When President Obama addresses the nation tonight on the future direction of the war in Afghanistan, I will be anxiously waiting to see if he addresses lingering questions that remain in my mind regarding the strategy and America’s commitment. We all know that the President will be requesting at least 30,000 more troops. I’m supportive of that decision. We’re in a situation with no good options and this is probably the least bad of those available. But we must not focus solely on troop numbers. More troops without a realistic strategy for success would be a mistake. I hope that President Obama addresses (1) how the United States will pressure Karzai for reform and (2) how this country will pay for the war effort.
There will be much talk tonight about how we must push Karzai to get serious about reforms and anticorruption efforts. The need is clear. More than 8 in 10 Afghans report that the country is riddled with widespread corruption… and this poll was taken before the presidential election that generated widespread complaints of fraud.
The US counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan only works if there is a credible government that the Afghan population can turn to in place of the Taliban. So far, the performance of the Afghan central government leads many to question if it provides a better alternative. There will be much discussion of pushing the Afghan government to institute internal reforms and clean up its act. The problem is that our leverage is quite limited.
This recent article by Helene Cooper described the dilemma pretty well. Karzai knows that we’re reliant on him for our strategy to work. If we threaten to pull troops out, we both lose. So, it’s a hollow threat. The question I’m left with is what other carrot and stick approaches might work? The article refers to White House officials who say that there are other tools available. I”m anxiously waiting to hear what they are. (more…)