Obama Tells Karzai: Time for a New Chapter

President Barack Obama talks with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan during a phone call from the Oval Office, Nov. 2, 2009. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
White House photo by Pete Souza
Updated 4:51 p.m. Eastern Time

President Barack Obama welcomed Afghan President Hamid Karzai's election with as much admonishment as praise, telling America's partner in war that he expects a more serious effort to end corruption in his government and ready his nation to ultimately defend itself.

"I emphasized that this has to be a point in time in which we begin to write a new chapter," Obama said in describing his congratulatory phone call to Karzai. The U.S. president said that when Karzai offered back assurances, Obama told him that "the proof is not going to be in words. It's going to be in deeds."

Obama's message of stern solidarity came as he considers sending tens of thousands more U.S. troops into the war zone in Karzai's country.

"We are looking forward to consulting closely with [Karzai's] government in the weeks and months to come to assure that the Afghan people are actually seeing progress on the ground," the president said.

Karzai won a second term Monday when competitor Abdullah Abdullah pulled out of the Nov. 7 runoff for fear it would be doomed by fraud just as the first voting in August was. The fraud-marred election cost Karzai international credibility.

House Republican leader John Boehner said Monday that Obama has "no more excuses" for not announcing a decision on his strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan now that Abdullah has exited the race.

"Now that it is clear that President Karzai will remain in office, the White House has no further pretext for delaying the decision on giving General McChrystal the resources he needs to achieve our goals in Afghanistan," said Boehner. "Delaying the decision puts our men and women fighting there in greater danger every single day."

The White House put its weight behind the legitimacy of the outcome after helping to broker a runoff that never happened. Obama called the process "messy" but said Karzai won in accordance with Afghan law.

The White House repeatedly said Abdullah had pulled out purely for his own political and personal reasons.

The collapse of the planned run-off increases pressure on the Obama administration to quickly end its lengthy deliberations about whether to commit more U.S. forces to a worsening war. Obama may announce his revamped war strategy, including a decision on sending more troops, early next week before a planned overseas trip.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged that Karzai's win by default is a factor in the coming decision about troops but did not say the timetable for an announcement has changed. The administration continues to say it will happen in the "coming weeks."

In recounting his call to Karzai, Obama spent most of his time saying what he expects from his fellow president: more diligent efforts to end corruption, cooperation in accelerating the training of Afghan security forces, tangible benefits in the lives of the Afghan people.

Those aren't just Obama's standards. He is under pressure to show Congress and the public that the U.S. is dealing with a trustworthy partner, particularly if it is going to send more troops there. Many Americans have grown weary of the war and are questioning its worth.

About 68,000 U.S. troops are already in Afghanistan, where October was the deadliest month for U.S. forces. Several thousands NATO troops from various countries are also committed to a war that has stretched into its ninth year and is focused on combatting insurgents and dismantling al Qaeda terrorists.

Obama said Karzai needs to "take advantage of the international community's interest in his country."

Indeed, the White House made clear that the election gave Karzai legal legitimacy but not necessarily any new boost of credibility.