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Guest: U.S. needs to rein in Afghan president

BY WILL MATTESSICH - GUEST OPINION | APRIL 07, 2010 7:30 AM

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Unlike many media pundits, voters, and politicians on both sides of the aisle, President Obama has moved on from health-care reform.

Since the law was passed, Obama’s high-profile talks with the leaders of Israel and Afghanistan have shifted the administration’s focus from domestic to foreign policy. The actions of Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, have forced Obama to rethink both America’s relationship with Karzai’s administration and America’s role in the country.

Recently, the Obama administration and the United Nations have been taking a hands-off, guiding approach in Afghanistan’s government. Their goal is to avoid suffocating the fledgling democracy as Afghan politics learns to stand on its own two feet. Obama has been treating Karzai as the fairly elected world leader of a sovereign state.

The United Nations needs to consider becoming involved more directly with the Afghan government.

Recently, Karzai’s actions show that he believes it is no longer in his best interest to cooperate with the United States and the United Nations. Much of this is because the legitimacy of his office has been challenged by allegations of ballot-stuffing during his most recent re-election. The allegations of fraud led to Karzai proposing to completely change the panel set up to monitor Afghanistan’s elections.

Under the rules, he would be able to personally appoint every member of the panel, instead of allowing the United Nations to appoint three of the members. This controversial move caused Obama to revoke Karzai’s invitation to visit the White House. In response, Karzai invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a high-profile visit. Obama then visited Afghanistan to try to get Karzai to behave. But after he left, Karzai lashed out at America and the West in a speech.

Through these actions, Karzai has become a liability. He is a leader who has not been fairly elected, and he is undermining America’s goals in Afghanistan at a time when we would like to be able to back away.

In order to ensure these goals can still be met, the West needs to intervene more directly in the Afghan government. Allowing Afghanistan to govern itself should be a means to an end, not an end in itself. The goal should be establishing a working, safe Afghan society, with a democratic government being the means to get there.

Regardless, of how or why we went in, the United States is committed to Afghanistan. We will not begin withdrawing soldiers until mid-2011, and Obama ordered 30,000 more troops to the country last December. The president has been trying to accelerate the transition from U.S. control to the Afghani government, but all of the effort in the past decade will be wasted if we sacrifice quality for speed.

If Karzai is not allowing the United States to effectively fight the Taliban and set up a working government in Afghanistan, then he should not be treated as a legitimate head of state. Karzai is acting in ways that help neither the West nor his own people, while he is receiving billions of dollars in Western aid and American troops are fighting on his soil.

In the past, our government has been criticized for supporting undemocratic leaders just because they are friendly to the United States, but what is the point of supporting an undemocratic leader who is unfriendly to us? The Afghan government has shown it is not ready to function properly by itself with Karzai at the helm, and the Obama administration needs to control him or remove him from power.

Will Mattessich is a UI student and the founder of Hawkeyes for Progress.


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