It appears that President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is acting up again. As if President Obama does not have enough on his hands with Healthcare.gov and hot spots spreading around the globe, he now has Karzai, the Importunate.
The Afghan prima donna is threatening our president’s role as a wartime president, a role he has not been particularly comfortable in, but at least it is popular with some Americans. Now the playing of “Hail to the Chief” may become somewhat subdued, all because of Mr. Karzai’s demands. He is refusing to sign a status of forces agreement allowing us to leave U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan after the war, troops that would be used to protect Afghans.
Last week, Mr. Karzai summoned a meeting of his country’s elders, called a loya jirga, and attempted to hammer out a long-term agreement with the United States and its NATO allies for training Afghan troops and providing security after hostilities are ended in 2014. Mr. Obama, ably assisted by Hillary Clinton, his secretary of state at the time, utterly botched a similar status of forces agreement at the end of our involvement in Iraq. He does not want a reprise. Unfortunately, Mr. Karzai is being disagreeable in the extreme even with his loya jirga.
Though the loya jirga sided with the Americans on arrangements for our forces to continue in the country beyond 2014, Mr. Karzai kept tacking on demands to the negotiations, making it very unlikely that a treaty can be signed by the end of 2013, which Mr. Obama insists on. For instance, Mr. Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, has said that Mr. Karzai will not sign an agreement if “another [U.S.] soldier steps foot into an Afghan home.” That will be difficult because American troops cannot desist from “home entries,” when that means affording sanctuary to marauding bands of Taliban when they slip into a local farmer’s home for refuge.
Then, too, Mr. Karzai has added that he wants American assistance in initiating peace talks with the Taliban. One way the Americans could assist would be to release all 17 Afghan citizens in the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Finally, Mr. Karzai repeated his nonnegotiable demand that he will not sign any agreement until after the Afghan presidential elections in April. Even the loya jirga was stunned. When he finished with his demands, the Afghan president turned to Susan E. Rice. She is President Obama’s national security adviser and had flown to Kabul in a surprise appearance to emphasize how serious Mr. Obama is about getting an agreement by year’s end. Mr. Karzai simply said to Mrs. Rice: “Madame Rice, the ball is in your court.”
What is our president to do with this unwelcome ball? May I suggest a variant of the Tyrrell Doctrine? First formulated in my authoritative “After the Hangover, The Conservatives’ Road to Recovery,” the Tyrrell Doctrine took issue with the well-intentioned but, in the end, hopelessly quixotic idea of “nation-building.” The United States government has not a clue as to how we might transform, say, Iraq into a democracy, much less Afghanistan, which is very content as things stand now with its trusty loya jirga, its tribes and its warlords. Arguably, even I would be satisfied with these instruments of government if I lived there.
According to my doctrine, when the United States armed forces are dispatched to a lawless country where obstreperous terrorists are endeavoring to do us mischief, it shall be sufficient to kill the malefactors, wreak a little chastening havoc and depart. Romans built well-paved roads and aqueducts, but they also wanted an empire. Americans only want peace and quiet and an opportunity to do business back in Peoria. We need no empire.
The way to adapt the Tyrrell Doctrine to Mr. Karzai’s demands is to bid him a dignified adieu, but with a caveat. If in the future, members of his citizenry sally forth to threaten the hair of an American or an American ally, they can expect our Air Force overhead, and very shortly thereafter, the sky to rain down on them the utmost violence. We shall dispatch terrorists in his midst whether he likes it or not. Then we depart. There will be no rebuilding. We have tried that sort of thing, and he in his rudeness proved it useless.
Get on with your election next spring, Mr. Karzai. You are welcome to your presidency for however long you can keep it.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is editor in chief of the American Spectator and the author of The Death of Liberalism.