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May 6, 2009
For Afghanistan’s Karzai, era of U.S. hand-holding is over

Afghan President Hamid Karzai was meeting Wednesday with President Obama.

The leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan were set for a three-way meeting with President Obama on Wednesday, to discuss how to combat the growing threat of the Taliban. 

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is also dealing with the repercussions of an errant U.S. bombing attack that killed dozens of civilians in Afghanistan.

Worldfocus editorial consultant Peter Eisner writes about Karzai’s changing relationship with the U.S. under the Obama administration. 

For an informative, disturbing look at the problems of American diplomacy in Afghanistan, a Washington Post profile of Afghan President Hamid Karzai written by Rajiv Chandrasekaran is required reading.

Rajiv, a colleague at the Post when he was Baghdad bureau chief and I was on the foreign desk, wrote the best-selling book, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone.” He breaks down the dysfunctional elements of American operations in Afghanistan the same way he did in Iraq.

Not surprisingly, we see Karzai, who was meeting Wednesday with President Obama, as an indecisive man with little franchise, often under the thumb of the Bush administration. President Bush dealt with Afghanistan by starting a war in Iraq instead. He dealt with Karzai, in part, by sending Zalmay Mamozy Khalilzad, an Afghan-born diplomat, as the U.S. ambassador after having been ambassador to Iraq.

Khalilzad and top American officials used strong-arm tactics, often falling short in controlling the axes of meaningful change.

Rajiv writes:

“Khalilzad was far more than an ambassador. U.S. diplomats described his role as the country’s chief executive — with Karzai as the figurehead chairman — for the 19 months of his ambassadorship.”

“By his own account, Khalilzad ate dinner six nights a week at the presidential palace, where he met with Karzai and his advisers into the evening. No significant decision was made by Karzai in that time without Khalilzad’s involvement, and sometimes his cajoling and prodding, the diplomats said.”

We also learn that Karzai and Bush had biweekly video chats, with Bush apparently thinking the personal touch would help deal with the militias and drug lords rampaging outside Karzai’s palace gates.

None of the hobnobbing brought success in stabilizing Afghanistan or catching Osama bin Laden, or stopping the corrupt system that allows Afghanistan to corner the market on the opium poppy industry. 

Just after President Obama came to office, Vice President Joseph Biden informed Karzai in person that the era of presidential hand-holding is over.

Rajiv reports that President Obama has little patience for Karzai. Obama, we are told, thinks Karzai “has been inside the bunker” too long.

“Obama advisers believe the relationship that Bush developed with Karzai masked the Afghan leader’s flaws and made it difficult to demand accountability.”

“The classified version of the recent White House review of Afghanistan strategy, according to two officials who have read it, criticizes Karzai. “It takes him to task for not meeting even the most basic Afghan expectations,” one of the officials said. “The implication is clear: Karzai is not our man in this upcoming election.”

Rather than one-on-one video conferences, Karzai gets a 20-minute meeting and a three-way meeting with President Obama and the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari.

Beyond the body language, Karzai will supposedly have at least a minute to mention U.S. air strikes on Tuesday in which more than 100 people died. The International Red Cross reported that women and children were among the dead.

A cold dose of reality reminds us that war and peace go beyond personalities. We haven’t seen yet how the United States will come up with a viable plan to make things better.

– Peter Eisner


1 comment


UGH! The needs of the many out way the Needs of the few…If the cities and towns in Afghanistan continue to support, hide and Protect Taliban in there communities it is no different than aiding and abetting the enemy and during wartime this can be as sevier as DEATH…as punishment or incidentially…and if the Parents of the children are selfish to put these terrorist above the needs of their own families…there are responsibilities for your actions…

Peter Eisner is an editorial consultant with Worldfocus and a 30-year veteran of international news. He has been an editor and foreign correspondent at The Washington Post, Newsday and The Associated Press. He co-authored “The Italian Letter,” which details fraudulent intelligence leading up to the Iraq War. He was founder and president of Newscom, an international online news service, and speaks Spanish and Portuguese.

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