The Rocky Times of Obama and Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai takes questions from reporters during his joint news conference with President Barack Obama in the East Room at the White House in Washington, Friday, Jan. 11, 2013.  (National Journal)

President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are having lunch at the White House today for yet another frank discussion on America's longest war.

Over the last five years, the relationship between the two leaders has been tense and sometimes strained. Obama calls their talks "blunt" and Karzai is known for being combative in negotiations. Now, they have to discuss a transition of military power that could see most or all U.S. troops leave Afghanistan by 2014.

Some key moments in the relationship:

  • Biden throws in the napkin: Then-Sen. Joe Biden visited Karzai in Kabul in February 2008 to share concerns over corruption in his government. Biden was joined by Sens. John Kerry, recently picked to become the next secretary of State, and Chuck Hagel, Obama's recent nominee to be Defense secretary. Frustrated with Karzai's response on the corruption issues, Biden famously threw his napkin on the table and declared, "This dinner is over."
  • The Hagel connection: During an international tour while campaigning for president in July 2008, then-Sen. Obama traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan to meet with U.S. troops, making the trip with Hagel and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. The senators met with Karzai in Kabul and also went to a U.S. military base in Jalalabad. Obama and Hagel would later cite this trip as when the two became good friends, eventually leading to Hagel's nomination earlier this week.
  • The corruption problem: Karzai is declared the winner of his reelection bid in November 2009 after rival Abdullah Abdullah dropped out of a run-off. Observers said the election was riddled with corruption and accused Karzai of voter fraud. There were also accusations of bribes and violent coercion. Upon reelection, Obama said Karzai had to focus on tackling corruption in his government, calling it a "new chapter."
  • First visit as POTUS: In his first visit to Afghanistan as commander in chief in March 2010, Obama pressed Karzai over cronyism and a lack of transparency in his government. Obama also urged the Afghan leader to help combat drug trafficking. The two would later meet at a NATO summit in November 2010.
  • Cancelation due to weather: Obama made a surprise holiday visit to U.S. troops at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan in December 2010, thanking them for their service and assuring them that the United States and its allies were "making important progress." But unlike other trips, Obama did not meet with Karzai. Officials said wind gusts prevented the president's helicopter to make the trip down to Kabul. Obama did not wait for the weather to improve and left.
  • The Obama apologies: After photos showing American troops urinating on dead Taliban militants were surfaced, Karzai lambasted the U.S. for disrespecting the dead. Obama both called and sent a letter to apologize to Karzai and the Afghan people for the soldiers' actions in February 2012, emphasizing the long-term partnership between the two nations. Obama also apologized for an incident at Bagram Airfield, where Qurans were burned.
  • The road to 2014: On the first anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan in May 2012 to sign a strategic partnership with Karzai. The two men laid out framework to conclude the decade-long war, in which more than 2,000 Americans had died. "I've come to Afghanistan to mark a historic moment for our two nations and to do so on Afghan soil," Obama said in Kabul. The two met again in Chicago for the NATO summit, finalizing their plans to transition military powers by 2014.