Though not very well-reported, the crisis appears to have begun in early March, when President Obama refused Karzai's request for a meeting in Washington. Karzai's response was to invite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit Kabul. There the Iranian, in his trademark dirty jacket, delivered a series of snipes at President Obama. Late in the month, when President Obama visited Kabul on his whirlwind trip to visit our troops, he did sit down with Karzai but then allowed it to be leaked worldwide that at his sententious best, he had treated Karzai to a lecture on the essentials of Good Government.
That indignity apparently provoked Karzai to let it be leaked that he has told Afghan colleagues that if the static continues between Washington and Kabul, he might consider joining the Taliban! Not to be outdone, the administration -- through its spokesman, Robert Gibbs -- has let it be known that when Karzai arrives in Washington for a May 12 meeting, he may not get to see President Obama. "We certainly would evaluate whatever continued or further remarks President Karzai makes," Gibbs said, "as to whether that's constructive to have such a meeting."
Readers of this column may recall that I had a little fun at Karzai's expense in February, when I took exception to his demagoguery in Parliament over the issue of Afghan civilians' being killed by our troops. Usually they were put in harm's way by the Taliban. I also joked about an election monitoring board that Karzai packed with allies. "Hamid Karzai, D-Chicago," I called him to make an obvious point.
After the column appeared, I got a sobering call from a friend who had played a significant role in the Bush administration's conduct of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. During the call, he/she reminded me that a change in leadership in those faraway parts does not necessarily end in improved leadership. Moreover, Karzai has achieved more than any of his rivals likely would achieve toward peace and security in the region, with no evidence that he himself is corrupt.
Lay off, my friend said, so I have. That picture I once beheld of Diem sobered me up, too. I wonder whether President Obama has seen it.