The Karzai Problem in Afghanistan: Wikileaks

The bodies of the six US troops — killed Monday by a newly recruited Afghan border guard who turned Taliban — arrived back in the United States late Wednesday. That 6 US soldiers were killed in one day was generally not news on the so-called news networks, though of course the major print media reported it.

The troubling question is what they died fighting for. My own hypothesis is that the US is still in Afghanistan at this late date mainly to shore up the central government of President Hamid Karzai.

But Karzai is himself extremely problematic. According to cables released by Wikileaks, and summarized by the Guardian, Karzai is prone to paranoid conspiracy theories, believes that the US is animated by sinister motives such as breaking up Pakistan and undermining Afghanistan, and is erratic and corrupt. He blithely just released 5 notorious drug runners captured by the US and turned over to him. He accused the US of funding the presidential campaign of his rival, Abdallah Abdallah, in the fall of 2009.

Gen. David Petraeus is quoted as admitting that Karzai is “weak” but saying it is better to leave him there.

But the problem with Karzai is not that he is weak. Rather it is that he is corrupt and believes in conspiracy theories, and the combination of the two causes him to act high-handedly and improperly.

And here is the moral question: Is it right to ask US warriors to fight and die to prop up the administration of Hamid Karzai?

And, how likely is it that Afghanistan National Army officers and troops are going to risk their lives for someone who is paranoid, erratic and corrupt?

In short, the whole strategy of the US, of rapidly training Afghan security forces who could establish order in the country, assumes that the Afghanistan National Army and the police will be loyal to Karzai. But how likely is that?

PS Wikileaks was down Thursday evening but went live with a new dns early Friday morning. The 600 or so State Department cables so far released
can be searched here.

Posted in Afghanistan | 28 Responses | Print |

28 Responses

  1. It may be a bit of stretch to look for an over-arching cause structuring US actions at this point. To a large extent, we are enmeshed in a dynamical system, where the current state is calculated from the immediately previous state, rather than from a global goal.

    We are in Afghanistan today because we were there yesterday. It’s hard to break the dynamic or even steer it. Global goals appear as post hoc explanations. Lacking a sudden change of phase — like the one signaled by the arrival of the NVA in Saigon — we can hope that the energy in the system dissipates through friction of various sorts and the whole thing just winds down. The consequences, of course, will not dissipate in the same way.

  2. It’s a shame, and ultimately perhaps more tragic than the more potentially ameliorable situation in Iraq. And no surprise, Karzai is (like Chalabi, a gravely distasteful might-have-been who ironically was near to being an Iranian agent) another Bush baby foisted on the world. But Juan, even if you’re not convinced there’s a danger of extremists advancing in AfPak, we need to appreciate that the question is there. Well, did we at least ever get the benefit of that pipeline etc. that Moore referenced in F9/11?

    In general: the strange irony of Iraq as well, now more friendly to Iran and not the balancer it was and could have been, as Iran is supposed to be our major threat in the world. As for Wikileaks, note the harm to small fry (well, they seem to be trying to lighten that) added to the debatable question of the big picture.

  3. “And here is the moral question: Is it right to ask US warriors to fight and day to prop up the administration of Hamid Karzai?”
    Come on Juan. The moral question should be: When is the US admin going to be charged with war crimes? as it attacked a country that had not and could never be a threat. It seems you have forgotten that Afghanistan offerered to turn over bin Laden (the supposed mastermind) if the US provided proof of his involvement in the terrorist attack on the US on Sept 11, 2001; an offer which the US chose to ignore: fifteen of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt (Atta), and one from Lebanon. I had not noticed that Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Egypt had been attacked by the US but the US indeed supported Israel in the 2006 attack on Lebanon. Karzai is a puppet of the US (free and fair elections in an occupied country at war for 9 plus years my ass) and is now exhibiting the characteristics of the puppetmaster, corruption. Surprise, surprise. It is really all about oil/natural gas and surrounding China and Russia with US client states and US controlled missiles.

