This, from the Washington Post, underlines one of the dilemmas that frequently (maybe always) get in the middle of our interventions. In South Korea after the truce we found ourselves committed to a strong man (Rhee) who in effect had us on the hook no matter how repressive his behavior. In Iran the Shah had us on a string as he did what he pleased about any dissent and discord, in South Vietnam repressive leaders had us on the hook, in Iraq Maliki has and now in Afghanistan its Karzai (There are more examples, I just think of these as making the point adequately.). These leaders pursued policies and directions at odds with American interests (or moral and political values) as stated by the administrations involved and escaped any consequences because they knew we had no ready alternative.
Our interventions require serious advance consideration of what we will do if the interest of the regime that comes to power, whether we install it or it is chosen democratically, diverge from ours greatly. It means that we must anticipate this “downstream” consequence and make explicit to the regime what we will do (and I suggest it be something drastic and unpalatable for the regime and possibly even for us) if we don’t get our way for some period of time necessary either to set up what we want or “throw in the towel” (and the regime). If we feel we must stay, then let’s accept Nation-building as a duty and stop shrinking from doing it with the commitment it requires.
I once thought Colin Powell’s insistence on an exit strategy was naïve, given the uncertainties of war. Now I think it may be imperative, even at high cost to us, including cultural change to recognize a total withdrawal in these circumstances as a “strategic” move, not a defeat in the field.
At one especially frustrating point in the Vietnam War, Senator George Aiken (R) of Vermont is reported to have said, “…the United States could well declare unilaterally … that we have ‘won’ in the sense that our armed forces are in control of most of the field and no potential enemy is in a position to establish its authority over South Vietnam,” and that such a declaration “would herald the resumption of political warfare as the dominant theme in Vietnam.” He added: “It may be a far-fetched proposal, but nothing else has worked.”
A few weeks ago, presumably miffed at being read the riot act by Obama, Karzai threatened to ally with the Taliban. Our response was to court him with a US visit. I suggest that in the back of his mind he must know that he would almost certainly be an early casualty of any serious alliance with the Taliban. (Some will say his corrupt brother has ties that would save him: perhaps so but it is also possible that the Taliban will happily “off” them both, a prospect the brothers must think about at bed time when one separates considerations of one’s role in life from one’s person. That scenario suggests it is the brother who offers the protection to President Karzai when it may well be the reverse.)
The usual argument for getting out of Afghanistan is that intervention was justified after 9/11 but Al Qaeda is no longer there and the rebuttal to that is that the Taliban is bad in itself and Al Qaeda will be back if the Taliban takes over. God only knows what they will do to women if they return but its pretty certain their values aren’t congruent with ours on how they should be treated. What if we let it turn out that way? Al Qaeda appears able to set up training camps in many places still and Afghanistan’s current government would almost certainly allow it to return there if we left. Unlikely as it seems to me, perhaps for assumptions I make that are mistaken or even worse, a poor reflection on my gender bias that I didn’t know I had, women might become a political force to stop Taliban domination on the basis of values more than political interests.
So, let’s leave. We need the troops, money and efforts against those who would injure us flexibly available wherever dangers arise. I suggest that Senator Aiken’s proposal become a strategic possibility for the US and that an illuminated manuscript of Senator Aiken’s quotation be one of the gifts presidents give to regimes we are supporting when they begin to exert their independence at our expense.
I also suggest we be damn cautious about any other than highly covert interventions in other countries.
Washington Post, Monday, June 7, 2010; A10
KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday forced out his spy chief and his interior minister, a surprise move that eliminates two key American allies as the United States deepens its engagement here.
The departures of Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and National Directorate of Security chief Amrullah Saleh are likely to become an additional irritant in the already rocky relationship between Karzai and Washington.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said both officials were “people we admire and whose service we appreciate.” Atmar, Morrell added, “was one of the ministers we cared about.”
Atmar earned the esteem of many U.S. officials by taking steps to reform a ministry plagued by corruption when he came into the job early last year. The Interior Ministry oversees the country’s fledgling police forces, whose training is a key focus of the 30,000 additional forces President Obama is deploying to Afghanistan.
Many of the newly deployed troops are being sent to Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan. Simultaneously, the Karzai administration is trying to negotiate an armistice with the Taliban, a concept U.S. officials support in principle but are wary of in practice. Both resignations Sunday appeared linked to the prospect of talks.
Atmar and Karzai had clashed in recent months over Karzai’s reconciliation efforts, said a senior U.S. military official who worked closely with Atmar.
“Atmar really disagreed with the reintegration of the Taliban into the police and the army,” the official said. “He had some problems with it, and, frankly, we agreed with him.”
Atmar’s name circulated as a potential presidential candidate last year, and he is widely known to have political ambitions.
Saleh has a close relationship with the CIA that dates to Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s. A former senior U.S. intelligence official said Saleh may have disagreed with Karzai’s efforts to release some Taliban figures as a demonstration of his willingness to negotiate. “I can see Amrullah objecting to that,” the former official said. “He was tough. He had a very clear view about what was required for security.”