If Chuck Hagel had hoped to have a smooth first visit to Afghanistan as the newly minted U.S. Secretary of Defense, he should have known better. Hamid Karzai has a long memory—and the Afghan president is known to hold grudges.
This is what Karzai would have remembered Hagel saying to him ten years ago. “If you leave an impression that everything is going well…the next time you come back, your credibility will be in question,” then Senator Hagel told the visiting Afghan leader at the end of an embarrassing grilling at the Senate Foreign Relations committee in 2003. Sitting heads of state usually don’t testify to the U.S. Senate—the testimony occurred because of a mistake by Karzai’s Ambassador to Washington. President George W. Bush issued a public apology to Karzai over his treatment. Karzai then fired the ambassador.
Ten years later, it is a crucial time of transition for Afghanistan, with Karzai preoccupied with his legacy. Who should show up but Hagel. And the Afghan president has apparently returned the favor he received in Washington a decade ago. Ahead of their talks, Karzai went on another of his now usual anti-U.S. tirades. He accused the Americans of double-speak, bordering on collusion with the Taliban. “The Taliban talk to the United States every day, but they detonate bombs in Kabul and Khost to show their force to the Americans,” Karzai said. “No, these bombs that went off in Khost and Kabul yesterday, this wasn’t showing force to America…in reality, it was a service to the foreigners so their presence remains in Afghanistan.”
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