WASHINGTON -- It appears that President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is acting up again. As if President Barack Obama does not have enough on his hands with HealthCare.gov and hotspots spreading around the globe, he now has Karzai, the Importunate. The Afghan prima donna is threatening our president's role as a wartime president, a role he has not been particularly comfortable in, but at least it is popular with some Americans. Now the playing of "Hail to the Chief" may become somewhat subdued all because of Karzai's demands. He is refusing to sign a status of forces agreement allowing us to leave U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan after the war, troops that would be used to protect Afghans!
Last week, Karzai summoned a meeting of his country's elders, called a loya jirga, and attempted to hammer out a long-term agreement with the United States and its NATO allies for training Afghan troops and providing security after hostilities are ended in 2014. Obama, ably assisted by his then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton, utterly botched a similar status of forces agreement at the end of our involvement in Iraq. He does not want a reprise. Unfortunately, Karzai is being disagreeable in the extreme even with his loya jirga.
Though the loya jirga sided with the Americans on arrangements for our forces to continue in the country beyond 2014, Karzai kept tacking on demands to the negotiations, making it very unlikely that a |treaty can be signed by the end of 2013, which Obama insists on. For instance, Karzai's spokesman, Aimal Faizi, has said that Karzai will not sign an agreement if "another [U.S.] soldier steps foot into an Afghan home." That will be difficult because American troops cannot desist from "home entries," when that means affording sanctuary to marauding bands of Taliban when they slip into a local farmer's home for refuge.
Then, too, President Karzai has added that he wants American assistance in initiating peace talks with the Taliban. One way the Americans could assist would be to release all 17 Afghan citizens in the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Finally, Karzai repeated his non-negotiable demand that he will not sign any agreement until after the Afghan presidential elections in April. Even the loya jirga was stunned. When he finished with his demands, the Afghan president turned to Susan E. Rice. She is President Obama's national security advisor and had flown to Kabul in a surprise appearance to emphasize how serious Obama is about getting an agreement by year's end. Karzai simply said to Rice: "Madame Rice, the ball is in your court."