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Opinion

Opinion

Obama team must deal with Karzai

April 11, 2010

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— When Afghan President Hamid Karzai was meeting with provincial governors recently, he looked at his dinner and remarked, “Maybe the foreigners put some poison in my food.”

This story was told to me by someone who attended the event and said he thought Karzai was joking. But the Afghan leader’s remark shows how low U.S.-Afghan diplomatic relations have sunk in a week when Karzai has repeatedly railed against foreigners and declared he won’t be anyone’s puppet.

In recent weeks, Karzai has rushed to Iran and China to prove he doesn’t depend solely on Washington and rebuffed U.S. demands that he curb corruption.

Dysfunctional dealings

Yet before calls mount in Congress for us to quit Kabul, we should examine the dysfunctional way the Obama administration has dealt with the Karzai problem. It has made a bad situation worse.

Despite U.S. frustration with Karzai, he’s the elected president, and there’s no alternative out there. We have to deal with the Afghan leader we’ve got.

Yet the civilian side of the U.S. government can’t seem to figure out how to talk to the prickly Karzai. A large part of the problem lies with the unwieldy structure Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set up when she named a special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

Holbrooke, renowned for his abrasive personality, alienated Karzai from the get-go. He’s chastised Karzai in public and left the Afghan leader convinced the administration wants to oust him.

In a culture that prizes respect, such public rebukes, even if deserved, ensure Karzai will lash back. (Firmness in private is a different matter, as both Sen. John Kerry and Secretary of State Clinton have effectively demonstrated when they met with Karzai in Kabul.)

Holbrooke’s relationship with Karzai is so strained there is hardly any communication between them. What use is a special representative to Afghanistan who can’t talk with the leader in Kabul?

Karzai’s hostility toward Holbrooke — who flies in only for brief, occasional visits — has colored his relationship with the U.S. embassy. Afghans are uncertain who speaks for President Obama — Holbrooke or U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. To add to the confusion, the CIA seems to have its own separate policy on Karzai.

Nor has Obama helped. Unlike President Bush, who held monthly videoconferences with Karzai, Obama has distanced himself from the Afghan leader. He made his first visit to Kabul as president only last week, for a few hours in the middle of the night, to lecture Karzai on corruption. In a relationship in which trust has totally eroded, this fly-by-night meeting made matters worse.

Military model

The U.S. official with the best relationship with Karzai is Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan. U.S. military officials have taken a different approach to Karzai from civilians, making frequent contact and ostentatiously displaying respect. “I do feel strongly that trust is the most important thing we can build,” McChrystal said last week.

The U.S. commander takes Karzai’s displays of nationalism more in stride, in the hope he’ll start acting like a national leader. This approach resembles the tack taken by Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker toward Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who also frustrated U.S. officials with his failure to combat corruption or govern well.

Those two U.S. officials — who worked in tandem, unlike the U.S. embassy and military command in Kabul — recognized Maliki would become more outspoken as he positioned himself for ruling post-occupation Iraq. They shrugged off Maliki’s slights, while encouraging him to stand up to radical Shiite militias. When he finally did so, they let him take credit, even though U.S. forces did most of the work.

The Obama administration would do well to follow that model in Kabul. The issue is not whether Karzai denounces foreigners, but whether — as Maliki did — he begins to take responsibility for ensuring stability in troubled areas such as Kandahar.

The administration should also designate one point person to deal with Karzai — preferably a strengthened U.S. ambassador to Kabul who has Obama’s full backing. The Afghan leader needs to hear one clear message — in private.

The United States can’t afford to engage in an open war of words with Karzai. It is a war we can’t win, and one that could destroy the central foreign-policy undertaking of Obama’s first term.

— Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer. trubin@phillynews.com

Comments

Ray Parker 4 years ago

Let's put defoliant on all of Karzai's opium crops. The profits from the opium and drug smuggling are being used to buy weapons and explosives for Muslim terrorists. This is war, Muslim terrorists are killing our troops in Afghanistan. Hit the enemy where it hurts.

