For well over a decade, Americans have made an extraordinary commitment to help the people of Afghanistan move past the terrors of the Taliban and achieve stability.
That commitment has been shown in the service of thousands of U.S. troops, including Nebraska and Iowa Guard members, who battled insurgents, braved roadside bombs and ambushes, who transported supplies, provided security and even taught advanced farming techniques. It has come in the form of U.S.-funded reconstruction projects, utility construction, road building and police and military training.
The commitment has included the farsighted work of the University of Nebraska at Omaha in strengthening Afghanistan’s educational system and helping young Afghan women hone their skills as teachers.
Above all, the U.S. commitment has taken the form of more than $500 billion expended and more than 2,000 American lives lost.
All of this in an effort to obliterate the al-Qaida presence, jettison the Taliban regime and help residents of that isolated, impoverished, ethnically fractious country achieve a constructive path.
This isn’t say that Afghans have had no reason for complaint over the years. Sometimes U.S. officials have done a poor job of navigating the country’s ethnic and political complexities. For a long while, the Iraq War pulled U.S. attention away from Afghanistan and its woes.
But nothing excuses the ongoing irresponsibility displayed by Afghanistan’s outgoing president, Hamid Karzai. Americans have long put up with his unpredictability and petulance, as well as the corruption that’s characterized his presidency.
Now, Karzai’s actions and rhetoric have moved to being outright obstacles to progress at a crucial transition point.
First, he refused in November to sign the bilateral security agreement by which the United States would continue to provide military training and other assistance once the general withdrawal of U.S. troops is completed by the end of this year.
For months, Karzai has arbitrarily thrown down roadblocks that, as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said this week, are hindering U.S. and Afghan efforts to plan for the post-2014 military mission. “You can’t just keep deferring and deferring, because at some point the realities of planning and budgeting — it collides,” Hagel said.
On top of that comes the reporting this week by the Washington Post that Karzai is fomenting allegations that our country “may have aided or conducted shadowy insurgent-style attacks to undermine his government.”
Karzai, the Post reported, has compiled a list of dozens of incidents he lays at the feet of our country, including the recent bomb and gun assault on a Kabul restaurant frequented by foreigners. The Taliban has publicly said it carried out many of the attacks on Karzai’s list, including the restaurant attack, in which 21 people were killed.
U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham correctly characterizes Karzai’s allegations as “a deeply conspiratorial view that’s divorced from reality.”
As U.S. troop levels wind down and Afghanistan prepares for a presidential election in April, Karzai ought to be working for smooth transition on the security and political fronts. Instead, he has made the security situation more uncertain and worsened concerns among Afghans that he may seek to meddle in the nation’s politics after he leaves office.
The most reassuring thing is that the public and other leaders in Afghanistan have given no signal that they endorse Karzai’s irresponsibility. If a capable successor is elected president, Afghanistan may have a renewed chance for progress.
How regrettable it is that Afghanistan could have positioned itself for a more successful transition if it had a leader with the judgment and temperament the country deserves.