Karzai strolls across another Obama red line:
U.S. Softens Deadline for Deal to Keep Troops in Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan — With about a week left in the year, the Obama administration is backing away from a Dec. 31 deadline for securing a deal to keep American troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, though it is standing by its warning that a total military withdrawal is still possible if delays continue, American and Afghan officials said.
The decision is a tacit acknowledgment of what has become obvious in both Kabul and Washington: Neither a hard sell nor soft persuasion has yet induced President Hamid Karzai to go along with the American-imposed timeline for the agreement.
It is also an embarrassing turn after weeks of threats by some senior administration officials, including Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser, that a complete American withdrawal from Afghanistan — the so-called zero option — would be considered if Mr. Karzai did not sign the deal by the year’s end.
Instead of prompting Mr. Karzai to action, however, setting a boundary appears to have only reinforced his sense that American officials will back down if he refuses their demands — a lesson that has been repeated often over the past 12 years.
“I don’t know if I would call it bluffing,” said one American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. “But it looks like that’s what we were doing, and now it looks like Karzai is calling us out.”
Dealing with this after the Afghan election next spring made sense anyway.