- By David RothkopfDavid Rothkopf is CEO and Editor of the FP Group. His latest book, National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear was published in October.
I know it is tempting to look at the revelations that apparently the Afghan elections were rigged by supporters of President Hamid Karzai and become frustrated or depressed. After all, Karzai is America’s man, the Jefferson we plucked out of obscurity to restore democracy to that war-torn country. And yes, not only have we been fighting there at staggering cost for eight years but we are now upping the ante making it likely that Karzai will remain the spokes model for the efforts of what very well may be a force of over 100,000 U.S. troops before it is all over (in many years).
But I am a stuffed-ballot-box-is-half-full kind of guy, one of those cock-eyed optimists that FP is known for (see Peter Bergen’s recent upbeat piece on Afghanistan or just tiptoe through the tulips of the AfPak Channel blog which I can now reveal to you will soon be made into a Broadway musical starring Zac Efron as Karzai and Vanessa Hudgens as his secret love who meets a tragic fate when she inadvertently reads a book). Some people see America seemingly fighting to advance the interests of a slime bag who neither shares our values nor is grateful for the young men and women we are sacrificing for him or his people. But I see the upside, at least five benefits from election results that might make others throw up a little in their mouths.
Here they are:
- Cynics of the world rejoice…
Reports that hundreds of fake polling places were established that seemed to produce hundreds of thousands of ballots that were of net benefit to Karzai, confirm that Afghanistan is making progress. While, if these allegations are true, they are not exactly indicative of what you might call fair elections, they are not only a big step forward from Taliban “good governance” practices but they are roughly as fair as democratic practices found in many far more advanced countries such as neighboring Iran. Further, they do make one group I can relate to feel much better: the cynics who predicted that this is what would happen. Cynics have been disappointed recently, especially by apparent signs that the world is creeping out of a recession and by President Obama’s principled stand, despite almost maniacal opposition to continue to fight for much needed healthcare reform despite great political risks. Calling this election right eases the pain a bit.
- And then there is the benefit of reminding the U.S. who its friends really are…
Corruption. Oppression of women. Gainsaying U.S. efforts. None of these things seem to have sent home the message to the U.S. that Karzai is not the horse on which to bet … or even a horse you want to have wearing your colors. But perhaps the discomfort surrounding this election, which is only likely to increase in the months ahead, will help cast the true nature of the Afghan leadership in a clearer light. It’ll be ugly but U.S. planners ought to have their eyes wide open as requests are made for a greater investment that is likely to lead a longer-term commitment to AfPakia.
- Perhaps it will stir up legitimate opposition…
While Afghanistan is not a country known for the rock-ribbed strength of its institutions of civil society and social justice, we can always hope that this watered-down sip of democracy or possibly its foul aftertaste may energize opponents who actually are more committed to free and fair governance. Or perhaps it will motivate America and our allies to work harder to find people who are more credible in this regard. And give them money. Oh sure, I know that sounds like us fiddling the system much as Karzai has done but sometimes you have to break a few eggs, you know what I’m saying?
- And while I’m on a wild optimistic flight of fancy…
And since I’m sitting here listening to the optimistic music in my head (who knew Julie Andrews even cared about Afghanistan, but I could swear I could hear something about “rain drops on poppies and bright paper packages wrapped up with string”) perhaps this latest instance of a bad regime cleansing itself with the legitimizing Purell of democracy might get the rest of the world talking about establishing a more formal set of enforceable international standards regarding what really makes a democracy. For instance, what country’s people wouldn’t benefit from international inspectors at every election? As an American … and a New Jersey-American at that … I for one would welcome all the scrutiny we could get. The key is that if you don’t play by common standards you are actually denied privileges whereas now all you have to do is create a Potemkin democracy (roll out the ballot boxes, who cares what goes in them?) and you get global props. Oh sure, I know this would be uncomfortable for some people (Chinese, Venezuelans, Russians, Iranians, Zelaya-supporters, Floridians) but isn’t that the point?
- And then, finally, silver-lining fans…
Even if the preceding reasons to be more cheerful about the outcome in Afghanistan don’t work for you, there is always the fact that as America is convulsed by the health care debate, we are reminded that no matter how badly that turns out, in the end, AfPak will be worse. At some point this year, Obama will ultimately get a healthcare bill and it will include some important reforms (despite the best efforts of Republicans who are the ones who are actually convening the political death panels that will kill off reforms and in turn the people who need those reforms to survive). It won’t be a total victory … but compared to what we are likely to come out of Afghanistan with (thanks in part to “friends” like Karzai) … it will look like Normandy, San Juan Hill, Appomattox, and Yorktown rolled into one with a Sousa march thrown in for good measure.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.| Interview |