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An About-Face, Finally

After publicly bashing the Afghan government for months, airing their doubts as to whether we have a reliable “partner,” and stalling a decision about the troops while the election was redone (but not really, as the challenger dropped out), the Obami have decided to be nice, or nicer, at any rate, to the government we are trying to stabilize. The Washington Post reports:

As President Obama nears a decision on how many more troops he will dispatch to Afghanistan, his top diplomats and generals are abandoning for now their get-tough tactics with Karzai and attempting to forge a far warmer relationship. They recognize that their initial strategy may have done more harm than good, fueling stress and anger in a beleaguered, conspiracy-minded leader whom the U.S. government needs as a partner.

“It’s not sustainable to have a ‘War of the Roses’ relationship here, where . . . we basically throw things at each other,” said another senior administration official . . .

The tension in the relationship stems from the cumulative impact of several White House decisions that were intended to improve the quality of the Afghan government. When Obama became president, he discontinued his predecessor’s practice of holding bimonthly video conferences with Karzai. Obama granted wide latitude to the hard-charging Holbrooke to pressure Karzai to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that have fueled the Taliban’s rise. The administration also indicated that it wanted many candidates to challenge Karzai in the August presidential election.

It turns out that the bullying routine was about as successful in Afghanistan as it has been in the Middle East. But don’t expect much self-reflection. Hillary Clinton is now tasked with the charm offensive. We learn: “As Mr. Karzai begins his new term, Mrs. Clinton has worked to avoid a hectoring tone in her public comments about him. American officials had done too much of that in the past, she said.” The past, meaning the past few months, I suppose.

Once again it seems as though we are having to relearn the lessons of Iraq. There, too, Democrats sneered at the government as hopeless and at its prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, as ineffectual and inept. With the success of the surge and the breathing room to establish a functioning civil government, that perception has changed. And likewise, in Afghanistan, the Obami may be learning belatedly (because they have chosen not to extract any meaningful lessons from the Iraq war, which they were ready to lose) that we actually need to bolster the native government if we hope to defeat our mutual enemy. You’d think smart diplomats would have figured this out much sooner.