Last summer, President Obama spent several months publicly anguishing over what he would or wouldn’t do in Afghanistan. Finally, he agreed to ramp up troop levels but warned that he intended to start getting American troops out in 18 months. After anguishing in several columns over the president’s anguishing, I concluded in November 2009:
“If the Taliban and al Qaeda retake Afghanistan, the world (and America) will have hell to pay for the consequences. But this president and this White House do not have it in them to lead our troops to victory in Afghanistan. So they shouldn’t try. The price will be high for whatever foreign policy failures we will endure in the next three years. Let’s not add to that price the pointless murder of our finest young troops in a war their leader does not believe in. Bring them home. We’ll need them later.”
At the time, about five months ago, the New York Times also reported that Mr. Obama “admonished President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan that he must take on what American officials have said he avoided during his first term: the rampant corruption and drug trade that have fueled the resurgence of the Taliban.”
Mr. Obama told reporters that he was seeking “a sense on the part of President Karzai that, after some difficult years in which there has been some drift, that in fact he’s going to move boldly and forcefully forward and take advantage of the international community’s interest in his country to initiate reforms internally. That has to be one of our highest priorities.”
Mr. Karzai and the Afghan government were told “to put into place an anticorruption commission to establish strict accountability for government officials at the national and provincial levels. …”
“In addition, some American officials and their European counterparts would like at least a few arrests of what one administration official called ‘the more blatantly corrupt’ people in the Afghan government.”
That same week, coincidentally, the New York Times reported on the front page the name of a purported CIA-paid undercover asset. It was none other than Ahmed Wali Karzai, the powerful brother of the Afghan president. The Times cited, on background, Obama administration “political officials,” “senior administration officials” and others as its sources to the effect that the Afghan president’s brother has been secretly on the CIA payroll for eight years as well as being a major narcotics trafficker.
Last week, Mr. Obama made a surprise visit to Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. The White House did not release the transcript of the conversation between the two presidents. But conveniently, while en route to Kabul, Mr. Obama’s National Security Adviser Gen. James L. Jones, who was traveling with the president, went on the record with the prediction that Mr. Obama would (as reported by the Times) “pressure Karzai about corruption in governance and [would] tell Karzai that he had made no progress on this front since his Nov. 19 inauguration.”
And this week, the product of this careful six months of public diplomacy by the Obama administration bore its predictable fruit. The New York Times headlined its story on Mr. Karzai’s reaction: “Karzai’s Words Leave Few Choices for the West.”
According to the Times: “The tensions between the West and Mr. Karzai flared up publicly last Thursday, when Mr. Karzai accused the West and the United Nations of perpetrating fraud in the August presidential election and described the Western military coalition as coming close to being seen as invaders who would give the insurgency legitimacy as ‘a national resistance.’ “
Mr. Karzai stepped up his anti-Western statements: “If you and the international community pressure me more, I swear that I am going to join the Taliban. …”
The Times went on to say, “There are no good options on the horizon. … Many fear the relationship is only likely to become worse. … The political situation is continuing to deteriorate; Mr. Karzai is flailing around. … Mr. Karzai draws closer to allies like Iran and China, whose interests are often at odds with those of the West, and sounds sympathetic enough to the Taliban that he could spur their efforts, helping their recruitment and further destabilizing the country.”
The newspaper quoted Peter Galbraith, former U.N. deputy special representative for Afghanistan: “There is no point in having troops in a mission that cannot be accomplished. … The mission might be important, but if it can’t be achieved, there is no point in sending these troops into battle. Part of the problem is that counterinsurgency requires a credible local partner.”
Well, yes. We knew that six months ago.
And, if we need a credible “local partner,” our local partner needs a reliable, supportive “large brother” (to wit: the United States). But by first hesitating to support Mr. Karzai, then saying we will support him - but only for 18 months, then publicly admonishing him to end the endemic corruption, then leaking the fact that his own brother is a major drug smuggler, we have undermined and infuriated him, without whom we cannot succeed in Afghanistan.
Great nations often find themselves in alliance with undesirable local chieftains. Usually in such circumstances, the great nation either tries quietly to strengthen and improve the local boss or it gets rid of him and finds a better puppet. If neither method works - then the great nation eventually gets out.
The Obama administration has publicly humiliated and undercut our “local partner” to the extent that we can no longer influence or improve him. Unless our government is prepared to replace him (highly unlikely) - we ought to get out before more of our troops get killed.
Tony Blankley is the author of “American Grit: What It Will Take to Survive and Win in the 21st Century” (Regnery, 2009) and vice president of the Edelman public relations firm in Washington.