Our guest blogger is Brian Katulis, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
A relatively minor quote by Bruce Riedel, respected Brookings scholar and former head of Obama’s Afghanistan-Pakistan policy review earlier this year, in this article in the New York Times caught my attention. Riedel said that “Even if we get a second round of voting, the odds are still high that Karzai will win. We have a fundamental interest in building up the legitimacy of the Karzai government.”
My worry comes from the second half of the quote and the use of the terms “fundamental interest” and the sharp focus on “the Karzai government” when Riedel talks about legitimacy.
First, on the “fundamental interest” part — can we declare a new rule among national security think tank wonks? When one uses phrases like “national interest” or “fundamental interest,” can that expert please explain what is meant by this word, “interest?”
With sugar on it and for the sake of the country, can we please explain what we’re talking about when national security experts invoke “interests?” (You know what happens when one assumes…)
Second, on Riedel’s point on “building up the legitimacy of the Karzai government,” I think he must have made a slight mistake here in offering this quote. I’m pretty sure he meant to make the case that the world has an interest in ensuring that Afghanistan’s governing institutions are legitimate. That’s different than narrowly focusing on “the legitimacy of the Karzai government.”
Sorry to be the stickler here, but it’s an important point. Neither the United States, nor any outside actor, can enhance the legitimacy of any Afghan political actor unilaterally or through our own actions. It’s foolhardy to think so, and I think is tied up with notions like American exceptionalism and how we view ourselves in the world.
It’s going to require those Afghan leaders to take the initiative. Frankly, as Hardin Lang from CSIS and I argue in an article for Foreign Policy.com this week, the Obama administration would do well to require Afghanistan’s next leader to meet certain standards before we pour more resources in there. Read more