it’s looking like Hamid Karzai stole an election. What now? One option, apparently favored by the United States, is to try and persuade robbed rival Abdullah Abdullah to join Karzai’s government. Andrew Exum, an adviser to Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s Afghanistan strategy review, worries that this may prove to be the “moment when historians will judge we should have cut the cord on the Afghan government.” Brookings’ Bruce Reidel, who chaired President Obama’s strategy review, tells The New York Times that the U.S. can’t afford to do that: “We have a fundamental interest in building up the legitimacy of the Karzai government.”
Another option was advanced by Anatol Lieven of King’s College and the New America Foundation a few days ago:
Audacious! But how can the United States tell Afghanistan that the election was so fraudulent that it needs to essentially reshape its government outside its constitution? And what could the U.S. really do, short of threatening to withhold aid, if Karzai refused to acquiesce to the plan?
Update: In Exum’s comments, Shawn Brimley, a top official in the Pentagon’s policy directorate, says (it’s the 1:29 p.m. comment):
I think the best option is to go forward by focusing on local and regional approaches to security capacity and governance. I mean look, this is ultimately what we did in Iraq. Yes the election outcome is a worst case scenario but to me suggests simply shifting our focus toward a bottom-up approach, something that both the history of Afghanistan and our own recent operational experience suggests is the best option in a world of bad ones.