Obama to Karzai: Thanks for Admitting You're Crooked
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Barack Obama will have to do some awfully embarrassing things as president. The whole pardoning the turkey thing on the eve of Thanksgiving comes to mind. And then there's the taking John Boehner seriously thing -- an admittedly impossible task that must be undertaken as perhaps the most thankless burden of the republic.
On the scale of exceptionally embarrassing White House duties, however, few moments will rival the point on Tuesday when the president found himself hailing the commitment of accused election-fraudster Hamid Karzai to "ensuring a credible process for the Afghan people which results in a government that reflects their will."
Karzai, the imposed viceroy, er, president of Afghanistan whose supporters engaged in massive fraud in order to "win" the country's recent election, has agreed to participate in a November 7 runoff election with Abdullah Abdullah – the most resilient survivor of the Karzai team's chicanery.
Obama, who is heavily invested in the fantasy that Karzai is a legitimate leader and that the U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan will somehow develop popular support there (or in the United States), knows that the Afghan president is no democrat.
But the American president must pretend that Afghanistan is a functional republic that meets internationally-accepted standards with regard to voting, counting and reporting results.
That's not the case. Independent agencies and analysts have confirmed that fraud was so widespread that it was unreasonable to claim Karzai -- or anyone else -- had one.
Karzai's association with election fraud and corruption has made it harder for U.S. officials to proceed with plans to ramp up the occupation by sending in more troops and transforming a classic military presence into a more permanent project.
So Karzai had to agree to at least go through the motions of participating in a real election.
And when he did, Obama hailed a man who stands accused of orchestrating a massive effort to thwart democracy as someone whose "constructive actions established an important precedent for Afghanistan's new democracy."
Obama's precise statement went like this: "While this election could have remained unresolved to the detriment of the country, President Karzai's constructive actions established an important precedent for Afghanistan's new democracy. The Afghan constitution and laws are strengthened by President Karzai's decision, which is in the best interests of the Afghan people."
The "yuck factor" was high.
But it got higher when Obama praised Karzai for helping to foster "such a vibrant campaign."
It is, of course, true that Obama is not the first American president to have to pretend that a local bad guy who got caught red handed was some kind of statesman.
Still, having to speak well of Karzai is a lot -- arguably too much -- to ask.
And if Obama has any sense of the region -- or of the trouble his Afghanistan initiative is in -- he had to be hoping that Karzai and his henchmen would refrain from obvious lawbreaking in the second round.
John Nichols writes about politics for The Nation magazine as its Washington correspondent.