NR: "We may have a result...But we're still a long way off from that credible partner that America so desperately seeks."
November 02, 2009
TJ Holmes talks to Michael (in New York) and Ed Henry (at the White House) for reaction to the cancellation of the runoff election in Afghanistan and the subsequent declaring of Hamid Karzai as the winner.
T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Well, a win is a win is a win, right? Even if the election is tainted, the runoff is canceled and the legitimacy of the whole process now in question. At least in public, the White House is standing by the officially re-elected president of Afghanistan.
CNN's Ed Henry joins me live in just a moment with how Afghan politics impacts the war in general, and U.S. strategy in particular.
Also, we're going to be hearing from our friend and colleague, Michael Ware. There he is. He's in New York for us. He knows the leaders, the soldiers, the tribes, the insurgents. He knows it all inside and out, and also the prospects for peace post-election.
Well, you heard him live here last hour. The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, saying Americans should take heart that democracy has prevailed in Afghanistan. A fairly elected, widely accepted Afghan president has long been seen as a prime weapon in beating back the Taliban, but is Hamid Karzai the guy?
Well, our guy at the White House, Ed Henry, was in that press briefing.
Ed, I was listening. I know you all were trying and trying and trying to pin Robert Gibbs down and get him to call this man credible and legitimate. He didn't seem to want to go that far.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He did not, T.J. You're right.
Robert Gibbs clearly was ducking the question as to whether or not Hamid Karzai is a credible partner. In fact, suggesting he's not. Instead, saying at one point, he's the legitimate leader of Afghanistan, given the fact that this process is moving forward.
But that's a far cry from what the White House has been laying out and saying it needs in recent days, saying it needs a credible partner as President Obama mulls sending up to 40,000 more U.S. troops to the war. Instead, saying he's the legitimate leader.
The other big question, of course, when is the president going to make this decision? You'll remember the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, a couple of weeks back said that they would have to wait until after the November 7th runoff to see who the leader is going to be in Afghanistan to make this decision about troop levels. Well, I pressed Robert Gibbs on the fact, you now know who that leader is. It's President Karzai. When will the president make this decision?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We obviously now know who the government is going to be, so I think some of the conversations that I just alluded to can take place with who we know is going to lead the country. I think the decision still will be made in the coming weeks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY: So, all Robert Gibbs would say there is that a decision will be made in coming weeks. He's been saying that for weeks, so it's really nothing new despite the fact that we have these new developments. And so, we're trying to find out what the president still needs to mull here before making this decision.
I can tell you, just in the last few moments, the House Republican leader, John Boehner, up on Capitol Hill, has put out a statement saying the last hurdle for the president to make a decision, figuring out who the leader in Afghanistan is, has been cleared. And John Boehner charging that the president is putting young men and women, U.S. troops, in danger every day he waits on this decision. So you see the pressure building -- T.J.
HOLMES: All right.
Ed Henry for us at the White House.
Ed, we appreciate you, as always.
HENRY: Thank you.
HOLMES: And a lot of people ask the question, why would anybody even be willing to take on the job of Afghan president? That's a pretty good question, some would say, but we also wonder how a second term for Karzai will sit with the people who voted for him or maybe those that didn't vote for him, or maybe those who didn't vote at all.
CNN's Michael Ware joins us now with some insights here.
Michael, hello to you.
Do you buy what the White House is selling here, essentially that they now have a legitimate, credible guy in place? He has now been elected fairly and whatever else they might say, and freely? Do you buy it, that he is now legitimate?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, I think that's a very flowery way for the White House to basically put, this is the only guy we've got, this is the only guy we were ever going to get, and this is the guy we're going to have to deal with. And, I mean, relations between Karzai and the Obama White House have been strained since the Obama administration came into power.
It's also the White House that forced Karzai a couple of weeks ago to accept the runoff in the first place. And I'm sure there was much pressure to get Abdullah to accept -- to now pull out of that runoff.
So, do they have a credible partner? No. They're not going to have that for quite some time. But the Afghan people will accept this result, because at the end of the day, it's the only one they're going to get.
And runoff or not, it's one bunch of warlords and their cronies versus another anyway. So, the result ultimately isn't that different from what the Afghans expected. It's just a different, more tortuous road.
HOLMES: Well, Michael, because of the way it went down, because you had this whole issue with the runoff, and then you had Abdullah drop out, and now it's been declared official, how much damage did Abdullah Abdullah do by dropping out? How much damage -- and it sounds like maybe listening to you that Karzai was going to be seen as illegitimate in some ways anyway. But how much damage did Abdullah do to him by dropping out of the runoff?
WARE: Well, yeah, I think to have a runoff election obviously would have added at least some semblance of greater legitimacy to the mandate from the people that whoever the winner was would receive. But when you weigh out the costs financially of attempting a runoff like that, given the timing and the logistics, and given that this is against the backdrop of violent Taliban opposition to this poll, in one sense Abdullah pulling out is the best thing for everyone, including Karzai. I mean, at least he's in power.
And to be honest, the Afghan people wouldn't have expected anything much different to this. I mean, we saw stories emerge in the last week or so that President Karzai's brother is on the CIA payroll. Well, to the Afghans, that would have been a case of, yeah, and what's your point? They assume that.
So, to have Karzai return, Abdullah pull out, it's the best of a worst situation even for the Afghan people -- T.J.
HOLMES: And one last thing here. And Robert Gibbs talked about this, and you alluded to it a minute ago. And it sound like -- I mean, we sit here in the U.S., and we're watching what's happening over there and talking about the legitimacy of Karzai. But the people there, Robert Gibbs seems to think that they think -- that the Afghans think they have a legitimate leader in Karzai.
I mean, you've been there. You talk to these folks day in, day out. Is this, like you were saying, just a case of dance with the devil you've got?
WARE: Absolutely. I mean, at least the people know Karzai.
According to one of my colleagues at CNN, the running joke on the street was, well, at least if Karzai was thrown out of office, and new ones came in, their fear was that, well, Karzai's already filled his pockets with the money. You know, a return of Karzai would save us. Hopefully he wouldn't be as greedy as someone just coming in.
I mean, that's the kind of cynicism that people on the street see their government. So, really, the Afghan people are just going to go with the flow. They're going to make the most of it.
The real question -- you're going to have the Afghans come along, because they've got very little choice -- how's the White House going to handle it? How is it going to repair its relationship with Karzai, and how is it going to establish a credible partner with him or, indeed, anyone when they haven't been able to do so until now?
We may have a result. We may have an accepted new president or return of the incumbent. But we're still a long way off from that credible partner that America so desperately seeks -- T.J.
HOLMES: Michael Ware, we appreciate your insights, as always. Appreciate you hopping in that chair for us. Thanks so much. We'll see you again soon, buddy.
WARE: Cheers, mate.