Chuck Hagel’s Tour of Failure


Hagel finally found a friend in Afghanistan.

It’s hard to imagine how Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s travels this week could have gone any worse. Starting off with horrible optics, Hagel began his trip with a stop in Bahrain. Although it appears that he at least had enough sense not to appear in front of the cameras with him, he did meet with Bahrian’s king even though the country continues a brutal crackdown on protests, in which mass punishment and torture by the king’s forces have been documented as ongoing. Hagel did appear in front of the cameras though, to “share a laugh” with Egypt’s foreign minister (see this photo essay and scroll down) while in Bahrain, so he did manage a public appearance with a regime engaged in violent suppression of its people.

Hagel moved on to Afghanistan. The US press had already warned us ahead of the visit that he and Karzai were not scheduled to meet even though the US is in the midst of applying incredible amounts of pressure to convince Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement by the end of this year. Or perhaps by the NATO meeting in February. Or whenever. Not content to settle for a mere snub, though, Karzai went a step further in his disrespect to Hagel. Under a story with the headline “President Karzai Leaves for Iran, While Hagel Still in Kabul“, Tolo News informed us yesterday of Karzai’s latest move:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a high-ranking delegation departed Kabul on Sunday to meet with Iranian officials, including Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Karzai is visiting Iran to negotiate with Iranian officials on bilateral relations between Tehran and Kabul, the Presidential Palace said in a statement.

Karzai will meet his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani today in Tehran, the statement added.

Karzai’s visit to Iran took place while the United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is visiting U.S forces in Afghanistan.

It appears that Karzai was treated quite well in Tehran:

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And RT informs us that a security deal between Iran and Afghanistan now appears likely (h/t to Greg Bean for alerting me to this link via Twitter).

Think about that. Hagel came to Afghanistan with no Karzai meeting arranged and then while he was there, Karzai went to Tehran and announced a pending agreement. It can’t get much worse than that.

Or can it? Hagel’s next stop was Pakistan. He met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, where Sharif told him that drone strikes must stop. But while Hagel was there, the US “announced” that NATO shipments through Pakistan would resume since protests against drones have stopped. From the same Express Tribune article about the meeting with Sharif:

But a US defence official told reporters in Kabul that the suspension of shipments via Pakistan had been lifted because the protests had stopped, removing the threat to Nato trucks that move through the Torkham gate pass.

Except that the protests have not stopped. So it appears that the US withdrew that statement. From Dawn:

The visit came as Hagel’s deputies withdrew Sunday’s statement that said Nato shipments out of Afghanistan through Pakistan were to resume due to the end of anti-drone protests.

And as an added bonus, we have yet another incident of NATO supply trucks using the southern route in Afghanistan being attacked, so perhaps pressure is being ratcheted up on that route as well.

Perhaps it is time for Mr. Hagel to come home.

11 replies
  1. Don Bacon says:

    On to Saudi Arabia and Qatar!
    Democracy in action.

    As for Karzai, he’s on to India this week. There are concerns in that country about the pending BSA as one can read here.

    In Iran: “Afghanistan agreed on a long-term friendship and cooperation pact with Iran,” Karzai’s spokesman Aimal Faizi said. “The pact will be for long-term political, security, economic and cultural cooperation, regional peace and security.” And no BSA, Iran hopes.

    Juan Cole has commented on the importance of Iran, which has ethnic ties to people in northern Afghanistan.

    Most importantly, it seems to me, a friendlier US-Iran relationship could contribute to a soft landing in Afghanistan. As the US withdraws all but a few thousand troops from that country and confines the remaining ones to a role as trainers and advisers to the Afghanistan National Army, the specter arises that Pashtun Sunni extremists (the Taliban, Hizb-i Islami, the Haqqani group and others) could launch an all-out attempt to topple the government in Kabul.

    Iran has strong ties to the Tajiks (Persian-speaking Sunnis) and to the Hazaras (Persian-speaking Shiites), and good relations with the Uzbeks of the north (who tend not to be adherents of political Islam). That is, Iran supports ethnic groups that are disproportionately present in the Afghanistan National Army and who despise Talibanism (which is mainly a Pashtun phenomenon, though a majority of Pashtuns also despise it). Iran’s support for the elected government in Kabul will be important to its survival, especially since far right wing elements in Pakistan and the Gulf may back the Taliban increasingly openly as the US contingent shrinks.

