Karzai Is a Lousy Ally, But Obama Also Deserves Much Blame

I have a long piece up at The National Interest’s blog site about the pronounced contentiousness in U.S.-Afghan relations.  I argue that a less mercurial, erratic and distrustful figure than Hamid Karzai would no doubt make for a steadier ally in Kabul.  Nonetheless, his numerous faults do not diminish the Obama administration’s own sizeable responsibility for the accumulating animosity.

Two main failings stick out.  First, for an administration that took office trumpeting the Afghan campaign as a “war of necessity,” the Obama team strangely did not put much effort into cultivating strong bonds with Karzai, its putative partner in the enterprise.  Second, it is at fault for ignoring Karzai’s legitimate complaints about the strategic conduct of the Afghan war and for sending decidedly mixed signals about what it hoped to accomplish.

One goes to war with the allies one has, to appropriate a now-famous Washington aphorism.  And in truth, the disputatious Karzai has unnecessarily complicated the U.S. effort in Afghanistan.  But the Obama administration’s own derelictions have also contributed much to the testiness.  The White House would be wise to absorb this lesson as the endgame in that country approaches.

Read the entire essay here.

It’s also striking how the bad feelings pervading U.S.-Afghan relations are mirrored in the breakdown of the U.S.-Saudi partnership.  This rupture dramatically came into view this week when Riyadh, frustrated by U.S. policy in the Middle East, pointedly declined an opportunity to join the UN Security Council for a two-year term and downgraded traditionally close intelligence cooperation with Washington.  A particular Saudi peeve is the Obama administration’s failure to consult with and take seriously the views of U.S. allies in the region.

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U.S.-India Relations: The Overshadowed Summit

The U.S.-India relationship is enveloped these days by grand rhetoric.  But for a reality check on the state of bilateral affairs, look no further than the summit meeting between President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh two weeks ago.  The get-together was designed to inject new energy into a partnership that just a few years ago looked so promising but which is now roundly seen as going flat.  Yet even before Mr. Singh journeyed to Washington, the trip promised to be a ho-hum visit at best.

Noticeably gone was the excitement and pomp of Singh’s state visit four years ago, when President Obama put on an extravagant state dinner on the White House South Lawn honoring him.  It was the hottest ticket in town, attracting party crashers to boot, and even the rainy weather did not dim an event the Washington Post likened to a Hollywood production.  Back then, both leaders were fresh off impressive electoral victories and, with expectations raised by the recently-codified civilian nuclear agreement, they spoke augustly about a “future that beckons all of us.”

Their latest meeting, however, was in sharp contrast. Continue reading