A senior Senate Democrat is challenging President Obama on his handling of the bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan, saying that the administration’s consistent lobbying for Hamid Karzai to sign the agreement makes the U.S. come off as looking like it’s in a position subordinate to Kabul.
In a letter to Obama today, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) noted he traveled to Afghanistan for the 12th time in October and was “struck by the significant and positive changes, particularly over the last several years, that are transforming the security and daily lives of the Afghan people.”
“I remain supportive of an enduring partnership between the United States and Afghanistan based on mutual respect as sovereign nations,” he added. “I am encouraged by the overwhelming endorsement by the Loya Jirga of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) and their call for President Karzai to sign the agreement before the end of the year. Despite the Loya Jirga’s endorsement, President Karzai has unfortunately chosen to raise additional demands as a condition for his signature of the agreement.”
Karzai’s term is good for a few more months as presidential elections are on April 5; candidates include some of his starkest opponents and his brother Quayum. As three of the preconditions to sign the agreement, Karzai wants “transparent” presidential elections, progress in talks with the Taliban, and a pledge by the U.S. to not raid any more homes.
Washington wants the agreement signed now, but Karzai said he’ll get to it after April elections. So Obama recently sent National Security Advisor Susan Rice over to Afghanistan to twist Karzai’s arm.
Karzai has not budged. After Secretary of State John Kerry suggested Afghanistan’s defense minister could sign the pact instead of the president, Karzai forbade any of his ministers from signing the agreement.
Levin chided Obama on these tactics, saying “public demands that President Karzai sign the agreement by the end of the year, or the recent suggestion that we could settle for less than an Afghan president approving the agreement, contribute to President Karzai’s mistaken belief that the United States needs Afghanistan more than Afghanistan needs the United States.”
“Instead, we should tell President Karzai that if he chooses not to sign the BSA, we will await the next president of Afghanistan who will be elected in April. The next Afghan president, whoever he is, is also likely to be more reliable than President Karzai, and there would be greater confidence in his sticking with an agreement he has signed,” Levin continued.
“The United States would need to engage in prudent military planning for the possibility that the BSA is not signed until next April, or the possibility that the BSA is not signed at all, in which latter case all U.S. troops would have to be pulled out of Afghanistan,” he said. “NATO is already engaged in planning for all options, including a zero option. We should be clear, however, that such planning is not intended as a threat, but rather is the responsible actions of our civilian and military leaders.”