  4. “Gen. David Petraeus is quoted as admitting that Karzai is “weak” but saying it is better to leave him there. ”

    I may be reading something into this, but it sounds like Petraeus is implying that removal of Karzai is at the discretion of the US, but not now. Might that make Karzai a bit paranoid?

    Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
    Just sat there and sat there refusing to fall.
    But all the king’s horses and all the king’s men
    Knew that a fall could mean their end.

  5. Dr. Cole, I think you need to ask the next question after you say we are in Afghanistan to prop up the Karzai government: “Why do we need to control the government of Afghanistan? What is the interest (most likely financial) that needs to be able to make sure the US controls the land and government of this poor country?”

    We are really not fighting a war there. We are maintaining an occupation.

    If nothing else that people are saying makes sense, its probably the money that they don’t want to mention.

    • There isn’t any money to be had in Afghanistan. A Leninist theory of imperialism there just does not work.

      • “The troubling question is what they [the six dead troops] died fighting for.” The answer is to prop up the Karzai regime? I would like to see more discussion beyond this answer. Why prop up a regime that is basically self-serving and has lost the support of the Afghani people? What is our global dominance interest in being there, in terms of Afghanistan as a gateway to resources elsewhere plus buffering one side of Iran in case we’re finally ready to attack there?

        According to a November 26 Guardian piece from a reporter who somehow got inside the taliban (“Americans have no right to tell us about democracy”), the Afghani people use taliban services and are deeply suspicious of both Americans and Karzai. Hence the popularity of the resistance. The situation appears similar to Vietnam. Then again did we ever find an answer to why we were in Vietnam?

        link to

        • “The purpose of war is war.” In the fog of which, lots of stuff happens. Jackals and Sneaky Petes get access to large, unauditable bales of money to apply to their pet stratagems and complicationizing. Contractors and camp followers slice their gobbets off the dead flesh on all “sides.” Players of the Great Game get to force everyone simply interested in getting along and getting on with daily life to fund their perversions. Those among us who get their meaning in life from being a Loved One in one Band of Brothers or another, or get their jollies killing and maiming and torturing (“The purpose of torture is torture.”) others, of “lighting up the Towelheads” or killing the “emissaries of the Great Satan” or tickling one of the other pleasure receptors in that great sponge of Good and Evil, the human brain, get to indulge themselves, again at the expense of the uninterested or ignorant or “patriotic.” And all you have to do is review the career of one Milo Minderbinder, as expounded in “Catch-22,” to get a pretty clear picture of Why We Were In Vietnam. That, and the career paths and life’s ends of McNamara, Westmoreland, Abrams and the rest.

          Of course the Tarbaby labeled “Crusade” that our leaders have “democratically” stuck our fists feet and forehead to, is a particularly sticky form of the lowest cuts of Saudi Arabian crude. And the necktie around Tarbaby’s neck is Karzai, just like Arafat was the millstone around the necks of the Palestinians (bearing in mind that none of us are saints, and each have more or less presence of the Evil One in our innards.) link to

          The only way out that this Vietnam vet can see is what I would call the exhaustion principle: Sooner or later, the Real Economy of the US will run out of money to funnel into this execration, and sooner or later the people living in the areas we confabulate as “Afghanistan” will outlast the, ha-ha, Coalition Forces and go on about their ages-long playing out of their own games of politics and murder and revenge. And maybe some day someone or some plurality of us humans will Imagine, and there will be Peace and Love and however many of us are left after the Ragnarök, link to, upon the precipice of which we now stand, will be able to go on about the simple business of living simply so that others may simply live. heh heh.

  6. “The troubling question is what they died fighting for. My own hypothesis is that the US is still in Afghanistan at this late date mainly to shore up the central government of President Hamid Karzai.”

    How about the presidency of Barak Obama?

  7. Everybody is out to use Karzai for their own ends. He is in a really impossible situation. He has almost no power of his own, and can only stay as leader by playing off the forces around him.

    The US is not propping him up for the sake of it – they see him as the best they can get given their strategic objectives across central Asia and the Middle East.

