By Frank James
President Barack Obama told journalists who were ushered into the Oval Office for a photo op that he spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai by phone Monday and congratulated him on his re-election to another five year term.
Obama said, in part:
I should use this moment to say that, about an hour ago, I spoke with President Karzai and I congratulated him on his election for a second term as president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. You know, although the process was messy, I'm pleased to say that the final outcome was determined in accordance with Afghan law, which I think is very important not only for the international community that has so much invested in Afghan success, but, most importantly, is important for the Afghan people that the results were in accordance with and followed the rules as laid down by the Afghan constitution.
I did emphasize to President Karzai that the American people and the international community as a whole want to continue to partner with him and his government in achieving prosperity and security in Afghanistan. But I emphasized that this has to be a point in time in which we begin to write a new chapter based on improved governance, a much more serious effort to eradicate corruption, joint efforts to accelerate the training of Afghan security forces, so that the Afghan people can provide for their own security.
Even before Karzai's challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out of the runoff which had been scheduled for the upcoming weekend, Karzai was favored to win re-election.
So Obama was likely going to have to publicly congratulate Karzai in any event, despite the bad taste the fraud-filled Afghan presidential election in August left in the mouths of U.S. policymakers. Officials strongly suspected the runoff would be afflicted by fraud, too.
Now the Obama Administration has to hope that it, along with the international community, can employ the right carrots and sticks to get Karzai to rein in official corruption and provide services to the Afghan people.
The worry is that these desired outcomes may be beyond Karzai's ability to deliver.
But Obama has a Hobson's choice when it comes to Karzai, meaning he has no choice. Karzai is the Afghan leader, the only real partner the U.S. has right now.
If the U.S. Afghan strategy now being reconsidered is going to work, it will be with Karzai. As Donald Rumsfeld might have said: you go to war with the Afghan ally you have, not the ally you might want or wish to have...