In the current issue of COMMENTARY, Jamie M. Fly has an excellent article reminding readers of the moral case for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. With the Koran burning in February and a lone, deranged soldier’s massacre of Afghan civilians last month, U.S. support for our continued intervention in Afghanistan has declined precipitously. Both American progressives—for whom Afghanistan was once the good war—and many conservatives increasingly say the United States is at the point of decline returns, and that our occupation has become the problem. News reports showing 500 people in Kabul protesting and chanting anti-American slogans can be disheartening given the blood and treasure which the United States has invested into Afghanistan. The situation looks dire especially if one forgets that Kabul is a city of five million people, and so spontaneous demonstrations of 500 are pitiful by even rent-a-mob standards. Seldom, however, do journalists and officials consider what the Afghans are thinking before they project their own doubts onto the Afghan population.
It is in this context that a March 28 article in Hasht-e Sobh (8 a.m.), Afghanistan’s newspaper of record, is so interesting. In an editorial entitled, “Will support for war wane?” (with a translation provided by the Open Source Center), the newspaper places blame for declining U.S. public support not on the United States but rather on Afghan President Hamid Karzai:
The question is why war in Afghanistan is losing support after a decade? This has happened due to some internal and external factors. It appears that prolongation of war, increasing casualties of the US forces and the high financial costs are the main factors behind the fall in support for the Afghan war in the United States… Over the past 10 years, the Afghan government has not been able to prove its capability. The inability of the government in ensuring security and rule of law is one of the factors which questions continuation of US support and US forces’ presence in Afghanistan. In addition, US-Afghan relations have seen many ups and downs over the past 10 years. Many times, Mr. Karzai strongly criticized the United States and sometimes supported the neighboring countries’ anti-US policies. Now, it is expected that there will be less tension with the signing of the strategic agreement, however the presence of some anti-US circles in the government and the government’s stances have caused the Americans to lose hope about the continuation of their presence in Afghanistan. Undoubtedly, we will witness a fall in support for Afghanistan from other countries if Mr. Karzai does not change his policies and bring about changes in the presidential office.
Americans have a bad habit to self-flagellate. But leadership requires not allowing strategic goals to be undercut by the vicissitudes of war or short-term public opinion. Indeed, if the Afghan press is believed, the situation might improve considerably if, rather than throw up their hands and surrender, Obama administration officials would do a better job of holding Hamid Karzai to account for his own double-dealing.