The Magazine

A Better Afghanistan

Will require a better president.

Apr 1, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 28 • By MAX BOOT
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The American had used his advertising expertise and the CIA’s covert funds to build up Magsaysay’s public reputation. He even contributed a campaign slogan: “Magsaysay is my guy.” But fundamentally the honest, modest, and hardworking defense minister won not because of public-relations tricks but because he had become, as two veterans of the anti-Huk campaign noted, “the personification” of “dedicated, aggressive leadership.” The “peaceful, clean” elections delivered the coup de grâce to the Huks, who conceded that people no longer saw “the immediate need of armed struggle.”

“The Huks became,” in Lansdale’s words, “fish out of water.” By the mid-1950s the Huk Rebellion was over.

Afghanistan today could desperately use its own Magsaysay, and we can’t trust the political process to produce him on its own because warlords, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, and other malign actors will influence the outcome. If we refuse to play the same game, we will be able to congratulate ourselves on our moral purity—but we will also be in serious danger of losing the war we have been fighting since the fall of 2001. 

If he hasn’t already, President Obama should tell the U.S. ambassador and CIA station chief in Kabul that it is time to emulate Lansdale by selecting and grooming the best possible candidate to succeed Karzai. Of course such a decision could backfire in numerous ways. Karzai, after all, was originally selected by the U.S.-run Bonn Process in late 2001. But we have learned a lot about Afghanistan since then, and, one hopes, we can make a better choice this time around. If we don’t, Afghanistan—and American security interests—will pay a heavy price.

Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, and the author of Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present.

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