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obama's war
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Interview: Steve Coll


President and CEO of New America Foundation, Coll is also a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author six books, including Ghost Wars and The Bin Ladens. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on Sept. 14, 2009.

Obama comes forward with a new strategy for Afghanistan. Tell me about the origins of that, especially the ascendance of counterinsurgency.

The origins of the Obama administration's policy really traced the last phase of the Iraq war -- the ascendance of counterinsurgency doctrine during and after the surge.

Then in 2008, the Bush administration in its last year undertook its own strategy policy review in Afghanistan, partly to make decisions that the calendar required them to make about the forthcoming Afghan election and in part to review Afghan policy and hand off a more sort of considered policy to the next administration, be it [Sen. John] McCain [R-Ariz.] or Obama.

So that process was well under way by the fall of 2008, and it was neutral as to the outcome of the election. So the Obama administration during the transition essentially was briefed into a strategic review about Afghanistan that was well advanced in the last year of the Bush administration.

So it was inevitable that he took the course that he did?

Yes. The most important calendar item was the Afghan presidential election, which was constitutionally scheduled. It was going to occur in 2009 in an environment of military insecurity.

And the Pentagon's advice to President Obama -- as it would have been to President McCain -- was: "You need to create a security environment in which Afghans can vote in the greatest possible numbers. And to do that, you need to send more troops soon. You can't wait to make this decision. You've got to issue the orders now, because the logistics will take months to flow all the way into Afghanistan."

So that was a decision point that the president faced when he took office that was on a calendar not of his own making.

And the recommendation was, "You need a significant number of additional brigades," partly to support an emerging counterinsurgency doctrine, but partly just to create conditions for secure election.

If you go on the ground in Afghanistan with troops and talk to the military commanders, they all talk about how we're now here to stay; we have to assure people that we are not going to pack up and leave and that a fundamental tenet of counterinsurgency is permanent presence. This seems to have sort of seeped in over this last eight months.

Counterinsurgency doctrine is now ascendant in the military and in civilian circles involved in national security thinking. It's very widely distributed in the form of a new manual that the Army published several years ago, FM 3-24 (PDF) [Counterinsurgency Field Manual]. ...

But the doctrine itself is not a one-size-fits-all manual. It can't be applied by universal principles and succeed. It has to be adapted into local circumstances. And it has become, to some extent I fear, an end in itself.

The purpose of counterinsurgency doctrine is to serve strategic objectives, to meet and secure objectives that are subordinate to vital national security interests of the United States. That is, it's a tool; it's not an end. And I think one of the challenges that the president faces is to distinguish between his ends in Afghanistan -- and in South Asia more broadly -- and his means.

One important tool is counterinsurgency doctrine, but it's not the only one that's going to achieve these objectives.

What you're saying is it's not a strategy; it's tactics.

It's a tactic that's joined to a broader political and national security strategy, yes. I worry when people regard counterinsurgency as an end in itself -- as a sort of destination.

It is a way of thinking about complex political-military problems. It is a tool box that is designed to address unconventional military environments. It is an important innovation in military thinking but it is not an end in itself. The end is vital American national security interests.

If you follow the logic of counterinsurgency, it calls for more troops, doesn't it?

It calls for whatever troops are necessary to secure the population against insurgents and to create stability around a legitimate political government. The number of troops required to achieve that end depends on the security environment in which a government and a population is being defended.

There are ratios that sometimes are cited as inviolable tenets of counterinsurgency doctrine: 20-to-1, one security force for every 20 in the population.

But I don't think the really deep thinkers about counterinsurgency believe that mathematical formulas are anything other than an approximate indicator. But they can be misinterpreted as a kind of iron guideline.

Do you expect that [commander of U.S. and NATO forces Gen. Stanley] McChrystal will ask for more troops? And doesn't he have to? I mean, I was in Helmand, and clearly there was only so far we could go outside of the base before we were so dispersed that we were vulnerable. It seems that if you're going to hold territory, you do need more troops.

And that's going to be the advice, I think, that Gen. McChrystal will present; that in order to hold enough territory to create contiguous areas of government control and population security you need more American troops for at least a few years while you concentrate on building up Afghan security forces and partnering with Afghan security forces.

The goal, I'm quite sure, of the troop deployments that will be recommended to President Obama is not to have American forces prosecute combat in Afghanistan for as long as it takes. The goal will be to have American forces in sufficient number to stabilize the country long enough so that Afghan security forces can be trained and deployed to carry the security mission forward as Americans move from the front lines into a supporting role.