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independant1 4 years ago

Hell hath no fury like a liberal scorned. (Dick Gregory)

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Graczyk 4 years ago

Thinking back on it, the phrase "shock and awe" deployed in this situation seems patronizing nad ethnocentric. "Oooh, look. It's a lighter. Me make fire, your country go boom-boom."

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paulette2 4 years ago

What happened to Don Rumsfeld's keen advice that shock & awe would work (along with torture) ?

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paulette2 4 years ago

Cheney, Rumsfeld, & Bush all said these wars would be no problem.

Mission Accomplished ! remember?

er that was 2003 folks.

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porch_person 4 years ago

Liberty275,

(laughter)

The beauty of watching you "wax profound" with your BS is that, if you were truly a nihilist, you wouldn't be bothered enough to call me names. You contradict yourself.

(laughter)

Maybe this sophomoric BS flies with the other guys "getting their act together" in a South Carolina rescue mission but it's just funny to watch here. Some of us have more philosophy credit hours than you do.

(laughter)

The truth of the matter is that you defended a child raper who killed four ATF agents within the first hours of a raid meant to protect young girls. You had a hard time "remembering" what actually happened. I had to remind you. Kinda spoiled your BS.

(laughter)

The truth of the matter is that you defended a survivalist nutcase who sold sawed off shotguns to undercover agents and was bullheaded enough to not go to court or talk to his attorney. Randy Weaver's son was armed and had shot a deputy before he was killed. You had a hard time "remembering" what actually happened. I had to remind you. Kinda spoiled your BS.

(laughter)

The truth of the matter is you think polygamy is ok. Your choice but it's illegal and I bet you don't mention that opinion around the missus.

(laughter)

The truth of the matter is that you declare that words have no meaning, that you're "a nihilist", when someone calls you on your BS, rather than admit that you are wrong. You take no responsibility for what you say. Your words are meaningless.

(laughter)

The truth of the matter is you know nothing of Windows. You even admitted that you had not compiled anything on the Windows platform yet you declared that the Windows API was stable throughout its history. Any student of logic can see that statement could not possibly been supported by experience. Anyone who has interacted with Windows for any period of time could tell you that Windows isn't "stable".

(laughter)

No, the cold, hard reality is....... you're a garden variety libertarian jerk. Angry at "the gub'ment" (among other parties) and your particular flavor is that you've had a slightly "more colorful" history and you're more fringe than most. You're not "profound" and you don't know more than anyone else here.

While you were getting your act together in a South Carolina rescue mission, I was contributing to society and standing behind my actions. When I'm wrong here, I admit it and apologize.

When you call me "a$$hole" and "a cheap toy of a human", I know that it's coming from "a nihilist" who is bothered by the truth that I'm presenting, truth that you have provided to this forum.

They're your own words.

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Liberty275 4 years ago

*, in some billions of years, one of two things are theorized to happen. The universe will implode or it will expand until all matter is ripped apart. When that time comes, nothing ever said or done in this universe will have any meaning whatsoever. Since it is inevitable, it is true that there exists no meaning even now.

Long before then, the sun will run out of hydrogen, expand, then turn the earth and everything on it into liquid and gas. After that, nothing on the Earth will have meaning including the pretty words you are too awkward to use.

Before that, in some 10s of years, you will die. After a brief period of mourning, nothing you will have said or done will have any meaning or even be remembered.

Choose your poison. You may not like nihilism, but you can't run from it and you can't hide. It will be all you have in the end.

On a less cynical note, we as a species of mammal on a smallish planet have evolved enough intelligence to assign meaning to noises and scratch-marks and call them words. Enjoy those words while you can; they are fleeting. I enjoy them and I embrace their meanings, fleeting as they are. Mostly I speak them for fun, other times I speak them because another human deserves praise.

*, you are an ordinary cheap toy of a human. Sorry, but you aren't among those that deserve praise.

I know you can't understand how meaning can exist and not exist at the same time. It seems like a paradox, but it really isn't. All it requires is the ability to think of time in two inevitable periods, the present and the balance and enjoy first while embracing the cold hard reality of the latter. Sort of like being having a hot 20 year old wife while also married to a nasty old hag that does the dishes. Think of it as time polygamy. That should help you remember even if you can't understand.

