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How Should U.S. Handle Afghan Election Result?

NOAH ADAMS, host:

And for some perspective, we turn to Ronald Neumann. Between 2005 and 2007, he served as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. He's a career diplomat, now retired from the State Department. Mr. Newman is president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. When we spoke he noted that the Afghan election has had a lot of problems, and I asked if it's still worth it, despite allegations of corruption, for the U.S. to remain closely engaged with the Afghan government.

Mr. RONALD NEUMANN (Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan): I think it is worth it for the White House to be maintaining support for Afghanistan. That's where we were attacked from. There is every reason to believe that the Taliban-al-Qaida lash-up is closer than it was. And there is no reason to believe that we can choose unilaterally to quit this war if the other side is not quitting a much larger war. So I think there are any number of critical, basic issues that impel us to stay involved.

ADAMS: You mean cooperate with a corrupt government?

Mr. NEUMANN: I mean that that is not the basis on which one decides whether -or should decide whether to stay or leave Afghanistan. If you stay, which I think you have to and that's the correct decision, then the question is how do you work with this government, whatever government comes out. And remember, you know, draw a deep breath. We don't have a final result yet. Even if the Electoral Commission announces a result that's quasi-final - that is Karzai gets over 50 percent - until you have gotten the report of the Complaints Commission and discounted the votes that they throw out, you don't have a final result. So draw a deep breath and don't rush to judgment until you see how it works out.

ADAMS: During your time there in Afghanistan, you met with President Karzai, looked directly into his eyes. At the beginning, he was seen as a pro-Western progressive force. Are you disappointed with what's happened with President Karzai?

Mr. NEUMANN: Well, everybody would like the government to be more effective. Remember, President Karzai was able to get that position because he was a compromise candidate - not just the American-appointed candidate - he was the preferred candidate of contending Afghan groups. That also imposes some limitations. He has a very weak hand to play. He doesn't have money, or at least very much, and he doesn't control force. And we want him to take some very dynamic decisions that have a high level of political pain.

ADAMS: Did you like President Karzai when you talked with him? I'm asking a sort of visceral question.

Mr. NEUMANN: Oh, I liked President Karzai. I think he's a fundamentally decent man. I think he is at his strongest and does - makes his best decisions when he feels well supported. I think the barrage of unending criticism over the last year has left him questioning whether the foreigners are actually on his side, maybe plotting something else. It is very understandable but it is probably not handling that has produced the best results.

ADAMS: But still, he's the top guy, I mean…

Mr. NEUMANN: No, I'm not defending him. I'm just saying that I don't think it's been handled marvelously well, but that goes back beyond the current administration. And, second, I think as one complains about things - and one should - we also have to be very careful about assuming we know how to do it better. America has an almost unbroken record of poor leadership picks, from getting rid of President Diem to Ahmed Chalabi in Iraq. So complain, yes, press, yes, try to get it better, but don't get carried away with assuming we know how to do it better.

ADAMS: Ronald Neumann, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, author of the forthcoming book, "The Other War: Winning and Losing Afghanistan." Thank you, Ambassador Neumann.

Mr. NEUMANN: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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