Steve Coll reads the Afghanistan-Pakistan metrics and observes:

Here, however, is objective 3b: "Promote a more capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan that serves the Afghan people and can eventually function, especially regarding internal security, with limited international support." There is some carefully modest language in that sentence; nonetheless, it crosses into the realm of nation-building, including the construction of political legitimacy for an Afghan government that is accused of having just tried to steal a national election.

I was at a panel discussion on Afghanistan last night in which the panelists, particularly J. Alexander Thier of the U.S. Institute of Peace, solemnly argued that the construction of legitimacy in a post-election-fraud environment will be dependent on the government’s willingness and capability to combat corruption. And my jaw dropped. The question I asked, and didn’t get an answer to, was: why should anyone believe that a government willing to return itself to power through widespread and blatant electoral theft is willing to "deal with corruption"? It’s not like massive election fraud is some kind of bug in the system. It’s a feature. If this were a government we weren’t sponsoring, we would be able to see that clearly.

That places the Obama administration, as I’ve been writing, at a crossroads. It can do several things: it can work around Kabul by placing resources as directly as possible into the hands of provincial leaders; it can use its massive financial leverage to press Karzai (let’s be real here) into a variety of structural reforms; it can encourage efforts at long-term structural reform from other political actors; or it can scale back its efforts at supporting Afghan governance at all. What it can’t do is pretend that the Karzai crew just needs to be nudged into good governance.