Given this long relationship with the CIA, Karzai may believe that the agency somehow represents the true voice of the U.S. government. Indeed, the competing and often contradictory exhortations and demands transmitted by ambassadors and special envoys who come and go, the successive commanders of international forces with their different approaches, the congressional delegations who troop through his office, even secretaries of state or defense, must start to sound like a lot of cacophonous noise to the man on the receiving end. Amid the din, CIA money can ring a clear note.
The tendency to read CIA signals as conveying the “real” intent of the U.S. government is not limited to Afghan leaders. In his book “The Arab Center,” for example, former Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher describes a tense episode in 2004 when Jordan was promoting a broad-based Arab initiative to break the deadlock in the Middle East peace process.
A meeting between President George W. Bush and King Abdullah II was hanging in the balance, with the king awaiting the result of fraught negotiations between Muasher and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice over the contents of a letter of intent from Bush to Abdullah. A full day of talks resulted in a mutually agreeable formulation.
But in the meantime, a CIA official had been speaking back channel with Jordan’s intelligence chief, waiting on the West Coast with the king; the CIA official urged the delegation to fly home to Jordan, and it did. In the end, the king and his advisers concluded that it was the CIA, not the national security adviser, that really counted in the U.S. government, and the Middle East peace process remained stalled.
In Karzai’s case, CIA payments, against a backdrop of jangling dissonance, may allow him to choose which messages to take seriously — usually the ones he likes. Or to play some U.S. actors off against others, as he recently did by subjecting Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to public humiliation while courting Secretary of State John Kerry.