David Frum

03.13.13

Hamid Karzai Plays the Game of Thrones

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The New York Times offers an appropriately cynical assessment of Hamid Karzai's political strategy in Afghanistan:

Even as his government is negotiating the terms for a lasting American military presence, in just the past two weeks he has ordered Special Operations forces out of a critical province, railed against C.I.A. plots, rejected American terms for handing over detainees and, most recently, even equated the United States and the Taliban as complementary forces working to undermine the government.

Interviews with tribal elders, business leaders, political analysts and diplomats here paint an image of a leader who is desperately trying to shake his widely held image as an American lackey by appealing to nationalist sentiments and invoking Afghanistan’s sovereignty.

But maybe not cynical enough? No matter what is negotiated now, how "lasting" can the U.S. presence in Afghanistan really remain after the scheduled withdrawal in 2014? What's the number of troops below which "force protection" becomes the only feasible mission? And once the U.S. presence declines to that level, what's the point of the residual force at all?