The New York Times reports that Afghanistan has become the third nation to publicly back Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The other two are Syria and Venezuela.
Irony abounds. Afghans, including President Karzai, fought a ten-year war against Soviet invaders and their unpopular puppets. The U.S. assisted the Afghans in that struggle.
Later, of course, the U.S. liberated Afghanistan from the Taliban and installed Karzai as president. Yet now, when the U.S. and other European nations that contributed to fighting the Taliban denounce the Russian invasion of Crimea, Karzai backs that aggression.
But, like all politicians, Karzai wants to know not so much what the U.S. has done for him lately, but what it’s going to do for him going forward. The answer is that we are pulling out of Afghanistan.
Our exit creates a vacuum. Russia, the most powerful and influential nation in the neighborhood, is Karzai’s best hope for filling the void and is more than eager to do so. Beginning in 2012 when the U.S. troop withdrawal began, Russia substantially increased its aid and cultural exchange programs. As the Times explains:
With the Americans pulling back, [Afghanistan] is looking for assistance from other quarters. Russia has been increasingly active in offering development aid. Given Russia’s heavy influence on countries along Afghanistan’s border, maintaining a long-term relationship with the Kremlin is seen as essential to Afghan foreign policy. Moscow is also ramping up its investment in Afghanistan. It is rebuilding the relics of the Soviet occupation and promoting its own political and cultural prowess.
In other words, Russia is doing what comes naturally, and so is Karzai. President Obama is doing what comes naturally to him, but not to nation states — he is ceding influence to our adversary in a country that he has previously described as “fundamental to the defense of our people.”
Obama is doing the same thing in Egypt. The Washington Post points out that Vladimir Putin last month “received Egyptian army chief Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, whose relations with Washington have been strained since a coup last summer, and expressed support for the military.”
Karzai’s announcement of support for Russia’s annexation of Crimea coincided with the visit of an American congressional delegation. In fact, as the Times reports, “he announcement, tellingly, came in the final two paragraphs of a statement about Mr. Karzai’s meeting on Saturday with three visiting American members of Congress.”
Karzai’s timing was also natural. Weakness breeds contempt and public displays thereof.