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Obama Lands in Afghanistan as Wikileaks Cables Offer New Insight Into War Effort

The President landed in Afghanistan today for an unannounced 3-hour visit. What’s interesting about it is that he tried, but failed, to meet Hamid Karzai face-to-face:

Mr Obama is expected to speak to American troops and hold talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai about the conflict with Taliban insurgents […]

Mr Obama arrived at Bagram after a secret overnight flight. Plans for a face-to-face meeting with President Karzai were scrapped at the last minute, but the two leaders are expected to hold talks by phone.

Funny how this need to talk with Karzai cropped up unexpectedly, right around the time where Wikileaks cables about him started to get released.

Oman’s foreign minister says that he is “losing confidence” in him. A British diplomat says Britain feels “deep frustration” with him, while an Australian official complains that he “ignores reality.” A diplomat from the United Arab Emirates says Afghanistan would be better off without him. NATO’s secretary general speculates that he has a split personality.

The portrait of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan that emerges from a cache of confidential American diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to a number of news organizations reflects his trajectory from the eager leader anointed by the West to an embattled politician who often baffles, disappoints or infuriates his official allies.

American and foreign diplomats have tried to keep their complaints about Mr. Karzai private. But now, thanks to the cables, there is a more official chronicling — brutally candid views of Mr. Karzai recorded by State Department officials after high-level meetings, detailing the steady deterioration in his reputation in the nine years since he took office.

Yes, I’d say that would be a reason to get a one-on-one.

But there were more revelations today as well. The Guardian reported that the then-vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud showed up in Dubai with $52 million in cash, and while detained by authorities was eventually released. This corruption and carry trade of wealth out of Afghanistan and into Dubai was affirmed in other reports.

Other cables show that the US is expanding an open war inside Pakistan, conducting joint operations with Pakistani forces in the tribal areas. They also appear to be targeting refugee camps inside Pakistan, thought to be training grounds for extremists. These aren’t just diplomatic blunders, but evidence of an illegal war inside another country. Not surprisingly, only Jeremy Scahill seems at all concerned about it.

In addition to tamping down concerns that the US distrusts Karzai and the corrupt central government, the President might want to let Karzai know about that illegal war with his neighbor.

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David Dayen

David Dayen