With the Axis of Evil
it just a few weeks ago that interim Afghan prime minister Hamid
Karzai was the darling of Washington? There he was during President
Bush's State of the Union address, making a fashion statement that
was lovingly analyzed by various fawning commentators the cape,
hat, shirt and trousers were apparently characteristic of different
regions in Afghanistan and wearing them all symbolized bringing
the country together.
a paragon of political wisdom! What a dashing collaborator in the
war on terrorism! What a feather in the administration political
cap! What a symbol of gravitas, good will and the eternal hope that
nation-building will actually work this time! If Hamid Karzai had
stuck around Washington long enough he probably could have created
a groundswell for the US presidency except for that pesky little
constitutional provision about being native born, which is also
keeping Arnold Schwarzenegger from fulfilling his manifest destiny.
I don't care about subsequent events, I still want one of those
cool Mazar-e-Sharif capes, even if it's a fad shared by others,
which I usually shun.
what was Washington's newest favorite doing earlier this week speaking
to the Iranian Majis or parliament? Was he boldly declaring his
solidarity with his American patrons, whose president had specifically
declared that Iran was one of the three members of the "Axis of
Evil" worth criticizing by name? Was he courageously telling the
Iranian legislators that they had better change their ways and get
in line, or the United States would slap them into shape and he
would be cheering from the neighboring border?
Karzai delivered to the Iranian parliament was not a stern ultimatum
but a message of thanks. Thanks for supporting Afghanistan in the
1980s war against Soviet domination and tyranny. Thanks for being
there for Afghan refugees. And thanks for not supporting the Taliban
regime at least not as strongly as did Pakistan, America's most
essential ally in the fabled war on terrorism.
will never forget your support of the Afghan nation's struggle against
the former Soviet Union and later against terrorists," Karzai told
the Iranian legislators, who cheered almost as wildly as did US
legislators on January 29. "You have shared our sorrows and pains,"
he said a bit later, "and millions of our refugees have been a big
burden on your shoulders." The speech was broadcast live on Iranian
also met with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He listened
respectfully to a lecture about how Afghanistan "should be
careful that the issue of reconstruction is not exploited by others
[Great Satan, anyone?] to infiltrate Afghanistan politically and
economically." In response, Karzai assured the ayatollah that "demands
for Islam and independence will determine the destiny of Afghanistan."
Hamid Karzai a treacherous hypocrite who should be unseated immediately
by the wise nation-builders at the Weekly Standard or more likely
by their preferred surrogates, the US military rather than waiting
for his six-month interregnum period to end? I've heard of grumbling
in certain quarters in Washington, but it's been relatively quiet
and is unlikely to result in any action.
because, as Ted Carpenter, honcho of defense and foreign policy
studies at the Cato Institute told me, that Karzai is fairly shrewdly
covering his bases and playing smart regional politics. Iran has
traditionally meddled in Afghanistan and there is a relatively active
separatist move by warlords in the western part of country. Hamid
Karzai has probably received quiet assurances that Iran won't actively
or overtly support western secessionists in exchange for nice words and perhaps more concrete assurances that the Karzai regime will
be solicitous of Iran's interests.
issue is a fairly live one. One Gulbiddin Hekmatyar, a Afghan warlord
currently in exile in Iran, has been branded a "war criminal" by
Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Omar Samad. "He will be treated
as a war criminal if he decides to return," said Samad.
enough, the Iranian government closed Hekmatyar's offices in Iran
earlier this month, a move the Associate Press figured was "apparently
aimed at easing tensions with the United States." It probably didn't
hurt relations with the provisional government in Afghanistan either.
Indeed, it may have been a necessary precondition for the glowing
words about Iran Karzai uttered earlier this week. The $500 million
over the next five years that Iran has pledged for reconstruction
in Afghanistan probably helped as well.
United States seems unlikely to interfere with all this calculated
lovey-doveyness between Iran and Afghanistan, then, although warhawks
who want to take the "axis of evil" nonsense seriously might try
to get the US government to slap his wrist or pressure him to be
beastly to Iran. That kind of hands-off policy would be a triumph
of relative realism.
the fact that the United States is likely to acquiesce in Karzai's
attempt to neutralize any potential threat from Iran underlines
the vapidity of the "axis of evil" rhetoric. As many commentators
have noted, while there are certainly evil things about the regimes
Iraq, Iran and North Korea, there's no evidence that they are allied
in anything resembling an axis. And while all of them might be said
to pose a potential threat to US interests imperially conceived,
none of them are an immediate threat.
wonders if an unstated backing away from the rhetorical overkill
of the State of the Union address is behind the recent confirmation
that David Frum, the ambitious Canadian neoconservative writer,
is leaving the White House speechwriting staff. The story is that
Mr. Frum formulated the notorious headline-grabbing combination
of words and his wife, writer Danielle Crittenden, bragged about
it in an e-mail to friends that somehow made it to the public prints,
leading to a modest amount of handwringing about the journalistic
ethics of publicizing private e-mails.
Robert Novak and the Drudge Report said yesterday, Frum and the
White House deny any connection, of course, saying that Frum had
already decided to leave and had made his intentions known before
the State of the Union speech was delivered. However, President
Bush, during his recent visit to South Korea, had already backed
away from the most bellicose implications of his comments about
North Korea. Maybe he's backing away without saying so, of
course from the idea that these three countries deserve the
most intense prewar scrutiny.
the other hand, according to any number of people in Washington
I have talked to in recent months and a couple of stories Dubya
is said to be more hard-nosed than any president in recent memory
on the matter of leaks from the White House. He has apparently told
staffers that any leaks, even benevolent ones, will lead to immediate
sackings, and most staffers have no doubt he means it.
possibility that the masters of the universe in Washington will
let Hamid Karzai look after Afghanistan's relations with its neighbors
raises the possibility that the urge to engage in ambitious nation-building
might be resisted as well. The evidence based on inferences from
public statements, not anything resembling inside information is that a fairly large-scale struggle among the Bushies is now underway.
week Colin Powell, who seems to have been captured thoroughly by
his State Department constituency and forgotten his earlier aversion
to nation-building, dropped hints that the US should prepare for
a long-term commitment in Afghanistan that might involve the presence
of up to 30,000 troops. It is certainly true that the level of chaos
and intergroup conflict in Afghanistan has risen of late, and stability
might be seen as a chimerical rather than a realistic hope.
week Gen. Tommy Franks, without openly referring to Powell's comments,
said that the United States should be thinking about wrapping up
military operations in Afghanistan as quickly as possible. My read
is that the uniformed services (as did Secretary Powell when he
was still in the military) still prefer that the military be used
for combat or combat-like operations with something resembling clear
objectives and exit strategies. Meanwhile the diplomats are still entranced
by the idea of shaping the world and using the military to get recalcitrant
countries to resemble the bureaucratized social democracies that
are the degraded ideal these days.
intergroup conflict has been the norm in Afghanistan for decades,
though there have been periods of relative calm. The country was
formed not from any logical grouping of ethnic, social or historical
concatenation of interests, but as a buffer between the old British
and Russian empires. It might or might not survive as a unified
country. Trying to build a centralized bureaucracy there the kind
of institution most nation-builders view as the desirable norm is more likely to intensify conflicts than to ameliorate them.
whole Afghan situation might become moot, of course, as various
forces in Washington prepare for what seems an inevitable confrontation
with Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. I'd count on something macho
before the November elections.
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