Apr 122010

Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made the rounds on the Sunday morning shoes to talk about, among other things, the United States’ newfound respect and admiration for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Clinton called Karzai a “reliable partner.” Now this may perplex you, dear reader, as earlier this month White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters called recent Karzai statements “genuinely troubling.” Let me explain.

The administration has decided that publicly berating Karzai was not working. Rather than lead to the change we can believe in, it lead to a stalemate. One of the first rules of counterinsurgency is to have a partner amongst the population. Such on one hand, the United States must court Karzai and the central government it created; on the other it is trying to bypass the system itself and create a decentralized state more conducive to Afghanistan. That is, they are courting multiple partners to the frustration and confusion of everyone involved. On Sunday, Clinton and Gates were promoting a new kind of reconciliation with Karzai. That’s fine. I just have one beef with it. At a few points during Sunday’s interviews, Clinton suggested that the strained relationship was in due in part to “outlandish claims” made in American media. Bob Schieffer of CBS News’ Face the Nation asked specifically about reports in the New York Times and Clinton said that Afghans have this crazy idea that reports in the U.S. media reflect the views.

“A leader often thinks, ‘Well, it wouldn’t be printed if the government weren’t behind it.’ And so we do have some explaining to do, if you will, and that’s not just true in Afghanistan. We see that in many different countries around the world,” she told Schieffer.

Oh those crazy Afghans. The problem is that the Afghans are often right to construe the administration is speaking through the press. Many times the administration – all administrations really – use newspapers like the New York Times to channel their views on a particular topic, situation or in this case leader. That is why stories are inundated with anonymous senior administration officials. So to suggest that somehow the Afghans misread the message and that the media has just run amok is simply disingenuous.

What really happened is that the administration in channeling a new message; we like Karzai. Sunday you saw two top officials go on the record with that. In the days ahead, you will a more nuanced view of this from senior administration officials. You can read all about in papers like the New York Times. That is not media run amok; that is an administration switching its position.
Jonathan S. Landay (national security and intelligence), Warren P. Strobel

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