Whatever else the official line from various governments–including our own–might be, the fact of the matter is that the withdrawal of Abdullah Abdullah from the second round of presidential voting in Afghanistan means less legitimacy for the Afghan government. To the extent that the withdrawal weakens the government, that weakness will be taken advantage of by the Taliban, who miss no opportunity to wreak havoc and chaos in Afghanistan.
The Afghan non-election has consequences that hit close to home in terms of policymaking. I imagine that the Obama Administration will use the Abdullah withdrawal to claim that they do not have “a full partner” in Afghanistan, and that as a consequence, General McChrystal’s request for more troops cannot be accommodated at this time. Of course, this would be precisely what the Taliban are counting on; continued American dithering–yes, that word was used deliberately–only serves to strengthen the Taliban’s hand and its ability to make military gains in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Obama Administration needs to get on the ball quickly in order to demonstrate to the Taliban that it will not be able to take advantage of any period of political uncertainty in either of the two countries, but it would appear that instead of doing so, the Administration will continue to kick the policy can down the road, thus adding further uncertainty to the situation.
At this point, I am not sure that anyone knows when–or if–the Administration will finally decide to send more troops, or what it is waiting for before a decision is made. I would like to think that at some point, the Administration would do something to clear up the air of chaos that hangs about the creation and implementation of policy vis-à-vis Afghanistan and Pakistan, but that may be asking for too much. As I have mentioned in the past, my chief worry is that the “who lost Afghanistan?” arguments may begin soon, which would not bode well at all for the state of American foreign policy.