Dan is Mother Jones' deputy DC bureau chief. He is the New York Times best-selling author of Sons of Wichita(Grand Central Publishing), a biography of the Koch brothers that is now out in paperback. Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.
Handing out Sen. Claire McCaskill's prepared remarks Thursday afternoon as a hearing of her subcommittee on contracting oversight was about to get underway, the Missouri Democrat's press secretary warned reporters that her boss might go "off the cuff." Sure enough, after striding into the room and calling the session to order, McCaskill didn't bother consulting her notes. She stared straight ahead at the witnesses before her and launched into a freestyle assault on police training efforts in Afghanistan. "It is an unbelievably incompetent story of contracting," she said. "For 8 years we have been supposedly training the police in Afghanistan. And here's what we've done. We've flushed six billion dollars. Six billion dollars!"
If only she were exaggerating. Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who has been in charge of training Afghanistan's security forces since November, informed Obama recently just how dire the situation is, according to a recent story co-published by Newsweek and ProPublica. "It's inconceivable, but in fact for eight years we weren't training the police," he told the president. "We just never trained them before. All we did was give them a uniform."
Gordon Heddell, the Pentagon's Inspector General, delivered a similar assessment to McCaskill's committee. "Just about everything that could go wrong here has gone wrong," he said, adding, "we have to start at the very beginning."
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 Timesreports 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.
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.
"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.
In 1988, shortly after winning his first term in Congress, Dana Rohrabacher dabbled briefly in another vocation—freedom fighter. With Afghanistan's anti-Soviet insurgency a cause célèbre for conservatives, he traveled to the front lines. Sporting a thick beard and traditional Afghan attire, the congressman-elect joined up with a rebel infantry unit whose mission included laying siege to a Soviet position.
When I met Rohrabacher recently at his Capitol Hill office—adorned with mementos of his Afghan adventures, including a tapestry of the legendary mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud—I asked if he'd joined the battle. "Let's put it this way," he said, a glimmer in his eye. "I didn't carry a gun—most of the time."
It's the kind of adventure that has earned the Orange County Republican, who's 62, a reputation as "colorful," or, as some put it, "bat-shit crazy." He's a banjo-playing, folk-singing, arch-conservative surfer, who—at a time when other politicians insisted they'd never inhaled—publicly proclaimed he'd done "everything but drink the bong water." An outspoken climate change skeptic, Rohrabacher once joked that "dinosaur flatulence" may have caused a prehistoric episode of global warming. For almost two years, he ran a quixotic congressional investigation (pdf) into the Oklahoma City bombing, dispatching staff as far as the Philippines to prove that Terry Nichols had ties to Ramzi Yousef, one of the planners of the first World Trade Center bombing. At a cringe-worthy hearing last fall, he lambasted an Iraqi politician over the "type of bloodlust" that "exists in your society."