Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Afghanistan spin, Afghanistan reality and Afghanistan truth

The spin:
The Obama administration sought Monday to smooth over past differences with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who arrived here on a four-day mission to convince Americans that his country is not a lost cause.

At a White House news conference, Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, acknowledged that relations with Karzai have been shaky at times.

"But what measures true partnership is the ability, when the stakes are as high as they are for Afghanistan and the United States of America, to be able to work our way through difficulties and come back together and still find ourselves well aligned," Eikenberry said.

He added that after this week's meetings, "I think we're going to emerge with even better alignment."

Significant improvements in the U.S. and NATO military and civilian efforts have been made over the past year, Eikenberry noted.

"We're confident that we're much better postured to help deliver the progress needed in the months ahead," the ambassador said.

The reality:
Karzai's government suffers from endemic corruption, part of Afghanistan's entrenched culture of barter and payoff, also exploited by the Taliban, local warlords and drug rings. What Washington sees as shameless nepotism or bribery, Afghanistan's powerbrokers see as their due.

The war, now in its ninth year, remains unpopular in the United States, Europe and in much of Afghanistan itself. Obama accepted the argument for more forces made by McChrystal, the counterinsurgency expert the president installed to turn the war around last summer. Now U.S. military officials say time is running out for those troops to make a difference. Top military leaders generally give the policy about another year. After that, there is little chance of changing the equation if the war remains deadlocked.

Afghanistan still has an uneasy, unequal relationship with Pakistan, its nuclear-armed neighbor. Parts of Pakistan have become havens for Taliban insurgents battling Karzai's government, and for al-Quaida. That could be a more critical factor in whether militants once again acquire the capability to launch a catastrophic attack on the United States or its allies.

The truth? After almost a decade of involvement, we're fighting a hopeless battle to prop up a corrupt regime. In the end, those who attacked us on 9/11/01 will be stronger and more entrenched.

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