Following two of the most deadly months of the eight-year war in Afghanistan, on Aug. 20 the country held its second presidential election. It would have been historic if it weren’t such a sham.
It’s deceiving to think that the election was successful when it reeked of corruption and failed to gain widespread participation. The wives of Shia men were banned from voting, millions of other women were forced out, and there are prevailing claims of ballot box stuffing. Meanwhile, President Hamid Karzai sits atop his perch in the capital city while his country remains choked by violence at the hands of the Taliban.
Before you look at the totality of the war in Afghanistan, it’s important to understand the country and its dynamics. It’s bigger than Texas and has more mountains than the Rockies. It’s a tribal and nomadic country, comprising 14 different tribes and as many leaders, that does not follow a federal system. Unlike Iraq, where an elected, monolithic government is simply replacing a dictatorial one and the populace was comfortable taking orders from a central location, Afghanistan has never had that type of government. Therefore, elections mean nothing.
Esteemed columnist George Will’s article in the Washington Post last week, “Time to Get Out of Afghanistan,” presented a strong case for the U.S. to reconsider its strategy in Afghanistan. Will made several important points, most notably that the goal of creating a democracy in Afghanistan is difficult, if not impossible. The U.S. has a legitimate interest in Afghanistan, but creating a democracy should not be a priority.
Newly appointed Gen. Stanley McChrystal, back from a recent tour in Afghanistan, said, “The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable.” I hope McChrystal’s vision for success includes much more than a surge in ground troops. We should focus on a strategy that includes intelligence, Special Forces and perhaps even airstrikes. We shouldn’t be risking our troops in ground combat that we can’t and won’t win.