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Defender 4 years ago

Well Tom, I don't know about a military tribunal. I think that is going a bit far. But I am damned tired of America apologizing and cowing down just to try to save face. I want a president, ANY president to just say "Look, this idiot was causing problems for everyone, and would continue to do so. We eliminated the problem." No apology necessary, and other countries should grow a damned pair.

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Liberty275 4 years ago

"tbaker"

My apologies. I wouldn't have posted such a glib and stupid post if I knew someone with guts enough to be on the ground in that hellhole would see it. I stand behind everything that brave men and women are doing to help put Afghanistan back together after it was raped by the soviets, usurped by religious tyrants and suffered a third time as collateral in our war to purge the religious tyrants and the terrorists they harbored.

Thank you for doing your duty in Iraq as well. Half the people in this forum aren't American enough to deserve being in the same room with people like you. I did my duty a long time ago. I hope I was half the American then that you guys in theater are today.

All the best to you and your family. Come home in one piece.

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Tom Shewmon 4 years ago

Oh, and it seems the "trust but verify" standard was not employed in this situation; by Karzai that is.

(laughter)

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Tom Shewmon 4 years ago

Defender, or better yet, just dispatch a few of Tony Soprano's lieutenants to take care of the problem. Probably much more effective, and cheaper. If the SEALS got involved and for some reason captured a Taliban whatever-you-call-them-under-the-Obama-administration (foreign persons of interest---LAUGHTER!!) and pulled his/her hair or grabbed him/her by the scruff of the neck, they'd end in a military tribunal.

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Defender 4 years ago

Actually, I wish the SEALS of Special Forces could deal with Karzai. Too bad a taliban bomb doesn't 'accidentally' go off. Ignorant jerk, he is.

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Tom Shewmon 4 years ago

OK, porch. Thanks for clearing up my muddied thinking on this issue.

(laughter)

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barrypenders 4 years ago

The 'Unraveling' of the Noble Peace Prize Laureate's world is frightening. Thank goodness the country has Posercare.

Stimulus, Unraveling PAD, and Posercare live unprecedented

Darwin bless us all

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porch_person 4 years ago

TomShewmon,

Ms. Rubin clearly states that Richard Holbrooke is the problem. She states the solution of the problem, which is to rebuke Karzai in private, as Secretary of State Clinton and others have taken. It's clear that there needs to be a unification of policy with regard to Afghanistan and Richard Holbrooke needs to go.

We need to let Karzai "appear" to be nationalistic while carrying out objectives which will reduce the influence of the Taliban. That takes subtlety, something a one-note Obama basher like you are unable to understand. She notes that Obama has not been in country that much but Rubin lists many Americans who she believes are competent to handle the situation. It's quite evident that Obama isn't the problem in dealing with Karzai, it's one special representative and an attitude that Karzai has to go out in public as an American puppet to get the job done.

My point is that you started in on posting biased Rasmussen Reports numbers on Obama's popularity at home. That is not the thesis of Ms. Rubin's piece. It's just behavior we've come to expect from you, Tom.

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Tom Shewmon 4 years ago

Very good point snap.......part of that good ol' Obama/Pelosi/Reid/National Socialist Democratic Party "Sit down, shut up, wait your turn, do as we say and not as we do" mentality.

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Flap Doodle 4 years ago

The idea of Dear Leader, who began his political career in the fever-swamp of Chicago corruption, lecturing someone else on keeping to the straight & narrow is a major LOLZ.

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Tom Shewmon 4 years ago

My good LJW friend porch person says, "This story is supposed to be about the American response to Karza. Tom Shewmon turned it into an anti-Obama bashfest within minutes."

Tom says:

The title of the piece is: "Obama team must deal with Karzai"

An excerpt from the piece says: "Nor has Obama helped. Unlike President Bush, who held monthly videoconferences with Karzai, Obama has distanced himself from the Afghan leader. He made his first visit to Kabul as president only last week, for a few hours in the middle of the night, to lecture Karzai on corruption. In a relationship in which trust has totally eroded, this fly-by-night meeting made matters worse."

