President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan sometimes acts like a haughty 18th century monarch, and that’s when he can be a real pain in the you know what. Now is one of those times, and the Obama administration should tell him to put up or we’re on the way out of Afghanistan as quickly as reasonably possible.
The latest outburst of irresponsible and erratic behavior is Karzai’s stalling on signing a security agreement with the United States that would keep U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 to train Afghan forces and conduct limited anti-terrorism operations.
Karzai negotiated this deal, and it took months to do it with him. The agreement got the overwhelming approval of the Loya Jirga, a council of a couple of thousand influential Afghan elders.
It’s supposed to be signed by the end of the year. But Karzai has balked. First he said he would not put his signature on the Bilateral Security Agreement until after elections in April to pick his successor. Then he started throwing in other demands: He wants the United States to end all commando raids and drone strikes on Afghan homes. He demands the release of Afghans held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. He says the United States must help him restart peace negotiations with the Taliban.
Remember, these are demands Karzai brought up after the bilateral agreement had been negotiated.
The only ones applauding Karzai’s thumbing his nose at the United States are the Taliban. They’ve suddenly stopped calling him an American puppet — for now.
Yes, a stable future for Afghanistan is an important U.S. foreign policy goal. Afghanistan was the necessary war, the one the United States couldn’t avoid after Osama bin Laden used that country as a staging ground for the 9/11 attack that killed 3,000 Americans. Over the years, American troops scored significant victories against our terrorist enemies there, not the least the killing of bin Laden.
But it’s also turned into America’s longest war at a terrible cost in blood and treasure. The terrorist threat that once seemed so menacing in Afghanistan has shifted to other locales, from nearby Pakistan to Yemen to north Africa.
That’s not to say the work in Afghanistan is done. It’s not. And the bilateral agreement is the instrument necessary to keep it going forward.
But we can’t want continued success in Afghanistan more than Karzai.
Unfortunately, signals are coming from Washington that maybe the end of the year isn’t a firm date. That the agreement could be signed in January just so long as it’s done before President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address.
But letting the deadline slide will only reward Karzai’s bad behavior and encourage more of it.
What Karzai’s motives are escapes us. We do think he does intend to sign the pact eventually. But it’s time for him to stop playing games. Obama should lay down the law and tell Karzai to sign by the end of the year or the United States won’t just plan on leaving at the end of 2014, our troops will be out of Afghanistan just as soon as the withdrawal can be safely accomplished. And let him know that his reckless behavior also threatens financial aid to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is a dangerous place. Karzai would be a dead man without American support and protection. He needs to be reminded of that.