Our Man in Kabul

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Over the past several years, when he complained again and again about American attacks in his country that were killing civilians in surprising numbers and remarkably often, he was generally humored and dealt with as an irrelevance or an annoyance. Now, given the rampant drug trade, the corruption, the “tantrums,” the emotional outbursts, the threats to join the Taliban, and his embracing of the Iranians and the Chinese, he is dealt with in Washington as a cross between a big baby, an unstable adult, an overemotional drug-taker, and a prime danger to the American project in Afghanistan. He was given a lot of TLC by the previous resident of the White House, while being studiously ignored or reproved by this one. American officials have lavished praise—and scorn—on him. They have brandished hard power—and laid on the soft power—to tame him. They have regularly tried “new tacks” in dealing with him, and then tacked—and tacked again. I’m talking, of course, about Hamid Karzai, the American-installed president of Afghanistan, our man in Kabul, as Alfred McCoy so aptly dubs him. He’s our boy, our nemesis, the definition of our problem in Afghanistan, our worst mistake, and our missing conscience all wrapped in one.

McCoy, a historian at the University of Wisconsin and an expert on the Vietnam War, the CIA, and the drug trade, offers a powerful reminder that we’ve been here before. And he’s not the only one who knows it. After all, Richard Holbrooke, the president’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, spent his first six years in government service in, or focused on, Vietnam during the war years. And as the Obama administration was setting its Afghan course in the fall of 2009, a number of key figures in the White House, including the president, took time out to study Gordon Goldstein’s book, Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam, which recounts, among other things, the grim tale of Ngo Dinh Diem, the Hamid Karzai of that moment, and the CIA plot that led to his overthrow and assassination, as well as a wider, more disastrous war for the US.

As McCoy makes clear, however, the history lesson in all this goes deeper than Karzai and Diem, despite the unbelievably eerie parallels between them. As that old Seinfeld break-up line goes: It’s not you, it’s me. And whatever Karzai’s problems are, it’s not, in the end, him, it’s us. It’s a problem that goes to the riven imperial heart of the matter.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate