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McChrystal on the Afghan Election and the Karzai Government

Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s Afghanistan strategy review is absolutely scathing in its assessment of the Afghan government. It raises the effect of its corruption and incompetence to a strategic threat on par with the insurgency, and calls it a “crisis of popular confidence”:

… that springs from the weakness of [Afghan government] institutions, the unpunished abuse of power by corrupt officials and power-brokers, a widespread sense of political disenfranchisement, and a longstanding lack of economic opportunity. ISAF errors have further compounded the problem. These factors generate recruits for the insurgent groups, elevate local conflicts and power-broker disputes to a national level, degrade the people’s security and quality-of-life, and undermine international will. … Insufficiently addressing [this threat] will result in failure.

That should set alarm bells ringing. Is a government that was willing to return itself to power by stealing an election really willing to enact the kind of good-government reforms that would be necessary to mitigate this threat?

McChrystal’s review, completed a few days after the elections last month, calls them “far from perfect” and almost as an afterthought notes that “the credibility of the election results remains an open question.” Yet McChrystal says that the goal in Afghanistan for Afghan governance is not “perfection.” Instead, it’s “an improvement in governance that addresses the worst of today’s high level abuse of power, low-level corruption, and bureaucratic incapacity will suffice.”

Will that be enough? If the point is to inspire confidence among Afghans, would that be achieved by merely addressing “the worst of today’s high level abuse of power”? If that’s the most this strategy could realistically deliver, that’s a reason to reassess the strategy. It’s incoherent to say that governmental incapacity and corruption is as dangerous as the insurgency, but the United States and its allies don’t actually have to yield that much to tamp down that danger.

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