The United States has lavished hundreds of billions of dollars on and committed thousands of troops to Afghanistan, but its president, Hamid Karzai, makes no apologies for accepting more than $1 million a year from Iran.
Although Afghan officials at first stoutly dismissed reports of the payments, Karzai confirmed them Monday at a news conference in which he railed at the United States and its Western allies.
Karzai accused the U.S. of "killing" Afghans by paying private security contractors to guard convoys and construction projects. On Sunday he stormed out of a meeting with Gen. David Petraeus to discuss the contractors, whom Karzai has ordered to be banned by mid-December.
The U.S. and other Western nations accept the ban but want more time to make the switch because of the unreliability of the Afghan police and military to provide protection for the development projects.
That Iran would pony up funds to gain Karzai's ear isn't surprising -- the nations share a long border and Iran is keen to counter U.S. influence in the region. While a million here and there is a pittance, it is funneled through Karzai's chief of staff, Umar Dadzai, who consistently advocates an anti-Western line.
NATO officials say Iran is financing, arming and training Taliban fighters and backing political candidates in parliamentary elections. Western officials also cite evidence that Afghan intelligence officials are trying to undermine the U.S.-led mission.
Karzai's latest diatribe and his admission of double-dealing with Iran further diminish his stature in the eyes of Americans, already weary of the long morass in Afghanistan. It should prompt the Obama administration, which is committed to starting a phased withdrawal next year, to focus on liquidating Al Qaeda and the most hostile elements of the Taliban and leaving Karzai to his own devices.