Sunday, May 16, 2010

The U.S. in Afghanistan: An experiment with reliance on an unreliable ally who might be sleeping with the enemy tomorrow

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Washington, D.C., this week, and his meeting with President Obama showcased the administration’s new charm offensive aimed at keeping the Afghani leader as an ally. This about-face in diplomacy puts the spotlight on just how badly the administration stumbled with its negative Afghanistan rhetoric earlier this year.

Afghanistan may be the central fight and a valuable ally in the war on terrorism, but President Obama had been publicly sending conflicting signals that made the Afghan leader nervous enough to begin looking for support from the likes of Iran’s President Ahmadinajad.

During a visit to Afghanistan in late March, Obama conveyed his displeasure with Karzai, described as “a brief, unhappy encounter” in media reports. But during this week’s Washington visit, Obama could only heap effusive praise on Karzai. Why the two extremes? Perhaps the mixed messages circulating publicly through the Obama administration were contributing to Karzai’s worries about the U.S. commitment.

In his 2009 review of American presence in Afghanistan, U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a classified cable questioning plans to increase U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Eikenberry said “Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner” who “continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden, whether defense, governance or development.”

Yet, Obama later announced a troop surge in Afghanistan to bolster Gen. McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy and end Taliban influence. At the same time, he said American troops would depart Afghanistan in 2011.

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