Afghan President Hamid Karzai meets with President Obama in the White House today. The two have had a rocky relationship in recent months, so this visit offers a fresh start. But their personal relationship is far from the top of today's agenda. The war in Afghanistan and U.S. interests there face serious and severe challenges. Here's what they should be discussing.

  • Karzai: More Help for Afghan Military  Hamid Karzai himself wrote in the Washington Post, "it is vital that Afghan security forces be institutionalized and equipped with necessary and sustainable tools. The international community has been doing this, with the United States taking on the largest role, but more support is needed."
  • Woo Karzai Back To U.S. Embrace  The New York Times' Mark Landler recounts, "Beneath twinkling chandeliers and amid tables of pastry and crudités, the Obama administration set out Tuesday to charm President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, rounding up cabinet members and other VIP’s to welcome him and his ministers at a State Department reception. The party capped a day of meetings meant to showcase the breadth and durability of the relationship between the United States and Afghanistan."
  • Put 'Squabbling' Behind Them  An L.A. Times editorial urges, "with about 90,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and a pending military offensive in the Taliban's heartland of Kandahar, Obama and Karzai cannot be squabbling in public. Their counterinsurgency strategy depends on offering Afghans an alternative to the Taliban, and so long as Karzai is president, that means working together."
  • Convince Karzai to Cede Local Power  The Washington Post's Greg Jaffe and Karen DeYoung write, "The U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is built around the belief that all good counterinsurgency is local. In recent months, American officials have focused their plans on pushing power and money down to district, tribal and village leaders. But those plans have not sat well with Afghan President Hamid Karzai ... The challenge for U.S. officials will be to convince Karzai that ceding power and control to local leaders will in the long run strengthen his hold on office."
  • Negotiate September Afghan Elections  In the L.A. Times, former UN Envoy to Afghanistan Peter Galbraith warns that the U.S. could once again be complicit in the disastrous fraud of the country's 2009 elections. "The United Nations and the Obama administration propose to fund Afghanistan's parliamentary elections in September, even though new rules pushed through by Karzai — over the opposition of parliament — make fraud even more likely this time."
  • Do More to Strengthen Karzai  The Center for New American Security's Andrew Exum cautions, "In the end, by having so vocally and materially committed to the Karzai regime, the United States and its allies are tied to its successes and failures. The goal, then, should be to maximize the former and minimize the latter through focused application of U.S. leverage. ... Designing a political campaign minimizes the role luck plays in whether the United States and its allies are successful."
  • Formal Policy on Taliban Reconciliation  Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad writes in the Washington Post, "Karzai's goals and strategy on this sensitive matter are unclear. Certainly, Afghans want an end to the warfare that has plagued their country for more than 30 years. At times it has appeared that Karzai wants the Taliban to accept the new order: Lay down its arms, acknowledge the Afghan constitution and forswear terror in exchange for amnesty and reintegration. At other times, Karzai has signaled that he wants to strike a deal with the Taliban ... A mutual understanding of an acceptable end state on how to deal with the Taliban is critical, as are the steps that would be necessary to get there."
  • Help Develop Economic Self-Sustainability  Matthew Yglesias points to an alarming report showing that Afghanistan is almost entirely dependent on foreign money. He urges addressing "the fiscally unsustainable nature of the Afghan state the international community has created."