Monday, August 6, 2007
WILLING TO LISTEN, BUT NOT TO HEAR
I had to go to Washington yesterday, to meet with Karzai. He was in town to have his picture taken with Bush, appear on a few talks shows, and brave the mosquitoes at Camp David. I met him at the A.O.G.A. offices on K Street. He greeted me warmly, with a hearty embrace.
"Neil! Neil, my friend!" he gushed. "My God have you been doing a good job! Another record opium crop again this year! I did not think it possible! How do you do it?
"You flatter me, Mr. President. How was your meeting with Bush?
He sighed, his happy mood gone. "That Bush," he said. "He listens, or at least he says he is 'willing to listen', and at times he even appears to be listening, but obviously he does not hear.
"Maybe he just hears what he wants to hear, which is himself.
Karzi laughed. "Straight to the point, Neil! Straight to the point. No wonder you are such a successful lobbyist for the Afghan Opium Growers Association. Bush does like to listen to himself talk, no question about that. But I wonder if, perhaps, he needs hearing aids.
"Well, he is getting old.
"True. True. As are we all.
"Well, not me.
"No, no. I didn't mean you, Neil. But it is frustrating, trying to communicate with the deaf.
"The deaf, dumb and blind, you mean.
"Yes. It is difficult. But not everyone can be Helen Keller.
Hmmm. That thought intrigued me. Helen Keller as President. Bush as Helen Keller. I could not let that thought stand.
"You demean Ms. Keller, Mr. President.
"Yes, yes. Quite true. And that Pinball Wizard by The Who as well. I apologize. What was his name?
"Yes, 'Tommy'! That was it. 'That deaf dumb and blind kid sure played a mean pinball!'
"We need to talk business. It's been great having the U.S. invade, and now we have NATO, but the future of the Afghan Opium Growers Association depends on their continued presence. And I'm afraid they might pull out if they capture bin Laden.
Hamid laughed. He laughed real hard. "Capture bin Laden?! Bush?!! Are you kidding me?! Not to worry, Neil. Bush couldn't find the finger up his ass, much less bin Laden! No, no. We'll have a continued U.S. presence for several more years, believe me. It's been wonderful for our economy. Which, as you know, is heavily dependent on opium production and U.S. foreign aid. I just want to say 'Thank You' again, Neil, for all you have done for Aghanistan's opium farmers.
"Mr. President, as you know, Afghanistan's opium farmers have been getting the short end of the stick. Even with all these record-breaking opium harvests, the farmers are still getting only one percent of the street value in Hamburg.
"I know, Neil. I know. And I sympathize. But the Iranians are taking such a large cut for turning a blind eye on the trade routes.
"Mr. President, all due respect, but I don't think you can blame this all on the Iranians. I want you to get at least, at LEAST 3% for the farmers or I'm afraid I'm going to have to authorize a strike.
"What? Neil, you can't be serious! The Afghan economy would collapse!
"Take it or leave it.
"Neil, Neil, be reasonable! I can try to get you 2%.
"Not enough, Hamid! Fair is fair!
Karzai sighed deep. "OK. 3% then. Tied to the Hamburg benchmark?
"Done!" he said. We shook hands. I was elated. In one fell swoop I had tripled the income of the Afghan opium farmers.
It was a productive trip.