Sigh. After suggesting this morning that the Obama administration should not react to Hamid Karzai’s provocative, anti-Western rhetoric, I am dismayed to see that this is precisely what happened today. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs rose to the bait. As this Washington Post account notes:
Press secretary Robert Gibbs called Karzai’s statements “genuinely troubling” but said the U.S. government would continue to work with Karzai and others in his government as they seek to secure the country.
Gibbs said, “It was disturbing on Friday. Obviously it didn’t get any better.”
Asked directly whether Obama still has faith in Karzai, Gibbs pointedly did not say yes. Instead, he repeated that U.S. officials would work with their Afghan counterparts.
What is Gibbs trying to achieve? If anything? Why couldn’t he just say something along the lines of: “Karzai is the elected leader of his country. We won’t always see eye to eye with him, but he is a brave man who has been on the frontlines of the fight against the Taliban. We respect him and support him notwithstanding occasional differences of opinion”?
The administration carefully modulates its rhetoric when dealing with states like Iran, Russia, and China — our strategic competitors. But when dealing with leaders of friendly countries, whether in Afghanistan or Israel, the administration has a tendency to haul out the rhetorical heavy artillery. At least Gibbs didn’t “condemn” Karzai, the way he did Netanyahu. Perhaps that’s coming tomorrow.