Foreign Policy Blogs

Karzai Stays: A 'New Chapter'?


"Five more years, baby!"

Would be presidential runoff challenger Abdullah Abdullah is out and Hamid Karzai is staying in.  Everything is now all cleared up.  Right?  What?  There are issues still left to settle? Even solve?!? The near and long term future hold the answers to….President Obama’s new Afghan strategy decision and implementation? Will a second term Karzai be like the first term?  In other words, will he prove effective in actually ‘governing’ parts of country?  Will he make substantial moves to stem the eroding force of corruption?  What is Abdullah Abdullah’s future?  Will he participate in Karzai’s government or lead a constructive/destabilizing opposition movement?  All of these issues are strongly connected to the recent election’s conclusion and their answers will be vital to Afghanistan’s future.

The Obama administration has sent mixed signals in the past few weeks about how important the election’s outcome was to their choice about McChrystal’s strategy, but it clearly weighed heavily on their minds.  The administration had been much more critical of Karzai than the Bush White House and has emphasized the importance of a viable and legitimate partner government in Kabul and their first response to the news of Abdullah’s abdication was rather lukewarm.  From the State Department’s Hillary Clinton came this terse statement:

I recognize the decision by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah not to participate in the second round of balloting in the Afghan presidential elections.

He ran a dignified and constructive campaign that drew the support of Afghan people across the nation. We hope that he will continue to stay engaged in the national dialogue, and work on behalf of the security and prosperity of the people of Afghanistan.

It is now a matter for the Afghan authorities to decide on a way ahead that brings this electoral process to a conclusion in line with the Afghan constitution. We will support the next President and the people of Afghanistan, who seek and deserve a better future.

President Obama followed this with a more unequivocal congratulations today and reached out to Karzai as a partner in what is shaping up to be a  crucial next few months for both of their interconnected governments.  Obama called for a ‘new chapter’ in relations, while calling for Karzai to follow up this reelection with a strong effort to improve his leadership:

“But as I indicated to him, the proof is not going to be in words; it’s going to be in deeds. And we are looking forward to consulting closely with his government in the weeks and months to come, to assure that the Afghan people are actually seeing progress on the ground.”

With the Afghan presidential election finally over (believe it or not it started to seem like it was lasting as long ours do), attention will now even more intensely focus on the Obama administration’s military strategy in the conflict. Many constituents are waiting for an answer, from Republicans, anti-war activists, European governments, NATO, let alone the citizens and leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Republican Rep. John Boehner immediately asserted that now Obama has no more ‘excuses’ for delaying announcing a decision, while the administration continued to state that their comprehensive process was still ongoing.  Obama’ Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that a decision was still probably weeks away, with some speculating that a decision will probably come after Obama’s trip to Asia in mid-November.

In any case, the clock is indeed ticking, as this seemingly small bit of evidence appears to show me:  Here is the lead in a New York Times front page story announcing Abdullah’s withdrawal…See if you can see what I saw?

With the White House’s reluctant embrace on Sunday of Hamid Karzai as the winner of Afghanistan’s suddenly moot presidential runoff, President Obama now faces a new complication: enabling a badly tarnished partner to regain enough legitimacy to help the United States find the way out of an eight-year-old war.

This is a ‘news’ article, not an editorial, that states ‘help the United States find the way out of….war’.  David Sanger, one of the Times’ most prominent journalists, did not say ‘change course’, ‘stabilize’, ‘turn around’, or ‘win’ an….war, but ‘find a way out’.  Either Sanger wants to get the US out of Afghanistan or he thinks the Obama administration does.