How Obama lost Afghanistan

Yet for all of Karzai’s failings, the Obama administration’s craven politics and unrealistic expectations hastened the decline. Immediately after Obama’s election, administration officials stressed the need for a “credible partner” in Afghanistan, ignoring the reality that Karzai would likely win even without widespread cheating. To make good on his strong campaign condemnation of the Bush administration failures in Afghanistan, Obama ordered an additional 20,000 troops, then another 30,000, almost doubling the size of the American forces in Afghanistan to nearly 100,000. Obama actually didn’t want to surge the troops—he took over three months to make the decision to do so—but feared political fallout for denying the request of the brass.The additional troops were supposed to “create the space for governance.” The strategy depended on Karzai’s potential as a leader, but Obama would not play the role of mentor and would not speak with Karzai directly. It didn’t work. Already before the contested election, Obama outsourced ‘the job against Al Qaida in Afghanistan’ to deceased Special Envoy Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Vice-President Joe Biden, and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. Though the commander-in-chief should delegate as much as possible, wartime relationships matter. It was a slight from which Karzai would never recover.

Mood stabilizers were yanked for shock therapy. Instead of tolerating Karzai’s bipolar mania for his occasional lucidity and cooperation, the Obama model of diplomacy became to antagonize its critical partner. Pander to the very worst of your own and Karzai’s personality, to the detriment of the men and women you expect to fight a war you don’t believe in (not to mention the men, women, and children who have to live in the world you’ve wrought in their backyards). If political elites with base similarities in wealth, power, and prestige can’t find any common ground, counterinsurgency didn’t have a prayer.

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