I’m amazed it has come to this, but the militant idiocy coming out of the American commentariat—take a bowa hundred times, Max Boot—has forced me, repeatedly, to defend a man I neither like nor respect: Hamid Karzai. It’s a stressful position to occupy, as Karzai is not a good man or an effective leader. Still, focusing on him as relentlessly as we do in this country, personalizing a politics that we should be institutionalizing, is a major reason I would elevate as an explanation for Afghanistan’s relative lack of political development the last ten years.
I have defended Karzai in response to allegations of his mental illness causing irrational outbursts—something that would be outrageously scandalous if levied against any other American ally (including Pakistan), and also indicative of abject ignorance of the structure of the Afghan government and the institution of its presidency. I later did this to defend Hamid Karzai’s push to take over the reconstruction of his country—not because he is a good person, but because Afghans have to learn to take responsibility for themselves. It is enough to give a man a persistent headache. Sadly, in the course of writing this piece, that headache became steadily worse until it resulted in painful, quite physical biological failure.
Max Boot’s latest column takes to a whole new level the ignorant, emotional ranting about something he should treat as deadly serious. I doubledare you to read this without wanting to stab the nearest wall with a stabbing knife:
It is hard to disagree with Mr. Eikenberry when he says: “When Americans, who are serving in your country at great cost—in terms of life and treasure—hear themselves compared with occupiers, told that they are only here to advance their own interest, and likened to the brutal enemies of the Afghan people, they are filled with confusion and grow weary of our effort here.”
It is actually very easy to disagree with Eikenberry. For starters, Americans are in fact occupying vast swaths of the countryside. When locals approach the nearest U.S. troops instead of the nearest Afghan government official for help, or money, or to offer intelligence about local conditions, it is worse than farcical to pretend we aren’t occupying the country. Much more importantly, President Obama has openly and explicitly argued we are in Afghanistan to advance our own interests. President Obama told Meet the Press on September 20, 2009:
The questions that I’m asking right now to our military…[are] how does this advance America’s national security interests, how does it make sure that al Qaeda and its extremist allies cannot attack the United States homeland, our allies, our troops who are based in Europe?…
And if supporting the Afghan national government and building capacity for their army and securing certain provinces advances that strategy, then we’ll move forward. But if it doesn’t, then I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan.
So no, Max, there is PLENTY to disagree with Eikenberry about. Because he is simply, factually wrong. As are you. Much to our national loss, Boot wrote more than his second paragraph:
In the end, however, the war isn’t about Hamid Karzai. Nor is it about winning the love and gratitude of the people of Afghanistan. NATO’s goals coincide with the desires of the vast majority of Afghans who want their nation to be a democracy and not a Taliban-run terror state. But fundamentally we are in Afghanistan to protect our self-interest, to ensure that Afghanistan does not revert to being a terrorist sanctuary as it was prior to 9/11.
Oh, so clearly Boot meant that it actually is easy to disagree with Mr. Eikenberry, since he does so right there, and that he was wrong when he said it was hard to disagree with Eikenberry. That sound you just heard was a blood vessel in my cerebral cortex bursting, pouring my precious bodily fluids upon the sacred earth.
Our policy regarding Hamid Karzai should be to suck it up and make the best of a bad situation until his term of office runs out—while insisting that we will do everything in our power to stop him from amending the constitution to allow him a third, five-year term in office. In this regard there is good news, or at least a good rumor: Secretary of Defense Bob Gates says that Mr. Karzai intends to step down in 2014 when his current term expires.
He’s right in the sense that we’re stuck with Karzai. But he’s very wrong to pretend like this is a natural order of the universe. Many elements in the U.S. intelligence community worked behind the scenes to ensure that “our man in Kabul” would remain that way. Quoting SecDef Gates, who has exercised precisely zero control or restraint in terms of Karzai’s rhetoric and political behavior, to say that this is no longer the case (though Boot would never admit to such a thing, good heavens no) is not only not credible it immediately raises a follow up question: how the hell would he know? An honest commentator would ask Hamid Karzai if he intends to step down and get him on the record either answering the question or dodging it… and then would wonder why it’s even a question whether an elected official would leave office at the end of his constitutionally-limited term as President.
Boot does none of those things. But he still, inexplicably, keeps digging into the deepest darkest dirty of his ignorance about the Afghan government:
Rather than spend the last three years of his tenure clashing with Afghanistan’s president, American officials would be better advised to act now to groom a strong and dynamic successor—someone who will be able to consolidate the security gains that foreign and Afghan troops should have consolidated by 2014. (Unless, that is, President Obama orders premature and excessive troop pullouts this summer.)
That sound you just heard is my hippocampus fusing shut because I just can’t be bothered to remember a single thing we’ve ever done in history when we tried to groom a “strong and dynamic successor” to a head of state we felt was problematic. In fact, because now my hippocampus is irreparably broken, I can’t remember really fucking obvious examples of this blowing up in our face, whether the Shah of Iran, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Augusto Pinochet, or Hamid Karzai in 2002.
And because my hippocampus is inert and my cerebral cortex is still squirting blood onto the ground from the irrepressible stress caused by trying to understand Boot’s version of analysis, I don’t have the capacity to point out that if all you care about is transitioning security issues that are reliant on the presence of 30,000 Marines concentrated in a single province then you will lose when they leave—something I cannot remember Boot himself admitted because I am now brain dead. And if reading Boot’s column hadn’t resulted in my transition to a near-vegetative state, reliant on family members for bits of ice to stay hydrated and itching around the insertion point of the feeding tube going through my sinus cavity directly into my stomach, I would have been able to point out that because Boot’s solution to a political problem is to shuffle puppets in the Presidency and flood the countryside with troops, rather than focusing on the politics that constrain and inspire both Karzai and the institutions of the government he must inhabit, Max Boot is little more than a fascist thug seeking to enforce a violent perversion of American interest on a country that increasingly wants nothing to do with us.
But that would probably be taking things too far. After all, given my current state of brain death, I couldn’t possibly write this down, much less remember enough of it to do so.