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Karzai’s Bagram Demands Add Stress to U.S. Policy

Posted on Jan 10, 2012
White House / Pete Souza

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan speaks to President Obama during a 2010 NATO summit.

By William Pfaff

The Afghan government’s order a week ago to the United States to close its prison at Bagram Air Base near Kabul, where it holds unidentified prisoners, came as a shock to Washington, although President Hamid Karzai has before invited the U.S. to cease its operations in his country because of what he considered infringements upon Afghan sovereignty.

This time the demand reportedly was provoked by American acquiescence in the opening of a Taliban representation office in Qatar, interpreted as an American effort to deal directly with the Taliban, short-cutting the Afghan government.

Karzai has made it clear before that he intends to control dealings with the Taliban, since their uprising takes place in his country, meant to replace his government. He also wants to control how American and allied forces leave his country, and on what terms. The Obama administration, which has said that it will pull out U.S. troops this year (although the Pentagon has indicated disagreement), naturally wants to control what happens.

The order to hand over the prison followed Pakistan’s closure late last year of the important American land supply route to U.S. forces that runs through the Khyber Pass. That decision came after persistent U.S. drone incursions and the unauthorized American raid in Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden.

One might think both Pakistan and Afghanistan are unappreciative of America’s well-meant wars in their countries, and would like us to go home.


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Departure from Afghanistan on less than triumphal terms would stir an uproar at home among Republican Party patriots. Yet everyone, presumably excepting those patriots, knows what will happen sooner or later. The U.S. will be forced out, directly or indirectly, and Afghan politicians or military leaders will assume control of their country, with or without sponsorship or assistance from the Pakistan—or the Indian—intelligence services. All that is taking place now is futile. Why not take Karzai at his word, and leave?

Well, the Pentagon would not like that, since it prefers a triumphal exit to the rather embarrassing departure that has just taken place in Iraq. There—not to put too fine a point on it—the country is being abandoned in the hands of Shiite politicians and their Iranian allies. The U.S. was willing to stay on, but only on terms of an extra-territorial legal status, exempting Americans from all Iraqi control, to which the Iraqi parliament would not agree.

Second, Republican politicians in the United States do not want proud Americans being ordered out of what they consider petty client countries, whose role is to take orders, not issue them.

Incredulity is growing among those of us living abroad as we witness this and the Republican presidential primaries that are now in full swing. Can it be that a major American political party—Abraham Lincoln’s party—should today be putting forward as candidates for the presidency people who mostly are unfit for responsible political office in any country, and who debate international issues in terms pathologically disconnected from reality?

Take the current front-runner, Mitt Romney. Asked about his solution to the Middle East’s problems, he said that he would go to see Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and ask him what to do. He thinks allies know best about American interests, in this case at least.

Rick Perry, one-time front-runner, plans major governmental changes, but when asked to name them, he had forgotten, asking the candidate next to him on the podium if he could remember. (The latter couldn’t either.)

Nearly all the candidates seem to favor doing away with the Federal Reserve Bank, but none of them suggest what to put in its place. I suppose their faith in the self-regulating capitalist economy has not been shaken.

Donald Trump is no longer an (active) candidate but holds an intriguing opinion on Iraq. He has declared that it is outrageous for Barack Obama to take American troops out of Iraq without seizing half of Iraq’s oil as reward to America for having invaded the country. (But why bother? Western companies have already contracted for the oil.)

Trump is preposterous. But equally far from reality is the avowed willingness of all the candidates (except Ron Paul) to go to war with Iran because of its unproven nuclear weapons program. All assume that Iran, upon acquiring such a weapon, would use it and thereby commit national suicide. Therefore, as president, they would be obliged to preempt Iran’s suicide by attacking Iran and starting a third American aggressive war. So it goes in the American presidential campaign.

Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at

© 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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By Ted Whitney, January 12, 2012 at 6:09 pm Link to this comment
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Afganistan has been called “the graveyard of empires”;  we can only hope that they completely bury America’s empire.

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By copernicist, January 12, 2012 at 12:24 pm Link to this comment

I know what you mean, though “incredulity” is not the disease, of course, but rather a sane reaction to the descent into various pathological conditions now afflicting large segments of the US populace, including not only those comic-strip “candidates” for Republican puppet star [Punch & Judy being the template desired by producers of the showbiz farce ludicrously billed as a semi-serious multi-part Drama of Political Discourse], but also that remaining fragment of pseudo-progressives [fearing to self-identify as liberals] who continue to close eyes & ears while holding noses in order to indulge themselves in a happy if nervously-held delusion that the current Occupant of our Imperial throne is, as his believing courtiers claim,  um, you know,  not really naked ... um. after all, sort of…

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By DonSchneider, January 12, 2012 at 5:58 am Link to this comment

And we need further encouragement to get the flock out of Afghanistan ?

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By balkas, January 11, 2012 at 11:23 am Link to this comment

the piece by pfaff appears completely MSMish; thus, quite
inaccurate/inadequate about what usa would do in pakistan
and afgh’n.
he’s also—as is MSM’s wont—splitting usa policies/goals
into republican and democratic parts; while the goal being
ALWAYS ONE; as conditions change, tactics must also
the GOOSE is always there and its two wings not always
flapping together simultaneously. thanks

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By MeHere, January 11, 2012 at 11:12 am Link to this comment

W. Pfaff seems to put the burden of policy failure on Republicans when, in fact, the two parties share the blame equally. Foreign policy has steadily gone in one bad direction regardless of the party in government. There isn’t a war that is not supported and funded.

Ron Paul has built himself up as a non-interventionist. It sounds sweet, but does anyone know what he means by it? I honestly don’t quite follow these highly predictable politicians’ debates and interviews but, as far as I know, R. Paul has not actually stated what his foreign policy views are.  Would he like to radically reduce the power and the funding of the corporate-military complex?  Or would he like to be president and when another war starts say Congress is to blame? R. Paul is probably the most misleading character in the whole bunch.

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By ContraryMan, January 11, 2012 at 9:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Get out and let that corrupt SoaB fight his own war. Reliable intel indicates some of the cash our govt. has given him has been passed on to the Taliban(to fuel hostilities that justify more requests for more money so…no money or weapons either.

I’m sure honor and pride have a lot to do with the Pentagram’s desire for the illusion of “victory” but there is also the matter of profit for the their loyal, greedy and inefficient contractors.

By the way, what is the daily cost of that exercise in excessive expenditure of borrowed revenue?

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By thecrow, January 11, 2012 at 5:29 am Link to this comment

“I’ve learned an immense amount from Dr. Brzezinski.”

- Barack Obama

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By ardee, January 11, 2012 at 4:10 am Link to this comment

The puppet seeks to cut the strings. Karsai is a corrupt and doomed leader. Our entire stay in both Iraq and Afghanistan will come to naught.

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By gerard, January 10, 2012 at 6:25 pm Link to this comment

“...Those of us living abroad ..” are not the only people who are painfully suffering from the incredulity disease, Mr. Pfaff!  I can testify that many of us living here at home are most painfully aware of a rising fever, cold chills and inability to digest much of what we are being fed.

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By John Sullivan, January 10, 2012 at 5:43 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Or, in other words, get the f**k out.

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