Frankly, Mr. Karzai, the U.S. does give a damn
When two heads of state stand side-by-side in public, it’s all about reading into the words they choose and the body language.
In the case of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. President Barack Obama the word “frank” came up a number of times.
In Washington-speak when political leaders describe discussions as “frank” and “very frank” it usually means they didn’t quite see eye-to-eye. And given the recent tensions between Karzai’s government and the U.S. government that the visit sought to ease, the use of the word “frank” showed that not everything was agreeable.
“Obviously, there are going to be tensions in such a complicated, difficult environment and in a situation in which, on the ground, both — both Afghans and Americans are making enormous sacrifices,” Obama said at a joint news conference at the White House. “We’ve had very frank discussions.”
Obama went on to say, “Our job is to be a good friend and to be frank with President Karzai in saying, ‘Here’s where we think we’ve got to put more effort’.”
When Karzai took his turn at the question, he pointed out that this version of the U.S.-Afghan relationship was in its 10th year. “It’s not an imaginary relationship. It’s a real relationship. It’s based on some very hard and difficult realities. We are in a campaign against terrorism together. There are days that we are happy. There are days that we are not happy.”
“And definitely days have come in which we’ve had a difference of opinion. And definitely days in the future will come in which we have difference of opinion,” Karzai said.
Both Obama and Karzai said the relationship between their countries had strong roots and would be long-lasting. Perhaps to symbolize this rekindled friendship, they shook hands in front of the cameras after their public statements and before taking questions.
“So I believe what you saw in the past few months is reflective of a deep and strong relationship. And in that sort of relationship, as President Obama rightly described, there are moments that we speak frankly to each other. And that frankness will only add to the strength of the relationship and contribute to the successes that we have,” Karzai said.
One source of tension between Afghanistan and the United States has been the civilian casualties in Afghanistan, and two of the more powerful statements made at the White House podium were related to the war effort in which U.S. forces are fighting Taliban insurgents.
“When there is a civilian casualty, that is not just a political problem for me,” Obama said. “I am ultimately accountable, just as General (Stanley) McChrystal is accountable, for somebody who’s not on the battlefield who got killed. And that is something that I have to carry with me and that anybody who’s involved in a military operation has to carry with them. And so we do not take that lightly.”
Karzai in his opening remarks mentioned his visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center where he met American military personnel wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq. “It was a very difficult moment for me, Mr. President, to meet with a young man — a very, very young man, who had lost two arms and legs. It was heart-rending. And there were other wounded, too, just like I had seen in Afghanistan. ”
“This shows the commitment that the United States has to bringing security to Afghanistan and by extension to the United States and the rest of the world, and the difficult task that we have ahead of us in securing our future generations a better and more secure life,” Karzai said.
As for body language, the two leaders appeared cordial, businesslike, friendly, but not the best of friends. Although we don’t know if their demeanor changes during private meetings.
Where is that fly on the wall when you need it?
Photo Credit: Reuters/Jim Young (Obama looks over at Karzai during news conference), Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Karzai and Obama shake hands)