The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Afghan Statebuilding

September 20, 2009

I’m generally sympathetic to the letter from the IR scholars on Afghanistan discussed below — though I am most certainly not a realist and I am not averse to statebuilding as a concept or as an occasional practice in foreign policy. I supported the effort in Bosnia (notwithstanding the impression given in George Will’s Washington Post column tomorrow morning — I’ll respond to that later). For me, I have long been persuaded by Tony Smith from Tufts who argues that the question should not be simply: is one for, or against, the enterprise of state building. It is whether or not there is a credible strategy and set of conditions conducive to success.

In Afghanistan, it has been almost eight years since the Taliban were ousted from power, and on the issue of governance, functionality of state institutions, and civil society development there are very few positive indicators. The recent elections and the UN’s handling of them have been a disaster. The sudden departure this week of Peter Galbraith from his position as the number two UN official in the country after a not-so-private feud with his Norwegian boss, Kai Eide, who heads the UN mission in Kabul reveals the train wreck. From the Times Online:

Mr Galbraith, a close friend of the US special envoy Richard Holbrooke, left for Boston on Sunday after a heated meeting with Afghan election officials. His “pointed” questions to the Independent Election Commission (IEC) were evidence of a much tougher line towards the Afghan authorities than the “softly-softly” approach of Mr Eide, who heads the UN mission to Kabul.

“The relationship between Kai and Peter has completely broken down,” said a diplomat in Kabul. “Peter has left the country. The official line is that he’s on a three-week mission to New York. But Kai just turned round to Peter and said, ‘I want you out’.”

The apparent row illustrates the deepening divisions within the international community on whether to allow President Karzai to claim re-election in the flawed presidential poll.

Mr Galbraith wants the IEC to annul results from 1,000 of the total of about 6,500 polling stations and to recount results from another 5,000, diplomatic sources said. Mr Eide, a former UN envoy in Bosnia, seeks only a face-saving recount of some 1,000 polling places, the sources said.

Mr Galbraith’s wholesale recount would virtually ensure a second round in the election, denying Mr Karzai his claimed first-round victory. Harsh winter weather means that the second round could not be held before May, leaving Afghanistan in political limbo.

Mr Eide’s solution would probably enable Mr Karzai to claim victory, although with a reduced margin.

There just isn’t anything good to say about this….

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Jon Western has spent the last fifteen years teaching IR in liberal arts colleges at Mount Holyoke College and the Five Colleges in western Massachusetts. He has an eclectic range of intellectual interests but often writes on international security, U.S. foreign policy, military intervention, and human rights. He occasionally shares his thoughts about professional life in liberal arts colleges. In his spare time he coaches middle school soccer, mentors the local high school robotics team, skis, and sails.