In recent weeks, the press has focused on Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi’s relationship with the Iranians and Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai going off the rails and threatening to join the Taliban. The press did not focus on — but could have — Iraqi president Jalal Talabani’s meetings in Iran last week, and Iraqi politician Ayad Allawi’s embrace of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad earlier last month.
Too many policymakers, I’d argue, have not seen the forest through the trees. With any of these folks, it’s easy to say that the CIA or Pentagon or State Department simply got them wrong. That logic is too simple. All of these politicians pivot to maximize their own power and ally themselves with whomever they see as the dominant power. Previously, that was us. Now, it’s either Tehran or Damascus (in Iraq’s case) or the ISI’s Islamabad (in Karzai’s case). Karzai’s move comes not only amidst U.S. pressure to reform, but also after the success of Hillary Clinton’s so-called “strategic dialogue” with Pakistan. Behind all the self-congratulatory backslapping of the Obama administration and its fans in the press was a fact which Karzai certainly noticed — the White House acknowledged and legitimized Pakistan’s dominant role in Afghanistan.
Rather than laugh off or be angry about Karzai’s antics, the question President Obama and Secretary Clinton should answer is: How can we augment and preserve predominant U.S. influence in Iraq and Afghanistan so we become the strong horse?