Thursday's inauguration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's second term was met with deep concerns
over Karzai's leadership and corruption. President Obama and the White
House, recognizing America's dysfunctional relationship with Karzai but
strategic need for a close ally in Kabul, are initiating a significant
shift in our diplomatic relationship with the Afghan President. What
will it entail and, more to the point, will it work?
'Softer Approach' Led By Clinton The Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran lays out
the new strategy, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton replacing
Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke as Karzai's point contact. "[T]op
diplomats and generals are abandoning for now their get-tough
tactics with Karzai and attempting to forge a far warmer relationship.
They recognize that their initial strategy may have done more harm than
good, fueling stress and anger in a beleaguered, conspiracy-minded
leader whom the U.S. government needs as a partner," he writes.
"Despite the changes, administration officials maintain that they are
not going soft on Karzai."
The new approach, which one official described as a "reset" of the
relationship, will entail more engagement with members of Karzai's
cabinet and provincial governors, officials said, because they have
concluded that the Afghan president lacks the political clout in his
highly decentralized nation to purge corrupt local warlords and power
Although there is broad agreement among Obama's national security team
that Karzai has been an ineffective leader, a growing number of top
officials have begun to question in recent months whether those actions
wound up goading him into doing exactly what the White House did not
want: forging alliances with former warlords, letting drug traffickers
out of prison and threatening to sack competent ministers. Those U.S.
officials now think that Karzai, a tactically shrewd tribal chieftain
who is under enormous stress as he seeks to placate and balance rival
factions in his government, may operate best when he does not feel
Richard Holbrooke's Decline? Spencer Ackerman wonders
what happened to the man once seen as a top candidate to become Obama's
Secretary of State. "Poor Richard Holbrooke! First it was Sen. John
(D-Mass.) who overshadowed the special representative for Afghanistan
and Pakistan by brokering Karzai's acquiescence to the (ultimately
ill-faded) runoff election. And now his boss is doing a job that was
supposed to fall under his portfolio," he writes. "If Stuart Bowen's proposal
for a new U.S. Office of Contingency Operations goes forward -- and a
formalized proposal for it is coming very soon -- Holbrooke will lose that role as well. So where would that leave Holbrooke, the premiere diplomat of his generation?"
- Karzai Works For Obama The L.A. Times's Pashtoon Atif argues
Americans should take an even stronger role. "Afghanistan is not at
this point a sovereign state," he writes. "We Afghans wonder every day
why your officials haven't done more to coerce reform among our
officials. [...] our government is so corrupt and incapable of
providing basic services
and protection to its citizens that what we find truly infuriating at
this point is the lack of interference."
- Working Around Karzai The American Prospect's Tim Fernholz suggests
the American plan is a ruse to get around Karzai entirely.
"Essentially, U.S. officials have realized Karzai is inept and are
bypassing him, which is much better explanation of why he's suddenly
decided the U.S. ought to be his critical partner," he writes. "Maybe
the U.S. is taking a warmer tone with Karzai, but that's because
they've realized how ineffectual he is, which in turn has led him to
emphasize his value to the American project. The combination of the
U.S. dealing with the facts on the ground and Karzai being cooperative
might be a very good outcome indeed."
Bush Was Even Chummier The New Republic's Jason Zengerle compares. "Of course, this is Obama's second 'reset' of the relationship with
Afghanistan, since he took office vowing to take a harder line with
Karzai than Bush did. But it does sound as if Obama isn't planning to
get quite as chummy with Karzai as Bush was."
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