Give Hamid Karzai points for honesty. He has made no attempt to deny a report in the Saturday New York Times that he receives bags of cash from the Iranians. Instead he came right out and admitted it and vowed to continue accepting the cash that he said amounts to about $2 million a year. “They have asked for good relations in return, and for lots of other things in return,” he said of the Iranians. No kidding.
In a way, this should hardly be a shocker. The Iranians have attempted similar dollar diplomacy in Iraq, Lebanon, and lots of other countries. No surprise that they should try the same thing with another neighbor. Nor should anyone be particularly shocked that the Iranians appear to be playing both sides of the street — giving both to Karzai and to the Taliban. In a way, what the Iranians are doing, while undoubtedly cynical, is not that far removed from conventional foreign-aid programs run by the U.S., Britain, and other powers that also seek to curry influence with their donations. Even the Iranian resort to cash — which is more than a bit seedy — is hardly all that different from what the U.S. does. The CIA, in particular, is known for handing out suitcases stuffed full of bills to our allies, including Karzai. I am more concerned about lethal aid that the Iranians provide to insurgents in places like Iraq and Afghanistan that is used to kill American troops — aid that has been highlighted once again by WikiLeaks.
These cash payments hardly mean that Karzai is a dupe of Iran. He gets much more money and support from the U.S. than from the Iranians, and he knows that. He is, like most politicians, primarily looking out for numero uno and that means ensuring that he is not entirely reliant on a single ally that has proved fickle in the past.
This should, however, alert us to the geopolitical stakes in Afghanistan. If we leave prematurely, Afghanistan will once again be the scene of a massive civil war, with neighboring states, and in particular Pakistan and Iran, doing their utmost to exert their influence to the detriment of our long-term interests. That is yet one more reason why it is important to prevail in Afghanistan.