It is amusing, if remarkable, that there are still some players in Washington who try to maintain the fantasy that Afghan President Hamid Karzai governs with anything akin to legitimacy.
Karzai, an alleged oil industry fixer awarded control of his country by occupying powers, has always served with strings attached.
And the Afghan people have been quite aware of that fact.
It is true that, at different points over the past eight years, Karzai has enjoyed measures of popular support, thanks to alliances with warlords and drug dealers, the inflaming of ethnic rivalries and an awareness that he was the one distributing all those billions of dollars from the United States.
But, aside from a slick sense of dress, Karzai has never had much going for him in the political department.
So he has, out of instinct and by necessity, relied on fraud to “win” the elections that have kept the Afghan president and his minions in power.
That was not much of a problem during the Bush-Cheney years. The men who assumed control of the United States after losing the 2000 popular vote by more than 500,000 and then shutting down the recount of votes in the contested state of Florida were not going to gripe about the mangling of democratic processes in distant Afghanistan.
But the fantasy is getting harder to maintain now that Bush has retired and Cheney has repositioned himself as the planet’s primary defender of torture.
So we get the “news” — not from the satirical Onion but from the nation’s newspaper of record — that US officials are trying to prevent Karzai from declaring “victory” in the exercise in fraud that naive commentators still insist on referring to as an election.
The Times was as delicate as possible in reporting the predicament:
WASHINGTON — On Monday, as the vote-counting in Afghanistan was nearing an end, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was briefed by the American ambassador in Kabul, Karl W. Eikenberry. The same day, the ambassador delivered a blunt message to the front-runner, President Hamid Karzai: “Don’t declare victory.”
The slim majority tentatively awarded Mr. Karzai in Afghanistan’s fraud-scarred election has put the Obama administration in an awkward spot: trying to balance its professed determination to investigate mounting allegations of corruption and vote-rigging while not utterly alienating the man who seems likely to remain the country’s leader for another five years.