Fixing Afghanistan with hands tied

Afghanistan President Hamid KarzaiThe Karzai government we’ve propped up in Afghanistan has come under recent scrutiny for corruption. The questionable regime there is eroding support for the American led war/occupation/reconstruction effort. Obama, who made fixing Afghanistan the central thrust of his foreign policy message in last year’s election, is trying to salvage that support by squeezing concessions out of Karzai and his government:

President Obama […] admonished President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan that he must take on what American officials have said he avoided during his first term: the rampant corruption and drug trade that have fueled the resurgence of the Taliban.

But as the Times noted today, Obama has no bargaining power with Karzai because he’s already signaled our unwavering commitment to keep American troops in Afghanistan. Our troops, it should be noted, are what’s keeping Karzai in power. Without them, Karzai would be one of any number of people including drug warlords and Taliban leaders who would vie for control of Afghanistan.

This is in all honesty a somewhat silly situation. We should be willing to leave Afghanistan!

If we leave, what happens to America? We’ll still be the most objectively powerful nation on the planet. More terrorism might be exported from Afghanistan, but those terrorists could just as easily operate out of any number of other countries we aren’t prepared to occupy. The 9/11 plot was partly hatched in Hamburg, Germany. The Oklahoma City bombing was planned and executed entirely in the United States.

On the other side of this relationship there is Karzai and his supporters who would be royally f***ed without our money and troops. Shouldn’t they be willing to do whatever Obama wants?

Regular readers here know that I don’t think the Afghanistan effort is worth the cost. I still believe that. But if we are going to continue this imperial folly, let’s not be stupid about it. The outpost should not be leading the imperial capitol by the nose.

7 Comments

  1. Ian

    I like how you say:

    “Our troops, it should be noted, are what’s keeping Karzai in power. Without them, Karzai would be one of any number of people including drug warlords and Taliban leaders who would vie for control of Afghanistan.”

    And then try and justify leaving. You claim to care about how the rest of the world sees us and you often scold the US for how it treats other nations, but then you say something like this:

    “If we leave, what happens to America? We’ll still be the most objectively powerful nation on the planet.”

    That’s cringe inducing.

    “On the other side of this relationship there is Karzai and his supporters who would be royally f***ed without our money and troops. Shouldn’t they be willing to do whatever Obama wants?”

    Haven’t we already demonstrated that we can put enormous pressure on Karzai and his government? We got him to agree to a runoff election. That’s far more than we were able to squeeze out of Iran in their recent election. It isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, sure, but its something.

    “the rampant corruption and drug trade that have fueled the resurgence of the Taliban.”

    Funny, I seem to recall you claiming here on this blog that the Taliban were gone. Now you use their presence as a point in an argument.

  2. Chris

    Ian,
    There are moral arguments against staying in Afghanistan, I subscribe to those and the utilitarian argument I put in this post. I don’t think we should tolerate propping up Karzai if he is little better than his warlord and Taliban rivals. That consideration includes what I think would be best for the Afghan people, namely the option to decide the fate of their own country free our interference.

    The runoff election episode doesn’t really prove anything one way or the other in terms of reducing corruption. The allegation there was that Karzai went along with a runoff because he was going to fix the election again. Comparing it with Iran is completely false because we have zero internal influence on Iran. On the other hand, Afghanistan is a total client state.

    I don’t think I ever said the Taliban was gone, and if I did I apologize. It’s Al Qaeda that’s mostly gone, not the Taliban. And if you remember, we invaded to get rid of Al Qaeda, not the Taliban (which is moving away from their relationship with Al Qaeda).

  3. Ian

    “Obama has no bargaining power with Karzai”

    “Afghanistan is a total client state.”

    What?!?!

  4. Chris

    Obama has preemptively ceded his biggest bargaining chip. And the Afghan government survives at our prerogative with our troops for defense and our money for operation. That makes it a client.

  5. Ian

    You are talking about servitude, us serving them. “Client” would imply they are paying us for a service, in which case there would certainly be room for bargaining.

    Also:

    “That consideration includes what I think would be best for the Afghan people, namely the option to decide the fate of their own country free our interference.”

    Because its a pure democracy with no corruption or violence to keep the people’s voice from being heard, right?

  6. Chris

    Ian,
    Here is a solid definiiton of client state: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Client_state

    As for democracy and all that, my Western values tell me it would be preferable in Afghanistan, but there are other types of governments that are broadly representative without being democracies. In any case, for the time being their voices will likely consist of guns with or without our interference.

  7. Ian

    Yes, that is the definition of a client (proxy, puppet, etc) state. That is not what you are describing. You are talking about how they aren’t our puppet.