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October 21, 2009
The wicked game (part three)By Greyhawk
The first indication that the Obama administration is unhappy with Afghan president Hamid Karzai's decision to accept a runoff election is this New York Times story - With New Afghan Vote, Path to Stability Is Unclear.
...diplomats immediately questioned whether a new vote could be arranged before the announced date of Nov. 7, and whether a second round of balloting would have more security or less fraud than the first, in which nearly a quarter of ballots were thrown out by international auditors. "There are huge constraints to delivering in the second round," said one Western official. "Can you deliver a result that is any different from the one we've already got?"
The answer to that last question is probably not. Prior to the IEC certification, second place finisher Abdullah Abdullah had received 27.7 percent of votes cast to Karzai's 54.6 percent.
Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission formally certified the vote Tuesday, and said Mr. Karzai had received 49.7 percent of the votes, higher than a foreign-led panel of experts conducting the audit had found, but still below the over 50 percent required to avoid a runoff.
While both candidate's vote counts were lowered ("As a result of the ECC's audit and recount process, the ECC has ordered the IEC to invalidate a certain percentage of each candidate's votes" - a fine point that, along with the actual spread, media accounts ignore*), Abdullah may have received a slight boost in overall percentage but still remains a distant second to Karzai. Turnout for a second round of balloting - mandated by Afghanistan's constitution in the event no candidate receives 50% of the total - is expected to be lower than that for the original elections due to weather, security, and waning interest, and Karzai is heavily favored.
And as Karzai points out (although the Times neglects this minor detail), the Afghan constitution is on his side:
"The coalition has no legitimacy and is not possible," he said, standing alongside Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who negotiated with Mr. Karzai for nearly 20 hours over 5 days to accept the results.
Still, the Times reports "Diplomats said the efforts to get the two men to join forces would now intensify." As for that nagging issue of a constitution - at least one work-around has been proposed: "officials said that if there was a deal it would likely involve Mr. Abdullah conceding to Mr. Karzai, in return for a major role in overhauling Afghanistan's Constitution to give the president less power."
"We have started preparing for a second round," Dr. Abdullah said, speaking at a press conference in his backyard in Kabul. "The results show the need for a second round. We will let the Afghan people decide -- I am committed to that."
Regardless of Afghan voters, it's increasingly clear that the Obama administration has no desire to work with an Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai. (Earlier this week, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs spoke of "the responsibility that all Afghans are going to have in both putting forward and -- putting forward a government that is viewed as, in the eyes of both, importantly, the Afghan people as well as the international community, as truly legitimate.") And it's likewise becoming increasingly clear that the DoD has no desire to be used as pawns in the game - seeing security in Afghanistan as a more pressing issue for both countries. (A view shared by most Afghans.) Defense Secretary Robert Gates sounded additional warnings in a recent interview with reporters while on a Pacific trip:
More from Secretary Gates: "The one thing that is clear in all the polling and everything I've seen is, regardless of anything else, pretty consistently, fewer than ten percent of the Afghan people want to see a return of the Taliban. So the key is: How do we move forward in a way that takes advantage of that hostility to the Taliban and perhaps, in no small measure due to memories of what it was like when the Taliban ran the country, and do so with the Afghan people having confidence in the legitimacy of their government and not just the government in Kabul, but at the district and provincial levels as well. And as I said earlier, I think that that is a process, it's not something that's going to happen overnight or in a very short period of time. And we just have to work together with the Afghans to move in that direction. But the fact that 90 percent of the Afghan people do not want the Taliban to return means that I think we have some tremendous opportunities there. And I think the key is reversing the momentum on the Taliban and preventing them from controlling populated areas, areas of economic production, lines of communication and so on."
However, Gates noted "...there are also some realities that affect the timetable here, for example, I'm going to be out of Washington all this week and so is Admiral Mullen in Asia. I think Secretary Clinton is going to be gone several days next week. So it's just a matter now of getting the time with the president when we can sort through these options and then tee them up for him to make a decision." Gibbs said that he expects a decision on a revised strategy and troops well before the results of the runoff election are certified.
But the president swiftly clarified - declaring that any decision might be kept secret:
"It is entirely possible that we have a strategy formulated before a runoff is determined," Obama told MSNBC. But he added, somewhat cryptically, "We may not announce it."
It's probable that numbers and strategy have already been attached to various possible outcomes.
In previous polls, Obama received some of his highest ratings in relation to his dealings with Afghanistan, including 63 percent approval in April of his handling of the situation there. In the latest poll, 45 percent approve, down 10 percentage points in the past month alone, and 47 percent disapprove, an increase of 10 points. Nearly a third of those surveyed say they strongly disapprove.
*Footnote: The NY Times reports 201,520 Abdullah votes (of 1,571,581 originally counted) were declared fraudulent. If their numbers are accurate, the final tally would be
Posted by Greyhawk / October 21, 2009 5:23 PM | Permalink
(Part three here)***** If you believe the Obama administration wanted a runoff election in Afghanistan, then you'll probably believe Fred Kaplan's Slate piece crediting John Kerry with the accomplishment; but even the Senator himself might be surprised... Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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