For a policy or pronouncement to have credibility it must be attached to a credible threat of action. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said repeatedly -- including four times in one recent speech -- that it is "unacceptable" for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. But her threats -- if that's what they are -- have no teeth. Even if the administration gets some form of sanctions, they will not be enough to stop Iran from acquiring nukes. And who believes this administration would order air strikes on Iranian nuclear centers as Ronald Reagan did to Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor or to Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi's compound?
The same is true when it comes to Karzai. What can the U.S. ultimately do to persuade Karzai to clean up corruption in his government, other than jawboning? He might ask us to get the log out of our own eye first by reforming congressional corruption before we concern ourselves with the speck in his eye.
The U.S. has had a history of backing some unsavory characters out of necessity and not always from conviction. There probably is no one better than the current Afghan leader to run the country, however poorly. There could be people who are much worse, including the Taliban, which once ran things and used Afghanistan as a launching pad for the terrorist attacks on America. They would love to do so again. The U.S. is fighting to make sure that does not happen. We must succeed, because, to invoke the cliche that is never truer than in Afghanistan, failure is not an option.
In the pursuit of success, the United States might have to swallow hard and deal with the questionable leader we know so that it doesn't have to deal with the Taliban leaders whose goals we know all too well.
Meanwhile, if Karzai visits the U.S. next month, he might try bringing an olive branch and some solid promises to clean up his act, given all that America has done for him. That seems a small price to pay in exchange for our dead and wounded troops who have tried to help him stabilize his country.