Too much to blog about #2: Karzai

Oh, the U.S. has such a pesky “Host Nation” problem in Afghanistan these days, doesn’t it?
On Saturday, the U.S.-installed president, Hamid Karzai said he would join the Taliban if the western nations don’t stop meddling in his country.
“Host Nation” is a key concept in the US Army and Marine Corps’s 2006 manual on counter-insurgency. U.S. counter-insurgency theory, you see– or ‘COIN’ as the cognoscenti call it– is all based on the idea that the U.S. military will be fighting these vicious, basically anti-guerrilla wars inside somebody else’s country. Thus there is from the get-go a deep problem of the legitimacy of the U.S. presence; and the U.S. military can attempt to solve this only by upholding the myth that they are always there “at the invitation” of the local government of what is called the “Host Nation”.
Never mind that it may well have been– as in the case of Karzai government in Afghanistan or the Nuri al-Maliki government in Iraq– only the power of the U.S. military that brought these men to power in the first place. That fact needs to be airbrushed out of this account of the roots of the U.S. military’s legitimacy.
But then, those U.S.-installed “leaders” tend to go majorly off the reservation and start acting on their own account. Both these men, for example, have fairly warm relations with the Iranian government. (But only Karzai could pull off the complicated political trick of being on good terms with both the Iranian mullahs and the fiercely anti-Shiite Taliban!)
Actually, U.S.-installed leaders are going off the reservation in other countries, too. How about that Saad Hariri, all lovey-dovey with Syria these days?
… I just went back and read the lengthy critique I did here in January 2007 of the U.S. military’s whole COIN doctrine, and the problem it has with the legitimacy issue and with Host Nation relations. It is really not too bad. Scroll on down to the table there.
Within Afghanistan, Karzai’s present truculence toward the Americans poses huge problems for the American military’s plan to mount a big anti-Taliban operation in Kandahar over the summer. This operation has, I think, been intended to be the capstone of the big “look-tough” policy Obama and his advisers planned as a prelude to the major drawdown of U.S. forces that he has all along planned. (As I wrote in my Boston Review piece last December.)
But for the U.S. military to get tough in Kandahar, they’ll need to be confronting the provincial governor, who is Karzai’s reportedly very corrupt brother Ahmed Wali Karzai. I suspect that’s what much of the current U.S.-Karzai tension is really about?
At abroader level, though, the endgame for the U.S. military’s 8.5-year presence in Afghanistan now looks as though it might well be rather ignominious. As I’ve argued in numerous places before, it would be much better for Washington to take the “Afghanistan question” back to the U.N Security Council and win the real support of all the other big powers there for a resolution that will allow an orderly shrinkage of U.S. military power in the region, real buy-in from Afghanistan’s neighbors and all the other big Asian powers to some broad regional settlement, and a re-balancing of the west-rest balance both in that region and everywhere else in the world.
Maintaining the fiction that Americans of any description– whether grunts earnestly trying to follow Gen. Petraeus’s COIN manual, or the former Marine Corps general who’s Obama’s national security adviser, or the former junior senator from New York who’s now the country’s top diplomat– have any clue at all as to how to resolve Afghanistan’s many very thorny problems of internal balance, governance, and relations with its neighbors is a mistake that it’s very costly to continue making for very much longer.

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