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NewsOpinionEditorial

Pulling the plug on Karzai

Barack ObamaTalibanAfghanistanGeorge W. BushAl-QaedaNATO

After four and half years of dealing with Afghan President Harmid Karzai's temper tantrums, depressions and crazy mood swings, it's no wonder President Barack Obama has grown weary of playing baby sitter to this spoiled child of an ally. Perhaps that's why he floated a trial balloon this week, attributed to unnamed administration officials, that the U.S. might speed up the withdrawal of American and NATO forces from Afghanistan well before their previously agreed upon exit date at the end of 2014. Reports today indicate Mr. Obama has grown so frustrated by his dealings with the mercurial Mr. Karzai that he is seriously considering a "zero option" that would leave no American forces there at all after next year.

We seriously doubt the cool-headed Mr. Obama would allow his emotions to divert him from the measured path he has pursued thus far toward bringing America's longest war to a close. But the erratic behavior of the ally he inherited from his predecessor must surely tempt him to cut the country's losses in Afghanistan more quickly. The Afghan leader just doesn't get it. The U.S. made it possible for him to be elected president in the first place by chasing the Taliban from power and preventing their return. Then former President George W. Bush virtually held Mr. Karzai's hand every step of the way as he put together one of the most corrupt and incompetent governments in the world on the U.S.' dime.

Now, in a fit of pique over President Obama's attempt to help broker peace between Mr. Karzai and his Taliban foes, our man in Kabul is refusing to talk to us at all. With friends like him, who needs enemies? If this is how Mr. Karzai thinks strategic partners should treat each other, we're better off without him.

More than a year ago President Obama laid out a clear vision of how the U.S. should go about extricating itself from Afghanistan. He said that the U.S. would begin by gradually turning over responsibility for the country's security to Afghan forces — a transition that was completed last month more or less on schedule. That has freed up most of the 63,000 U.S. troops currently in the country to depart by the end of 2014, leaving behind only a small residual force in a training and advisory role. After that, the U.S. would continue to provide economic and development aid, assist in anti-terrorist missions to prevent al-Qaida's return and encourage efforts to root out corruption in the Afghan government.

But now Mr. Karzai is threatening to withdraw from talks aimed at completing those arrangements if the U.S. doesn't break off contact with the Taliban and accede to a laundry list of unreasonable security demands that would in effect keep our troops tied up in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. In the unkindest cut of all, he's accused the U.S. of conspiring with his enemies to undermine his authority by cutting a separate peace deal with the Taliban and allowing Pakistan to continue meddling in his country's affairs by giving the insurgents a green light to set up sanctuaries on its territory. As long as the Taliban are free to regroup and plan further attacks from Pakistan, Mr. Karzai charges, they will never have any incentive to make peace with his government.

That may well be true, but it can't be America's problem forever. Mr. Obama acknowledged that reality last year when he insisted there are some things that only the Afghans can do for themselves. "Our goal is not to build a country in America's image, or to eradicate every vestige of the Taliban," he said. "These objectives would require many more years, many more dollars and many more American lives" — sacrifices Americans are no longer willing to continue making indefinitely for a country that at best often seems ambivalent about our presence there. Mr. Karzai's unreliable personal qualities and feckless leadership have given the U.S. more than enough reason to consider speeding up its planned troop withdrawal, and the sooner we get out the better.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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