Everybody Loves Hamid Karzai
Afghan leader Hamid Karzai is in Washington, and, in a far cry from last year's visit -- in which he was practically snubbed in favor of his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, and given a whole lot of "tough love" regarding corruption and drug trafficking in his government -- this year the American political set is doing their very best to wine and dine and woo him.
But why? Yes, there are his obvious, rugged good looks and his hat-wearing aplomb. (Seriously, you try to pull off that hat.) But there's more to it than that.
The New York Times suggests that we are beginning a "new charm offensive."
As such, Karzai's itinerary reads like a particularly spectacular date night. Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, ambassador to Afghanistan, escorted Karzai personally on the flight from Kabul to Washington. Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative to the region, met him at Andrews Air Force Base upon arrival. Hillary Clinton will take him for a lovely Georgetown stroll, and Joe Biden will host him at a private dinner at the vice president's mansion.
The new warmth is oozing all the way to the Oval Office. President Obama, in an unusual show of hospitality and presidential attention toward a visiting foreign delegation, will be host to Mr. Karzai and others in his government for almost a full day at the White House, including a lunch on Wednesday followed by a rare joint news conference.
Love fest! It seems we've realized that, like a mother-in-law, Karzai is here for the duration. Per Richard Fontaine, a former foreign policy adviser to Senator John McCain: "It's sunk in, after the Afghan elections last year, that this is the guy who's going to be here for four years and change, so we better get along with him because we don't have an alternative."
So the catching-more-flies-with-honey policy goes forward full force, despite officials privately admitting that corruption is still a big issue in the Afghan government and, to tell the truth, we're not even sure how much we like the guy. But for the time being, the tactic is to win Karzai over. Then we decide what to do with him.
While the administration "is in kiss-and-make-up mode," said Brian Katulis, a foreign policy expert with the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy group with ties to the administration, "the fundamental issues remain the same. We have not articulated what our endgame in Afghanistan is. What exactly are we asking Karzai to do?"
Well, that's just Dating 101. First you hook 'em, then you decide whether or not you want to throw 'em back -- and how far, exactly, you'll go with them in the meantime.