    I’m not sure it is an occupation so much as an excuse to keep a huge military presence in the region. Do Iran, Russia, China, like to see this US force sat there on their borders?

    • Do you have some secret inside track that makes you privy to the “strategic objectives of the US across Central Asia and the Middle East?” Maybe you could share that information with the rest of the world, so many of us seeing only once again proof of the Peter Principle, Gresham’s General Truism, Murphy’s Law, Heisenbergian uncertainty and that old saw about the only persistent principles in the universe being accident, error and stupidity could come to that soul-satisfying belief that not only are grownups in charge, they actually have a Grand Plan and know what they are doing.

      As the CBers say, Gotcher ears on? Come back, good buddy!

      • I loved your last two comments. This one and the one starting with : “The purpose of war is war.”

  8. Some say that the world powers are interested in Afghanistan not because of terrorism, democracy, or the status of women, but with an eye to access to oil & gas, i.e. pipeline-routes — from Russia, Central Asia, and Iran, to Pakistan, India, and China.

    The Clinton and Bush II administrations were conducting pipeline negotiations with the Taliban, until 9/11 interrupted their discussions.

    • Before Sept 11, 2001, U.S. government’s main objective in Afghanistan was to obtain access to the oil and gas reserves in Central Asia. Until the preceeding August, the U.S. government saw the Taliban as a regime that would enable the construction of an oil pipeline across Central Asia from the oilfields in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the Indian Ocean. When the Taliban’s refused to accept U.S. conditions, “either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs” the US government decided to go to war. Bin Laden and Sept 11, 2001 was a most convenient excuse, not the raison d’etre.

    • The Taliban were in Houston in the summer of 2001 negotiating transit fees. According to an alleged eyewitness, when the talks broke down the Americans said they would be in Kabul before the snow flew. And they were.

  9. “In short, the whole strategy of the US, of rapidly training Afghan security forces who could establish order in the country, assumes that the Afghanistan National Army and the police will be loyal to Karzai. But how likely is that?”

    Not likely at all. Perhaps we are building up the Afghan military to stage a coup and run the country after we leave. Not that this would work for very long or be in our national interests except as political cover for our leaving.

  10. Travis —

    “The troubling question is what they died fighting for. My own hypothesis is that the US is still in Afghanistan at this late date mainly to shore up the central government of President Hamid Karzai.”

    How about the presidency of Barak Obama?

  11. Professor Cole, I wouldn’t worry too much… The US armed forces seem perfectly content to support our own paranoid, erratic, and corrupt government. Plus, we will never leave Afghanistan, so there is no real reason to ponder the capabilities of the Afghan National Forces anyway.

  12. According to His Royal Highness the Duke of York, at a luncheon in Kyrgyzstan immortalized by Wikileaks, the Brits and Americans are back in Central Asia to replay the Great Game with Russia and now China. This time, HRH intends to win.

  13. Four or five months ago this site featured an article by a Pakistani journalist detailing possible US attempts to carve off Baluchistan, or at least make it an autonomous province dominated by its three US airbases and the US-Navy-controlled deep water port at Gwadar . The arms supplied to the Baluch by the US to fight the Iranians are also being used to aid the secession from Pakistan, and the US is aware of this, and is exploiting the fact. The bases straddle the shortest route to Turkmenistan, and would allow the US to cut out Russia from the Central Asian energy business.
    I’m not saying I think this strategy would work out for America, or even that the speculation is accurate, but to me it highlights the difficulty in discerning among the many kinds of conspiracy theories that a man like Karzai must discern: the true, the plausible, the possible, and the utterly mad. I suspect his outbursts about the USA are more calculated than they appear, – he has to present himself as more than a puppet, after all, without also losing foreign support and ending up hanging from a lamppost.

    • Gwadar’s deep water port is a turnkey project which the government of China recently built on the SE coast of Pakistan. China envisions it as a pipeline terminus to bring oil and gas north through Balochistan and Qandahar.

