Remember how the United States entered Afghanistan in 2001. It wasn’t with infantry and air strikes. It was with CIA operatives meeting with Northern Alliance commanders and warlords, bearing briefcases and duffel bags full of cash to rent their allegiance for a strike down into Kabul and Kandahar to dislodge the Taliban. And, at the time, it was viewed as a fantastic success: the Taliban essentially had its back broken at Mazar-e-Sharif in November, and by December, the U.S. and its allies had installed Hamid Karzai as interim president.
But once you start paying warlords with dubious human rights records, it can be very difficult to cut off or phase out the payments, particularly when the political structure necessary to keep the Afghan governance enterprise that supports the U.S. presence in business is essentially held together with baling wire.
As Ackerman notes, this reliance on Ahmed Wali Karzai is the result of Bush-era policy, which called for limited counterterrorism in Afghanistan and a big military commitment in Iraq. But now that President Obama has adopted a heavier counterinsurgency role in Afghanistan, the legacy of President Bush's policies are causing trouble. "When the Obama administration says that it inherited an absolute mess from its predecessor, perhaps this might be an element of what it means," Ackerman writes.