THE US-AFGHANISTAN DANCE
I've been closely following the back-and-forth public relations campaign going on between the US and Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan over long-term bases. The US wants to maintain permanent presence in Afghanistan practically forever but Karzai lately has been more forceful about Pentagon and CIA drone attacks and other Special Forces operations that have killed many innocent people.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that:
The risk that President Obama may be forced to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year has set off concerns inside the American intelligence agencies that they could lose their air bases used for drone strikes against Al Qaeda in Pakistan and for responding to a nuclear crisis in the region.
If Mr. Obama ultimately withdrew all American troops from Afghanistan, the C.I.A.’s drone bases in the country would have to be closed, according to administration officials, because it could no longer be protected.
Mr. Obama’s hope is to keep 8,000 to 12,000 troops — most of them Americans, some from allies — in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission ends this year. The resurgence of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, combining with insurgents in Syria, has offered a sobering reminder of the consequences of the American decision to withdraw all its troops from Iraq. Mr. Karzai seems to be betting that the damage that a withdrawal would do to American intelligence operations is so great that he may be able to strike a better deal.
Maybe I've just become cynical about these things but I believe that the current dance between Karzai and Obama is largely scripted. One must recall that it has long been alleged that Karzai was an adviser to the El Segundo, California-based UNOCAL Corporation (eventually merged with Chevron) which was once negotiating with the Taliban to construct a Central Asia Gas (CentGas) pipeline from Turkmenistan through western Afghanistan to Pakistan.
Karzai’s ties with UNOCAL and the Bush administration were likely the main reason why the CIA pushed him for Afghan leader over rival Abdul Haq, the assassinated former mujaheddin leader from Jalalabad, and the leadership of the Northern Alliance, seen by Langley as being too close to the Russians and Iranians.
So as this whole US-Afghan drama plays out - with Karzai "standing up to the US about drone strikes" - I am skeptical. I think both sides are playing to their domestic audiences and at some point soon the Obama team will make some "concessions" to Karzai who will then sign an agreement with the US that will allow military bases and operations in Afghanistan for.... say the next 50 years.
Keep your eyes on this bouncing ball.