All hail the birth of Afghan democracy!

The willingness of Americans to allow our political leaders to spend $1 million per troop, per year in Afghanistan has been rewarded: we can now stand back in awe as the unpunished perpetrators of massive election fraud vie for control of the criminal enterprise called the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Extra-constitutional President Hamid Karzai (whose initial vote totals were 32.2 percent fraudulent) and prime challenger Abdullah (whose initial vote total was 12.8 percent fraudulent) will face off on November 7. The process of the last election was so corrupt that the UN is replacing 200 — more than half — of the top election officials who were complicit in the fraud. No matter who loses, fraud wins.

So here’s a question for those who are pushing COIN who haven’t totally abandoned their own doctrine’s prerequisites for success (and believe me, those are few and far between these days): what systemic changes have or will be made prior to November 7 that will prevent a replay of the August fiasco? While replacing bad apples is essential, it won’t prevent rot if the barrel itself is corrupted. Recall that during the last round of voting, fraud schemes included:

  • Alliances with warlords, who will deliver votes from their territories for Karzai by hook or by crook. Some have already made threats of reprisal against village elders if they did not cooperate with the vote fraud schemes.
  • Massive registration of underage voters (up to 20 percent of the rolls)
  • Rampant (as in 85-percent occurrence) issuance of multiple voting cards to single individuals, including one case where one person was given about 500 voting cards.
  • Issuance of voting cards to people before they registered.
  • Issuance of cards to women without their physical presence based on lists provided by family (in some provinces this practice was used in 90-99 percent of registration stations).
  • Allowing men to take registration books home for the ostensible purpose of obtaining their women-folk’s fingerprints for registration. This practice, combined with the list practice mentioned above, led to outrageously fraudulent numbers of “women” being issued cards–between double and thirty percent more than the number of cards issued to men. Female Members of Parliament in Afghanistan have called these numbers not credible.
  • Purchase of voting cards from locals by warlord vote organizers.
  • Manufacture and sale of many thousands of fake registration cards.

What steps have been taken to prevent these sorts of violations of the process from recurring? I’ve not seen a single indication that the systemic factors that allowed and rewarded election fraud have been addressed. Not one. Have you?

In this context, it’s understandable that Nagl and Co. would want to wave their hands and assert that counterinsurgency can work when host-nation elections break, but that’s contemptible, dishonest, face-saving bull. Sarah Sewall’s introduction in the COIN manual calls host-nation government legitimacy a “north star.” The main text of the manual defines victory flatly as the moment when “the populace consents to the government’s legitimacy and stops actively and passively supporting the insurgency.” And Nagl’s backpedaling in the L.A. Times’ opinion section aside, it’s clear throughout the manual he helped write that he wasn’t talking about the local mayor: he was talking about the host-nation government. And there’s not a single possible outcome now for the ‘09 Afghan elections that leaves us with a credible, legitimate partner. What we’ll get is a regime staffed with former warlords, human rights abusers and drug lords, headed by Mr. 32.2 Percent, Mr. 12.8 Percent, or both. Take your pick.

I can’t prove it, but the willingness of the pro-COIN crowd to fudge their own doctrine’s prerequisites for success and definitions of victory makes me suspect the American people have been the victims of what’s essentially an intra-military turf battle, with the Petreauses and the Nagls and the McChrystals of the world (all Army men) fighting to return the infantry to primacy in a world of stealth bombers and killer drones. The Army’s doctrinal weapon in that fight, COIN, seems to have fit perfectly with the Bushies’ PNAC-sponsored imperial eschatology, paving the way for a civilian/military public relations campaign to make infantry-heavy pacification campaigns the new, sexy way of war. Congrats on the snow job, gentlemen.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit http://rethinkafghanistan.com/blog.