That's the narrative in Iraq; that's the narrative that will be pursued in Afghanistan. The question is, how much time do you need? How much uncertainty do you have to bear in pursuit of that objective? And is the deployment of additional American forces itself destabilizing?

In other words, is this a case where the use of foreign expeditionary forces in a counterinsurgency role is not securing the population but provoking additional instability?

That's a question that I think the president is going to have to debate before he decides to send these troops.

That's a very interesting question, because in many places it was apparent that the people and the Taliban were hard to separate from one another, that many of the people were Taliban themselves. And the more presence you put in of Americans or coalition forces you do -- I guess what you're saying is you stir up sentiment against the foreign occupation.

It's a difficult question for outsiders to evaluate if you're really honest about the complexity of Afghanistan. We know a couple of things that live in contradiction with each other.

One is, we know that the Taliban are not a popular movement, even among Pashtuns. Most Afghans, even in the Taliban strong lands, would prefer to live without Taliban governing them.

At the same time, we know that the Taliban are an element of indigenous social, tribal and cultural forces in Afghanistan, and they're not outsiders arrived to wage a war on behalf of some neighboring government. They are partly that, but they are substantially local.

So the classic counterinsurgency task of separating the population from the insurgents is doubly complicated because of the role that the Taliban have developed as a parallel government, as a parallel source of teaching and religious instruction. And yet we know the Taliban are unpopular, so it's not as if you're fighting a lost cause.

The other problem is that Afghanistan has an obvious history of reaching a point of national hindsight on foreign troops in which a consensus develops that whatever good they announce they intend, whatever good we may have once thought they had to offer, we've had enough of them.

And there is no scientific way, I would assert, to know exactly how many foreign troops the Afghan body politic can digest without revulsion. And we are on the cusp, I think intuition would suggest, of forcing such a question into the forefront.

You mention parallel government, often referred to as shadow government. Give me a definition of what you're talking about.

In rural Afghanistan, there has never been a heavy presence of the state, so many functions of the state have always been handled by informal groups and informal authorities. This includes education, religious education, the conferral of religious authority through an informal education system. It often includes justice: disputes among neighbors over grazing rights, over land rights, over redress of violent crime. There is a long tradition and a very sophisticated, informal system in rural Afghanistan for handling these kinds of state functions informally.

Well, the Taliban are now, in many places, asserting themselves as the informal mechanism, the legitimate, informal arbiters of these questions. In that context you can see why there's ambivalence about the Taliban. On the other hand, there's a recognition that they are part of a legitimate, informal system that has long roots.

On the other hand, they insist they're the only authority, and if you don't like their justice, too bad. They can be quite brutal. And I think there's a recognition at the rural level that they are a coercive, intimidating, sometimes ruthless force, whatever their local legitimacy.

Where is the central government in this equation?

The central government is often absent and has always been absent. It's present in the cities. It may be present in district towns. It offers some services: security and attempts to build basic infrastructure; mechanisms for a state-supervised arbitration of regional disputes; the adjudication of small wars between rival tribes. And it may provide basic services in support of agriculture and in support of trade and other functions.

But generally in the history of Afghanistan, the state has not been present in villages providing day-to-day services of the sort that would be common even in neighboring poor states -- Pakistan, Sri Lanka.

So how starkly different is it from what we conceive of as a functioning, working state?

Even when it has been intact and at peace, the Afghan state has been very lightly present, especially in rural areas. It has been primarily an urban phenomenon and a source of national communication, national culture, national identity.

To be sure, between 1920 and 1975 there really was an Afghan state. It was a weak state, it was an unintrusive state, but it did describe and enforce a common culture, common borders.

The reasons many Afghans resist the Taliban is that they -- I think quite correctly -- have a memory of that state as their own. However much it was associated with poverty and underdevelopment, it was a coherent, peaceful, national state. And there is a desire among Afghans to resurrect that version of Afghanistan and then to try to move forward into a more modern political economy.

But that's different than saying they want the government of New Jersey or Maryland or Colorado delivering services on every corner, ringing the bell when the school year begins and announcing holidays. That is not a tradition of state presence, formation or operation that has any roots in Afghanistan outside of a few cities.

Well, what is the competition then? If people don't like the sort of course of heavy-handed justice that the Taliban mete out, then why is the battle here for hearts and minds so tough?

