Sunday, November 1, 2009

The perils of foreign elections

It's always risky to subordinate U.S. foreign policy decisions to the procedures or outcomes of foreign elections. Two recent cases come to mind: Afghanistan and Honduras.

In Afghanistan, opposition presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has now bowed out of the November 7 runoff. Since much of the discussion about whether President Obama should increase U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan has centered around the legitimacy of the Afghan government, this move leaves the U.S. government with both feet firmly midair.

In Honduras, the United States has brokered a murky compromise to allow former president Manual Zelaya to return home, and to proceed with November 29 elections to choose a new president to go forward. What if, as one Honduran source suggested, Zelaya can't return to Honduras until the Supreme Court rules on the issue - and it doesn't do so until after November 29? It was smart for the U.S. government to negotiate a way around its ridiculous insistence that Zelaya be reinstated, but what a dumb position to be in in the first place.

Hint to the Obama administration: try focusing primarily on U.S. national security interests. In Honduras, there were none of which I'm aware, so we should have kept our distance rather than meddling. In Afghanistan, the government's legitimacy is important, but more important is the overall security situation in the country. Both American and Afghan lives are currently at risk, and protecting them should be the main focus.

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