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The United States gets nothing out of shaming Karzai 2010-May-10 at 12:36 PST

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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Obama makes personal diplomacy part of Afghan strategy, by Scott Wilson and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, 9-May-2010

President Obama has bluntly instructed his national security team to treat Afghan President Hamid Karzai with more public respect, after a recent round of heavy-handed statements by U.S. officials and other setbacks infuriated the Afghan leader and called into question his relationship with Washington.

Karzai’s meeting with Obama in the Oval Office on Wednesday will be the centerpiece of a rare extended visit. Over the next four days, Karzai and many of his senior cabinet ministers will be publicly embraced and privately reassured by Obama of the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan, which officials say will endure long after American forces begin leaving in July 2011.

Karzai has been frightened by the deadline, U.S. officials acknowledge. Obama intends to devote much of his meeting with him to spelling out a long-term relationship that includes far fewer U.S. troops but deeper diplomatic and economic support.

This is a simple, brilliant move by the President.  So let’s just state the obvious truth:

Did Karzai steal the election?  Yeah, probably.

Is his brother completely corrupt?  It sure looks that way.

Does the United States benefit from continuing to remind them of that?  Uh, well… no.  Not at all.  We get absolutely nothing from it.

How can we get the level of cooperation from this government that we absolutely need if we keep reminding them that we don’t like them and don’t think they’re legitimate?  What difficult things will they be willing to do for us if we treat them like this?  What do they expect from us in this situation?

Let me emphasize this sentence: “Karzai has been frightened by the deadline, U.S. officials acknowledge.”  If you were frightened by something that you had to accomplish, and the very people that you’re counting on to help you accomplish it are publicly calling you corrupt and illegitimate, how would you feel?  Would you trust the very people who are criticizing you to be invested completely in your success?  I wouldn’t… and so you start to understand why President Karzai threatened last month that he might even join with the Taliban in trying to govern.

Conservatives generally like to treat foreign policy as a matter of national interests… personalities only matter to the extent they get in the way of talking about true interests.  Liberals generally like to treat foreign policy as if it were a matter merely of psychology… just be nice to people and try to understand them, good things will come.  The Integral perspective is: they’re both true, it just depends on the situation.  It depends on the level of development of the players, and the level of development of the nations involved, and the overall amount of pressure that’s involved in the given negotiation.

In this case, President Obama wisely reconciles the positions by realizing that the psychological aspects of this are getting in the way of our national interests, and ultimately the national interests of Afghanistan as well.  So when the United States says nice things about Karzai… recognize that it’s good for both of us that we do, and if it makes you shift uncomfortably in your seat when you hear it, try to take the broader view that the White House is taking.

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