Panetta Says Karzai Probably Won the Afghan Election
Just two days ago, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly cautioned reporters not to jump to any conclusions about who won the Afghan presidential election just because “preliminary results” have been certified in Hamid Karzai’s favor. “I want to reemphasize that these are just preliminary, they’re not final, and we’re still waiting for the certified results,” Kelly said. “These certified results will only come after the Independent Electoral Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission have carried out their investigations thoroughly and done all the required audits and recounts. You know that they’ve quarantined over 600 polling stations. And so just to say it again, we welcome this next step in the process, but caution patience to everybody to await the final certified results.”
Most of the administration has stuck to that we-await-the-final-results template. When it came time to discuss Afghanistan in her speech today to the Brookings Institution, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton merely referred to “the next president” of Afghanistan, giving no names. Then there’s CIA Director Leon Panetta.
And here’s where diplomacy gets in the way of common sense. Everything Panetta said is true. His observations are even mundane and understated. But Panetta’s not some blogger, he’s the director of the CIA, and so when he makes a statement the likely outcome in a disputed election, Afghans are going to presume that the top American intelligence official is decreeing an outcome.
The CIA defends the interview. “Director Panetta said exactly what he meant,” said CIA spokesman George Little. He didn’t confirm the results of the Afghan election. He talked in terms of the likelihood of a particular outcome. Any suggestion that he made a final call is wrong.” And again: right! On the merits: right! To an American audience: right! But what will the Afghans think?