      It is understandable, given our competitive ideology, that we would think consider thwarting China’s plans. But given the geography, history, and logistics of the situation, and that China is one of our main creditors, it’s astounding that we think we can succeed.

      • According to the article I referred to, China built the port and the US government finessed it from them by using their contacts in the Pakistan military, so now it has effectively become a US Navy Base. Like I said, I don’t know how true that is – damn interesting if it is, though.
        Incidentally, being in hock to China is unlikely to cause the US to scale back on its strategic competition – if anything, it could heighten it, as the neocon troglodytes plot ways to transform military might into economic advantage and bring about a New American Century. Also, if the debts are rapidly called in and the US dollar crashes, the colossal reserves held by China crash in value as well, so its not a form of leverage the Chinese can easily use.

        • China may be “finessed” out of Gwadar in the sense that Prof. Cole wrote recently (Tomgram, November 11: ‘The Asian Century?’) — “the U.S. could find itself in danger of being reduced to the role of impoverished foot soldier fighting for others’ interests.”

          An army marches on its stomach, and a military machine is fueled by finance. Balochistan could ultimately be split off from Pakistan, but the Beltway bandits can’t really think that China will finance a project by an insolvent Uncle Sam to exclude the Middle Kingdom from access to the oil & gas patch.

          Creditors obviously have an interest in being flexible with debtors, but debtors don’t have equal status with creditors. Margin calls, liquidations, evictions, foreclosures, repossessions, and creditor’s sales occur all the time.

          (I mistakenly wrote that Gwadar is on the SE coast of Pakistan. It is on the southwest coast, near Iran.)

  14. Would propping up an Afghanistan government make any more sense if it were less corrupt? Of course, it is unlikely to become less corrupt at the point of a gun.
    Perhaps the denouement of the Diem government is a cautionary tale.

    There are no al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

  15. US occupation of Afghanistan is legally and morally wrong. It is only to benefit the warlords namely the Northern Alliance, who are a brutal,corrupt ,greedy people who took advantage of the country after the Soviets were defeated. These people were unpatriotic to Afghanistan and actually worked for the communist government. Unfortunately the US government propped them up against the Taliban who were the real mujahidin and the real patriots.These people once coming to power ravaged their own country,looted its treasures ,raped its women and sent terror into the hearts of all Afghanis. In simple words after the Soviets were gone pandemonium broke loose. But it was the Taliban who brought law and order by putting an end to their atrocities. This was the time the US should have had a dialogue with Taliban. Clinton who was president at the time lost the golden opportunity of history. Instead he tended to ignore a people who brought law and order to chaotic region of the world. Thus the Mujahidin now known as Taliban who were once aided and abetted by the US were left high and dry. They felt orphaned ,humiliated and betrayed. The hate for the US was sown among the Afghanis. Karzai was set up as a puppet so that the US could enter Afghanistan again to occupy it for its highly strategic position. The presence of the US is profiting only the warlords today and not the ordinary afghan. The US see every turbaned pushtun as a taliban which is ignorant and stupid. THe US is bombing and destroying a historical country just like they destroyed Iraq. They have no business in Afghanistan. If they wish to help they should address the grievances of the Afghani public through effective infrastructure,educational establishments, Health Centers clinics,hospitals ,etc. After all the Mujahidin helped the US to stop the Soviets from gaining ground to spread Communism in the West. So the US wont be doing any big favor.They owe it to the Afghan people whom they used to fight their war against the Soviets. Now they are using thr Pakistanis to fight their war against the Pushtuns of Afghanistan. Does this not sound an unreasonable, dishonest opportunistic logic?
    Is this the end of the ‘Ugly American’?

  16. We badly need another leak. This time we require highly sensitive/confidential/clasified documents ala the Pentagon Papers. Only then will us common folk be able to discern the real reason(s) for our contined presence in Afghanistan and be able to weigh the terrible cost of blood and treasure against the goal.
    Our government will never willingly part with this information .
    Here’s hoping there’s someone in the bowels of DOD/CIA/DofS . . .

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