Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Ahmed Karzai Good Governance Award

Quote of the day:
"General McChrystal creates an environment of trust among Afghans."

       - Ahmed Wali Karzai 

That's like Bernie Madoff endorsing a money manager for his probity. Brother Ahmed is widely suspected of being one of Afghanistan's biggest drug warlords.

More generally, the spectacle of the Afghan leadership pulling out all the media stops to weigh in on a U.S. personnel decision is a bit of an eye-rubber. We're so used to the opposite -- public displays alternately of disapproval or "love" for Hamid Karzai, various assessments of various Afghan cabinet members as corrupt (or competent, when they're canned).  Not that we haven't heard before that Karzai likes McChrystal/doesn't like Eikenberry. But especially in light of Karzai's recent very public expressions of mistrust/disgust in the allied effort, it is interesting to see him thus passionately engaged:

“The president of Afghanistan announced his confidence in General Stanley McChrystal, he has been a very effective and very integrated commander of ISAF and NATO,” said Mr. Omar, referring to the International Security Assistance Force.

He added that General McChrystal “has been a great partner of the Afghan people, and he has increased the level of trust between our international partners and the Afghan people. We are at a very sensitive point and any gap in this process will not be helpful.”
UPDATE: I wasn't quite sure what to make of my own cognitive dissonance above. E.J. Dionne provides an interpretation of sorts:

Paradoxically, Karzai's supportive comments underscored why McChrystal had to be relieved. One little-noted passage in Michael Hastings's article underscored McChrystal's central problem.

"The most striking example of McChrystal's usurpation of diplomatic policy is his handling of Karzai,"

Hastings wrote. "It is McChrystal, not diplomats like Eikenberry or Holbrooke, who enjoys the best relationship with the man America is relying on to lead Afghanistan. The doctrine of counterinsurgency requires a credible government, and since Karzai is not considered credible by his own people, McChrystal has worked hard to make him so."

A military strategy is supposed to fit the facts on the ground. But McChrystal was trying to invent an alternative reality to fit the facts to his counterinsurgency strategy, trying to turn Karzai into something he isn't. The open split on the American side has reduced Karzai's incentives to alter his behavior. 

I would add, though, that "trying to turn Karzai into something he isn't" seems to be the core of  U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.  If that effort was a mistake, how does the U.S. stick with its COIN strategy?

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