The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Uh oh…

October 19, 2009

Could Afghanistan get any messier? I’d like to have anyone advocating McChrystal’s recommendations explain to me how this would work… From the New York Times “Audit Said Likely to Show Karzai has 48 Percent of Vote”:

Mr. Karzai’s campaign officials have complained about the work of the five-member panel, saying that foreigners were unfairly influencing its outcome. And Mr. Karzai himself indicated this weekend that he might oppose the results, setting off a flurry of last-minute diplomacy by western officials.

If he is shown to have won less than 50 percent of the vote, a widely anticipated conclusion, Mr. Karzai has few legal options. A runoff with his main opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, is constitutionally mandated to take place within two weeks. But Mr. Karzai could use his influence over the Independent Election Commission, the Afghan body that will certify Monday’s results, to reject the findings.

That would pitch Afghanistan into a constitutional crisis just as the Obama administration is trying to make a decision on whether to send more troops here to halt the Taliban’s advance in the country’s deepening war.

Constitutional crises really are not helpful to counterinsurgency strategies….

Update: OK, so we’ve all heard the news that Karzai has agreed to a run-off on November 7 and thereby averting the constitutional crisis — for now. Everyone is abuzz about whether or not the election commission can pull together a nation-wide election run-off in less than three weeks and/or whether or not Karzai will come to some kind of power-sharing agreement with Abdullah and avoid the need for a run-off.

But, I’m fascinated by the backroom negotiations and how Senator John Kerry became the point person in the negotiations — 20 hours over five days. One big question: Where’s Holbrooke? As usual, Nukes and Spooks seems to have the best story in “Where’s Dick?”

Three administration officials, who asked not to be identified by agency, told us that, while Holbrooke is laboring away hard behind the scenes, he’s received direct orders from the White House to cool it publicly while Washington desperately tries to unscramble the Afghan electoral mess between President Hamid Karzai and his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah.

“This process is so sensitive. He’d love to deal with this. The White House thinks … it’s not the time for him” to be out front, one of the officials said of Holbrooke.

Perhaps it was that reported shouting match in Kabul a few weeks back between Karzai and Holbrooke?

Instead, it’s Sen. John Kerry – a man not known for shouting – who has been in the Afghan capital, dickering with Karzai in the hopes of getting him to accept a run-off, or a compromise with Abdullahx2.

I gotta say, I can’t imagine Holbrooke is a very happy camper….

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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.