If you don't read anything else about Afghanistan, make sure that this NY Times article on President Karzai's brother is the one you read. It's a very interesting piece, and has implications far beyond the immediate shock waves that it will inevitably cause.
Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.
These military and political officials say the evidence, though largely circumstantial, suggests strongly that Mr. Karzai has enriched himself by helping the illegal trade in poppy and opium to flourish. The assessment of these military and senior officials in the Obama administration dovetails with that of senior officials in the Bush administration.
Now the fact that Mr. Karzai is profiting both from the drug trade and from supporting the CIA's operations is not in and of itself particularly amazing or outlandish to most people who understand the Afghani culture and who have to demonstrate short-term progress against the Taliban. A former CIA intel officer is quoted in the article:
“Virtually every significant Afghan figure has had brushes with the drug trade,” he said. “If you are looking for Mother Teresa, she doesn’t live in Afghanistan.”
The CIA has a long record of supporting bad actors in the name of getting intelligence or achieving progress against other countries whose goals are inimical to US interests, and that may be understandable in some situations, except when that practice runs counter to official US policy in those particular regions. The brother to the president of Afghanistan uses his position to profit from the drug trade and also is a prime suspect in trying to fix the election (in a disappointingly transparent and amateurish fashion). That might be acceptable except for the fact that he's not helping the US government advance its efforts to stabilize the country.
Our government's goals do not align with the brothers Karzai's goals. Mr. Karzai's interests are to protect the drug lords in the south provinces, who in turn pay and rely on the Taliban for protection. Those are the same provinces where US, British, and other forces are fighting and dying every day. Until the current Afghani government is replaced by a legitimate group which has a real desire to advance the Afghani people's needs and interests, there is no way that a strategy based on COIN tactics will work. And if there is no way that COIN tactics will work, then there is no reason to support Gen. McChrystal's request for 40,000+ additional troops.
Of course, there is the possibility that our government's actual goal is to develop Afghanistan into "a horrific, full-fledged quagmire by 2012."
(This is a follow-up on Heather's earlier post on same subject)