Well, it seems evident that the coalition of the United States, the Afghan government and the international community have not been able to deliver both security and services at the local level in a consistent manner that is recognizable by local Afghans as legitimate and reliable.

Partly it's been a function of a volatile security environment. As the Taliban have made themselves felt in more and more territory, they have convinced more and more Afghans that they can't afford to collaborate with the international forces, with the U.N. -- even with their own government. And that has created a debilitating cycle in which the Taliban can challenge the Afghan government even with what most Afghans would recognize as a less attractive package of services and ideology.

This goes back to the lack of permanent presence by coalition forces?

There were never enough coalition forces to create population security against a resurgent Taliban. The Taliban melted away after 2002. They announced that they would take their time and return. They did so.

The United States and NATO never deployed in the south and east in the Pashtun populations -- where the Taliban had roots and ambitions -- enough forces, whether international or Afghan, to prevent the Taliban from returning. So the Taliban returned.

We shouldn't be surprised. The footprint was always light. This was a deliberate philosophy of the Bush administration early on, understandably intimidated by history and the experiences of expeditionary foreign forces in Afghanistan over the last 100 years. They concluded that they should pursue effects in Afghanistan as indirectly as possible.

But now we've deployed in these areas. Perhaps we're not up to the 20-to-1 ratio by any stretch, but the coalition is deployed into the south; we're on the ground patrolling on foot in the east more than in the past. How are we doing? Is there any way to take a measure of it at this point?

I think you probably have a better sense of that than I do, because you've been there and you've seen it. I'd say a couple of things, though.

Counterinsurgency wars, when they're successful, are most often waged by legitimate sovereign governments on their own sovereign territory. Even there, it can take an awfully long time to defeat a resilient, well-resourced, separatist or insurgent force. The number of examples where a counterinsurgent force from outside of a country's borders has been able to secure a population, reassure a population, defeat an insurgency, is relatively limited.

There are examples. Iraq, you could argue in a context, was a partial example. In Sierra Leone the British went in and managed to defeat a weak and exhausted guerrilla force long enough for a national government to arise in their place.

But in the postcolonial world that we live in, to wage counterinsurgency with international forces is very difficult. It's not impossible, but it's very difficult.

What are people talking about when they talk about corruption in Afghanistan?

You have corruption at basically every level of the political economy. You have it at the petty local level where a policeman will not carry out his duties without being paid by whoever it is he's confronting. You have local ministries where the bureaucrats, starved for salaries, exact fees from citizens to perform services that they should perform for free. You have regional corruption where governors, at least poor governors, take resources intended for the benefit of the population and direct them to their cronies or to their own bank accounts.

And you have a much broader national level of corruption where the entire political economy of Afghanistan relies on contributions, cash contributions essentially, from outside. And those contributions were essentially distributed to those with connections, rather than for the benefit of the disenfranchised population.

And frankly, the West is not immune from this accusation, or it shouldn't be, because quite a lot of the aid that has gone into Afghanistan has been recycled into the pockets of Western security contractors, Western development contractors. And it flows as often back to these private entities on K Street in Washington as it does to rural populations in southern Afghanistan.

The Afghan government would not function but for money coming from outside the country, from the United States, from the international community. That money flows into Kabul and is too often distributed to those who have access to Kabul rather than to the population it's intended to benefit.

Can counterinsurgency work if the government has no credibility?

In the long run, counterinsurgency cannot work if the government has no credibility. In this case, let's be specific. What is the objective of the counterinsurgency doctrine? It is not to stand up a government that will be perfect in the eyes of its own people. And it is not to substitute American governance for Afghan governance.

It is, however, to stabilize the situation long enough and to protect the population and deliver development long enough so that an Afghan government, constitutionally constituted, can deploy security services that are loyal to it on behalf of its own people.

And ultimately, the question of legitimacy is not how we see the Afghan government; it is how the Afghan security services, the Afghan army, see their own masters and how the populations see that combination.

So it's really a matter of securing the population long enough that people buy into a kind of statehood?

Correct. And this is not implausible in Afghanistan. Even with this flawed election -- there are many developing countries that have flawed elections with allegations, heavy allegations of fraud.

You can develop remedial approaches in which you take all of the political constituents and get them involved in their own electoral reform process to make the next election more transparent -- less easy to steal, less easy to manipulate.

You can try to hold together governments of national unity in which you say even to members who feel aggrieved about the president that they have a national obligation to be a constructive opposition, not ferment political instability.

