Senator John Kerry (D-MA) traveled to Kabul on August 17 to deliver the Obama administration’s warning to Hamid Karzai that he must clean up corruption in his government if he wants the United States to continue sending its treasure and troops to Afghanistan.
News reports recall that Kerry traveled to Kabul in November, 2009 to urge him to respect the findings of the Electoral Complaints Commission that Karzai had not won a majority of the votes in the first-round elections for president on August 20, and that consequently a second-round election should be held.
Karzai acceded to this immediate request. However he refused to respond to the demand of his rival in the presidential runoff, Abdullah Abdullah, that the Independent Electoral Commission’s members be replaced in order for there to be a real chance for a fair second-round election. The Independent Electoral Commission had been deeply involved in the massive fraud in Karzai’s favor in the first-round elections, and had officially sanctioned that fraud. Only the Electoral Complaints Commission, which at that time had a majority of “international” members, prevented that fraud from being directly consummated, by ruling that Karzai had not achieved a majority of the votes.
In view of Karzai’s failure to replace members of the Independent Electoral Commission who had sanctioned the fraud, Abdullah withdrew from the second-round elections before they could be scheduled to be held. Under the electoral law, the candidate who finished third should have advanced to the second-round runoff. This did not occur.
From these facts, news organizations began to repeat the canard that Senator Kerry had, through his personal “rapport” with Karzai, succeeded in persuading the Afghan president to honor the official results of the first-round election, accepting that a second round would have to be held.
In an apparent bow to the demands of Pakistan’s military and as part of the price of a deal for their help in negotiating with the Taliban, the U.S. stopped pressuring Karzai to enter a national unity government in talks with Abdullah, effectively pulling the rug out from under the latter.
Given Karzai’s failure to respond to his demands and the likelihood of massive fraud in the second-round elections, Abdullah withdrew from the elections. The United States immediately accepted this outcome, and began trumpeting to the world that Karzai was the legitimate and democratically-elected president of Afghanistan.
Senator Kerry’s Fundamental Conflict of Interest
Senator Kerry, as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has a duty to oversee the actions of the executive branch in conducting the foreign policy of the United States. He and his Committee are responsible for advising the Senate as to the wisdom and coherence of that foreign policy, and whether to approve legislation to finance its implementation.
Yet by acting in an executive branch capacity to directly assist the President in his achievement of foreign policy objectives, Kerry has entered—perhaps unintentionally and with the best of motives—into a realm where his efforts on behalf of the executive involve a direct conflict of interest with his responsibilities as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. For he cannot be expected to exercise the independent judgment required in conducting Senate oversight responsibilities of foreign policy actions in which he himself has directly taken part.
Senator Kerry may indeed have important diplomatic skills that might be employed in service to the nation. If Hillary Clinton were to resign, he would certainly be a strong candidate to become Secretary of State.
But he cannot undertake executive functions and responsibilities without entering into a fundamental conflict of interest with his legislative mandate and duties as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Only the Executive, under our constitution, can conduct the foreign policy of the United States. Statements by Senator Kerry that he is in Kabul in his capacity as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee should be dismissed as the fig leaf that they are. It appears beyond doubt that, as a result of Karzai’s interference with the work of anti-corruption bodies established in Afghanistan, the Obama administration found itself in an impasse with Karzai and called upon Kerry to help break it.
This is implementing foreign policy, not gathering information that might be useful in making legislative judgments. However well-intentioned such conduct may be, it is constitutionally inappropriate.
We need Senator Kerry in his constitutional role as Senator and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivering absolutely independent, objective, and critical judgments on the wisdom and conduct of U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan.
Given the importance of the position he holds in the Senate, his judgment must at all times avoid even the appearance of impropriety. In the ninth year of the war in Afghanistan, we need his independent and critical judgment more than ever.
The Trenchant Observer
Comments are invited.
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