Did Obama’s Handling of Karzai When Visiting Kabul Put Bilateral Security Agreement at Risk?

Demonstrating once again that electoral politics trumps all other considerations for his administration, Barack Obama mostly went along with the military’s recommendation (successful US political campaigns NEVER contradict the military) on troop levels in Afghanistan after this year, announcing a force size of 9800 after the military had requested 10,000 to 12,000 troops. Even the one instance of bucking military hawks comes from an electoral standpoint, as he announced that the force size will be cut in half after a year and then taken to only a handful by the end of 2016, which magically coincides with when Obama expects to triumphantly ride off into the sunset. Republicans are upset about an announced end to the troop presence, rather than allowing “conditions on the ground”, which is shorthand for letting the military do what it damn well pleases, to dictate force levels, but Obama seems to think that putting the end of our troop presence just before the next presidential election will get troops out at the one time electoral blowback will be minimized.

Obama’s announcement came with a large helping of arrogance in the handling of his invitation to meet with Karzai during the surprise visit to Kabul over the weekend. Although Obama fully intended his poor treatment of Karzai, he seems to have raised the ire of many more Afghans with his actions. Will that put the Bilateral Security Agreement, on which his troop size plan depends, at risk? From Khaama Press:

President Hamid Karzai was praised by Afghans for rejecting the invitation by President Barack Obama to meet him in Bagram air base.

A last-minute invitation was sent to President Karzai to come to Bagram air base as Obama arrived to Afghanistan on Sunday following an unannounced visit to meet with the US troops.

White House officials said, “We did offer him the opportunity to come to Bagram, but we’re not surprised that it didn’t work on short notice.”

Obama’s plan on troop levels is fully dependent on the winner of next month’s presidential runoff signing the Bilateral Security Agreement that Karzai has refused to sign. Although both Abdullah and Ghani have said they will sign it, their responses to the handling of Karzai are very interesting. Returning to the same Khaama Press article:

In the meantime, Abdullah Abdullah, one of the leading candidates in Afghanistan’s presidential race, said the decision by President Karzai not to go to Bagram was “respectful to the people of Afghanistan.”

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, one of the other leading candidates, told Wall Street Journal in an interview that he wasn’t privy to the security discussions surrounding Mr. Obama’s visit.

Some Afghans saw the episode as a deliberate snub and said the U.S. leader didn’t respect diplomatic protocol.

Ghani said, “We do understand security concerns, but adhering to protocol helps cementing relationships.”

Obama has set himself up for a huge problem here. It looks as though both Abdullah and Ghani are indicating that they expect to be treated with the respect due to the office of President. Should Obama continue his cavalier attitude of simply assuming the BSA will be signed once the winner is sworn into office, he could be in for a big surprise.

On the other hand, there are still the four billion US dollars every year that come with our continued presence (and all the attendant opportunities for embezzlement), so perhaps in the end Obama can continue his arrogance without fear of consequences. With that in mind, the role of that final handful of military personnel to be left in Afghanistan after 2016 stands out. From the Washington Post article linked above:

At the end of that year, the force will shrink to the size of a regular armed forces assistance group, largely to handle military sales, under the authority of the U.S. ambassador.

Even after our troops are gone, the US will do everything it can to keep enriching military contractors.

13 replies
  1. TarheelDem says:

    Did Obama’s Handling of Karzai When Visiting Kabul Put Bilateral Security Agreement at Risk?

    Can we hope so? But what does Karzai’s successor have in mind? Isn’t Karzai in a weird shadow period between power in the shadow of Uncle Sam and extreme lame duckitude? And isn’t his successor on even shakier ground–between hugging the occupier and being irrelevant?

    If I were President (which fortunately for you guys I am not), I would be busy working to get the Afghan government to kick us out completely–military, contractors, the whole deal–without having fingerprints on it that risked a “Who lost Afghanistan?” domestic reaction. And I would be easing into a strategic relationship in which a balance of China, India, Pakistan, Russia, Iran, and Turkey stablized and developed Central Asia. Domestic US politics will not allow those sorts of strategic visions that back away from hegemony toward practicality.

