The election that was supposed to move Afghanistan one step closer to democracy has instead become nothing less than a full-blown political crisis. Initial results from August's presidential election show a win for the incumbent, Hamid Karzai. But widespread allegations of ballot-rigging and wider government corruption have already discredited the vote. The U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission has thrown out results from 83 polling stations, "quarantined" those of 600 others, and called for a recount from another 10 percent. Karzai's election opponents are crying foul; runner-up Abdullah Abdullah has demanded a complete revote and warned that, if Karzai returns to office on the basis of this deeply flawed process, there will be a "vacuum of power, security and stability." Tensions are high and the threat of broader unrest is looming.
Luckily, we have in the White House an administration that should understand how to handle such a moment: "Never let a serious crisis go to waste," White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel noted last November, "it's an opportunity to do things you couldn't do before." Although Emanuel was referring to U.S. economic woes, if the Obama administration is serious about turning the corner in the war against the Taliban, it ought to consider extending his philosophy to the current crisis, rather than just putting a good face on an ugly situation and muddling through.