Karzai's Not-So-Crazy End Game

The Afghan President's bizarre behavior has rational roots in a bloody history

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Ebrahim Noroozi / AP

On Karzais watch, pictured on the right next to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the Afghan economy has grown rapidly, at an average rate of 9.2% from 2003 to 2012. But only 27% of Afghans have access to safe drinking water, and 5% to adequate sanitation.

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Brinkley worked for the Pentagon to build companies in Iraq and Afghanistan--fascinating experiences he recounts in the book--and came to the conclusion that the single most important task in both countries was to create a self-sustaining economy, to which the U.S. paid little attention. "Our focus in Iraq and Afghanistan was to get the politics right--have elections--and somehow economics will flow naturally. But that's not actually how it works. We need to get the economics right first, create a self-sustaining market economy, and then the politics will get much better," he explained to me. In the West, he points out, trade and markets led to individual liberty and political freedom, not the other way around.

He is pessimistic about Afghanistan's prospects, even though one of his projects was to map the country's mineral wealth, which he estimates at a staggering $1 trillion. "Without proper structures and management, it will become Congo," Brinkley says, arguing that the country needs three to four more years of political stability to build an economy. Meanwhile, the national mood is worsening.

"Imagine living in a nation in which your national government was totally dependent on charitable donations," Brinkley writes. "Would you respect that government? ... Would you not assume they were puppets of the international donors who were propping up the government?" Hamid Karzai might be pondering just these questions as he plans his next crazy outburst.

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