October 26, 2009

The Viceroy Strikes Back

He came loaded and ready to fire. Hamid Karzai might have kept his guns locked had Fareed Zakaria not cornered him, but left with no choice, Karzai unleashed a time-honored barrage.

Karzai appeared in good spirits at first. Prepared with the same answer for any election question, he stressed, “All that was said was mostly wrong. There were some mistakes, there were some incidents of fraud. But the election as a whole was clean, and as a result was clear.”

He claimed to have been, “defamed," quipping, "The news items on the fraud were so many and widely repeated that even I began to believe as if indeed that much fraud was there and began to doubt the election.”

Good one. Zakaria let the issue go, moving on to Karzai’s perception as an American puppet. Zakaria asked the first of many questions related to Karzai’s falling popularity with Pashtuns, who see him as corrupted with foreign influence. Karzai defended himself and his people several times, then Rahm Emanuel came up.

Grilled on the White House chief of staff’s doubts of the Afghan government, Karzai cooly replied, “Is the United States a reliable partner with Afghanistan? Is the West a reliable partner with Afghanistan? Have we received the commitments that we were given? Have we been treated like a partner?”

Karzai deployed his propaganda trinity, defining partnership with America as, "where Afghan lives are respected, where Afghan property is respected, where the Afghan traditions are respected, where we know the direction we are moving to, where we are results oriented, where we understand each other.”

“Partnership is a two way street,” he said, “not a one way street.” Emanuel must be grinning, Obama frowning, Republicans suppressing their complacency, a gleeful Taliban in the distance.

Slicing the fat off Karzai’s propaganda, he has a legitimate gripe with Washington. He’s going to get swallowed by the insurgency without reinforcements at the military and civilian levels, watching security break down day by day and waiting for what General McChrystal calculated in August.

“General McChrystal’s recent report, the strategy he put forward, is the right one because it protects the civilian population," said Karzai, "and that is exactly what we must do."

Two can play the pressure game. And the blame game. Asked by Zakaria if “moderate” Taliban can be “weaned” off the hardcore movement, Karzai said this plan wouldn’t work because, “we are constantly attacking them... they are not secure in their homes and their villages.” He said America must end “the general feeling that all Afghans are Taliban.”

The dialogue rumbled further down hill. Zakaria presented Karzai with a Thomas Friedman quote on Afghanistan's failed government. Karzai, in a mini propaganda battle, countered, “I guess Mr. Friedman was angered” by an ECC official resignation and that “I understand his angle.”

Zakaria pressed for an answer and a visibly irritated Karzai responded, “I think it’s not going to serve anyone in America or NATO to try to make scapegoats out of the Afghan government, the Afghan people, I think we all need to recognize that we’ve made mistakes.”

Pressed again, “I have received votes from all around the country, in fact the trouble between my government and myself and our allies have been these blind bombardments of our villages, attacks on our people at night, raiding their homes, arresting them and putting them in prison, so the Pashtuns have been hurt a lot in this war on terror and they expect their president to defend them and speak to them.”

Defend them Karzai did, in his own way. He also put the hurt on President Obama and his staff.

Emanuel seems to be the natural target, and given Obama’s history with Karzai, their relationship could genuinely be souring. Daniel Korski reported that Karzai is “currently refusing to see Holbrooke at all.” He already believes he won and believes he’ll win the runoff, so questioning the outcome means questioning Karzai. Unwillingness to commit to the next Afghan government is abandonment. Deliberation means nothing to him.

You think I'm the problem? I'm the problem because you're the problem. In Karzai's head he’s under attack from every side, so he came to Washington and fired back at his targets.

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