Judging from the opinions of many in the White House press corps after their joint news conference Friday afternoon, President Obama and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan had a successful event. The two looked to be on the same page as the American President and his counterpart from Kabul proclaimed an almost completed mission.
???We pushed the Taliban out of their strongholds,??? said President Obama, and added that the ???insurgents continue to lose territory.??? While admitting ???we still face significant challenges,??? he emphasized that the Afghanistan forces will take ???the lead for security??? by the middle of the year and that there will be a further reduction of coalition forces.???
But both presidents also seemed to be addressing???albeit never with any specifics???an issue that continues to come up continually in Congress when Afghanistan is mentioned: corruption within Karzai???s own government.
Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), one of the earliest critics of the U.S. role in Afghanistan going back to George W. Bush???s tenure, spoke for many of his colleagues when he told Human Events, in no uncertain terms, last month: ???As for Afghanistan, I still ask why we are spending tax dollars on a crook like Karzai and sending troops there????
President Obama might well have been dealing with Jones??? salvo when he spoke of Afghanistan becoming ???a responsible international actor??? and that ???Afghanistan still has work to do to accomplish those goals.???
Karzai himself could have been replying even more directly to the lawmaker who called him a ???crook.??? Not disputing a question that there is ???corruption in Afghanistan,??? Karzai insisted that his government has ???succeeded in certain ways??? in rolling back corruption. But, asking aloud whether he is satisfied with the progress Afghanistan has made toward ???clean??? governance, Karzai then answered his own question: ???Of course not.???
He then went on to say that ???the greatest of my achievements??? will be ???a proper, well-organized and interference-free election??? that will make him ???a retired president and very happy.???
Walter Jones and other Karzai critics in Congress no doubt wish that he were ???retired and very happy.??? Their public criticism of tax dollars being spent on Karzai and the cases where it has been misused are sure to continue. But on Friday, at least, Obama and Karzai gave a clue they were listening to that criticism.