Asia Scope

Kerry Back in the Headlines

Recent Features

Asia Scope

Kerry Back in the Headlines

Some interesting post election news today. First up is Afghanistan, where President Hamid Karzai has agreed to a run-off following the controversial August election. This seems like the only credible thing to do with a UN-backed commission having said as many as a third of Karzai’s were fraudulent. It should also make it easier for the US to align itself with him if, as is almost certain, he wins the run-off.

One of the most interesting elements of this story, though, is not that Karzai gave way and agreed to a run-off (that was pretty much inevitable under such heavy US pressure), but who was putting the pressure on–US Sen. John Kerry and not the special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke.

Jamie Fly, blogging for The National Review, has a good look at why Holbrooke has apparently been marginalized:

‘The subtext here appears to be that Holbrooke, who reportedly engaged in several shouting matches with Karzai in recent months, has so undermined the US relationship with Karzai that he had to be sidelined.’

But he goes on to say that despite Kerry’s apparent shuttle diplomacy success, the fact that it was Kerry and not Clinton mediating suggests some real underlying problems with the Obama team’s civilian efforts in the country:

‘Clinton’s notable absence on Afghanistan policy has led many experts to express concerns that the calibre of the US civilian team working on Afghanistan does not match that of the likes of Gen. David Petraeus, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and other military leaders handling this issue. There has been no comprehensive civilian assessment or plan put forward by Ambassador Holbrooke and his army of staffers on the seventh floor at State to accompany General McChrystal’s assessment. US political goals for the country are unclear.’

Still, credit to Kerry for getting the job done this time. Though this of course begs the question of where this leaves Obama’s Afghan diplomacy. This isn’t going to be the last time someone is going to be needed to put out a fire there. So who’ll do it next time?

Shifting focus to Southeast Asia meanwhile, the re-vamped cabinet of re-elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has disappointed reform-minded analysts, according to a New York Times piece that suggests politics has trumped expertise:

‘With the liberal former general having won re-election in a landslide victory in July, anticipation had been high that he would fill his cabinet with effective technocrats who could tackle persistent issues like endemic graft, crumbling infrastructure and an unreliable judicial system.

‘Instead, the president appears to have reserved only the economic posts for technocrats, while doling out others, like the key Ministry of Law and Human Rights, to members of the handful of political parties that supported his re-election bid.’