Daniel Korski

The Eikenberry cables: today’s Ellsberg papers

The Eikenberry cables: today’s Ellsberg papers
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Sometimes government leaks tell the public what they did not know. But sometimes leaks just confirm what everyone knew. The view held by the US ambassador in Kabul that President Hamid Karzai “is not an adequate strategic partner” and “continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden,” will come as no surprise to anyone. But the timing of the leak of Ambassador Eikenberry’s cables in The New York Times will nonetheless be quite explosive.

Does it matter? Not really. Hamid Kazrai has in most people’s minds joined Anastasio Somoza García, Ngo Dinh Diem, even for a while Saddam Hussein as the West’s, well, what was that phrase used by FDR? He is what there is. Period. The West will have to work with him and around him, but cannot ignore or avoid him.

Historians will argue over whether the Obama administration could have avoided this. I tend to believe they could. The anti-Karzai rhetoric of both Joe Biden and Richard Holbrooke at last year’s Munich Security Conference persuaded Karzai that he had no choice but to tie up the presidential election, lest he be ousted by the incoming administration. Unfortunately, the gap between rhetoric and pre-review policy was so wide that the US stood by while the elections were hand-bagged. Now we have to live with the consequences, whatever our private views.

I suspect that the “Eikenberry Cables” will join the “Ellsberg Papers” in the annals of political leaking – in that both were/are politically embarrassing to US administrations but will not lead to an immediate change of policy. Both will have eroded US public support for war.

Unlike Daniel Ellsberg, who was hounded by the Nixon administration for leaking his papers, Ambassador Eikenberry will face no such pressure; he is unlikely to have leaked the documents and remains one of the smartest, most capable members of Obama’s diplomatic corps. If President Karzai knows he needs to watch his back with a retired lieutenant general and former commander of US forces, then all the better. Hilary Clinton should make sure that while she patches up relations with the Afghan leader she makes clear her support for the US ambassador.