Daniel Schulman

Senior Editor

Based in DC, Dan covers politics and national security. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, the Village Voice, the Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. He is the author of the new Koch brothers biography, Sons of Wichita (Grand Central Publishing). Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.

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Did Obama Take Liz Cheney's Advice?

| Sat Apr. 10, 2010 8:23 AM EDT

Has the Obama administration taken Liz Cheney's tongue-lashing to heart? At the Southern Republican Leadership Conference on Thursday she blasted the White House for routinely dressing down Hamid Karzai and said the Afghan leader was "being treated to an especially dangerous and juvenile display from this White House."

Whether or not the administration heeded Cheney's warning, it is certainly softening its approach toward Karzai in recognition of the fact that "tough love" diplomacy was only driving a further wedge between the Afghan president and US officials. The New York Times reports on the administration's abrupt attitude change:

The difference in approach was evident in two recent scenes on Air Force One.

Scene 1, March 28: Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, visited reporters flying with the president from Washington to Kabul and promised that President Obama would take on the Afghan president for ignoring American demands on corruption and drug trafficking.

Scene 2, Friday: General Jones visited reporters, this time traveling with the president to Washington from Prague, and told them that Mr. Obama had sent Mr. Karzai a thank-you note expressing gratitude to the Afghan leader for dinner in Kabul. “It was a respectful letter,” General Jones said.

What happened between these two scenes? Mr. Karzai publicly lashed out against Western governments, hosted the president of Iran and said he would join the Taliban if the international community kept pressuring him.

Obama administration officials maintain that they are not going to return to the days when President George W. Bush and Mr. Karzai would have twice-monthly videoconferences. But the pivot reflects a recognition that public pressure on Mr. Karzai may have driven him away. “In some ways, we want to do more of the love part of ‘tough love,’ and less of the tough part,” a senior administration official said.
 

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Liz Cheney's SRLC Gaffe

| Fri Apr. 9, 2010 9:33 AM EDT

Liz Cheney opened the Southern Republican Leadership Conference last night with an all-out assault on the Obama administration, singling out the president's handling of foreign policy—a three pronged approach, she said, of "apologize for America, abandon our allies, and appease our enemies"—for particular rebuke. Nothing new there. What was interesting is that she took particular issue with the administration's treatment of Hamid Karzai, whose conduct recently could certainly be described as antagonistic. But what's wrong with the following statement in her prepared remarks (that is, beyond Cheney's overheated rhetoric)? Answer below the fold.

Afghan President Karzai, whose support we need if we are going to succeed in Afghanistan, is being treated to an especially dangerous and juvenile display from this White House. They dress him down publicly almost daily and refuse to even say that he is an ally. There is a saying in the Arab world: "It is more dangerous to be America’s friend than to be her enemy." In the age of Obama, that is proving true.

Dazed and Confused by Karzai

| Thu Apr. 8, 2010 12:57 PM EDT

"Does the U.S. Government have any reason to believe that President Karzai is like, hiding out in the basement of the palace doing bong hits or, you know, something worse?"

This question came during Wednesday’s State Department press briefing, when spokesman P.J. Crowley was grilled about the Afghan president’s "flighty" and "erratic" behavior lately, which has included blaming ex-UN diplomat Peter Galbraith and others for orchestrating the fraud that marred last fall’s presidential election. It was in the context of Karzai’s recent remarks that Galbraith coyly suggested in a TV interview earlier this week that, according to “palace insiders,” the Afghan president "has a certain fondness for some of Afghanistan’s most profitable exports." The Karzai-as-dope-fiend meme took off from there, temporarily reducing the high-stakes tensions between the Obama and Karzai administration’s to the plot of a Harold and Kumar movie.

Sure, US officials have been dazed and confused (apologies, I couldn’t resist) by Karzai’s odd conduct, but, Crowley says, there’s no reason to believe his anti-Western-paranoia is drug-related:

He is the president of Afghanistan. He's been significantly engaged with us on a regular basis. The Secretary talked to him Friday. Ambassador Eikenberry talked to him on Friday. He was with General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry over the weekend. We have no information to support the charges that Peter Galbraith has leveled.

Hamid Karzai: Practical Joker?

| Thu Apr. 1, 2010 11:44 AM EDT

Is Afghan President Hamid Karzai pulling a prank? He says that his re-election was indeed tainted by epic fraud. But here's the twist: He says the UN, and in particular its former No. 2 official in Afghanistan, Peter Galbraith, were behind it:

"There was fraud in the presidential and provincial election, with no doubt there was massive fraud," he said.

"This wasn't fraud by Afghans but the fraud of foreigners, the fraud of Galbraith, or (head of the EU's observers Philippe) Morillon, and the votes of the Afghan nation were in the control of an embassy."

Accusing Galbraith of taking part in the fraud is particularly strange. The diplomat was reportedly removed from his post last fall because he was too outspoken about the tainted election, clashing with his boss, Kai Eide (who was later dismissed himself), over whether to aggressively pursue allegations of vote-rigging and ghost polling sites. In October, Galbraith wrote:

For weeks, Eide had been denying or playing down the fraud in Afghanistan's recent presidential election, telling me he was concerned that even discussing the fraud might inflame tensions in the country. But in my view, the fraud was a fact that the United Nations had to acknowledge or risk losing its credibility with the many Afghans who did not support President Hamid Karzai.

I keep waiting for Karzai's office to issue a release—"April Fool's!"—informing the international media that we've been punk'd. Apparently Galbraith, who called Karzai's remarks "absurd," thought the Afghan president was pulling his leg, too. He told the BBC: "At first I thought it was an April Fool's joke but I realised I don't have that kind of warm, personal relationship with President Karzai that he would do that."

Speaking of tense relationships, Karzai is on mighty thin ice with the Obama administration, particularly after his recent move to wrest control of his country's Electoral Complaints Commission by claiming the authority to appoint all five members of the panel, three of whom had previously been chosen by the UN. (The Afghan parliament voted overwhelmingly against Karzai's decree on Wednesday.) Karzai's maneuver so enraged US officials that the Obama administration abruptly cancelled a planned visit by the Afghan president to the White House. Karzai responded to this slight by inviting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Kabul, where the Iranian firebrand delivered an anti-American speech. After President Obama's surprise visit to Kabul on Sunday, the White House put the Karzai visit back on its calender—a move that it might be rethinking right about now.
 

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