The news on the front page of the New York Times (4/29/13) was that Afghan President Hamid Karzai receives regular deliveries of cash from, among others, our own Central Intelligence Agency. And it made it onto the NBC Nightly News (4/29/13), where anchor Brian Williams had a most peculiar reaction:
Throughout the past decade of deaths and grievous injuries to Americans fighting in Afghanistan, including a cost to this nation of more than $600 billion, Americans have been told our point man there is the popularly elected President Hamid Karzai, and we have been reassured he has U.S. interests at heart. Well, that took a blow today when we woke up to the news that Karzai has been receiving bags of cash from the CIA among others. That would be U.S. taxpayer money.
Huh. So the fact that Karzai received money from the United States, presumably in order to do things the U.S. wants him to do, means that he might not have “U.S. interests at heart”? Did we expect him to turn the money down to prove his heart was true?
Andrea Mitchell advanced the story, reporting that “somewhat incredibly, Hamid Karzai today confirmed that the CIA has, in fact, been dropping off bags of cash at his National Security Office for years.” She explained:
U.S. officials say that the money is used to buy the loyalty of warlords as well as cover some off-the-book operations. We checked with the White House, State Department, the CIA, none of whom would deny this report.
So from the sound of it, U.S. officials were paying Karzai to do things they wanted him to do. If giving Karzai cash is the problem, Williams should be upset with the CIA, or with the U.S. government in general. (As the Times piece noted, in 2010 reports that Iran delivering cash to a Karzai aide made the U.S. government furious.)
The Times‘ Matthew Rosenberg points out:
Like the Iranian cash, much of the CIA’s money goes to paying off warlords and politicians, many of whom have ties to the drug trade and, in some cases, the Taliban. The result, American and Afghan officials said, is that the agency has greased the wheels of the same patronage networks that American diplomats and law enforcement agents have struggled unsuccessfully to dismantle, leaving the government in the grips of what are basically organized crime syndicates.
It’s fine to be shocked and/or appalled by this news–but it’s rather odd to direct your anger at Karzai for not having U.S. “interests at heart” because he’s on the U.S. payroll.