Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 16:01 | SYDNEY
Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 16:01 | SYDNEY

Afghan election an excuse for our own failings

2 October 2009 10:46

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq.

One of the most common justifications for those now questioning our commitment to Afghanistan is to subtly blame the recent election. US National Security Adviser Jim Jones, for instance, says the President wants 'to make sure this comes out as a legitimate election'.

This bizarre view has been reflected in the media and in comments by senior officials — Afghanistan does not deserve our sacrifice, the argument goes; just look at what happened in the election and look at the corrupt Karzai Government.

I addressed this recently in an opinion piece in the SMH. The failure of the August election did not just happen. We were as much to blame as the Karzai Government or the Taliban. If we are going to continually try to create democracy by holding top-down central elections before creating security and a sense of democracy at the grassroots, we need to extensively shape the environment in which that election is conducted. I use the word 'shape' in the sense of activity in the diplomatic, political, information, military and economic spheres.

To now have President Obama saying after the election that he wants to make sure it is legitimate is at least eight months too late, and possibly eight years too late. Having used the Afghanistan war to gain credibility in his election, to have come out with a tough strategy for defeating the Taliban months before the Afghan election, and to not have given his commander in Afghanistan sufficient military and non-military resources to shape the election for success, it is a bit rough to now worry about the result. 

Those responsible for coalition policy and Australian policy must take their share of the blame for where we are in Afghanistan, but of course they will not and will portray this as almost an act of God.

But there is nothing new in any of this. Lord Paddy Ashdown, the former leaders of Britain's Liberal Democrats and the UN representative to Bosnia between 2002 and 2006, refers to this as 'political shortsightedness', a combination of hubris, nemesis and amnesia. He says:

We lovingly forget that item number one is always the rule of law. It is not elections, I'm afraid. If you have elections before you establish the rule of law, then all you do is elect the criminals who ran the war. What you create is not a democracy but a criminally captured space. That is what we had in Bosnia. Corruption is now in the marrow and bone of Bosnian society.

At the time he made these comments, he pointed out that the West had put 1/25th the number of security forces and 1/50th the amount of aid per head of population into Afghanistan that went into Kosovo.

There is a connection here between physical security, the rule of law, the number of security forces, the success of elections and the success of the overall mission. That connection seems not to have been made in the minds of those running the war in Afghanistan or those making policy or giving policy advice to Government in Australia, preferring to ignore the issue while remaining comfortably at the tactical level.

Having got the resource issue so wrong for so long, it may have been Presidents Obama's hope that the 21,000 troops he allocated at the time of his strategy (all still not yet in place as he looks for another strategy) would solve Afghanistan. Of course it did not — it took the commitment from totally inadequate to less totally inadequate. But there is always the election to blame.

Photo by Flickr user Mark Strozier, used under a Creative Commons license.