In the end, Afghanistan is going to have to find a center sufficiently coherent to return to the weak but relatively stable Afghan state of the period from 1920 to 1975. The international community and the United States can provide a bridging mechanism, but ultimately Afghans themselves are going to have to build that constitutional system.

So this might all work? Is --

It's not implausible.

Not implausible, but yet there is an active debate within the Obama administration.

All right. So it might all work, but the question is, what is the role of more troops? That's really the hard question that President Obama faces. Look, there's no chance that the Obama administration or the international community is just going to pull the plug on Afghanistan and walk away. There is a commitment to do the hard work, to prevent the Taliban from taking control of the Afghan government, from destabilizing all of South Asia, from destabilizing Pakistan.

So the question is not stay or go. The question is, are more American troops part of the solution, or are more American troops part of the problem?

And that's a hard question. And you have to start with, first, principles. What are our vital national security interests at issue in this war? I think there isn't enough clarity about the answer to that question. Certainly there's not enough clarity in the minds of the American people. So at a minimum, better communication is required.

I wonder if there is enough clarity, even inside the Obama administration, about exactly what security interests we're really fighting for here.

I think that there are two. One the president articulates all the time, and I think he's correct about it: It's a vital national security issue for the United States to defeat or disable or reduce Al Qaeda to the point where it can no longer carry out disruptive attacks against the United States or important allies of the United States.

But Al Qaeda isn't in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda is on the border. You can argue that an American presence in Afghanistan is vital to continue to prosecute that important campaign. But that's only one of the two reasons that this war matters.

The other is that the United States has a vital national security interest in a stable, modernizing South Asia. Pakistan, India, all of South Asia -- a billion and a half people are on the cusp of joining modern Asia in a march to prosperity, political normalcy and stability.

If Pakistan blows up, if the Taliban succeed in radicalizing local populations, then this region will be chronically unstable for years to come.

And why does that matter to the United States? Not least because there are more than 100 nuclear weapons already finished and extant in this region. But this is a region that, like Southeast Asia and Latin America, has the opportunity to stabilize, gel, integrate economically and march toward modernity.

The Taliban are essentially all that stands in the way of that project. It's more complicated than that, because the Taliban are a creature of dysfunctional Pakistani security services and lots of other unsolved problems. But the United States has a vital national interest in making sure that the Taliban do not destabilize South Asia.

And Afghanistan is not the only place where that contest is going to be carried out. And it is not a contest that is only military. It's a complicated transnational contest. But it is of vital interest I think to this country, and it does require substantial patience and investments.

It doesn't answer the question of whether or not 20,000 more American troops in six months from now is part of the solution or part of the problem. I think that that has to be scrutinized very carefully.

Back to the question then of whether or not you put in more troops.

So the first thing you do is define your interests. Our interests are the defeat of Al Qaeda and the stability of South Asia. Second thing you do is observe what are the obstacles to those interests, and the Taliban are such an obstacle.

Then you ask what is the most effective way to deploy American resources and American influence to marginalize, contain, convert to peaceful politics the Taliban.

Now, some people will argue that you need more troops now for at least a few years in order to put military pressure on the Taliban to reverse their momentum and to force them into a political settlement down the line. I think there's an equally compelling argument that more troops will provoke more resistance from the Taliban and at best just extend the military stalemate of the last year or so.

To answer that question, the president has to ask Gen. McChrystal very specifically what he thinks will be the effects and risks of more troop deployments. The purpose of more troop deployment should not be to fulfill some preordained counterinsurgency doctrine for its own sake. The purpose of more troops should be to achieve these objectives, to have a sense of confidence that there is a specific way that more troops will stabilize the region, will not destabilize it and will advance the final chapter one hopes of this long campaign against Al Qaeda to end its leadership and to take it off the field.

I presume that Gen. McChrystal will bring forward troop recommendations. What I'm not sure about is whether those recommendations will be as directly attached to these strategic questions as the president should insist they be.

It is a debate about assessing what our objectives are and whether troops on the ground in Afghanistan are going to get us there, and what corresponding sort of aid package or pressure we put on Pakistan --

Right. The questions at the heart of the debate begin with what are our objectives and then flow to what are the role of troops in pursing those objectives. And I think there are lots of points of view about both questions.

I don't think there's an enormous divergence of opinion about what American objectives are. Everyone agrees that Al Qaeda is unfinished business and requires diligent American resources and attention.

