I had some concerns that a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed from Richard Fontaine and John Nagl of the Center for a New American Security treated the fraudulent Afghan presidential election too blithely, proposing to simply work around Kabul and deal directly with the provinces. But if this Washington Post story is correct, the Obama administration really seems to have taken it to heart. President Obama’s ordering up a province-by-province study to “determine which regions are being managed effectively by local leaders and which require international help.” The Post explains:
Obama’s interest in provincial allies also reflects the administration’s growing disenchantment with President Hamid Karzai and his inability to extend his government’s authority beyond Kabul during his nearly eight years in office. Provincial governments and tribal structures have long exerted more power than the central government, which many Afghans view as remote, corrupt and ineffective. Another U.S. official involved in Afghanistan policy said, “Most of Afghanistan that’s stable is under local control.”
The joke going around the Washington Afghanistan-watcher circuit is that federalized Iraq has the constitution Afghanistan needs and strong-central-government-in-theory-but-weak-in-practice Afghanistan has the constitution Iraq needs. I don’t really know how well Fontaine and Nagl’s proposal addresses what are likely to be persistent legitimacy concerns after next week’s runoff vote. But I hope they’ve got answers, because it looks like their argument has persuaded the president.
Update: Matthew Yglesias observes that it wouldn’t be such a bad idea if we determined which regions of the U.S. are targets for stewardship by the international community.