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The Disastrous U.S. Habit to Rush Elections

From Iraq and Afghanistan to Ukraine, the U.S. always hopes to get “its man” into office quickly — with poor results.

May 6, 2014

Credit: Anita Hart-Flickr

From Ukraine to the Middle East and beyond, Washington seems to put a lot of stock into holding elections quickly during a major transition.

Although this step may grant popular “legitimacy,” the usual drive toward rapid elections also has a tendency to backfire.

Yes, it is a policy preference on which the United States often insists. But this habit or reflex often does not lead to the desired outcome, which is clarity and offering a dependable political base on which to build during the radical transformation process.

U.S. officials ardently hope, for example, that the May 25 special presidential election in Ukraine will lock in political choices for the country’s future. More tellingly, Washington hopes to use that moment to lock its own political preferences into the Ukrainian political landscape.

But betting on a “horse” – as was the case with Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan or Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq – usually has a habit of backfiring.

The U.S. government’s efforts to convince itself that it has key issues locked up by getting “its” man elected, whether Karzai or Maliki, offers false comfort.

The Afghan case is actually very instrumental in Ukraine’s case. What is key in any fundamental political transition – as is the case in Ukraine now — is to develop a political system that reflects realities on the ground, including the large scope of domestic political diversity.

Unless a political system captures all those energies and tries to align them with one another, as difficult as that inevitably proves to be, it is essentially constructed on rotten foundations.

That leads to U.S. strategy being adrift because it is based on a false sense of assuredness. Add to that misconstruction the eagerness with which the “chosen” man and his team in a given country to respond to Washington’s commands or desires – and you have the perfect recipe for another foreign policy disaster.

Typically, what happens next is that the U.S. government gets taken to the cleaners. Vast amounts of money are spent that will be considered mostly wasted only much later.

Worse, by betting on a certain horse, critical time for, and opportunities of, meaningful reconstruction of the country in question is wasted.


The US seems to put a lot of stock into holding elections quickly during a major transition.

Betting on a “horse” (e.g. Karzai in Afghanistan or Maliki in Iraq) usually has a habit of backfiring.

By pinning hopes on one person, critical time for meaningful reconstruction of a country in transition is wasted.