Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Obama vs Karzai Over Exit Strategy

Barack Obama is doing what George W. Bush failed to do in Iraq--looking for "where the off-ramps are," according to a White House official.

As the President starts a nine-day Asia trip, he leaves behind the message that his Afghanistan decision has been strongly influenced by Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador who was once military commander there, whose doubts about Hamid Karzai are reflected in a White House statement:

"The President believes that we need to make clear to the Afghan government that our commitment is not open-ended. After years of substantial investments by the American people, governance in Afghanistan must improve in a reasonable period of time."

So begins the crucial battle there--Obama vs Karzai--to get Afghanistan out of its sinkhole of corruption and incompetence far enough to be able to stand on its own and allow US troops to withdraw in a foreseeable time.

Administration officials are reported to be pushing Karzai for a list of "deliverables" to prove that he is cracking down on corruption, including naming able technocrats to top cabinet positions rather than warlords who backed his re-election.

Cynics will claim that Obama does not have the leverage for this kind of arm-twisting--that we are stuck in Afghanistan and Karzai knows it. A former US ambassador there puts it this way:

“You know that scene in the movie ‘Blazing Saddles,’ when Cleavon Little holds the gun to his own head and threatens to shoot himself? The argument that we could pull out of Afghanistan if Karzai doesn’t do what we say is stupid. We couldn’t get the Pakistanis to fight if we leave Afghanistan; we couldn’t accomplish what we’ve set out to do. And Karzai knows that.”

Maybe so, but it's heartening to have a Commander-in-Chief searching this hard for an exit strategy before he commits tens of thousands of troops into harm's way.

There are rumors that the President may make a surprise trip to Kabul at the end of his Asia travels and confront Karzai face to face. If he does, he will have to do better in that battle than he has so far in the one with Republicans over health care.

At the end of his first year, Barack Obama is going to show us what kind of fighter he really is. Can Change come with brass knuckles?


Fuzzy Slippers said...

Aw, Mr. Stein, please come to your senses about BO. All the cool libs are doing it, and you're the coolest lib around ;)

AmericanOwl said...

I think there are other options rather than converting Karzai into Mr. Clean. Since the US and NATO are paying all of the bills, we should circumvent the corrupt Afghan bureaucracy. If our troops are actually in the cities protecting the Afghans, as they should be, this will not be especially hard to do. The Ambassador in Kabul is right to insist on an exit strategy, but that would compliment McCrystal's plan, not contradict it. Please see my posts here and here