5 things America should do instead of picking the winner – a note to O’Hanlon

This post is my second response to Michael O’Hanlon’s op-ed in the Washington Post calling for the US to pick the winner of Afghanistan’s next presidential election. My first response attempts to rebut O’Hanlon’s arguments, but this one seeks to set out alternatives the US should pursue instead of installing another dictator-president.

First off, let’s be clear: there are exceedingly important issues that the United States should expend time, treasure and effort on. These include working for the rights of women, children and minorities; managing the economic transition; tackling the crisis-level condition of the Afghan higher education; kick-starting the non-existent transitional justice process, etc.

In an attempt to remain fair and germane to O’Hanlon, this post focuses on issues relevant to the election. So, here goes…

  1. Protect, preserve and defend democracy by working to make sure the elections are fair, transparent…and logistically feasible and financially possible. This entails supporting the Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission, offering technical and logistical support during the elections, providing security to the voting population, etc.
  2. Offer adequate support to the next (democratically elected) president of Afghanistan so they can steer Afghanistan out of the dire straits of collapse while juggling the neighbors, the bureaucratic inefficiency, tackling corruption, managing to offer a modicum of services to the citizens, etc.
  3. Support and nurture the formation of political parties. History has shown that supporting individuals over institutions may have short-term benefits but it always has long-term costs. In this case, a robust political party system will keep the whims of Afghanistan’s president-cum-czar in check. And that’s in addition to the regular benefits of parties.
  4. Nurture the rule of law to help the next democratically elected president restore Afghans’ faith in their government and in democracy by promoting justice, equality and fairness, and eliminating arbitrary and summary justice, graft, nepotism, bribery and immunity for the powerful. These are the real issues that make life extremely difficult for Afghans; these issues also also have immeasurable social and economic costs for the country.
  5. Do minimal harm during the transition. These are fragile times, and there are more ways things could go wrong than vice versa. If things go wrong, there’s little room for repair; there’s certainly no time or energy for grand new plans. All actors are operating in this narrow strategic scope, and it’s exceedingly important to remain cautious and cognizant. Upsetting the political balance in Afghanistan by choosing winners is one way to get it wrong, so the US should avoid it at all costs.

Most of these steps are interconnected and some of them require investing resources, but they all function to consolidate and perpetuate the gains of the last decade — one of America’s key objectives and Afghans’ main desires.

9 responses to “5 things America should do instead of picking the winner – a note to O’Hanlon

  1. Pingback: Afghans deserve to make their own mistakes – a note to O’Hanlon | Afghanistan Analysis

  2. The to-do list you suggest is quite challenging to achieve, not that I’m criticizing it. But, of course, there is always the first step that need to be taken. You’ve suggested long-term solutions, and I appreciate them.

    • Thanks for the comment. Of course, some of these recommendations are for the mid- to longer term. Only makes sense after the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement.

  3. Pingback: Washington pundits get it wrong. Again. | Afghanistan Analysis

  4. I read O’Hanlon’s piece and your first response to it. He is out to lunch. Everything he said about the US picking a winner does not sound like the people have a right to choose their government!

    With your piece of 5 points; it all looks good on paper, but local economies growing from the people would actually accomplish something. One thing the US Government can do is to promote Afghanistan development in Muslim-American communities. When I was in Las Vegas, I could see people shudder at the idea that Muslim-Americans could travel to Afghanistan and build for profit businesses! And these people were from all walks of life; Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, and Atheist. Some worked for the US Government and some were Rights’ Activists.

    Have a good Ramadan!

  5. Should the US accept any leader, no matter who it is? If the Afghans choose a Taliban commander as their next leader, on a “back to Sharia” platform, do you think we should accept that?

    This is a serious question. I am trying to understand your position.


    • Not really! The answer to your question is in your response. Should “we” accept what? The issue of a national leader is dependent upon the people of the nation. My view is that American-Muslims could win hearts and minds better than any other American, whether they work for a government agency; a corporation, or an NGO. An American-Muslim will naturally respect the religion and culture out of practice of the faith. The background of the leader is not as important as the sponsers who will naturally be a mixture of Taliban and non-Taliban. The issue of power in Afghanistan has always been about trade. The Taliban made lots of money off of one type of resource that brought alot of money to the country. Whether it was morally right is not my position. They came into power because of their success in battle, but, they stayed in power because of this resource. They lost power because of an American invasion. But, they are the locals, not the Americans. The issue for the international community is going to be the transition of government from one President to the next. Even a superpower like Russia still has Putin in power and England still has a Queen, so I am wary of making any negative statements towards the Afghan process. My issue as a tax paying American is simple, let the American-Muslims have an opportunity to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan!

  6. P.S. Not that I think that’s likely, I suspect the Afghans would pick another decent leader, but was just curious as to your opinion on the issue. Also, as we just saw in Egypt, anything is possible.

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