Sunday, December 17, 2006

If Afghanistan Isn't Ready for Democracy - Why Prop Up Karzai?

I know this is going to sound like heresy but why are we banging our heads against a wall trying to rescue democracy in Afghanistan? Why don't we just find a strongman of our liking, someone who has the strength and stomach to put the Afghan tribes into line, give him money and guns to defeat the Taliban and get the hell out of there?

We first have to give up the tattered illusion of a democratic Afghanistan. Sure you can get Afghans to vote but there's a lot more to democracy than voting. They have to choose a democracy over tribalism and they're not making that choice. They have to want freedom and equality for the female half of their population and that's a complete non-starter. Now, don't take this the wrong way (it's not you, it's them) but they're not going to embrace a national, democratic government anytime soon.

That's not to rule out all progress. A benevolent dictator could do wonders for the place, so long as we accept that he'll have to be pretty brutal at first to get things sorted out. He'll have to crush the insurgency, he'll have to put the warlords in their place, he'll have to suppress the opium trade. Notice I say "he". That's no accident, this place isn't going matriarchal this century or next.

The sad truth is we can't save Karzai. We don't have the manpower and we don't have the stomach for the brutal mayhem that would take. What do we really want out of Afghanistan? I'm thinking we want a place that won't tolerate al-Qaeda or other Islamist fanatics. Maybe we should just settle for that.

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