Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s excellent article on the troubled American relationship with Hamid Karzai offers up a telling anecdote:
As he spoke, he grew agitated, then enraged. He told them that he now has three “main enemies” – the Taliban, the United States and the international community.
“If I had to choose sides today, I’d choose the Taliban,” he fumed.
So there you have it.
It seems to me that there are kind of two ways to think about this problematic situation. One, which seems prevalent in the relevant military circles, is to see the Afghan government as posing essentially tactical problems. Their job is to “win,” problems with the Afghan government are problems for the goal of “winning,” and so the question is about how best to manage the relationship while pursuing the goal of a “win.”
A different way of looking at it would be to say that these problems with Karzai and his government actually create different obligations and interests for us than might otherwise be the case. If the de jure government of Afghanistan were a really promising and awesome force that was having an insurgency problem and badly wanted the assistance of the United States of America, then I would say we have very compelling reasons to make good on past commitments and do our utmost to help out. But if Karzai doesn’t really want our help and isn’t interested in doing the things that we think need to be done, then the reasons for being deeply involved are much less compelling.