Most people are still reeling from the personal jabs former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates takes at President Obama and his closest advisers in his forthcoming memoir. But beyond the political barbs is actual news. Like, for example, the fact that the U.S. tried to manipulate Afghanistan’s 2009 elections in order to unseat Hamid Karzai.
For several reasons, this shouldn’t be surprising. First of all, manipulating elections and plotting to oust foreign leaders has been an integral part of U.S. foreign policy for at least a century. It’s as American as apple pie. Secondly, Karzai has publicly accused the U.S. of interfering in the 2009 elections to get him out of power. Most observers dismissed the allegations because of Karzai’s famous paranoia. But it turns out he was right.
Lost in the political controversy surrounding former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ new memoir is a fascinating account of a failed administration attempt to ensure that Karzai was defeated in the 2009 Afghan elections. Gates is harshly critical of the move, which he derides as a “clumsy and failed putsch” that did significant damage to the U.S.-Afghan relationship.
…The central players in the backchannel effort to unseat Karzai, according to Gates, were Richard Holbrooke, then the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Karl Eikenberry, then the U.S. ambassador to Kabul.
Gates writes that Holbrooke regularly spoke about the need to create “a level playing field” that would ensure all presidential candidates were given protective details, transportation to campaign events throughout the country, and the ability to convey their messages to independent Afghan newspapers, radio stations and TV outlets. In reality, Gates writes, Holbrooke didn’t just want a level playing field. He wanted one tilted against Karzai.
“Holbrooke was doing his best to bring about the defeat of Karzai,” Gates writes. “What he really wanted was to have enough credible candidates running to deny Karzai a majority in the election, thus forcing a runoff in which he could be defeated.”
The two men, according to the former Defense chief, held highly publicized meetings with Karzai’s opponents, attended their rallies, made a point of being photographed with them, and even offered them unspecified advice. Gates writes that Karzai quickly became aware of the U.S. efforts to unseat him and ultimately cut deals with the country’s warlords to win their support in the vote.
“It was all ugly: our partner, the president of Afghanistan, was tainted, and our hands were dirty as well,” Gates writes.
Gates has publicly confirmed this for the first time. I’m sure this information is classified. Should we expect all of Washington’s hawks to come out and criticize Gates for endangering U.S. national security? Will Rep. Peter King call him a traitor who has aligned himself with America’s enemies? Will the Obama administration charge Gates with violating the Espionage Act? Do we think Gates is going to be forced to hop on a plane and seek asylum in a far off country? Of course not. That kind of blitz is reserved for people who are not in the elite, as Gates is. Snowden and the rest of the weak, powerless schmucks continue to live by that double standard.
Additionally, we should not expect any retribution or accountability before the law for the Obama administration in this case. That’s what being in America’s executive branch means: total impunity. Commit any crime, set havoc upon the world via any number of nefarious means, and get away with it.