I think if you argue that a second vital American national security interest beyond Al Qaeda is the stability and perspective normalization of Pakistan in South Asia broadly, then you regard the Taliban as a serious obstacle to that vital interest.

Then you recognize that reversing the Taliban's momentum, preventing them from taking power in either Afghanistan or in Pakistan, is a vital American interest. And you also recognize that this is not a conventional war. You're not sending in more troops in order to get them, the Taliban, to a surrender ceremony.

You're engaging in a complicated struggle in two countries, some of which involve direct military combat, some of which involves regional coercion, diplomacy, economic development, all kinds of political components. And it's also eventually going to involve negotiations with elements of the Taliban.

So if that's the goal, then you have to go back to this basic question: Are 20,000 or 30,000 more troops advancing that objective or not? And if you want to argue that they're advancing the objective, then tell me why. This is the critical question. More troops have to serve strategic objectives.

It's not just about stabilizing a plurality of Afghan provinces. That's not the strategic objective. The strategic objective is to marginalize the Taliban to such an extent that threats to the integrity of the government of Afghanistan and the government of Pakistan recede and can no longer recur in any foreseeable future.

And play host --

And play host to Al Qaeda and other networked groups, such as those responsible for Mumbai last year and so forth. Look, South Asia as a region needs some breathing space. India is on the cusp of a transformation in national wealth and political importance and stability.

Pakistan has an opportunity to take the same journey if it can make peace with India. Pakistan is still struggling to become a normal country, but it is not without hope. It's a constitutional democracy with a robust civil society and a middle class.

The role of the United States in defeating the Taliban is not just to take a bunch of obscurantists out of villages. It is to create strategic breathing space so that South Asia can join Southeast Asia and Latin America on a march to prosperity and modernity. And it is in the vital interests of the United States to see that happen, not only because a very unstable part of the world will gradually become stable, prosperous and aligned with American interests, but also because the alternative is unthinkable: a nuclear-armed standoff descending increasingly into political violence influenced by radical guerrilla groups with an anti-American agenda. This cannot be allowed.

So that's why the Taliban matter. But that's, I think, a somewhat different way of stating the problem than just talking about stability in Helmand or counternarcotics in Waziristan.

Can we talk about the basics concerning the relationship between the Taliban and Pakistan?

The Taliban's bid for national power in Afghanistan is inseparable from their historical relationship with the Pakistani security services. Even today, the Taliban in Afghanistan are taking direction from leaders who are almost certainly living in Pakistani cities, may very well be known to the Pakistani security.

And why is the government of Pakistan -- our ally -- possibly tolerating the presence of these Afghan Taliban? Because they're not certain about where Afghanistan is going. They see the Taliban as a potential hedge against their enemies in Afghanistan, so they're sort of sitting on their hands.

This could not be a more complicated war. If you think about it, the United States is essentially waging a proxy war against its own ally. The Taliban are a proxy of the government of Pakistan. We are an ally of the government of Pakistan. We are fighting the Taliban. In the end, the Taliban will be defeated strategically when the government of Pakistan makes a strategic decision that its future does not lie in partnership with Islamic extremists.

What progress is being made on that front?

It's going in the right direction, but it's a long struggle. And that's why this set of decisions matters so much. The decisions that the Obama administration makes about what to do in Afghanistan are inseparable from the struggle that we continue in a nonmilitary fashion to undertake in Pakistan to persuade that government to unplug itself from Islamic extremists.

From my point of view, it seems they are very willing to go after [Pakistani Taliban leader Maulana] Fazlullah in Swat, perhaps contribute to providing intelligence for taking a drone strike on --

[Pakistani Taliban leader] Baitullah Mehsud. That's right.

Is there any evidence that you see that they're willing to go after Mullah Omar or the Haqqani network?

I don't see any clear evidence that they're willing to go after the Afghan Taliban, whether that's Mullah Omar or the Haqqani network. I don't think that the decision is final and irrevocable, however.

I think that the various elites that make up the Pakistani government, the military, the security services and the civilians and the political parties, are struggling with the basic question of where Pakistan's interests lie in this complicated, multi-sided contest.

And there are some of them who believe strongly that Pakistan ought to break with the Islamic extremists, make peace with India and enjoy economic prosperity for the next 40 years. Those are the groups in Pakistan that are aligned with American interests.

And American policy ought to be constructed to do everything it possibly can to help those people succeed. We can't win the argument for them, but we can pressure their opponents and enhance their potential. And we have to create conditions in the region where normal politics and economic integration, among all of the countries -- Afghanistan, Pakistan and India -- are not impeded by chronic revolutionary violence from Islamic obscurantists like the Taliban.

