And now for something completely different. As Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai makes the rounds in D.C. this week he stopped by the Capitol today to have lunch with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the Foreign Relations Committee chair, and a handful of other senators including Sen. Bob Casey -- who chairs the foreign relations subcommittee that covers Afghanistan.
Casey last saw Karzai in August when he visited Afghanistan as part of a Congressional delegation, and he was critical of Karzai at the time. This time, Casey said in an interview a few minutes ago outside the Senate floor that he is encouraged by the Afghan leader.
"He’s got more of a sense of focus and urgency on these important issues, whether it’s the getting military strategy right, but especially antiterrorism, development, corruption and all of that," Casey said. "I sense a change in the right direction. I think a lot of our government officials are sensing that. So I don’t think I’d be as critical now as I was."
Casey was particularly interested in the handling of ammonium nitrate, the main component in improvised explosive devices that have killed so many American soldiers -- including, Casey noted, a 19-year-old Marine from Scranton in February. The compound, used for fertilizer, was banned in Afghanistan in February, but remains legal in Pakistan, where it can be made and smuggled across the border. Casey said he was satisfied with the progress Karzai was making there, but he was asking the question in part so the issue would remain on the radar of U.S. officials in the room.
In August, Casey said Karzai needed to show a greater sense of urgency and his answers to his questions were "unsatisfactory, and that's an understatement" -- but at the time Karzai was in the midst of a disputed election and Casey today acknowledged that, "It might have been a bad day for him" when they last met.
"But I do think he’s got a renewed focus, and I think it’s a better partnership," Casey said today. "I think having some back-and-forth and some fighting makes it a better relationship."