Hagel's harsh welcome
Scripps Howard News Service
There must have been moments this past weekend when Chuck Hagel wondered why he ever wanted the job of secretary of defense and why he put up with so much abuse from his former Senate colleagues to get it.
His first visit as Pentagon chief was a meeting over the weekend with Afghanistan's mercurial president, Hamid Karzai, the official whose help we most need if we are to bring our longest-running war to something like a successful conclusion.
Karzai is either crazy or crazy like a fox. There is evidence to support either proposition. Hagel probably leaned to the former explanation after Karzai went on television to elaborate on two suicide bombings timed to coincide with the American's visit.
The bombings, which killed at least 19 people, were done "at the service of America," which Karzai said was in daily contact and collusion with the Taliban, the idea being that the U.S. wanted to frighten Afghanistan to allow large numbers of American and NATO troops to stay on after their scheduled 2014 departure.
Karzai might have been grandstanding for local political consumption; at worst, he might really believe that crazy nonsense. More likely, however, is that he is trying to throw the untested Hagel off his stride in advance of serious negotiations. A scheduled joint press conference was canceled -- out of security considerations, if you believe U.S. officials; out of pique, if you believe Karzai's people.
Hagel's maiden trip was far from a success, but at least he now knows what he's facing.