The Obama administration has more trouble with its diplomacy than just regarding Iran. Last week, the White House let it be known that they had all but concluded a pact with Afghanistan to keep as many as 15,000 troops, mostly American, in place until 2024, a decade longer than Barack Obama promised when he launched his own surge strategy in late 2009. Almost immediately after going out on that political limb, Hamid Karzai began to saw it off, insisting that the issue had to be brought before tribal elders and that Karzai himself wouldn’t sign it either way, a direct rebuke to the Obama administration. Karzai insists that the next elected president of Afghanistan should make that decision himself, throwing a wrench into the gears of Pentagon planning and putting the entire agreement at risk. NBC now reports that even with the Loya Jirga endorsing the pact, Karzai is still refusing to cooperate, demanding more concessions from the White House:
ENGEL: We just finished a battlefield circulation with commander of US troops in this part of eastern Afghanistan. He showed us how Afghan troops are now leading the fight and that he used to have about 50 outposts in this area and now American troops only hold about 13 bases, including this one. This is one of the so-called enduring bases, bases that could stay on in this country beyond 2014 if the government in Kabul and Washington approve a joint security deal that could see thousands of American troops staying in this country for years to come. Over the weekend, a group of tribal elders in Kabul decided they want this deal. They want US troops to stay because it’s good for security. It helps the Afghan security forces fight al-Qaeda and fight the Taliban, but then Afghanistan’s president said not yet. He won’t sign the deal until the United States shows more signs of good faith and does more, in his words, to bring security to this country. For now it seems this joint security deal and the future of American troops in this country is on hold.
Not coincidentally, National Security Adviser Susan Rice has landed in Afghanistan, ostensibly to visit the troops but obviously as a fixer:
National Security Advisor Susan Rice has landed in Afghanistan amid an escalating showdown over America’s role after 12 years of war, the White House announced Monday.
The White House billed Rice’s first trip in her new role as a long-planned visit to thank U.S. troops and civilians around the Thanksgiving holiday. It comes at a crucial moment for U.S.-Afghan relations, however, with President Hamid Karzai balking at a deal to keep U.S. troops in the country past 2014.
An assembly of 3,000 tribal leaders and political leaders signed off on the pact Sunday, but Karzai rejected their recommendation to quickly put the deal in place. Instead, he wants to wait until after presidential elections in April and is demanding that American troops be prohibited from entering Afghan homes under any circumstance, a non-starter for the Obama administration.
Karzai might end up cutting off his own head to spite his face. Afghan security forces aren’t up to the task of fending off the Taliban, and Karzai is going to be high up on their target list. An abrupt pullout of American forces next year will produce a much more dramatic decline in Afghanistan than a similar pullout did in Iraq in 2011. Even with that danger, Karzai appears a lot more interested in embarrassing the Obama administration than in proceeding with a deal his government negotiated with the US in the first place.