Day: November 18, 2010

New START needs a new start

Ratification of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia has fallen into the partisan abyss we still call America.  The left claims failure to ratify will encourage Iran to get nuclear weapons.   The right fears grave impairment of the nation’s nuclear defenses.

Both claims are what the car guys call “BOOOOOOGUS.”  Iran is likely to go for nuclear weapons capability no matter what happens to New START, which will only marginally decrease America’s nuclear forces.  And failure to ratify will lead only to a pause in Washington’s reset with Moscow, which has good reason to react calmly.

That said, the Administration needs to get the treaty off to a new start if it expects ratification in either this lame duck Congress or the next.  Turning down the rhetoric and turning up some careful analysis of the facts would be a good place to start.  It is hard to believe that we can’t figure out a way to make a dispassionate and reasoned decision to reduce a number of weapons that hawks in both Washington and Moscow agree is excessive.

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Is Karzai worth it?

Five months ago James Traub in Foreign Policy asked the question:  is Karzai worth the War in Afghanistan? General Stanley McCrystal had just been cashiered and David Petraeus had just taken over.

This is still the vital question.  There is no point in conducting a counterinsurgency war unless the host government has legitimacy with the population.  Karzai understands this perfectly well, which is why he complains bitterly about night time raids by U.S. forces, even if they are as effective as Petraeus claims.

The main American complaint about Karzai at the moment is corruption, which is rampant.  The problem is that what the Americans view as corruption Karzai views as his system of governance, which relies heavily on a coterie of strongmen and large quantities of cash.  Afghans are much less impressed than Americans with elections as the basis for legitimacy.  They regard deliver of services, even those delivered through less than transparent means, as more important.

The Americans are working hard on anti-corruption efforts, but the opposite of corruption is not anti-corruption.  It is good, transparent, accountable governance.

That should start at home, as Karzai rudely points out:  American contracting for security and other services appears not only to be corrupt but also to be putting money in the pockets of insurgents.

But even if he has a point, the question remains:  is Karzai worth it?  This should be a focus of the December policy review, if it is going to be of any real use.

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