This week's syndicated column:
Last Sunday, the New York Times described a crude scene that smacked of not exactly petty graft. There was Afghanistan's presidential plane on the Tehran airport tarmac, waiting for one last passenger before wheels up to Kabul. The missing passenger was Iran's ambassador to Afghanistan. The ambassador, Feda Hussein Maliki, climbed aboard and took his tardy seat next to Umar Daudzai, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's chief of staff and closest adviser. Maliki then presented Daudzai with a plastic bag bulging with about $1 million in packets of euros.
From Iran with love.
This, the Times reported, was "part of a secret, steady stream of Iranian cash intended to buy the loyalty of Mr. Daudzai and promote Iran's interest in the presidential palace" in Kabul.
Bad enough, but it gets worse.
On Tuesday, the New York Times revealed that it wasn't just the infamously anti-American Afghan chief of staff trucking home with mullah moolah as originally reported. Karzai himself was in on this fix. Answering a question at a press conference on Monday about whether his chief of staff had indeed received Iranian cash, Karzai replied, matter-of-fact, the practice was government-wide, "transparent" even: "They do give us bags of money -- yes, yes, it is done. We are grateful to the Iranians for this."
Welcome to transparency, Afghanistan-style: payola in plain sight. And why not? In that wonderful bazaar that is Afghanistan, as Karzai put it, "Patriotism has a price."
But what price suckerhood? I regret to say this is the only spoil left in Afghanistan for the United States. Iran, a global sponsor of jihadist terror long before al-Qaida attacked the United States on 9/11, has simultaneously spent most of the past decade buying, cajoling, pressing, weaseling and forcing its influence into the highest circles of our so-called Iraqi and Afghan "allies" even as it fights American troops on those very same Iraqi and Afghan battlefields. This most recent spate of news stories about our Afghan "ally" is just the bag of cash that broke the sucker's back -- or should have. The question is, how do we ask the American military to fight and possibly die for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan when that same Islamic Republic of Afghanistan's government is unabashedly in Iran's pocket even as Iran is simultaneously training Taliban fighters to bring it down? Also this week, the Washington Examiner reported Iran is training Taliban fighters on the use of surface-to-air missiles. Aside from NATO forces fighting alongside the United States in Afghanistan, is there an ally left in Afghanistan?
What we are witnessing in Afghanistan is the bifurcated template Iran perfected in Iraq, which infiltrated governing circles even as it fought Americans risking their lives and limbs on the battlefield for that same Iraqi government.
But Zombie Nation -- at least when it comes to the two wars American soldiers remained ensnared in -- doesn't ponder this, let alone question it. As far as our leadership goes, it's all so much more to manage, to set into context, to rationalize and move on. But isn't war more important than spin? Not so long as "spin" keeps the war in a blur.
Case in point: "We do not question Iran's right to provide financial assistance to Afghanistan, nor do we question Afghanistan's right to accept that assistance," said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley. That's one way to avoid unpleasant answers.
Crowley continued: "What we think is important is Afghans having the ability to shape their own future without negative influences from its neighbors. We'll let the Government of Afghanistan speak to how they spend the financial assistance received from other countries, but we remain skeptical of Iran's motives given its history of playing a destabilizing role with its neighbors. We hope that Iran will take responsibility to play a constructive role in the future of Afghanistan."
So, we don't question Iranian financial assistance (bags o' cash) or Afghanistan's acceptance of Iranian financial assistance (bags o' cash) but we "remain skeptical" of Iran's "destabilizing role" even as we "hope" Iran will play a "constructive role." Diplomatic niceties aside, there are limitations to such doubletalk. It's no match for the double game Iran is playing, one in which Uncle Sucker will be lucky to come home with just a booby prize.