TALIBAN TROUBLES

03.12.13

To Hell With Karzai

The Afghan president sticks his verbal bayonet in Hagel’s and America’s eyes, and what do we do, again? Nothing! writes Leslie H. Gelb.

Hamid Karzai is beating up on the United States to score domestic political points once again, this time on the occasion of Chuck Hagel’s maiden visit as Defense secretary to that sad country. Yet the Obama team and America’s foreign-policy cognoscenti can’t seem to draw the obvious conclusions—stop letting these Karzai guys play us for suckers and speed up our exit, and stop wasting American lives and dollars. Digest his latest mal mot in the wake of new suicide bombings in Kabul and Khost: “Those bombs, set off yesterday in the name of the Taliban, were in the service of the Americans to keep foreigners longer in Afghanistan.” Disgusting! (Rand Paul, where are you when we need you to express practical outrage?)

This clown is proclaiming that we are colluding with the enemy to prolong our stay in Afghanistan. And yet I already hear my foreign-policy colleagues’ familiar excuses for these rhetorical knives. “You know old Hamid,” they’ll say. “He’s just doing this for the home audience, trying to score a few harmless points. Forget about it; the Afghan people are with us.” Think about that response. These excuses are tired, because we’ve been pardoning hateful stuff like this for more than 10 years now. And when have we heard any of those Afghan people coming to our defense? It would be foolish to think for a moment that this problem is limited to Karzai. Because he’s no fool himself. He says this smelly stuff because he truly believes it will go down well with his fellow Afghans. He reckons he gains popularity by accusing Washington of working with the Taliban so U.S. troops can stay in their country and extend the suffering of the Afghan people. Really, think about this.

Maybe Karzai’s message actually is meant for the non-Pashtun Afghans, so they’ll worry about Americans’ collusion with the Pashtun-heavy Taliban, and he’ll somehow build support for next year’s elections. This explanation makes even less sense. The non-Pashtuns, who make up around 60 percent of the Afghan people, are the most pro-American in the country. If anything, the non-Pashtuns would like to see Americans fighting in and for their country, against their Pashtun enemies, for the next century. To Northern Afghans, we’re the best guarantee against a Pashtun takeover—the last thing the non-Pashtuns want.

Frankly, I’m sick and tired of Karzai’s baloney, his family’s corruption, the corruption of the Afghan political and economic elite, the grotesque waste, the thievery, the drugs, not to mention their own collaboration with the Taliban. The only ones I truly feel for are the Afghan women and those armed forces that continue to fight for a free society that may never come. I wish we could evacuate all of those who wish to flee their mistreatment and enslavement. The Afghan leaders for whom we’ve been fighting and dying these last 12 years aren’t going to change. We can keep funding the Afghan security forces, and they might get better, but their utterly selfish and drug-dealing political leaders won’t change. You would think they’d want to do better for their fellow countrymen and women, and save themselves. After all, there are 30 million Afghans and only about 20,000 Taliban fighters. But they have spent more than a decade robbing and killing each other, and have proven to be far better at exploiting their fellow Afghans than fighting the Taliban.

Now consider the message Karzai is sending by torpedoing the planned press conference with Hagel. Hagel pretended the joint appearance couldn’t be held for “security” reasons, but after all America has sacrificed for this tribe of thieves, why on earth would he make this lame excuse? Frankly, were I Hagel, I would have held the press conference and said, “Karzai’s failure to show up today endangers the American commitment to Afghanistan. How can he expect us to fight, and die, and pay the bills with this kind of behavior?”

“Mr. Secretary,” some journalist would have said, “are you threatening to withdraw U.S. forces?”

“I’m threatening nothing,” Hagel would respond. “I’m just saying the obvious. The American people won’t stand for this while our men and women are sacrificing themselves for the Afghan people.”

Then, if I were Hagel, I’d come back home and propose to President Obama that he call two emergency meetings: one of the allies fighting on our side, the other of all Afghanistan’s neighbors. To our fighting allies, I’d say: let’s expedite the withdrawal process. Instead of keeping 12,000 U.S. and NATO troops here through the end of 2014, let’s cut that in half, and step up the training and arming of Afghan forces. And let’s leave the decision on when to withdraw the remaining troops until the results of the second meeting, with states bordering Afghanistan. In that conference, I’d tell the neighbors that we’re heading homeward. We’re open to slowing down that process and continuing to provide economic and military aid to Afghan forces—but if and only if your countries step in and pick up the main burden.

Frankly, I’m sick and tired of Karzai’s baloney, his family’s corruption, the corruption of the Afghan political and economic elite, the grotesque waste, the thievery, the drugs, not to mention their own collaboration with the Taliban.

You might well ask: why should they do this? The answer is plain and simple, and something Washington should have realized long ago. These neighbors have far more to win and lose from a stable Afghanistan than we do, and they know this. They most of all fear an Afghan implosion, with refugees spilling into their territories, drugs pouring into their countries, and Taliban extremists spreading religious insurrection. The neighbors don't have to do anything about these fears so long as the United States is there fighting their war for them. Let’s make clear that this freebie is coming to an end. As long as they take the lead, we’ll stay in some numbers and help get and keep things organized. But if they don’t, let’s get the hell out—as we eventually did in Iraq.

Karzai won’t be allowed to run for another presidential term, but it’d be idiotic to count on his successor’s doing better in fighting the Taliban or halting corruption and waste. In other words, let’s not delude ourselves into believing things will get better after Hamid, nor that an excess of Afghans are worrying about Americans fighting in and for their country.

Numerous senators and Washington columnists almost totally lost their equipoise over the droning down of my great fellow American Anwar al-Awlaki. Perhaps some of them might dredge up some outrage over the message behind what Karzai did to the United States yesterday.