Since 2003, the United States, under the most difficult of circumstances, has made a massive commitment to the country of Afghanistan.
Military and economic support we have provided thus far totals nearly $650 billion. But our commitment included a price more valuable than dollars.
The military engagement there has now stretched far longer than World War II, and it has taken the lives of 2,300 American servicemen and -women. Roadside bombs, guerrilla attacks, suicide bombers and other forms of assault have left more than 19,000 of our service personnel injured.
Here in the Midlands, the commitment to the Afghan people has taken some inspiring forms. Successive groups of female Afghan teachers have been welcomed at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. In addition to the combat roles of the Nebraska and Iowa National Guard units, special Guard teams have helped Afghan farmers boost their productivity, improve their irrigation methods and pursue product diversification.
Even after all these years of commitment and sacrifice, our country has signaled the Afghan people that we remain committed to continuing our support. Our government has negotiated an agreement that would leave thousands of U.S. and NATO troops to remain after 2014 to train and assist Afghan security forces.
Afghan tribal leaders and other officials gathered last weekend in a formal assembly — a loya jirga —with one purpose: to debate and decide whether to approve that agreement. Afghan President Hamid Karzai opened the session by telling the delegates that it was their decision to make. The vast majority of delegates voiced support for the agreement.
Then Karzai threw a roadblock in front of the entire process.
With top U.S. officials in the audience, Karzai refused to support the agreement and laid out new conditions that he hadn't raised during the negotiations. By arbitrarily throwing out these new demands, Karzai is creating huge complications for the already challenging endeavor of scaling down U.S. troop numbers, currently at 54,000.
Karzai's behavior is a remarkable insult to the United States in the face of our years of costly commitment and American lives sacrificed.
In one fell swoop, the Afghan leader simultaneously disrespected our country as well as his own people.
It's no wonder that a Los Angeles Times article this week was filled with quotes from Afghans — government officials and regular citizens — expressing exasperation with their own president.
John Podesta, White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton and now an informal adviser to the Obama administration, met with officials in Afghanistan this month. This week, he spared few words in describing Karzai's recklessness. The Afghan president, he said, has “gone from maddeningly unpredictable to dangerously erratic.”
The history of frictions between Karzai and the U.S. government in no way justifies his capricious, irresponsible efforts to undermine this needed security agreement. A lengthly analysis just released by the RAND Corp. spells out the dangers to Afghanistan if the United States is not able to continue providing support to that country's military to counter the insurgent threat.
The calls, here and in Afghanistan, for Karzai to step back from his foolish actions and approve the agreement are well-founded.