April 8, 2010

Obama Still Trapped in Karzai's Illusion

He must possess no shame to utter these words.

“Nobody in the Administration had any illusions about Karzai,” Bruce Riedel, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, recently told The London Times. “They’ve always recognized that he is not an ideal partner but they really don’t have a viable alternative. They are stuck with Karzai whether they like it or not.”

That’s where he’s especially wrong - the penalty once again falls on the American people.

Riedel’s comments are unacceptable coming from one of the prime architects of Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And though Riedel is apparently a “former adviser” now, he dovetails perfectly into the hottest foreign policy rumor: the White House is considering ways to isolate Hamid Karzai.

This after six months of the repeated answer, “Karzai is the elected leader of Afghanistan...” when questioned on his legitimacy.

Though we have nothing personal against Karzai, in our opinion US strategy is doomed with him as the political centerpiece. But the solution isn’t to “lock out” Karzai, as his power circle extends too far out for a blockade to be effective. His supporters, and he does have a significant minority, will be alienated. If Abdullah Abdullah already resents America, add the Taliban and who is left to support a US military campaign?

Local authority is critical to the war, but isolating Karzai so late in the game will most likely tear the country's political schism even wider apart. This is a desperate move in the 11th hour, not sound strategy.

Even Peter Galbraith, whom we trust, is doing no good by hinting at Karzai’s drug use.

But what is totally unacceptable is Riedel’s statement that the White House doubted Karzai and pulled the trigger on a surge anyway. It is unacceptable to protect Karzai through a fraudulent election then dump him and refuse responsibility. Withdrawal from a potentially unwinnable war never crossed the White House’s collective mind.

Apparently it’s “defeatist” and weak” to retreat from an indefensible position. Much stronger to hold out in a lost situation as long as possible. Maybe die honorably, which depending on the situation is another word for stupidly.

US foreign policy is visibly destabilizing, from supporting boycotted elections in Sudan to a fractured Iraqi political system to a defiant Israel. These events don't bode well with a rogue Karzai, shortage of NATO forces, and now a bleak German account of Afghan security forces.

Judging by its actions the White House is bent on passing these consequences to the American and Afghan people, and everyone else who will continue suffering endlessly.

If what Riedel says is accurate then more energy must be devoted into withdrawal contingencies, not pitting Afghanistan’s local and national politics against each other and plowing on with a hopeless military campaign on its way past a trillion dollars. US opposition to Taliban reconciliation also needs revision or else the insurgency will never end.

It looks like the Obama administration indeed had illusions of Karzai. Better to wake up now than never.

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