Afghan President Hamid Karzai is increasingly viewed by U.S. pundits and writers as part of the problem in Afghanistan, for his role in political corruption and sometimes unpredictably emotional behavior, rather than part of the solution. President Barack Obama has struggled to bring Karzai, who has had a rocky relationship with the U.S.-led force in his country, back into the fold. But Afghanistan expert Joshua Foust is pushing back against the anti-Karzai narrative.
Foust writes in Foreign Policy, "Hamid Karzai remains the only real option for crafting a political and institutional framework that will stabilize the country, and the sooner the U.S. realizes it, and stops wishing for a perfect leader to fix an imperfect war, the better off we’ll be." He explains that blaming Afghanistan's problems on Karzai isn't just wrong--it allows us to ignore the actual causes for those problems.
Karzai’s critics have ripped him for failing to provide security, maintain a functional government, and reconstruct the country. He certainly has done none of those things. But he also has none of the resources he would need to act.
... For all his many flaws, none of this is of Karzai’s making. He’s in an impossible situation, boxed in by a constitution designed by the West and an economy and society devastated by years of war. Anyone else trying to govern Afghanistan is going to face the same constraints. Instead of blaming Karzai, the U.S. should look at the structural and institutional reasons for his failed presidency.
And, Foust reminds us, we're not Karzai's boss. The people of Afghanistan are, and they're "growing increasingly disillusioned with Western promises and actions. ... There is incredible pressure in Kabul to negotiate some sort of end to the fighting -- and not necessarily on terms the U.S. wants to see."
Foust concludes, "Good man or no, having an office as poorly situated as the Afghan presidency makes any officeholder destined for failure. Were another president to step into the post, he would be faced by the same pressures -- forced to manage the same perilous balancing acts." He suggests Western anger with Karzia is "less a question about Karzai than about U.S. expectations." Whether or not Foust is right that a potential replacement would probably be just as bad or worse, Karzai's critics would be wise to consider his argument that the problem is the office, not the man.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.