It seems clear that the relationship between the Obama Administration and the Karzai government is far from rosy, but for whatever reason today officials seemed intent on putting on a decidedly forced show of normalcy and even gentility with respect to the Afghan president.
“He is the embodiment of sovereignty for Afghanistan,” gushed Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who maintained that despite weeks of very public clashes the military maintained a “very positive relationship” with Karzai.
On Face the Nation, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lauded Karzai as “a reliable partner,” a surprising comment considering the past week has seen US officials condemning Karzai with increasing regularity, up to and including a claim that he was becoming erratic and was abusing drugs.
Karzai for his part made a show visit to the northern Kunduz Province with US commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal, urging the Taliban to disarm amid a surge of attacks in the province, which traditionally has had little Taliban presence.
Yet the past 24 hours of playing to the cameras can hardly be expected to wipe away two weeks of increasingly bitter rhetoric, including Karzai’s threat to join the Taliban and State Department admonishments that he’d better watch what he says.
All else being equal, both sides would likely prefer to see the very public row go away, and today’s moves could well be a first step toward making that happen. Yet the dispute was not created in a vacuum, but was rather a function of Karzai’s desire to use NATO as a scapegoat for his corruption and NATO’s desire to use Karzai as a scapegoat for their military failures. Neither of those desires is gone, and even if the two sides manage to tamp down tensions in the near term, it seems inevitable that the issue will remain and continue to grow.
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