The Eikenberry Cables

03/28/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai "continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden..." [Italics mine]. Those words, written by U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry in one of two cables to the White House in November, are a damning indictment of the Kabul regime that Americans continue to die for.

Eikenberry's cables, copies of which were given to the New York Times, were a forceful argument against the "Obama Surge" of 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan. The cost of sending those troops, Eikenberry said, would be fiscally "astronomical," not to mention the incalculable cost of the loss of life and limb. And remember, Karl Eikenberry is no bleeding-heart liberal peacenik - he's a retired three-star general who once commanded the American forces in Afghanistan. His contempt for President Karzai is palpable and undisguised. Karzai, he writes, is "not an adequate strategic partner." Rather, the ambassador bluntly states, Karzai and his inner circle "assume we covet their territory for a never-ending 'war on terror'." Thus, Karzai and his cronies are happy to keep the money spigot wide open and to let the U.S. and its allies perform the heavy lifting of not only national defense but governance. That endless war would keep the billions of dollars in aid flowing into Afghanistan ad infinitum, enriching not the country so much as corrupt Afghan politicians, who siphon off millions for their own use and who protect the drug trade, another seemingly infinite source of revenue.

Ambassador Eikenberry was equally critical of the Afghan military and police forces, and doubted that they would be ready to defend Afghanistan in the foreseeable future. And he cautioned that the success of any troop surge depended on Pakistan's efforts to attack and destroy the militants' strongholds along the Afghan border. But even as the surge troops begin to arrive in Afghanistan, Pakistan has called a several months halt to military operations in the border regions, effectively awarding the Taliban and al Qaeda a free pass to recruit, arm and train more fighters.

Another key element of the cables is the ambassador's observation that beyond Karzai lies - nothing, no one. In Eikenberry's words, there is "no political ruling class...that provides reliable partnership." A few decades ago, Afghanistan did have a political ruling class. That was when the country was at peace and the schools and universities were turning out educated Afghans to staff a civil service that ran the various ministries fairly effectively. In my chats with Karzai in 2005, he recalled with obvious pride his travels from India, where he was studying, to Kabul to visit his family between terms. At the border crossings where he had to deal with Pakistani and Afghan officials, he said, the Afghan civil service was clearly the more efficient. But during the many years of fighting that started with the Soviet invasion in late 1979, the educated class of Afghans fled to the West and most never returned. Some came back, to be sure, following the ouster of the Taliban, seeing a ray of hope for their native land, but many of them left again, frustrated by rampant corruption, increasing violence and government inefficiency. Schools are open again, but many operate under the constant threat of Taliban attack, and it will require at least a generation to produce a new political class - provided the graduates don't simply head west with their diplomas and degrees, to countries offering more peace and promise.

Some time after the cables were written, the ambassador drank the Kool-Aid, and now, an embassy spokesperson told the Times, he "unequivocally" supports the plan drafted by Eikenberry's successor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and approved by the Obama White House. But if the diplomatic waters between the U.S. embassy in Kabul and the Arg Palace were chilly before, you'll be able to skate on them now that the texts of the cables have been published. But does President Karzai care? I doubt it. He obviously feels that the American ambassador's views are irrelevant anyway, that the Western money and military forces will keep on coming whether or not he invites the Eikenberrys to tea.