That doesn't mean that it's our job to go in there as foreign troops and kill every last Taliban. It means that we ought to construct policies that have that strategic goal clearly in mind.

If there's no evidence yet that they're going after the Afghan Taliban, isn't that key?

It is.

And so what does Obama's new strategy have in it that addresses that issue?

It has the potential of leverage that if properly applied in private could push the Pakistan government to make a decision about which side of this war they're on.

Hasn't that always been there?

We hadn't really had the kind of aid packages and the kind of influence in Pakistan over the last five or 10 years. Or if we've had it, we haven't the will or the political intention to connect that aid to this decision. During the Bush administration, we wrote them a blank check.

During the Obama administration, there is the potential not only to increase the size of the check but to connect that check to American strategic objectives, and, frankly, Pakistani interests, too. Pakistanis recognize that they don't want to live in a society run or even influenced by Islamic extremists. They don't want to go to the market and fear the next bomb. They want a normal country.

America has leverage in Pakistan, but it has to be employed successfully to achieve these results. It's also in our own interests because the Afghanistan Taliban are headquartered in Pakistan, and it's very difficult to imagine how the United States can prevail over the Taliban in Afghanistan without addressing the role of their leadership in Pakistan.

So this comes back to the limits of what is often referred to as our counterinsurgency strategy. I mean, you're talking well beyond counterinsurgency here.

I think counterinsurgency strategy properly conceived includes a regional political dimension. It includes diplomacy. It includes an understanding of leverage points outside of military combat. It includes a clear-eyed recognition of where the insurgents are and, in this case, recognizes that the Taliban are not only an Afghan force; they're also a Pakistani force. And it would contemplate a comprehensive approach with politics in the lead to try to suppress the potential, marginalize the influence of the Taliban.

Even if you see the strategy that way, you still have a question: For a few years, do we need more troops on the Afghan side of the border? I think for the American people, that's the only question that matters. But I think for the Obama administration, that decision has to be placed into a regional context. Otherwise, you're in danger of making the wrong choice.

Doesn't it also matter to everybody how we apply that aid? You say the Bush administration wrote a blank check and the Obama administration has an opportunity to leverage their aid against performance. And I'm not sure what that means exactly.

Well, you know, the United States and I think Americans do have a common view that Pakistan matters. Even George Will, when he recommended pulling the plug on Afghanistan, concluded his essay by saying, "Well, Pakistan is what matters."

Well, that takes us to the heart of the matter. American interests in the war in Afghanistan are inextricably tied up with our interests in Pakistan. You just can't separate the two. So of course we have an interest in how we conduct our policy in Pakistan right alongside of the way we wage war and conduct policy in Afghanistan.

And the American people do have a profound interest in getting American policy toward Pakistan right. This has been a zigzagging failure, frankly, over 30 or 40 years. It won't be easy to wave a wand at it and fix it. But there are new forces in the region that are going in the right direction from an American point of view. Independent of the United States, the governments of Pakistan and India are increasingly coming to a recognition that their interests lie in normalization.

They've come close to negotiating unprecedented comprehensive peace agreements, and they will return to those negotiations in time. The United States has an interest in facilitating an environment in which India and Pakistan can independently decide to make peace and marginalize Islamic extremists.

Let's keep our eyes on the prize. That's what matters here -- ultimately a normal, stable, economically integrated South Asia. That's the ticket home for American troops. That's the ticket to a more stable Asia and even a more stable Central Asia, with effects in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East.

So I want to come back to one question: How corrupt was this election in Afghanistan?

I think the allegations already lodged with the [Electoral] Complaints Commission [ECC] made clear that the scale of fraud associated with the voting itself was substantial and that it will be difficult, no matter what that commission finds, to judge this election as clean or successful.

The scale of balance implicated by fraud is the question that this commission needs to investigate and report on openly. I don't think anybody has an idea about what it all adds up to by way of scale, but it was an ugly vote. And the allegations that have already been credibly brought forward in public are enough to cause anyone who was invested in the election to be discouraged.

And has serious consequence for our project?

It has. I mean, fundamentally, the United States is investing blood and treasure to support the government of Afghanistan, and if that government engaged in fraud in order to perpetuate itself in power, it calls into question the very basis of these American investments and sacrifices. I think it's appalling.

posted october 13, 2009

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