Advancing a Free Society

Karzai’s Worst Enemy

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has damaged his own cause once again, this time criticizing the counter-terrorism operations of coalition forces. As he routinely does, Karzai claimed there is no problem in Afghanistan and we’re only fighting in his country because we aren’t willing to take on the problem in Pakistan. Even leaving aside the obvious untruth of his statement (if there’s no threat in Afghanistan, who exactly are we fighting that has produced the increasing casualty counts among American forces?), President Karzai may have managed to alienate the one part of the U.S. government that’s actually trying to help him succeed.

The American military may not be ineffectual President Karzai’s natural ally, but its leaders have been the ones constructively engaged. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry described Karzai as mentally unstable (to Bob Woodward, no less). Eikenberry’s “diplomatic” cables terming Karzai an inadequate partner (which were leaked) and advocacy of ending efforts to build governance in Afghanistan should have seen him replaced by someone who could fashion a constructive relationship with the person on whom our strategy critically depends. The President’s Special Envoy, Richard Holbrooke, has managed a one-man double play of having bad relations with both the Pakistanis and Afghans.

Our diplomatic effort is floundering so badly that the military has basically taken over the job. General McChrystal had the only solid relationship with Karzai; General Petraeus has become the crucial conduit. Karzai’s public criticism of our military operations may change that, leaving Karzai even lonlier. Instead of a “civilian surge” to improve governance in Afghanistan, soldiers and Marines now perform those crucial diplomatic functions.

In the offending interview, Karzai basically pleads for massive development assistance and withdrawal of U.S. troops. His comments make him likely to achieve only half that.

(photo credit: World Economic Forum)