Colorado members of Congress Betsy Markey and John Salazar visited Afghanistan last week to take a read on President Hamid Karzai, who has been under fire as a waffling ally at best and a traitor at worst. As analysts increasingly train their focus on the country’s engagement with Afghanistan, the American relationship with Karzai has grown volatile. Pres. Obama has been pressuring Karzai to retain foreign election fraud commissioners and to endorse the Kandahar offensive the U.S. is planning for later in the spring, but Karzai has been erratic, feeling undermined by Obama and America and seeming increasingly like an unraveling power-hungry dictator. Karzai said at the beginning of the month that if “foreign interference” in his government continues, he might join the Taliban as a legitimate force of resistance.
While Obama rightly applies pressure, American officials like Richard Holbrooke, special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and lawmakers like Markey and Salazar have sought to lower the political temperature.
The two Colorado lawmakers left last week Wednesday and returned Monday. On a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Salazar said Karzai was “totally committed to working with America” and that he said his comments about joining the Taliban had been taken out of context.
On the right, Sarah Palin and Liz Cheney have predictably chided the Obama administration for pressuring Karzai. At the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Cheney acted as though there were no difference between Karzai and Tony Blair.
“Karzai 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.”
The conflict in Afghanistan is proving an unpredictable and increasingly problematic issue for the administration. This week, the document-release organization Wikileaks is preparing to release video the military has attempted to conceal of a U.S. air strike on a tanker that reportedly killed nearly a hundred Afghan civilians.
Colorado Congressman Jared Polis has been a steady critic of U.S. policy in the country. In March he championed the Afghanistan War Powers Resolution introduced by Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich. On the floor of the House, Polis argued against continued occupation and troop surges. He said the threat to America has always been the ongoing existence of al Qaeda and that we are wasting resources in occupying Afghanistan and Iraq instead of rooting out al Qaeda, “a stateless menace,” with focused special operations. He said then that there may be as few as 50 al Qaeda operatives in all of Afghanistan.