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Daniel Brumberg Daniel Brumberg is an Associate Professor of Government and Co-Director of Democracy and Governance Studies at Georgetown University. He also serves as Acting Director of the United States...

OTHER POSTS

Egypt's sad elections

December 9, 2010

The limits to Obama's Muslim outreach

November 15, 2010

What does Obama want?

July 7, 2010

Setting diplomatic traps

June 7, 2010

Engagement and peacemaking

April 27, 2010

Israel: Obama's next moment?

March 25, 2010

Analytical warfare in Tehran and Washington

February 26, 2010

Dawn of a new republic in Iran?

February 9, 2010

Defying Middle East autocrats

January 13, 2010

The struggle for Obama's soul

December 19, 2009

A long exit from Afghanistan

December 4, 2009

Adrift in Cairo: Is U.S. watching?

November 12, 2009

How to Help The Iranian People

October 8, 2009

Engaging the World Anew

September 10, 2009

Iraq the Sequel: Now Playing in Afghanistan

August 24, 2009

Cleric's Defiance a Breach of Faith?

July 25, 2009


>> more

RELATED RESOURCES: GOVERNANCE

Taking the long view in Afghanistan

October 21, 2009

President Hamid Karzai's last minute agreement to hold a second round of presidential elections on November 7 could be nothing more than a cynical ploy. The notion that the international community can work with domestic monitors to effectively prepare for such elections in the next 16 days, and that this run-off will produce a credible victor, is questionable.

Yet, even if motivated by a seemingly insatiable quest to remain in office, Karzai's decision represents a victory for the international community and for the United Nations in particular. I do not know of another more dramatic example of the U.N. intervening to reverse a fraudulent election. Yes, perhaps it took the resignation of Peter Galbaith. Yes, from the outset the U.N. was reluctant to act. But, in the end, it did the right thing.

The Obama administration deserves some credit for this turn of events. For no matter what course of action it takes in terms of increasing U.S. troop levels, or in terms of redefining the mission, no strategy can succeed if Afghanistan's people view their government as totally corrupt, illegitimate and ineffective. If the very national police, whose mission it is to provide security, are acting as predators, the struggle against the Taliban will have little chance of success. And if the U.S. is seen as supporting a president who has stolen an election, we might as well pack up our bags and go home.

Still, to use a metaphor that is not wholly appropriate for Afghanistan, we are hardly out of the woods yet. Indeed, because the rot in the country's political system should have been addressed two or three years ago (if not long before), the search for a quick electoral fix was always unrealistic. Why should Karzai--who the previous U.S. administration promoted, and who initially enjoyed widespread popular support--not assume that he had a free hand to consolidate his rule? Why should he fear that the U.S. would cease fighting the Taliban if he refused to act democratically? We have security interests, right?

These Realist calculations find an echo wherever the U.S. has tackled security challenges by advancing nation-building. In places as diverse as Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington has faced a similar dilemma.

On the one hand, to consolidate the authority of emerging or weak states, it has backed election procedures, constitutions or laws that are far from perfect. (In 1996, as an election observer in Palestine, I saw this dynamic up close and personal). On the other hand, after delaying the effort to repair the damage ensuing from these flawed political arrangements, Washington has pushed for new initiatives (such as elections) that our allies have duly resisted or manipulated to protect their own power. When this dynamic then exacerbates social, political or ethno-religious divisions, state authority is once again jeopardized, and we are back to square one.

How can we help our friends (and their competitors) exit this corrosive cycle? It helps if leaders are ready to resolve their differences peacefully. Thus when President Karzai's chief rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, reacted to voter fraud by holding press conferences, rather than calling on his supporters to take up arms, he enhanced the prospects for a non-violent approach. It also helps if the U.S. uses its diplomatic, strategic or economic leverage to prod all parties towards such a solution. When Rahm Emanuel publicly stated that U.S. strategy would be partly conditioned on a credible "Afghan partner," he got Kabul's attention.

This hardly resolves the question of how best to use U.S. troops, an issue that Karzai has effectively thrown back in our faces by accepting a run-off. But whatever military strategy we adopt, no approach will work if Washington down-plays the long term challenges of governance, corruption and legitimacy.

Some say that this is "Mission Impossible." They point to the failures of local and foreign forces to pacify Afghanistan, or they argue that the heart of the problem lies next door, in Pakistan, a state whose intelligence forces have sometimes backed Islamist militants in a cynical ploy to justify subordinating civilian to military authority.

All of this is true. But the security problems that Afghanistan poses for itself, the region, and the international community will always resist one-dimensional solutions. Even if, as I have written, the pressures for the U.S. to both stay and leave Afghanistan are equally strong, the Obama administration must find an effective way to navigate between these competing logics. This will be a tough sell, as much (if not more) at home than abroad.