A swell way to declare an Afghan victor
Here’s a terrific way for the United States to settle the Afghan presidential election controversy: Have the Voice of America broadcast an “exclusive interview” with the CIA director who says the US-favored candidate will win and that a vote recount won’t matter.
Yet that’s just what the VOA and CIA Director Leon Panetta have done. Here’s what the VOA reported on September 18:
Official preliminary final totals in Afghanistan’s recent presidential election have incumbent president Hamid Karzai the winner, but the election was marred by allegations of massive vote fraud. A U.N. electoral oversight group has ordered a partial recount. But the head of the Central Intelligence Agency believes that will not make much of a difference.
In an exclusive VOA interview, CIA director Leon Panetta says that even if suspect ballots are discounted, President Hamid Karzai will in all likelihood win re-election.
“It’s clear that there was some degree of corruption and fraud involved in the election,” Panetta said. “It’s being viewed now by the commissions involved in counting those votes. I think what appears to be the case is that even after they eliminate some of the votes that resulted because of fraud, that Karzai will still – still looks like the individual who’s going to be able to win that election.”
The preliminary final results have Mr. Karzai with enough votes to avoid a runoff with former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. Mr. Karzai has angrily denied major fraud and denounced the media for what he says are exaggerated reports of electoral corruption.
A few problems show themselves here. First, the CIA director should never try to declare the winner of a US-backed election in another country. Even if the CIA wasn’t involved in trying to manage the outcome of the Afghan election (and shame on the US for not using the CIA for that purpose, given that the Saudis, Pakistanis, Iranians and others are meddling plenty in Afghan political affairs), an official CIA comment simply looks bad and taints the favored candidate.
Second, why in the world is the Voice of America, as a major public diplomacy instrument of the United States government, eliciting and promoting such statements from the CIA Director?
The CIA-VOA electoral pronunciation has other negative effects, too, but I’ll end with just the above pair of thoughts and the following question: Who is in charge of US strategic messaging on Afghanistan?