The Cable

GOP Senators call Karzai ‘nutty’ ‘bizarre’ ‘offensive’ and ‘disrespectful’

The Republican Senate caucus is fed up with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and openly looking forward to his departure, following Karzai's recent accusation that the United States is colluding with the Taliban.

Karzai marred Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's first official visit to Afghanistan last weekend by publicly accusing the United States of conspiring with the Taliban to destabilize his country in order to create conditions that would require the extended presence of U.S. troops. The joint press conference between Karzai and Hagel was cancelled after Karzai's outburst.

The incident was only the latest string of accusations Karzai has leveled against the United States, including the recent allegation that U.S. Special Forces were murdering innocent civilians in Wardak province.

On Capitol Hill Tuesday, several senior GOP senators told The Cable that they can't wait to be finished with dealing with Karzai, who will step down after new presidential elections in 2014.

"That guy never ceases to amaze me. He's bizarre. He continues to be someone who hurts rather than helps the relationship," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Bob Corker (R-TN). "That's why I've said the elections in 2014 are one of the most crucial factors in what our involvement there going forward will be. I have a very low regard for Karzai and it's a shame that he's been the way that he's been."

Corker said the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is important regardless of the poor relationship with Karzai and that the United States has to make decisions based on American security and American interests.

"At the end of the day, in spite of the nutty things that [Karzai] says from time to time, in spite of the disrespect that he shows for the men and women who have lost their lives and kept him alive, we have to continue to look at what is in our nation's best interest," he said.

Senate Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told The Cable that he too wanted to continue to work with the Afghans, but that if Karzai and his government aren't going to play a constructive role, he could advocate withdrawing American support for that government.

"I'm not going to invest in a country where I see no hope," said Graham. "They've got to want this more than we do. I am perfectly capable of pulling the plug on Afghanistan."

Graham said Karzai's basic premise makes no sense because one would have to assume that the Taliban want the U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan to believe Karzai's theory. In fact, the Taliban want the U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.

"My initial reaction was one of disgust and resentment. At many levels this is bizarre," said Graham. "From the U.S. point of view it's just offensive. It doesn't do justice to the sacrifice of those who have been injured and died in Afghanistan. It was really unwelcomed by the American people... The good news is in 2014 there will be a new election."

Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican James Inhofe (R-OK) told The Cable that the incident shows that Karzai and Hagel are not going to be able to work together.

"I think [Karzai] was probably angry with his meeting with Hagel because they didn't get along too well. I don't get along too well with Karzai either, so I guess me and Hagel have that in common," Inhofe said. "That guy [Karzai] has always said crazy things."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee member John McCain (R-AZ) said that Karzai's behavior shows the need for a permanent bilateral security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan that will govern the American military presence there so that Afghan politics do not play as big a role.

Hagel is not responsible for Karzai's actions, McCain said. But at the same time, neither Hagel nor anyone else is likely to be able to repair the relationship with Karzai at this point.

"Our sights really should be set on April 2014 when they will elect a new president," he said.


The Cable

Campbell’s new firm pursues Burma contract

A consulting firm run by the State Department's recently departed top Asia official has just joined a bid for a huge contract to revamp the largest airport in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Kurt Campbell, the recently departed assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, started a new consulting firm called the Asia Group with his former deputy assistant secretary Nirav Patel. On Monday, the ACO Investment Group (ACO), a collection of mostly American firms who have joined forces, announced that the Asia Group will join its consortium to try to secure the contract to upgrade and modernize the Yangon International Airport, which was built in 1947.

"This is a thrilling opportunity to help advance the progress Myanmar has made over the past couple years by enhancing prospects for economic investments, and ensuring connectivity for Myanmar with ASEAN and the world," Campbell saod in the release. "We are pleased to join the ACO Consortium in their strong bid to renovate Yangon International Airport. The other members of the consortium include the most dynamic visionaries in the aviation and infrastructure fields with a demonstrated track record, and we are confident that their expertise and track record will be critical to help rebuild Yangon International Airport as a critical transit hub."

Campbell will lead a trip to Myanmar early next month with other consortium members to pitch the ACO bid. Other American consortium members include Boeing Professional Services, Burns & McDonnell Engineering, Fentress Architects, the MITRE Corporation, and Unison Consulting. The consortium also includes McKinsey and Co. out of Hong Kong, and Myint Mo Oo General Services, a trading company based in Myanmar.

ACO is one of 11 pre-qualified consortia that will bid for the airport project, which is expected to double the airport's capacity to handle an estimated 5.5 million passengers per year.

Campbell was the State Department's point man on engagement with Myanmar and traveled to the country several times as part of the Obama administration's policy of engagement, which eventually led to an easing of U.S. sanctions. The ACO consortium is clearly interested in capitalizing on that work.

"Kurt Campbell is widely regarded as one of the key architects of the United States' efforts to engage and normalize relations with Myanmar," ACO said in the release.