Tales from the Trail

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.

AFGHANISTAN-USA/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’.”

Holbrooke hits the airwaves in new push

When President Barack Obama snuck into Afghanistan unannounced last month, a notable omission on Air Force One was his special representative for the region, veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke. OBAMA-AFGHANISTAN

Leaving out the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan on Obama’s very first trip to Kabul as president raised a few eyebrows.

Was Holbrooke’s star fading? Were frictions between his office at the State Department and the White House coming to a head? Would tensions with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has made a string of anti-Western comments over recent weeks, cause further problems for the Obama administration as it seeks to turn around the 8-year war?

Clinton doesn’t blame Karzai for confusion over U.S. policy

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is seen by many as the Obama administration’s “good cop” when it comes to dealing with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, leaving others to point fingers at his government over corruption, election fraud and other issues. AFGHANISTAN-USA/

On Thursday, she continued to show empathy for the embattled Afghan leader, telling senators she understood why Karzai was so confused about U.S. policy towards his war-torn country.

At a hearing on the new strategy in Afghanistan, which some say is doomed because of the weak Afghan government, Clinton said she didn’t blame anyone — least of all Karzai — for questioning past U.S. intentions.

Victory for Karzai, minefield for Obama?

Former President George W. Bush used to talk about the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” He was talking about education in the United States.

But these days, that phrase could easily refer to the U.S. government’s attitudes towards Afghanistan. Just look at the following phrases from American officials this year.

“We never promised Afghans a perfect democracy,” “Afghans have lower expectations in terms of security,” “we have to recognise Afghanistan will always remain a poor, conservative land with a low-level insurgency,” “our goal in Afghanistan is simply to prevent al Qaeda using its territory to attack us.” AFGHANISTAN-ELECTION/KARZAI

The First Draft: Elections East-West

Elections in the East, elections in the West.

Hot off the wire: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been declared re-elected.

AFGHANISTAN/Afghanistan’s election commission made the declaration after Karzai’s opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew and a run-off election was canceled. “The Independent Election Commission declares the esteemed Hamid Karzai as the president,” the commission’s chief said.

This will no doubt increase the pressure on President Barack Obama to roll-out his new Afghanistan strategy earlier rather than later, now that he knows who the United States will be dealing with.

Matthew Hoh, the former State Department employee who quit last month in protest over U.S. policy in Afghanistan, told NBC’s “Today” show that the Karzai news was “disappointing” and despite the investment of  a lot of U.S. resources, “we didn’t get what we put our troops there for.”

Time to get tough on Afghan fraud, start with the message

What message does it send when the U.N. representative to Afghanistan says it will be impossible to eliminate fraud in the run-off election? AFGHANISTAN-ELECTION/

That’s what Kai Eide admitted last week, adding, “what we will try to do, is to reduce the level of fraud.”

Is that really what Afghans should be hearing on the eve of this crucial vote — steal a few less votes this time around please?

The First Draft: Kerry reports in after Kabul visit

Senator John Kerry, who once aspired to host meetings in the Oval Office, will be visiting President Barack Obama in that room Wednesday to talk about his recent trip to Afghanistan.

Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was credited with playing a key role in AFGHANISTAN/convincing Afghan President Hamid Karzai to agree to a second round of voting in a disputed national election.

A picture of him whispering into Karzai’s ear on Tuesday was splashed across the major U.S. newspapers on Wednesday and news programs gave detailed reports on Kerry’s behind-the-scenes shuttle diplomacy.

First draft: Talking to Afghans, Pakistanis

AFGHAN/KARZAIPresident Barack Obama will jump into the thorny issue of Afghan-Pakistani relations today as he meets with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.

The visiting leaders will meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before heading over to the White House where they will have separate meetings with Obama and Vice President Biden before a trialateral gathering.PAKISTAN-AID/ZARDARI

Though the administration has doubts about the capability of both men, Obama is expected to urge Karzai and Zardari to put aside a history of mistrust and join Washington in an alliance against Islamic extremists.