Monday, November 2, 2009
Our man in Afghanistan
(On left, Hamid Karzai; on right, actor Ben Kingsley)
President Obama evidently just made a congratulatory phone call to Hamid Karzai on his "election." Back in August, Karzai had stuffed the ballot box with more than a million fake votes. When this became embarrassingly apparent, it was determined that there be a runoff election between Karzai and runner up Abdullah Abdullah. Yesterday, however, Abdullah withdrew from the election, saying that it would be fraudulent as the first. So today Karzai was declared the "victor."
Personally, I think anyone who tries to steal an election should not only be automatically disqualified, but clapped in jail as well. But the White House seems to be figuring, well, we gotta bet on someone. Karzai may be corrupt, but at least the former CIA operative is our corrupt leader. (The current administration, hailing as it does from Chicago, may feel a certain sympathy for that particular foible.)
Karzai seems to bear a strong resemblance to Ben Kingsley, who is most famous for his Oscar-winning turn as Mohandas Gandhi back in 1982. In behavior, however, Karzai probably more closely resembles another Kingsley role: Meyer Lansky (in Bugsy, 1991). The resemblance resonates all the more when you consider that Hamid's younger brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is reputed to be one of the biggest heroin dealers in all of Afghanistan.
This farcical "election" underlines more clearly than ever why we should get out of Afghanistan. We first went there with the intention of rooting out Al Qaeda and finding Osama bin Laden. We merely pushed al Qaeda into Pakistan and we never found Osama. But somewhere along the way our mission turned into an attempt to remake Afghanistan as a united, modern democracy. The only problem with that is that the various Afghan tribes have no interest in uniting, they have no interest in democracy, and they despise the U.S.-approved Karzai for being the corrupt man he is. And the longer we stay there, the more they hate us.
If you were at a party where everyone hated you, wouldn't you leave?
The problem is, Obama doesn't want to be seen as the one who lost the "war on terror" when he runs for reelection in 2012. Obama doesn't want to wage war on Muslims in some faraway land. All he cares about is making sure that black people get a larger share of the pie. But because he wants to be reelected, he'll let the Afghan war drag on in a desultory fashion with no satisfactory conclusion either way. This is why when he finally makes a decision, it will probably be to send more troops, but not as many as McChrystal wants. (This is the equivalent, as others have pointed out, of voting "present" in the Senate, something Obama was known for.)
If they ever make a movie about this war, at least they'll know who to cast as Hamid. That will be the only straightforward part of this whole sordid, misbegotten venture.