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Afghanistan as Tar Baby

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Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

In his latest demand on the United States, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told Susan Rice, President Obama's top national security adviser, that he will not sign the long-term security agreement that extends the stay of U.S. troops in Afghanistan through 2024 unless the United States agrees to release all 17 Afghanis being held in the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.

Karzai views the release of the alleged terrorists, according to U.S. and Afghan officials, as a carrot to get the warring Taliban to the peace table.

In other words, American troops will be allowed to stay in harm's way in Afghanistan for an extra decade if the United States ships back to Afghanistan from Guantanamo the guys who are in all probability hellbent on killing them.

At that stage in the negotiations, Rice should have asked Karzai if he knew about Brer Rabbit. “To entrap Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox created a sticky situation by making Tar Baby, a doll made out of tar and dressed in baby clothes,” Rice could have explained. “Fighting with Tar Baby because it wouldn't talk, Brer Rabbit became stuck. Brer Fox, victorious in his capture, began listing how he might dispose of Brer Rabbit — by hanging, drowning. The cunning Brer Rabbit then said, ‘Drown me! Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please. Only please, Brer Fox, please don't throw me into the briar patch.'”

Slow on the uptake, Brer Fox fell for the trick. “What a wonderful idea — you'll be torn into little pieces,” said Brer Fox as he tossed Brer Rabbit head over rabbit's feet into the briar patch.

The final scene is Brer Rabbit sitting on a log, combing the tar out of his fur and then skipping merrily away. “I was bred and born in a briar patch, Brer Fox,” he said. “Born and bred in the briar patch.”

And what does this have to do with the proposed agreement that keeps our troops in Afghanistan through 2024, a deal that keeps billions of dollars in military assistance and developmental aid flowing into Afghanistan for another decade, and an agreement that Karzai says he won't sign until the guys in Guantanamo are back in town and the U.S. issues an official apology for all past civilian casualties and any other misdeeds by U.S. military?

This is how Obama's top national security adviser should have responded to Karzai's demands: “Drown us, shoot us, bomb us, hang us, throw our billions down the drain in Kabul, toss our troops into the hellholes in Kandahar, only please don't throw us out of Afghanistan, please don't throw us into Manhattan and Denver.”

Karzai, said spokesman Aimal Faizi, told Rice that he will not sign the security agreement “if another U.S. soldier steps foot into an Afghan home.” Unfortunately, Taliban insurgents build roadside bombs in homes. They don't march up to American forces in a straight line like the British Redcoats, all gussied up in black boots, tighty-whitey stockings and trousers, black felt hats and stylish red jackets. Reported Faizi, “The president said, ‘Madame Rice, the ball is in your court.' If you are under the impression the agreement will be signed … without a total ban on raids of Afghan homes, this is a serious miscalculation.”

What should Susan Rice have replied?

“Helmand Province! Kandahar City! Only please, Brer Karzai, please don't toss our troops into Seattle or Boston.”

Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur (

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