Have you followed the Republican presidential campaign, the floating freak show of crank candidates who, with the exception of Romney, were left after the plausible candidates dropped out, or dropped out before they got in?

Michele Bachmann was a frontrunner—until the actual voting started.*  Herman Cain’s ideas and personality were even stranger than Ron Paul’s.  Rick Perry:  How could the winner of nine elections from two parties (he was elected three times to the state legislature as a Democrat) in the country’s second largest state be so clueless a campaigner?  And Newt Gingrich: People marveled that he kept coming back from political oblivion, when what was really remarkable was his ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, like a vampire who keeps driving a stake through his own heart.

Which left Romney, the only recognizable political life form in the race.  The system worked!

So why not take our expertise in selecting presidents on the road?  Why not pick presidents for other countries?  Why not pick a new president for—oh, I don’t know—for Afghanistan?

That is what an assortment of western diplomats and strategic thinkers are mulling over, according to the Washington Post’s geopolitical columnist, David Ignatius.  President Hamid Karzai’s term runs until 2014.  But the British ambassador to Afghanistan thinks that 2013 would be better, so that western troops would be there to guarantee security.  Britain, says the ambassador, would have no objections. So good of them.

Who might succeed Karzai and his administration?  Not to worry.  The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, reports Ignatius, “is expanding his outreach to Afghan politicians in the hope of encouraging a new generation of leaders, post-Karzai.”

How should the U.S. go about moving up the date of Afghan elections and replacing Karzai?  “Some would argue,” writes Ignatius, “that it should be a CIA function, since it may involve covert contacts and money. But why not do this political work openly, through the embassy? It seems crazy to have spent hundreds of billions of dollars trying to stabilize Afghanistan, and then pretend Washington isn’t interested in shaping the political landscape and encouraging a strong and popular successor to Karzai.”

No.  What seems crazy is for the U.S. to attempt to manage the political system of yet another country which we do not understand.  Remember that we played an important role in installing Karzai.  How happy are we with how that has turned out, with Karzai in control only of Kabul and us trying to figure out how we can get our troops out before we are run out?  How happy are we with the succession of viceroys, proconsuls and cat’s-paws whom we installed and then uninstalled in Iraq?  In 1953, we ousted Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran and replaced him with the shah.  In Chile twenty years later, we replaced Salvador Allende with Augusto Pinochet.

Those are our whiffs.  What are our hits?

None of the leaders we have deposed could be confused with George Washington or Winston Churchill.  But the characters we put in their places more often than not turned out to be a motley crew of tyrants and dictators. Remember, we were for Saddam Hussein before we were against him, supporting him in his seven-year war with Iran.

We sometimes pick halfway decent presidents for our own country.  But if our succession of military misadventures in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan has taught us anything, it is that we are not equipped to govern other countries, especially those with cultures radically different than our own.  Not only do the leaders we install often turn out to be as bad as or worse than those we oust, but we sometimes come full circle, turning the country back over to the forces we previously ejected.  We went into Afghanistan to oust the Taliban; now we are negotiating to bring them back into some kind of governing coalition.

We are barely wise enough to govern our own country.  We are not wise enough—or powerful enough or knowledgeable enough—to govern Afghanistan.  Leave the elections where they are.  Leave the selection of a new president to Afghans.  Leave them, in other words, to their own political devices.

Their own devices: They can’t be much worse than ours.


  1. Linda Christenson
    April 27th, 2012 | 6:31 am

    Hear, hear, Louis! So well said, as usual!

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