Outgoing U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry has blasted Hamid Karzai-although not by name-for the Afghan president's latest, intemperate outburst against the U.S. and our coalition partners. This time, Mr. Karzai complained not just about the civilian casualties inadvertently caused by NATO air strikes, as he usually does, but also about the supposed environmental damage caused by dropping bombs that "have chemical materials in them." As if Afghanistan, which has been ravaged by three decades of war, were a pristine paradise before NATO arrived.
It is hard to disagree with Mr. Eikenberry when he says: "When Americans, who are serving in your country at great cost-in terms of life and treasure-hear themselves compared with occupiers, told that they are only here to advance their own interest, and likened to the brutal enemies of the Afghan people, they are filled with confusion and grow weary of our effort here."
Mr. Karzai does in fact undermine public support for the war effort in America by denouncing the very foreigners who are keeping him alive and in office. But does it serve any purpose to fire back? Perhaps it might, if it shocks Mr. Karzai into being more careful about what he says in the future.
In the end, however, the war isn't about Hamid Karzai. Nor is it about winning the love and gratitude of the people of Afghanistan. NATO's goals coincide with the desires of the vast majority of Afghans who want their nation to be a democracy and not a Taliban-run terror state. But fundamentally we are in Afghanistan to protect our self-interest, to ensure that Afghanistan does not revert to being a terrorist sanctuary as it was prior to 9/11.
We cannot let pique at Mr. Karzai cloud our strategic judgment. Even though he is far from ideal, we can still make progress with him at the helm. Our troops have proved that over the past year: They have been able to take back Taliban sanctuaries in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
To the extent that Mr. Karzai winks at corruption that undercuts public support for his government, he has been a hindrance to coalition counterinsurgency efforts. But we could not be doing what we are doing without his backing. NATO forces are in Afghanistan at the invitation of its government, and it would be hard to remain if Mr. Karzai asked us to leave.
But he hasn't, and he won't. In private, Mr. Karzai is not nearly as obstructionist as he is in public. He is now negotiating with U.S. officials over the terms of an accord that would allow U.S. forces to remain in Afghanistan for years to come. This is hardly the action of someone who is intent on driving us out.
Our policy regarding Hamid Karzai should be to suck it up and make the best of a bad situation until his term of office runs out - while insisting that we will do everything in our power to stop him from amending the constitution to allow him a third, five-year term in office. In this regard there is good news, or at least a good rumor: Secretary of Defense Bob Gates says that Mr. Karzai intends to step down in 2014 when his current term expires.