Kerry has said, both before and after the trip, that Obama should put off any decision about whether to send more troops until after the runoff. To make such a momentous decision without knowing the nature of the Afghan government—the partner to our counterinsurgency campaign—would be irresponsible, Kerry said.
On the other side, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the independent from Connecticut, said today that Obama should make his decision before the Nov. 7 runoff—a senseless sentiment on the face of things and confirmation that Lieberman and others like him simply want to box Obama into escalating the war without examining the costs, risks, and benefits.
Obama appears to be in accord with Kerry on this question, saying that even if he decides on a strategy for Afghanistan before the runoff, he may not announce it until after.
If Karzai does win a runoff, or strikes a power-sharing deal with Abdullah, that's a vital prerequisite but still just the first step to achieving legitimacy—and thus making a counterinsurgency campaign even theoretically worth waging.
Gen. McChrystal and several other senior officers—including Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command—have said that corruption is no less threatening than the Taliban to the stability of Afghanistan.
So if he is fairly re-elected, Karzai would have to take steps—given the astonishing depths of the problem, heroic steps—to clean up the corruption, including the replacement of lots of ministers, governors, and members of his own entourage.
Here, too, the West, especially the United States, has to apply the pressure.
President Obama is scheduled to travel to Asia on Nov. 11. He should make Kabul one of his stops. A former military officer who consults the administration on Afghanistan (and therefore asked not to be identified) has a modest proposal for his agenda.
Obama, he says, should give Karzai a poster-size photograph of Mohammad Najibullah hanging from a lamp post in 1996. Najibullah, of course, was Afghanistan's last democratic president before the Taliban killed him and took over.
If you don't take the following 10 reform measures, Obama should tell him, this picture could be of you. That is to say, without serious reforms, your government won't gain legitimacy, and the Taliban won't be stopped.
Yet, Obama should continue, if you do take the following 10 reform measures, here are 10 things that I, the president of the United States, will do for you.
There is a catch: One of those 10 things that Obama has to do is to send more U.S. troops—probably about as many as Gen. McChrystal wants.
This is the game that Obama is about to enter: If Karzai takes the risks of reforming his government (and there are enormous risks in that), then Obama has to take the risks of helping him succeed.