Born Yesterday

05/08/2013 02:42 pm ET | Updated Jul 08, 2013

I was bemused to read about the uproar caused by press revelations of "bags" of money from the CIA being delivered to the office of President Hamid Karzai in Kabul...as if we were all born yesterday.

The most striking to me were four letters to the editor published on May 3 in the New York Times (which had originally broken the story on April 29.) The first of these letters has this imperative: "Let the Central Intelligence Agency go back to spying and stop droppng sacks of money on President Hamid Karzai". The fact is that since time immemorial intelligence agencies have not just collected information. They have acted as centers for clandestine actions: propaganda, paramilitary operations, etc.

The second letter, I must admit, I read with a twinge of sympathy. It begins as follows: "As a Foreign Service officer for three decades, I observed up close the contradiction between CIA officers...paying cash for access and secrets while the rest of us did it by charm alone".

The third letter states in part, "The Karzai regime is corrupt to the core, and yet we still think that President Hamid Karzai is our friend and a beacon of democracy or at least the lesser of several evils". While all of this is true, it is well to keep in mind the origins of Karzai's rise to power. It took place in the aftermath of 9/11 and the U.S. incursion into Afghanistan in pursuit of Osama bin Laden. This operation made use primarily of the Tadjik-dominated Northern Alliance, and it was thought wise to have a political counterweight from the Pashtun side, the Pashtuns being the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. Karzai, from a prominent Pashtun family, seemed to fit the bill.

The fourth letter begins as follows: "As a disabled Vietnam veteran, I am especially appalled at the millions in cash being paid off the books by the Central Intelligence Agency to Afghan officials". But such cash payments are not "off the books". Anything the CIA does abroad that is not strictly the collection of information must be approved by the President. Hardly "off the books".

Alas, there are many downsides to what has happened in Afghanistan. In my view, we should have stopped hostilities in Afghanistan when bin Laden and his al-Qaeda followers escaped into Pakistan in late 2001. But it is now more than 11 years later and way past time to get out.