    Of course this would require sensible US diplomacy, so it’s out of the question when drones could be used instead.

  2. TarheelDem says:

    The frontline states met in Istanbul in 2011 to lay the foundation for supporting Afghanistan’s security and territorial integrity. That meeting was organized by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization but the US was an observer. Karzai is going around firming up that support it seems. Has he consulted Pakistan yet, or will that call be among the last?

    For Karzai, the key point is to get foreign troops out of Afghanistan. Iranian support of the Afghanistan military and guarantees to the non-Pashtuns deal with what had been a base of the Northern Alliance. Is the Northern Alliance on board with these moves?

    Karzai himself is Pashtun and it is not clear at all how far his political power in the Pashtun community extends. The Loya Jirga that requested signature on the BSA must have had some substantial popular Pashtun leaders involved or why bother.

    Hagel has now seen on the ground what the situation is. The people who have been bullshitting him have been exposed as liars. What does he do with this information? Sometimes that old military “Can do” attitude creates more problems than it solves.

    The trip to personally talk with the leaders of Bahrain is interesting, and it seems that some sort of consultation is going on with Egypt. If the US normalizes relations with Iran, the stated purpose of the basing of the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain disappears along with the US lease payments.

    Is the US pushing Egypt as a co-guarantor of Bahrain security, given the difficulty that the US is having with the Saudis?

    That would allow the US to take all that hardware elsewhere.

  3. Anonsters says:

    Dear Jim:

    If you want me to read your posts, please don’t include pictures of cute dogs in them for me to stare at and wish I had a dog, instead.



  4. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    Good one Jim, yup, time for Hagel to come home, and with the now much reduced chance of a BSA with Afghanistan, likely very nearly time for the troops to come home too.

    The move by Iran to cement a relationship with Afghanistan is very clever.

    First off it is natural, and therefore very powerful and likely to be long-lasting, with may people from Iran and Afghanistan speaking the same language and of a Persian background. Second, under Rouhani, Iran provides a model that Afghanistan could use to evolve into a more modern state. And third, if Iran pursues further agreements with its neighbor states, thus becoming the ME power center it has the potential to become, it will dramatically undermine the much more repressive regimes in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

    Iran, up until 1979 when the Shah was over thrown was a model of western modernization. It over corrected for a time but now after 35 years appears to be tracking back towards its previous character.

    If it continues as it has begun it may well re-balance the ME though in doing so will dramatically diminish US influence throughout the region. Likely a good thing considering the regimes the US supports there.

    Interesting times.

  5. Don Bacon says:

    News headline:
    Dick Cheney: President Obama does not believe in American Exceptionalism

    How can a country be Exceptional when it’s Irrelevant?
    How does that work — American Irrelevantism?

  6. TarheelDem says:

    @Don Bacon: And Cheney himself built that. Dick Cheney, the architect of American Irrelevantism. How does that Ahmed Chalabi fellow look now, Richard Bruce Cheney?

  7. Don Bacon says:


    . Karzai is going around firming up that support it seems. Has he consulted Pakistan yet, or will that call be among the last?

    News report, Nov 30
    Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has promised to help facilitate peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

    Mr Sharif was speaking after meeting Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul.

    He said that meetings would be encouraged between Mr Karzai’s representatives and Mullah Baradar, a former Taliban commander released from detention in Pakistan last year.

  8. Don Bacon says:

    Hagel is a serious lightweight — so he fits right in the Obama administration along with Obama, Rice, Power and Kerry. Losers.

    Now the adults are in the room in Asia, and that includes Russia, China, India, Iran, Pakistan — and also Karzai.

    Meanwhile Hagel is off to visit the fat-ass royalty in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, countries with zero democracy, except in Saudi Arabia where men can vote in local elections but women can’t drive. Hail Hagel, on his Failure Tour.

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