On the eve of his visit with President Bush in Washington, the usually affable Afghanistan president, Hamid Karzai, suddenly threw a temper tantrum over U.S. military operations in his country and the treatment of prisoners.
Karzai, complaining that his government wasn't always kept informed of what U.S. forces were up to, demanded more control over them. This came in the wake of U.S.-led raids on Afghan homes, looking for guerrillas.
Karzai also said he wants the United States to hand Afghan prisoners over to his government. This came on the heels of fresh reports that American forces had abused prisoners at Bagram, the main military prison north of Kabul.
The two incidents - the raids and alleged prisoner abuses - led to anti-American riots across the country earlier this month that left at least 15 people dead. What kind of democratic government wouldn't react angrily to such domestic events?
The only way Karzai couldn't have responded the way he did is if he were a dictator. Instead, he reacted the way one would expect a democratically elected leader to react, which he is - the first ever for Afghanistan.
His anti-American outburst, then, was a consequence of his nation's nascent democracy. Ironically, that makes it a positive for what U.S. and other coalition forces are trying to achieve there: strengthening the democratic roots by fighting to rid that troubled nation of the Taliban and other reactionary elements of radical Islam.
As for Karzai's demands, you can be sure President Bush is not going to let anybody control U.S. troops except U.S. commanders. Bush, as expected, assured the Afghan leader Monday at the White House that the United States will improve communications with the Afghan government when appropriate, but only if it doesn't threaten the lives of American soldiers.
Letting Afghanistan take charge of prisoners at Bagram might be a good idea. It would free up American guards for other military assignments. However, Karzai would have to promise that his government wouldn't set free any terrorists who might go back to war against the Americans again.
In any event, the bottom line is that the U.S. public shouldn't let Karzai's anti-U.S. tirade get under its collective skin. His fit was designed for domestic consumption in his own country; it was not designed to get America's goat. In fact, he seemed to be back to his old affable self in his meeting with President Bush.