Irony in Afghanistan

I really don’t understand this argument Richard Fontaine and John Nagl about why a stolen election in Afghanistan doesn’t undermine the case for a counterinsurgency strategy:

This is not to say that a stolen presidential election is meaningless. But our main goal should be helping the Afghan government work at the local level — providing the marginal but tangible improvements in security, governance and prosperity that ordinary Afghans say they want, and stopping the corruption and abuses they personally contend with and resent.

Ironically, the greatest effect of Afghanistan’s botched election may be felt outside the country — reinforcing doubts in the United States and Europe about whether a corrupt Afghan government really deserves our help. But this misses the point. We are in Afghanistan because its takeover by the Taliban would be catastrophic for American national interests. The Taliban seeks to achieve that goal by exploiting any gaps it can find between the government and the people. Our task is to see clearly the causes for these gaps and take the steps necessary to close them.

For one thing, I don’t see what’s ironic about that. The Afghan population is not acculturated to the norms of liberal democracy, and probably isn’t all that scandalized by the idea of a political leader who holds power by virtue of fraud, violence, and foreign financial and military support. But American and European citizens, politicians, and military leaders are acculturated to the norms of liberal democracy and it seems perfectly reasonable for us to skeptical of the merits of making vast sacrifices on behalf of a government that doesn’t abide by those norms.

Which brings us to the second point, Fontaine & Nagl’s claim that we should look past the Afghan government we’re nominally supporting and straight to the fact that a “takeover by the Taliban would be catastrophic for American national interests.” Well, however bad such a takeover would be, we can probably all agree that it would be much, much, much, much, much more catastrophic for the interests of anti-Taliban Afghan leaders. It’s their country, right? So why is it our task to see clearly the causes for these gaps and take the steps necessary to close them. Why not the local leaders themselves? Why not Hamid Karzai and Rashid Dostum and Mohammed Fahim? If we had a situation in which Karzai was saying “I need to improve governance in Afghanistan and I have this great plan to do it, but I need a hundred bucks to make it work” then I say give him the hundred bucks. If he needs a million dollars or a hundred million or even 10 billion a year for ten years, then there seems to be a strong case. If he not only needs money, but also foreign military support for a period of years then, again, fine, let’s talk about it.

NATO has a lot of money and a lot of well-trained soldiers and a lot of military equipment, so it makes a lot of sense for NATO to partner-up with people in the developing world and apply money and soldiers and military equipment to problems. But why is it that NATO is supposed to be delivering the political will? The belief in the importance of the effective delivery of public services? You can see our money substituting effectively for non-present local money. Our our soldiers substituting for non-present local soldiers. But how is our commitment to good government supposed to substitute effectively for non-present local commitment?