What Both Sides Want from Karzai's U.S. Visit

So far Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit has been a carefully scripted love fest designed to erase memories of all the nasty spats over corruption, civilian casualties, you name it. But what do both sides really want out of this visit to Washington?

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, left, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shake hands as they address the media at the State Department in Washington, Tuesday, May 11, 2010.

Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations, who serves as an adviser to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, put it this way: "I think a lot of what's going on, I suspect, behind closed doors in this week's meetings in Washington is to encourage President Karzai to take a visible public role within Afghanistan as a wartime leader rather than some sort of innocent bystander in the fight between the Americans and the Taliban." I asked a military officer what he thought of that and he agreed completely: "We want Karzai to take ownership of this war going on in his own country."

So that's what the Americans want. What do the Afghans want? Some assurance that the United States won't pull a disappearing act, as it did after the mujahadeen forced Soviet troops to withdraw. The chaos that followed produced the Taliban and their takeover of the country.

When Defense Secretary Gates met with Afghanistan's defense, interior and intelligence chiefs today, he assured them that despite the July 2011 date President Obama has set for the beginning of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan the United States intends to be there for the long haul - well beyond the current conflict.

I'm sure the Afghan ministers heard that and said to themselves, "That's fine as far as it goes, but what happens when a new administration comes to power in Washington?" They might want to see something in writing, perhaps an agreement like the one President Bush signed with Iraq detailing exactly how long American troops would stay and what powers the Iraqis had to ask us to leave quicker or stay longer.

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CBSNews.com Special Report: Afghanistan

David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.