The Realist Prism: Putting U.S. Interests Ahead of Karzai in Afghanistan

The Realist Prism: Putting U.S. Interests Ahead of Karzai in Afghanistan

Perhaps it is time to start taking Hamid Karzai at his word. Every time the Afghan president criticizes the United States or constrains the operations of foreign forces in Afghanistan, U.S. officials deploy the gamut of explanations to downplay his behavior. These have ranged from the tactical (he’s trying to build up his nationalist credentials among the populace), to the pharmacological (he’s “off his meds”).

Karzai’s latest bombshell, delivered during Chuck Hagel’s inaugural visit to Afghanistan as the new U.S. secretary of defense, was to suggest that the United States is colluding with the Taliban in attacks throughout the country to presumably create a pretext for U.S. combat forces to stay in the country beyond the 2014 deadline for withdrawal. This is part of a larger pattern in which Karzai has consistently complained about Western “interference” in how to run the country, while also showing an extreme reluctance to accept any reductions in foreign aid and material support. If he had his way, Karzai would be left alone to rule Afghanistan as he saw fit -- but with the United States and other NATO countries prepared to foot the bill.

In contrast, the U.S. would prefer that Karzai voluntarily implement the Western vision for his country, but do so as if it were his own choice. Washington would also like him to be prepared to shoulder more of the burdens of getting Afghanistan back on its feet. As Amy Davidson concluded, “Karzai has a point about sovereignty; we have a point about what a mess Karzai is.”

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