Over the weekend, Chuck Hagel walked into an awkward confrontation in Afghanistan during his first trip to the country as President Obama's new defense secretary.
Following two suicide bombings that killed at least 19 people, Afghan President Hamid Karzai went on TV and accused the U.S. of colluding with the Taliban to stir up violence and scare the public into believing that the country will fall apart if the last American troops leave as planned next year. U.S. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who took command of coalition forces last month, called the charge "categorically false," and Hagel said he told Karzai that it's simply untrue that the U.S. "was unilaterally working with the Taliban trying to negotiate anything."
What inspired this odd and pointedly timed broadside? After all, Karzai had been downplaying the threat the Taliban will pose after American forces split, says Merv Benson at Prairie Pundit. "The angst of our leaving him seems to be playing games with his mind."
It could also be that Karzai is trying to preempt criticism of his own performance when he leaves office himself in a few months. He might simply be "trying to lower the heat to the point where he can do so with his head still properly attached to his spine," says Jazz Shaw at Hot Air. It's not the first time, after all, that he has insulted the U.S. And he's probably not fooling anyone.
He's been working hand in hand with the United States and our allies for some time now, and no amount of spin or dancing on the heads of pins is going to make the Taliban, their supporters or residual al Qaeda sympathizers forget about it. In fact, if things really go pear shaped toward the end, he might want to consider being a little nicer to us in case he needs a ride on the last chopper leaving Kabul. [Hot Air]
Karzai is merely playing a "complicated game," says Daniel Greenfield at FrontPage Magazine. He "wants U.S. forces there, but has to act as if he doesn't" to shore up his credibility with a war-weary Afghan public. He can't be seen as "an American puppet." Instead, he has to act like he's bossing the Americans around.
Karzai and the Taliban both need America to stay. Karzai needs American money to steal and American power to keep the Taliban at bay. The Taliban need American targets. Both pretend they want the war to end, but neither do. [FrontPage]
In the end, one can only speculate about what was behind Karzai's fit of anger. "Is it a tantrum, a delusion, a freak-out, a move in a deep game — or just a cynical play for popular support, by which he gets Afghans to like him by telling them that he hates us?" asks Amy Davidson at The New Yorker. Before we complain that Karzai has lost touch with reality, though, maybe we should take a look in the mirror.
It's possible... that Karzai's disturbance of the mind only camouflages our own. One wonders if our position is any better moored to reality. The plan on this trip had been for Hagel to witness the transfer of the Bagram prison to Afghan authority. That was delayed (which may have been what set Karzai off). According to the Times, we wanted reassurances that the Afghans would hold certain prisoners indefinitely, "even if they cannot be prosecuted in court for specific offenses." That is an odd condition to impose if we think, by remaining in Afghanistan, that we are making a point about democracy; have we come to not only tolerate indefinite detention, as practiced at Guantánamo, but become evangelists for it? [The New Yorker]