With friends like these, who needs Washington?

Americans have been informed by the incoming Obama administration that after eight years under Bush we are now embarking on a new era of smart diplomacy. Joe Biden is abroad reaffirming the new administration’s intentions to engage and partner with the rest of the world. Hillary Clinton stands ready to use her considerable charm as a vehicle for returning the US to its previously respected stature among foreign leaders. During the campaign, Barack Obama assured the country that he would bring a new focus on the “real” battlefront against al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Worthwhile goals all.

It seems as though somebody forgot to tell Afghanistan they’re supposed to be swooning over the new occupant in the White House:

A senior Afghan government official says the new Obama administration has insulted President Karzai and one prominent MP accuses America of “running a shadow-government”.

The decline in relations began with a visit last year by Joe Biden, now the vice-president, to Kabul.

At the time, as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, he attended a private meeting with Mr Karzai.

A well-placed source describes Mr Biden, exasperated at not getting “straight answers” on drugs and corruption, launching into a verbal tirade and storming out of the meeting.

In a country where honour and decorum are second only to God and country, this was less than tactful. Joe Biden, less then tactful? The deuce you say! Nothing says smart diplomacy like your Veep visiting a foreign land before the election to preemptively offend their government. I really need that Hope/Change to English dictionary soon because the dichotomy between Biden’s promise, “We will engage. We will listen. We will consult…” and launching verbal tirades at foreign leaders is dizzying.

I guess that promise was past its expiration date when uttered yesterday.

At least we can count on Hillary Clinton to build a warm relationship with the man whose cooperation is vital in achieving American goals in Afghanistan.

On the campaign trail and more recently in confirmation hearings, senior members of President Barack Obama’s team have questioned the effectiveness and honesty of Hamid Karzai’s government.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s written statement to Congress during her confirmation hearing called Afghanistan a “narco-state” that was “plagued by limited capacity and widespread corruption”.

She may have been wise enough not to use the phrase in her public testimony but by the time it was reported on the front page of the newspapers in Kabul, it did not really make much difference.Doesn’t multiculturalism dictate that we are supposed to accept other cultures without judgment? That the world can’t be viewed properly through the prism of Western values? So, large segments of the Afghani people cling to their tradition of planting opium poppies and harvesting their sticky, medicinal resin. They have no other possibilities for supporting themselves and their families. They should change their traditional way of life because we take the War on Drugs more seriously than the now defunct War on Terror?

Setting aside the irony of a Washington pol – especially one named Clinton – calling out another government on corruption, would the Secretary of State be kind enough to list the three least corrupt governments in the Middle East/South Asia? No hurry, just let us know once you can identify one.

President Karzai has been holding a series of meetings with former Mujahedeen commanders in the past few weeks amid suggestions that he is trying to align the country with Russia.

That has certainly been his public stance. As well as a deliberately leaked “letter of understanding” with Moscow, President Karzai publicly warned America that unless it supplied the military hardware he wanted, he would look to other countries for support.

No-one was in a moment’s doubt who this meant. The Russian ambassador, Zamir Kabulov, an old Afghan hand, was seen strutting around parliament last week.Interesting. Could this be why the Kremlin is pressuring Kyrgyzstan to close the only US air base in Central Asia? We were guaranteed an international crisis during the first six months of the Obama presidency. With so much of his attention focused on speeding through a massive spending bill under the guise of stimulus, is Russia upping the ante to the first six weeks of his administration?

A wedding between Afghanistan and the former Soviet Union? Yeah, that’s some fast-acting diplomacy.

It seems inconceivable that there could be a real and lasting schism between Kabul and Washington. It will be the job of Richard Holbrooke, the US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, to ensure that does not happen.

But the date has been set for Afghanistan’s presidential election and the West’s disappointment with Hamid Karzai can no longer be disguised.

A number of challengers are jostling for American support and in the current climate, their chances are starting to improve.We all know how highly governments seen to be puppets of the United States are esteemed in the international community. Just force out the man who’s done an impossible job holding together a government in a country positioned between Iran and Pakistan because…well, because he doesn’t proffer easy answers to difficult questions. Smart diplomacy, indeed.

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