US Foreign Policy
Commentary

Iraq And Afghanistan — Any Silver Linings In Our Playbook?

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By Ellen Laipson: 

There’s been a brief break in the storm clouds over Baghdad and Kabul this week; both countries’ struggles to form governments after elections achieved minor progress with the election of a parliament speaker in Iraq and an agreement to audit election results in Afghanistan. But the domestic dysfunction is deep, and cannot be easily resolved. The only possible good news is the demonstrated capacity of U.S. diplomacy to play a constructive role in cajoling the parties to compromise.

Iraq is the more acute situation, on the ground and in terms of enduring strategic American interests. The incursion by radical Islamist forces into Sunni-majority swaths of Iraqi territory presents a deep crisis of legitimacy for the government in Baghdad, and has already undermined the “territorial integrity and unity” of the Iraqi state, sacrosanct principles of U.S. and international policy toward Iraq. The stunning insensitivity of the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which has alienated both Sunnis and Kurds, has been a growing concern for Western partners of Iraq, but it took the Islamic State’s dramatic invasion to focus the minds. The dilemma now is how to work with diverse Iraqi political forces to form a more inclusive government, without necessarily repudiating the electoral process, which did, after all, produce more votes for Maliki than any other party or leader.

Afghanistan, curiously enough, appears to be the easier case. Both presidential contenders, former World Bank official Ashraf Ghani and former Vice President Abdallah Abdallah, accept international intervention to overcome the impasse caused by charges of fraud after a runoff reversed the fortunes of the two rivals. Abdallah’s camp has not accepted that Ghani came from behind to prevail in the runoff. The two camps are arguing about implementation arrangements (Ghani, the frontrunner, wants more local control of the audit process; Abdallah the aggrieved runner-up wants more international supervision and authority), but there’s a plausible scenario that Afghanistan will indeed have an accepted electoral outcome and a new president soon. 

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Photo credit: james_gordon_losangeles via flickr

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