  2. bloopie2 says:

    Maybe I’m fighting above my weight with this comment, but here goes.

    “Even after our troops are gone, the US will do everything it can to keep enriching military contractors.”

    Does the US government control/authorize all military sales to countries like Afghanistan? If so, are you implying that we should change our foreign policy and not sell to Afghanistan, per se? If that is the case, that is a different position than “government supports arms dealers and I don’t like that”. If, on the other hand, our government does not so control, then should we let the contractors go and sell whatever they want? I appreciate the frustration with the obvious military-industrial connection, but I don’t see the alternative.

    And can you advise – what do other arms supplier countries do in this regard?


  3. Don Bacon says:

    Looks like Abdullah, and he’s “safe” for the U.S.

    reprint of my ew comment
    — February 26, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    The guy to watch in the Afghan presidential is Abdullah Abdullah, who called his movement the Coalition for Hope and Change — I kid you not — and also was a favorite of the Washington crowd. A couple years ago (not recently) he visited Washington and met with Senators Diane Feinstein, Carl Levin, John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, Lindsey Graham, Jack Reed, Richard Burr also Congressman David Drier, Mike Rogers, Howard Berman, Gary Ackerman, Dana Rohrabacher and Democratic Minority Leader Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi

    A-A lost to Karzai fiver years ago in a rigged election, and I suspect he’s being set up to win this one. So the whole Karzai chatter may be a cover for the US fave to take over and sign the BSA.

    Bernard-Henri Lévy, who was instrumental in bringing us Libya, was once a huge A-A supporter but has been silent. Lévy in March 2012: “Abdullah Abdullah…Remember this name. Recall it, if you have forgotten it. For Afghanistan and its friends, it is perhaps the very last card left to play.”

    Lévy has been occupied with Ukraine, making a rah-rah democracy speech in Maidan square, perhaps he’s been too busy for time in Kabul. (end)
    The main problem is that Abdullah a past Northern Alliance guy, pro-India and anti-Pakistan. So this proxy war will continue. Pakistan’s worst fear is an India ally on its western flank.

    • wallace says:

      quote”The guy to watch in the Afghan presidential is Abdullah Abdullah, who called his movement the Coalition for Hope and Change — I kid you not —”unquote

      (shaking head in utter disbelief) You can’t make this shit up. All I know is there’s a monumental joke in there somewhere.

  4. wallace says:

    quote”(successful US political campaigns NEVER contradict the military)”unquote

    Shades of JFK. Of course not. After all, the CIA/DOD ARE the government.

    quote”I am an Assistant United States Attorney in the office of Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, attorney for defendants -appellees the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, and the Central Intelligence Agency…. (collectively, the “government”)”unquote


    The 3 branches ALWAYS supports their masters. While they may be dumb..they ain’t stupid. Especially now that the DOD’s NSA knows every move they make. Even Feinstein learned her lesson. And now, it appears Wyden/Udall did too, notwithstanding numerous Judges. However, now that Greenwald is going to release a list of NSA surveillance victims ..well..we’ll see what happens. At the moment though, I have $1k that says Clapper is in meltdown mode. Alas..I digress. My apology.

    • Don Bacon says:

      Regarding contradicting the military, the mold has been broken after Harry Truman passed.
      “It’s the fellows who go to West Point and are trained to think they’re gods in uniform that I plan to take apart”.–Harry S Truman
      “I didn’t fire him [General MacArthur] because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three quarters of them would be in jail.” — Harry Truman
      “I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.”
      – Harry Truman

  5. Don Bacon says:

    oopsy — I said the war will continue, and yesterday Obama said it would end this year.
    Obama: “…2014, therefore, is a pivotal year. Together with our allies and the Afghan government, we have agreed that this is the year we will conclude our combat mission in Afghanistan.”
    I could post my lengthy list of “turning point” quotes again — but I’ll only post the earliest three.–
    * September 12, 2006: “The Afghan front is at a critical turning point that imperils many of the hard-fought successes of the early phase of the conflict and the prospects for snaring bin Laden.”
    * September 22, 2005: “Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s foreign minister, called the recent parliamentary elections ‘a major turning point‘ on his country’s path to democracy.”
    * January 27, 2004: “A statement from U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad called the enactment of the constitution a ‘turning point for the Afghan nation.’”

