Congress to Karzai: Sign the Darn Security Pact Already

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 29: H.E. Hamid Karzai, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan speaks during the Opening Ceremony & Leaders Panel at the 9th World Islamic Economic Forum at ExCel on October 29, 2013 in London, England.
National Journal
Sara Sorcher
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Sara Sorcher
Dec. 4, 2013, 3:13 p.m.

As of last week­end, the much-an­ti­cip­ated se­cur­ity pact gov­ern­ing the fu­ture of Amer­ic­an troops in Afgh­anistan looked good to go. Days after Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry tri­umphantly an­nounced agree­ment on the fi­nal lan­guage, a con­ven­tion of Afgh­anistan’s 2,500 tri­bal eld­ers gave their ap­prov­al.

Yet there was one last-minute — and sur­pris­ing — road­b­lock after more than a year of tough ne­go­ti­ations over the post-2014 part­ner­ship between the two na­tions: Afghan Pres­id­ent Ham­id Kar­zai. Now mem­bers of Con­gress, in­creas­ingly frus­trated with this some­times-vex­ing ally, are fir­ing back.

“That agree­ment needs to be signed as soon as pos­sible,” House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber Adam Smith, D-Wash., told Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily. The U.S.-led co­ali­tion was ex­pec­ted to leave a fol­low-on force of 8,000 to 12,000 troops in Afgh­anistan after the com­bat mis­sion form­ally ends in 2014 — but seni­or U.S. of­fi­cials stress the agree­ment must be signed by year-end to pre­pare for that mis­sion. “There’s a lead time here,” Smith said. “It’s not like we can wait un­til the ab­so­lute last minute and de­cide to stay.”

Kar­zai wants to sign the agree­ment only after his suc­cessor is elec­ted in April, and he has ad­ded new de­mands, in­clud­ing for the U.S. to re­lease Afghans held at Guantanamo Bay. “I don’t know that people an­ti­cip­ated, with the loya jirga [grand coun­cil] hav­ing ap­proved it and Kar­zai’s Cab­in­et be­ing in fa­vor of it, that Kar­zai would turn out to be the biggest obstacle,” said House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee mem­ber Adam Schiff, D-Cal­if.

Re­fer­ring to Kar­zai, House Armed Ser­vices Vice Chair­man Mac Thorn­berry, R”‘Texas, quipped: “I don’t know what’s go­ing on with him.”

“I think that [his] volat­il­ity is part of the prob­lem,” Thorn­berry ad­ded. “Re­ports that I read are that the Afghans them­selves are get­ting fed up with it…. The best out­come here is for the Afghans to say, “˜We can’t con­tin­ue this; we need to sign the agree­ment and know what’s ahead for our coun­try.’ “ The longer the un­cer­tainty con­tin­ues, he said, the more likely loc­al lead­ers will hedge their bets and side with the Taliban.

“His abil­ity to kind of act out or be dif­fi­cult to deal with nev­er sur­prises us,” said Sen. Robert Ca­sey, D-Pa. “But I don’t think we should over­ana­lyze what he says some­times, be­cause ob­vi­ously he’s deal­ing with his own polit­ic­al or do­mest­ic cir­cum­stances. I think the most im­port­ant thing is to just keep push­ing to get an agree­ment … do everything we can to make sure the sac­ri­fices our fight­ing men and wo­men and our tax­pay­ers made are go­ing to be val­id­ated.”

Some Re­pub­lic­ans feel it’s time for Pres­id­ent Obama to be­come more dir­ectly in­volved. “The pres­id­ent didn’t en­gage in a way that al­lowed Amer­ica and Ir­aq to cut a deal to provide for the sta­bil­ity of that coun­try, and we see the con­sequences of that now,” said an aide to the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, which is chaired by Rep. Buck McK­eon, R-Cal­if. “It’s cru­cial in the chair­man’s mind that the pres­id­ent weigh in and not wait un­til the last minute, un­til the clock runs out, and walk away,” the aide said.

Some mem­bers were sens­it­ive to Kar­zai’s pre­dic­a­ment. “Kar­zai is look­ing ahead to his leg­acy and his sur­viv­al once he leaves of­fice — I think both lit­er­ally and fig­ur­at­ively,” Schiff said. “What the Afghans prize most in their lead­ers is stand­ing up to for­eign oc­cu­pi­ers, and I think this is his way of leav­ing a last­ing im­pres­sion of de­fi­ance, even of his al­lies.”

Schiff cau­tioned that Kar­zai is mak­ing the wrong bet, con­sid­er­ing the gen­er­al at­ti­tude Amer­ic­ans have to­ward the Afghan war. “It un­der­es­tim­ates the de­gree to which the Amer­ic­an pub­lic would em­brace the zero op­tion,” he said.

There is “little ap­pet­ite from the Amer­ic­an pub­lic for put­ting our troops at risk for an­oth­er in­def­in­ite peri­od of time,” Schiff said, “and little en­thu­si­asm for spend­ing ad­di­tion­al bil­lions of dol­lars in Afgh­anistan when a lot of that money leaves the coun­try in suit­cases of cash. So I think it’s a very ill-con­sidered gamble.”

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