Leaks Fallout: Former Top Diplomat Says Eikenberry Must Go

Zalmay Khalilzad Says U.S. Embassy in Kabul Needs New Staff

December 5, 2010, 11:17 AM

WASHINGTON, Dec 5, 2010— -- Zalmay Khalilzad, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, said on the "This Week" roundtable discussion with George Will, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Sakena Yacoobi and anchor Christiane Amanpour that America's current ambassador there, Karl Eikenberry, should go because his relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai had been irreparably damaged by leaks.

"I think he has -- really, he's been damaged very badly by the leaks that have taken place, here in Washington, before WikiLeaks and afterwards. And a trusting relationship, if that's his objective, and I believe it ought to be, would require, I think, changes in terms of personnel that are responsible on a day to day basis in dealing with President Karzai," Khalilzad told Amanpour.

He said the Obama administration has not managed their relationship with Karzai well.

"I think this goes back to ... Ambassador Eikenberry's cable as an input to the strategy review -- a very highly-classified cable -- was leaked, damaging his relationship with President Karzai," Khalilzad said. "And then all the discussions that are in the book of Mr. Woodward, the leaking of extremely classified stuff, was far more damaging to the relationship and the management of the relationship with Karzai than the WikiLeaks."

"There is a huge trust deficit," Khalilzad, who was born in Afghanistan, said. "If we want to deal with the issue of partnership with the government of Afghanistan, if we want to deal with the issue of domestic politics effectively, of capitalizing cooperation, we would need to have a new team to be able to do that."

Brzezinski, who served as national security advisor under President Jimmy Carter, said it was unwise to undermine a leader who the United States needs.

"The lesson of history is if you have a dependent leader, who needs you for his survival, but he's the only leader you have, you don't discredit him, you don't undermine him, unless you have a better alternative," he said. "We haven't had a better alternative than Karzai, and yet some of our officials have made a sport of maligning him."

Khalilzad, who served in a number of diplomatic capacities under President George W. Bush, painted a rather bleak picture of progress in Afghanistan.

"I think the situation is rather mixed," he said. "On the one hand, I think there is some localized improvement in security in certain areas ... where the surge has been taking place.

"But when it comes to the two or three other key components required for success: relations with the Afghan government, there hasn't really been any improvement; dealing with the sanctuaries in Pakistan, no real improvement; dealing with politics among the factions in Afghanistan itself, no real improvement. In fact, things have gotten worse because of the parliamentary election. There is greater internal polarization than was the case," he added.

George Will smiled. "The ambassador gave a wonderfully diplomatic answer -- certain improvement in certain areas -- that's a pretty minimalist definition," Will said.

He recalled a conversation he had two years ago with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. "I asked him, 'What is our objective in Afghanistan?' He said, 'A strong central government.' I said, 'When has it had that?' He said, with admirable candor, 'Never.'"

Amanpour turned to Sakena Yacoobi of the Afghan Institute of Learning, who lives in Afghanistan.

"I see that the people of Afghanistan have really lost their faith," Yacoobi said. "They lost their faith and the reason is because there is no service available for the local people, for the local community."

She said Afghan women and children must take care of themselves because "there is not a central government that is supporting them. There is not service for the people of Afghanistan from the central government."

"On behalf of the Afghan women [for whom] I am talking here," Yacoobi said, "I really believe that ... the NATO allies should be in Afghanistan because of the women and children of Afghanistan. Otherwise, the life of the women and children will be completely demolished in Afghanistan. This is my main concern."

Brzezinski, who said the United States should be in Afghanistan just to make sure the country is not a safe haven for terrorists, took a longer view.

"We have to ask ourselves: what is our objective in Afghanistan? Is it to build democracy? Is it to shape a nation? Is it to change its culture? And if it is all of these things, we're going to be there for 30 years," he said.

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