Karzai Goes Rogue

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The Afghan president calls for a smaller American troop presence and reduced military operations in his country. And Michael Cohen, a sharp liberal critic of the war, is extremely frustrated:

It’s hard to imagine a greater indictment of US strategy than to have the president of Afghanistan basically argue that that strategy is counter-productive and flawed.

At the very least, this should give lie to the argument that what the US is doing today in Afghanistan looks anything like the counter-insurgency doctrine described in FM 3-24. After all that notion of COIN relies, in large measure, on host country support; how can the US argue that we have anything even resembling that?

I’m not sure that’s true. Though genuinely difficult in all sorts of ways (and perhaps even mentally unstable), Karzai has always played something of a two-step, publicly bashing American military tactics in ways that are popular with his people–he called for an end to U.S. air strikes more than a year ago–while privately maintaining good relations with our military leaders. Indeed one of the best arguments against Obama’s sacking of Stanley McChrystal after Rolling Stone-gate was the general’s excellent rapport with the Afghan leader.

So it may be that Karzai is playing to his base, so to speak. (The same may be true of his unrealistic demand that all foreign contractors leave the country, under a deadline that he has already extended.) Because I find it hard to believe that the Afghan leader really wants the bulk of America’s forces out of his country anytime soon. Protected only by his own government’s security forces, Karzai’s days would be numbered. For the moment, Karzai needs us as much as we need him.

Update: Good counterpoint from commenter yogi:

It seems that Karzai says something to this effect every couple of months. At what point do you stop saying he’s playing to his base and actually means this stuff? I suppose this question could be asked of any politician playing to his/her base while not following through, but I think a leader of a country we are currently having a war in changes the importance of the question. Karzai’s rhetoric, while can be seen as playing to his base, also gives cover to militias/warlords who say they have the government backing to fight US/NATO.
So does Karzai, regardless wether he actually has the power to change US/NATO war fighting policy, actually mean it? If we look at his previous statements, I think he does. Maybe we should stop reflexively saying “he’s playing to his base”, even if that’s what our government would like it to be.
It is true that sometimes there’s nothing more than what meets the eye. (I respond at slightly greater length in comments, if you’re curious.)