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What Obama should be telling Karzai

Lots of stories, but very little real news on Barack Obama’s surprise visit to Kabul, where we’re told the U.S. president is currently meeting with Hamid Karzai, his Afghan counterpart. What little has emerged is that Obama’s agenda included government appointments, corruption, and narcotrafficking.  I obviously have no idea what he did say, but here’s ...

Lots of stories, but very little real news on Barack Obama’s surprise visit to Kabul, where we’re told the U.S. president is currently meeting with Hamid Karzai, his Afghan counterpart. What little has emerged is that Obama’s agenda included government appointments, corruption, and narcotrafficking. 

I obviously have no idea what he did say, but here’s what Obama should be telling Karzai:

My dear Hamid, how are you? Sorry to drop in on you so suddenly, but as you know the security situation in your capital city is still pretty dicey. We made a good show over there in Marjah, didn’t we? Thanks for letting us  bring some of your troops along for the ride. Here’s hoping they’ll actually be useful when we go into Kandahar later this year.

Thanks for the apricots, but I have to be honest, Hamid: You’re a major disappointment, which is why we didn’t try too hard to make sure you got re-elected last year.  It’s also why I don’t bother having regular video conference calls with you the way Bush did. I’m a busy man, and the American people didn’t elect me to be your therapist. All you seem to do is sit here in your presidential palace most days, fiddling while your country burns.

The Pakistanis were in town last week, and they all but told us that your government is a joke; your army’s a mess; and your police forces are too busy abusing and shaking down ordinary Afghans to do their jobs. They urged us to stop trying to build up a central government in Kabul and try to work through regional power brokers instead, because that’s the only way Afghanistan’s ever been effectively ruled. They didn’t say it, but I can tell they’re already laying the groundwork for when the Americans leave. I tried to get them to commit to going after the Haqqani network, which has been giving us hell in southeastern Afghanistan and almost killed you several times. But each time I brought it up, they found some way to change the subject. I think they’re hedging their bets.

Meanwhile, I’m stuck with you. Last year, I sent 30,000 more young American men and women into harm’s way to keep your country from turning back into a haven for al Qaeda and to prevent a proxy war between India and Pakistan. I’ve got my very best military commanders over there to fix the situation, even though my own ambassador told me you were unreliable and your government deeply corrupt. Back in Washington, I’ve got red ink as far as the eye can see and a left wing that’s going to freak out when the thousandth U.S. soldier dies here in a few weeks. I tried to buy us both some more time by coming up with this confusing July 2011 "timeframe" to begin drawing down troops, but you and I both know that’s a hope, not a plan.

Some of my advisors, and some in the U.S. military, are telling me we need to start negotiating with the Taliban. Which Taliban, I ask? All I see is that they think they’re winning, and that they won’t come to the table in a serious way until we kick their asses a little bit. I’m open to the possibility down the road. But you keep reaching out to them like a desperate man grasping at straws. It makes us look weak.

Look, I’m a patient man. But sooner or later you’re going to have to wake up to the fact that I can’t be propping you up forever. The American people’s memories of 9/11 are fading, and I’m not as good at playing the terror card as Bush was. Eventually we’re just going to declare victory in Afghanistan and go home, just like we’re doing in Iraq. We might leave some "support" troops behind, but mostly it’s going to be you, left to face the Taliban and the ISI alone.

So here’s the choice, Hamid. If you clean up your act now  — crack down on the corrupt people around you, build up your security forces, and appoint good, competent people to be governors — I’ll be your best friend. I’ll use my precious political capital and work both sides of the aisle in Congress to get you the resources you need. I’ll lean hard on the Europeans not to go wobbly. But if you don’t look me in the eye right now and promise that this time, this moment, will be different than the past — well, you remember what happened to Najibullah, don’t you?

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