  6. wallace says:

    quote”I could post my lengthy list of “turning point” quotes again — but I’ll only post the earliest three.–”unquote

    Obama=speechwriters job security blanket. Meanwhile, I can see them rolling on the floor in gut splitting laughter(in private of course) every time they have to cover for Obama’s last turning point speech.

  7. Don Bacon says:

    Somebody in the Obama-lackey crowd didn’t tell Pakistan that the war is nearly over.
    news report:
    Pakistan’s military has fired nearly 700 artillery shells on two Afghan districts in the bordering Kunar province since Saturday, a rapid increase ahead of the June 14 runoff poll.
    Afghan officials have counted 693 artillery shells landed in Dangam and Shegal districts of Kunar, said the provincial police chief, Gen Habib Sayedkhili. More than 130 families have fled their homes in the two districts. (end)
    Kunar is shown here.
    I suspect that Pakistan’s clients the Taliban didn’t get the memo either.

  8. Don Bacon says:


    “I think Americans have learned that it’s harder to end wars than it is to begin them,” the president said, restating a truism embedded within Pentagon planning at least since the Korean War. “Yet this is how wars end in the 21st century—not through signing ceremonies but through decisive blows against our adversaries, transitions to elected governments, security forces who are trained to take the lead and ultimately full responsibility.”

    Pure BS. Americans have learned, rather, that their elected representatives, Obama being a principal one, are unworthy of their votes and their support due to these worthless never-ending wars, which is why only a bare majority of eligible citizens vote in presidential elections (fewer in off-year ones) and why Americans’ support for Congress hovers at about five per cent and most Americans say that the country is going in the wrong direction.
    Of course what Obama “thinks” has always been a waste, so there is consistency there.

  9. Don Bacon says:

    Regarding Obama’s handling of President Karzai, not as an equal ally as the US professes but as a lackey, not recognizing Afghan sovereignty at all, we can expect no change in that relationship which means that the new president will (after signing the BSA) come to realize that he is only a US servant too, and he will rebel as Karzai has done.
    It reminds me of Gertrude Bell, the ‘founder’ of modern Iraq who encountered a difficult slog there:
    —Gertrude Bell, 1920:

    “In the light of the events of the last two months there’s no getting out of the conclusion that we have made an immense failure here. The system must have been far more at fault than anything that I or anyone else suspected. It will have to be fundamentally changed and what that may mean exactly I don’t know. I suppose we have underestimated the fact that this country is really an inchoate mass of tribes which can’t as yet be reduced to any system.”

    So the US will continue to send its troops and its contractors to Afghanistan and we shall see “how wars end in the 21st century” — hah.

  10. ArizonaBumblebee says:

    When the Democrats and President Obama came to power in 2009, they found a country in crisis from eight years of misrule by the Bush Administration. Unfortunately for the country, President Obama decided to emulate LBJ and Bill Clinton instead of following in the footsteps of FDR. As a result, there were virtually no prosecutions of Wall Street banksters and the torturers were protected from prosecution. All the while, the new president continued to pursue the Bush Administration policies on national security, which had led to endless wars in the Islamic world, an out-of-control NSA, and a dysfunctional VA. Meanwhile, the country is still in crisis. Stagnant wages, festering unemployment, and income inequality are all signs of a sick economy. And when they are added to the problem of unsustainable deficits, it is a recipe for an existential crisis in our society. Unfortunately, the President seems to spend most of his time dodging questions about the NSA (and now the VA) or managing a series of endless conflicts in countries as diverse as Syria, Ukraine, Libya, Afghanistan, and Mali. The time, energy, and resources needed to address a country’s problems are finite, and America is not immune from those constraints. We have become the world’s busybody and bully, and we don’t have the resources to continue these roles much longer without going the way of earlier empires.

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