Obama’s Karzai Problem

Pundits weigh-in on Afghan prez's stepped-up anti-West rhetoric

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Days after accusing his western allies of seeking to push him from power, Afghan President Hamid Karzai continued to speak out over the weekend, reportedly saying he would not be a “puppet” of the U.S.

The heated rhetoric came after the White House called Karzai's earlier comments “troubling” and Sec. of State Hillary Clinton spoke by phone Friday with the Afghan leader to cool down the burgeoning feud.

With the U.S. prepping to escalate the war in Afghanistan by driving the Taliban from their spiritual home in Kandahar, how concerned should policy makers and the public be over Karzai’s stepped-up spat with the West? Pundits weigh-in:

  • “The White House needs the American public, not to mention its soldiers, to believe in the Afghan mission,” writes Robert Haddick for Foreign Policy. “Publicly quarreling with and disparaging Karzai and his government can quickly shatter that belief.”
  • Brookings fellow Bruce Riedel agrees that we’re stuck with Karzai, so both countries should focus on getting out of a “cycle of insult and apology. ... Washington has a long history of choosing foreign leaders in insurgencies and then having trouble when they assert their independence,” Riedel writes for The Daily Beast. “The lesson is not to choose other peoples’ leaders. It’s too late then to cry foul.”
  • In an analysis, New York Times reporter Alissa J. Rubin argues Karzai has “boxed in” the west. So what options does the U.S. have? “Threaten to withdraw troops or actually withdraw them; use diplomacy, which so far has had little result; and find ways to expand citizen participation in the government, which now has hardly any elected positions at the provincial and district levels,” she writes.
  • Matthew Green, writing for the Financial Times, argues Karzai’s “anti-foreign stance” complicates NATO commander Stanley McChrystal’s “strategy on convincing Afghans to side with the western-backed government. ... Mr. Karzai's remarks threaten to reopen the debate among US and European voters about why their troops are dying to uphold his government,” he writes.
  • “Politics in this part of the world is a contact sport, and we shouldn't be afraid of Afghan expressions of sovereignty,” writes WaPost columnist David Ignatius. He recommends the U.S. “build Afghan security forces and governance structures that can hold together as Americans start to leave in July 2011,” but acknowledges there is “little evidence” that transition will occur on schedule.
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