Yesterday, President Karzai has ordered US Special Forces out of Wardak Province. The US-Afghanistan relationship has changed significantly since 2008 and its unlikely to improve before 2017. To be fair, the relationship has constantly deteriorated since the first trip that then Presidential candidate, and junior Senator from Illinois, but presiding chairman of the Senate Afghanistan committee took to Afghanistan in 2008. The junior politician with no real experience disrespected the elder President, in his own home, back then, ordering the President to bow to the junior Senator's orders, while alleging crimes against his host.
The complete lack of cultural understanding meant that the Obama-Karzai relationship would never be a good one. There is no more enduring memory, than that of an Afghan. They are slow to befriend strangers, and have strict rules of conduct with regards to host-guest. They are loyal to friends, but not to those that attempt to buy them off. Their trust is not given lightly, but once given, it is enduring.
So, when Obama campaigned to install a "counter-weight" to Karzai, despite the elections of Afghans, it was not just in disregard of democracy, but a direct assault to Karzai. When it campaigned to elect Karzai's rival to his position, it sealed the animosity towards Obama, personally. When Obama sent the arrogant Holbrooke to an "AfPak" to tell the two countries what to do, it ignored the proud sovereignity of the Afghan people, and implied the larger Afghan nation was subservient to their neighbors, which still supports the terrorists undermining the Afghan government.
Since 2009, Karzai has demonstrated a less than positive response to the Obama Administration, and has made some demands that are less than positive towards operations there, but until now, it has been mostly bluster, the kind of political mouthing off that is expected of a politician, while the reality of enforcement of those demands was less than forceful. Mostly, it was the kind of talk the Afghan people expected of their own sovereign and duly elected leader, while he winked at US Commanders, though not so much at the "diplomats" of the Administration.
Eikenberry, Holbrooke, and Clinton had all burnt their bridges with Karzai, with a total disregard for Afghan culture, and an attitude of Karzai being a vassal of Emperor Obama. If there was one positive to Kerry's appointment, it was that his previous encounters with Karzai had demonstrated respect of that culture. Despite, all the other negatives of Kerry, Karzai was the one place I expected he would make a positive difference.
Nevertheless, the re-election of Obama, to serve for the rest of Karzai's term, means that Karzai knows relations with the US will not improve while Karzai is President. It means that Karzai has no need to pretend to get along with the Obama Administration, during the rest of his lame duck session. And Obama's insistence on "ending" the war, while demanding the basing of "counter-terrorism" Troops and drones to bomb the neighbors in Afghanistan means that the best Afghanistan can hope for, is a steady stream of dollars, after Karzai is out of office.
There is very little future for Karzai, or Afghanistan's democratically elected government, except the recognition that there will be a steady increase in Taliban, and other terrorist elements. That means the smart money is on a return to Taliban rule, or at least great swathes of Taliban control. It means the smart Afghan politicians are making accomodations to that eventuality. Obama is pulling out, and cutting the number of Afghan Troops he'll have America pay for, while at the height of US, NATO, and Afghan Troops, there was still a great deal of Taliban influence. He's "ending it" to demise of US friends, and the joy of the Taliban, and other enemies.
The post 2008 Karzai-US relationship is in stark contrast to the 2001-2008 relationship. In 2001, Karzai was nearly killed in the fight against the Taliban, alongside US Special Forces Troops. It was a US Special Forces Medic that saved Karzai's life. In 2004, he was asking Bush for a continued US presence in Afghanistan, and even a bigger presence. As late as 2008, he was a strong ally of the US. And it is astounding that few else seem to notice the link between what was and what is.
But then RealPolitik comes into play. The reality is that Karzai's deteriorated relationship with the Obama Administration is terminal. It means that Karzai is moving towards appeasement of the Taliban, in part out of insistence from the Obama Administration, but more due to the reality that they will be too strong to resist with too few Afghan Troops in 2015.
At this point, the US must consider whether to consider the Afghan government an enemy, and fight another war of regime change, or to abandon the country completely, to the Taliban, but the allied relationship is no longer salvageable, and the Obama Administration made a bunch of commitments, but received little in return when it signed the "spike the Football" tour agreement with Afghanistan on 1 May 2012. The greatest gift, and greatest asset, we have to offer Afghanistan is Our Special Forces Troops. Kicking them out of an entire province does not bode well for the future of Afghanistan, the War on Terror, or our continued efforts in Afghanistan related to it.
The only real certainty is that 2017 will bring a new US President dealing with a different Afghan leader, but at this juncture, it's difficult to imagine a scenario where the 2006 US-Afghan relations have returned, or an Al-Qaeda as weak as it was in 2008.