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The White House this week staged an elaborate welcome for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, aiming to repair the testy relationship between the two countries. After meeting with Karzai for three hours in the Oval Office, Obama hailed the two nations’ “strong partnership based on mutual respect.” And though U.S. troops are scheduled to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in July 2011, Obama assured Karzai of America’s “robust commitment to Afghanistan going forward.” Karzai expressed his “deep, heartfelt gratitude” for U.S. support. The cordial atmosphere contrasted sharply with the sniping that has marked the U.S.-Afghan relationship recently. U.S. officials have openly criticized Karzai for failing to stem corruption and drug trafficking. Karzai has threatened to join forces with the Taliban.
Obama and Karzai said the right things, but they favor “two probably incompatible courses of action,” said the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in an editorial. Obama, “in coordination with a hesitant NATO and an ambivalent Afghan force,” wants to destroy al Qaida and weaken its Taliban protectors. Karzai prefers co-opting possible moderate Taliban elements and creating a national unity government. In short, after nine years of war, Afghanistan seems as intractable as ever.
No public show of affection between leaders can change the “bleak reality” in Afghanistan, said Blake Hounshell in ForeignPolicy.com. Karzai’s government can’t even “collect the garbage,” but he continues to insist it can deliver services and win over the Taliban and the disaffected populace. About the best Obama can hope for at this point is to “prevent the Afghan leader from actively working against U.S. interests.”
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“For the moment, the U.S. has decided to indulge Karzai by bringing out the expensive china,” said George Packer in NewYorker.com. But if Obama still thinks Karzai “can be coaxed into changing his behavior,” he’s bound to be disappointed. Then again, without any viable alternatives, Obama has virtually no leverage anyway. Karzai may be “weak, corrupt, and erratic,” but we’re stuck with him.
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