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April 06, 2010

Smart Diplomacy Afghanistan Edition

Let us stipulate that Hamid Karzai is a less than stellar leader, what with the corruption, fraud and all. Let us also stipulate that at the moment, he’s the only game in town (unless, you know, things change).

Seems a bad relationship has only gotten worse since Obama’s visit. According to several Afghan officials, Karzai is talking up a very dangerous game behind closed doors.

"He said that 'if I come under foreign pressure, I might join the Taliban'," said Farooq Marenai, who represents the eastern province of Nangarhar.

"He said rebelling would change to resistance," Marenai said — apparently suggesting that the militant movement would then be redefined as one of resistance against a foreign occupation rather than a rebellion against an elected government.

Marenai said Karzai appeared nervous and repeatedly demanded to know why parliament last week had rejected legal reforms that would have strengthened the president's authority over the country's electoral institutions.

Two other lawmakers said Karzai twice raised the threat to join the insurgency.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the reports were troubling. "On behalf of the American people, we're frustrated with the remarks," Gibbs told reporters.

Now I’m sure Karzai would text us saying “jk lol” but this is not good. Yes, he may well be playing to his domestic audience with this kind of tough talk but it’s starting to get out of hand. Gibbs then upped the ante by refusing to say whether or not the US still considers Karzai an ally.

Right now there are tens of thousands of Americans fighting and dying in Iraq (along with allies from other nations) and Karzai is going to play with this kind of fire while the administration does nothing to cool things off?

While the military operations are continuing apace, the political situation, at least at the national level, seems to be deteriorating. Keep in mind that a central tenant of our COIN strategy is that military operations be seen by the population as being in service of the indigenous government.

From Gen. McChrystal’s initial report on the situation in Afghanistan.

ISAF (International Security Assistance Force)’s center of gravity is the will and ability to provide for the needs of the population "by, with, and through" the Afghan government. A foreign army alone cannot beat an insurgency; the insurgency in Afghanistan requires an Afghan solution. This is their war and, in the end, ISAF's competency will prove less decisive than GIRoA's; eventual success requires capable Afghan governance capabilities and security forces. While these institutions are still developing, ISAF and the international community must provide substantial assistance to Afghanistan until the Afghan people make the decision to support their government and are capable of providing for their own security.

Karzai’s talk of joining the Taliban, no matter how insincere it is, only hurts that effort. It puts doubt in the mind of average Afghanis about how much to trust US forces and their promises of security. It also offers hope to the Taliban. Not that Karzai is joining up but that there’s distance between the allies and the Afghanistan government (such as it is). Time is on their side and this public feuding only shows the time they have to wait is less than they might have thought.

As one who has long been suspect that something can be made of Afghanistan this doesn’t surprise me but then I didn’t run for President on the idea that my election alone would transform the realities of a complex and dangerous world. Are there any allies that Obama hasn’t gotten into a public fight with?

If I had to guess, and that’s all it is, I’d say Obama is fine with this flare up in tensions with Karzai. It will just make it easier for him to throw up his hands and say, “Look, we tried. We increased troops and while they did magnificent work, this Karzai guy is beyond hope. We’re out of here”.

Karzai , with his bizarre and provocative rhetoric looks to be setting himself up for that day as well.

It seems to me as we are seeing the beginning of the political end game in Afghanistan.

Added: This is how weakness, real and perceived, emboldens others. Karzai would never have pulled this kind of talk with Bush, McCain or someone of their ilk. He would have known that under a President like them America would be committed to staying the course in Afghanistan and he would have to live with that reality. Under Obama, he needs to hedge his bets, which makes things worse, which leads to increasing daylight between the two and so on, and so on, in a feedback loop.

Weakness and a telegraphed lack of commitment makes things more dangerous, not less. It's a lesson some of us seem to need to relearn every so often. Others never learn it at all.

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posted by DrewM. at 05:15 PM

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