Well, my good friend porch, what's your point?

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porch_person 4 years ago

This story is supposed to be about the American response to Karza. Tom Shewmon turned it into an anti-Obama bashfest within minutes.

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tbaker 4 years ago

What part of your “facts” are incorrect? For starters I think you are confusing “facts” with misinformed personal opinion. As someone presently in Afghanistan, working for ISAF in Kabul, I’d like to help you avoid any future public displays of ignorance. To wit; Karzai was elected, not installed by the Bush administration. Sure the election was terribly flawed. Name one in a war-ravaged, third-world country that isn’t. You presume to know so much, tell us how the US or any other country would “put in” a government here when we can’t even influence the selection (nor would we want to) of a district police chief. Having also served in Iraq let me help you out on that score as well: There were/are now WMD’s in Iraq. They’ve been found. The enemy even used them against coalition forces (chemical artillery rounds in IEDs) when I was there. I saw the pretense of that war with my own eyes. You would also do well to recall the near unanimous vote congress and the UN gave Mr. Bush BEFORE we went to war in Iraq. Sure it was his idea, but as Tom points out, your ire is best directed at politicians who voted for that war and are still serving. You’ll find targets for your indignation on both sides of the isle.

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Flap Doodle 4 years ago

What? All foreign leaders haven't been entranced by the amazing amazingness of our Dear Leader? Inconceivable!

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Tom Shewmon 4 years ago

Obama 1/21/2009

Approval index: +28 Strongly approve: 44% Strongly disapprove: 16% Total approve: 65% Total disapprove: 30%

Obama 4/11/2010

Approval index: -13 Strongly approve: 30% Strongly disapprove: 43% Total approve: 47% Total disapprove: 53%

http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/obama_administration/obama_approval_index_history

"Strongly disapprove" approaching tripling.......not good.

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cowboy 4 years ago

Beavis Shewmon writes

Bush is no longer president, comprende? Obama is/was assumed to be equipped to handle the job under any circumstances? Is he or is he not?

Seems to be doing an excellent job ! To me and the majority of US citizens.

           FAVORABLE    UNFAVORABLE DON'T KNOW  NET CHANGE

PRESIDENT OBAMA 54 (55) 41 (40) 5 (5) -2

PELOSI: 41 (42) 51 (50) 8 (8) -2 REID: 29 (28) 63 (63) 8 (9) 1 McCONNELL: 22 (21) 62 (63) 16 (16) 2 BOEHNER: 19 (18) 63 (65) 18 (17) 3

CONGRESSIONAL DEMS: 40 (41) 56 (55) 4 (4) -2 CONGRESSIONAL GOPS: 19 (20) 71 (72) 10 (8) 0

DEMOCRATIC PARTY: 40 (41) 52 (51) 8 (8) -2 REPUBLICAN PARTY: 28 (27) 67 (66) 5 (7) 0

Yep tommy , your repubs are just surging in the polls , 28% approval 67% disapproval. Notice that huge black hole of independents of which about 2/3 are ex-republicans who cannot stomach identifying themselves as such. Your leader is Palin , enuf said.

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Liberty275 4 years ago

Time for obama to cut and run.

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tange 4 years ago

Who was that masked man?

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cowboy 4 years ago

Lets see now Tom , Bush put in the Karzai admin , then abruptly started the Iraq war on a false pretense , committed the majority percentage of troops to Iraq , Spent 750 billion dollars on this fiasco when he told us it would cost around 80 billion , ran a war against a bunch of sandrats and took longer than WW2 , stated the war would be the next presidents problem , then left it all for Obama to clean up. Gee , what part of my facts are incorrect ?

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Tom Shewmon 4 years ago

Everyone thought the mid-east/AfPak was blowing up or going to blow up under W. Seems noone in the corrupt lamestream media is willing to come on out and say it is blowing up under Obama's watch......slowly but surely.

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