On Thursday, both the Globe and Mail and the National Post fronted news that our ambassador in Kabul, William Crosbie, had offered to resign - in anticipation of the forthcoming WikiLeak revelation of his negative views of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. News that came, not insignificantly, via the leak of Mr. Crosbie's own cable to Foreign Affairs in which he made the resignation offer.
Frankly, as a former ambassador - and as someone who's been following the Afghanistan corruption story fairly closely - I could not understand what all the hullabaloo was about. Much worse has been reported and said for some time about President Karzai's inadequacies and about the degree of corruption in Afghanistan. Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper - shortly after breaking his word about our Afghanistan mission - was downright dismissive of the integrity of the president he had once invited to Ottawa as part of a charm offensive.
In my daily press review, Norman's Spectator, I styled the Crosbie affair "Much ado about nothing." Yet, all day long, the media chased the resignation story, including the reassuring reaction of Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada, and the Prime Minister's stout defence of his ambassador. A Canadian ambassador who, it turns out today, needed no defending.
In the New York Times - one of the papers that has access to the WikiLeaks cables - Ambassador Crosbie's remarks garner nary a mention. In the longer report in the Guardian - another of the papers with privileged WikiLeaks access - they are at best a footnote in a devastating summary of the extent of corruption in Afghanistan. Yet, in both The Globe and the Post, the follow-up to the Crosbie resignation offer is still a front page story.
Two stories in the Guardian suggest what the leak of Ambassador Crosbie's resignation cable -likely by someone in Ottawa - may have been designed to cover-up.
On the Guardian's front page, we read: "Britain's four-year military stewardship of the troubled Helmand province has been scorned by President Hamid Karzai, top Afghan officials and the U.S. commander of NATO troops, according to secret U.S. diplomatic cables." After reading this article about troops that have taken a very high rate of casualties in Afghanistan, my immediate reaction was to wonder what these same Afghans and Americans thought about the sacrifices that have been made by Canadian troops. Sadly, I found an answer of sorts in a brief squib on page 5 of the Guardian:
"Non-US troops can stay home" is the headline in a cable recording a meeting Hamid Karzai had with the U.S. ambassador and Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, at the end of 2009. Showing his strong preference for U.S. soldiers, in the Afghan president's view the 7,000 extra troops promised by NATO allies as part of the troop surge in 2010 were more trouble than they were worth.
Karzai jokes that it would be better if the countries announced extra troops but did not send them as their contributions were more of a "headache" than a help. "Admiral Mullen noted the political significance of these troop commitments, despite the challenges they might entail."
Some joke. And, from the Americans, more cynicism than some might imagine.