Funny that this never got mentioned during the campaign last fall, and even now it's the BBC that's brought this event to light.
BBC reporter Ian Pannell, discussing the Nosedive in Afghan-US relations, traces the current woes back to a visit last year by Joe Biden to Afghanistan, during which he had a private meeting with Hamid Karzai. Employing the British talent for understatement, Mr. Pannell commented:
A well-placed source describes Mr Biden, exasperated at not getting "straight answers" on drugs and corruption, launching into a verbal tirade and storming out of the meeting.
In a country where honour and decorum are second only to God and country, this was less than tactful.
Curiously, when then Sen. Biden spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations shortly after his return, he somehow neglected to mention this incident.
Had a Bush administration official committed such an offense, the media would have been filled with denunciation of cowboy diplomacy and interviews with academic "experts" decrying the official's "appalling" ignorance of and disrespect for the cultural mores of Afghan society,
But since the offense came from the other side of the partisan divide, the press of course simply looked away and hurried along to its next criticism of the Bush administration. Instead, all we heard about during the election campaign was how President Obama was going to restore America's standing around the world. Only a year later are the events of that meeting starting to reach the public - and the source is British, not American media.
Things have continued to deteriorate since then despite the Obama administration's skillful behind-the-scenes diplomacy.
On the campaign trail and more recently in confirmation hearings, senior members of President Barack Obama's team have questioned the effectiveness and honesty of Hamid Karzai's government.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's written statement to Congress during her confirmation hearing called Afghanistan a "narco-state" that was "plagued by limited capacity and widespread corruption". She may have been wise enough not to use the phrase in her public testimony but by the time it was reported on the front page of the newspapers in Kabul, it did not really make much difference...
Then there was a recent article in the New York Times. Quoting anonymous "senior administration officials", it said Washington planned to take a tougher-line with Kabul and that Hamid Karzai was now regarded as "a potential impediment to American goals" in the country.
Mr. Parnell notes that Hamid Karzai is an avid reader of the Western press and is known to be highly sensitive to criticisms they may have of him. Although he has not responded, it is certainly no surprise that he is now under considerable pressure.
Oops, did I say "skillful"? I meant "elephant in a china shop".
Ironically, the fruit of these efforts may be to push Mr. Karzai into negotiations with Russia for support. Mr Parnell writes:
President Karzai has been holding a series of meetings with former Mujahedeen commanders in the past few weeks amid suggestions that he is trying to align the country with Russia. That has certainly been his public stance. As well as a deliberately leaked "letter of understanding" with Moscow, President Karzai publicly warned America that unless it supplied the military hardware he wanted, he would look to other countries for support.
No-one was in a moment's doubt who this meant. The Russian ambassador, Zamir Kabulov, an old Afghan hand, was seen strutting around parliament last week. He has warned that the US and NATO are repeating the same mistakes of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. As he was posted to the Soviet Embassy at the time, his opinion is worth considering.
Indeed, we have come to a fine pass when the leaders of Russia get so perturbed at our lurch to the left that they have to warn us we've gone off the road. First Putin cautioning us about the dangers of excessive state intervention, and now the Russian ambassador tells us we're repeating the errors that Soviet Union made in Afghanistan.
But have no fear, President Obama is working hard to reestablish our standing abroad. "Standing" as in "doormat".
For today's spelling lesson, our word is D-I-E-M.
And Hamid Karzai knows darn well that he is not going to make the same mistake.
Don't you just love Hope and Change...
(cross-posted at And Rightly So!)