Maybe this will sharpen the point made in this post. You’ve seen Robert Kagan and Mitt Romney wail and lament President Obama’s rather meager pressures on Israel to get the Netanyahu government to demonstrate its commitment to a negotiated two-state solution. They extrapolate from that case  and a misreading of last year’s missile defense restructuring to form a meme about Obama demonstrating needless hostility to its allies and naive outreach to its enemies. But the real case they ought to point to is Afghanistan.

After all, is there any foreign leader once held closely by the U.S. that Obama has more visibly snubbed than Hamid Karzai? The Obama team’s Afghanistan strategy can be fairly-if-simplistically described as a broad attempt to circumvent Karzai by bolstering Afghan institutions at and especially below the national level. There’s no shortage of outrage by Karzai over being denied so cosmetic a gesture as a White House visit until he does X, Y and Z. And this is a guy whose government is both perilously weak and has powerful impact over what will soon be about 140,000 U.S. and allied troops. So where’s the Karzai Kaucus on the right? Why don’t we see Sarah Palin on Facebook stickin’ up for our Afghan friend’s right to exercise his sovereignty and govern his country as his people have sort-of elected him to see fit?

When stated that way, the answer is fairly obvious: Karzai gets a lot of economic, security and political assistance from the U.S. while inconsistently demonstrating his commitment to ostensibly mutual goals of good governance that are important for U.S. interests in the region. An American administration that didn’t press Karzai would be a negligent steward of those interests. The fact of the U.S.-Afghan closeness just strengthens the case for candor and firmness — not high-handedness, certainly, but urgency.

Obviously the U.S. doesn’t have any troops on the ground in Israel and Palestine. But it’s got about 200,000 of them near enough and spends a whole lot of energy and money and diplomatic capital justly cultivating relationships with Muslim populations that want to see this conflict resolved rather badly. This isn’t time to play around, as we can more clearly see in other diplomatic contexts.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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