Passport

The State Department doesn't think Hamid Karzai is a drug addict

Is Afghanistan's president on drugs? That was the clear implication of comments Tuesday by Peter Galbraith, the U.N.'s former No. 2 man in Afghanistan, in an appearance on MSNBC.

"He’s prone to tirades," Galbraith said. "He can be very emotional, act impulsively. In fact, some of the palace insiders say that he has a certain fondness for some of Afghanistan’s most profitable exports." Wink, wink.

Asked to clarify whether he was accusing Karzai of drug addiction, Galbraith dodged. "There are reports to that effect. But whatever the cause is, the reality is that he is -- he can be very emotional."

(It should be noted that Galbraith has an axe to grind, having been cashiered by the U.N. last fall for too stridently accusing Karzai of election fraud, clashing with his boss Kai Eide, and pushing too hard for the United States and the U.N. to do something about it.)

In today's State Department briefing, spokesman P.J. Crowley swatted away the press corps' repeated attempts to bait him into slipping up in response to Galbraith's claims:

QUESTION: Yesterday, Ambassador - former Ambassador Galbraith was on television making some pretty direct --

MR. CROWLEY: Outrageous accusations?

QUESTION: I'll leave you to characterize that. Does --

MR. CROWLEY: I will.

QUESTION: -- the U.S. Government have any reason to believe that President Karzai is like, hiding out in the basement of the palace doing bong hits or, you know, something worse? (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: He is the president of Afghanistan. He's been significantly engaged with us on a regular basis. The Secretary talked to him Friday. Ambassador Eikenberry talked to him on Friday. He was with General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry over the weekend. We have no information to support the charges that Peter Galbraith has leveled.

And later, the journos kept trying:

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Galbraith's comments --

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- but apart from the drug allegation, he talked about the president being - "flighty" perhaps is a nice word for it. Does the U.S. Government have any concerns about Karzai's stability, his mental state, or his seeming erratic behavior of late?

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: None?

MR. CROWLEY: None.

And ... once more with feeling:

QUESTION: So you don't share Galbraith's opinion --

MR. CROWLEY: We don't.

QUESTION: -- of --

MR. CROWLEY: We don't.

QUESTION: In any way?

MR. CROWLEY: He - look, he is the president of Afghanistan and he is a figure that we respect and that we are working closely with to see the emergence of an effective government that - at the national level. And we will continue to work with others in Afghanistan on effective government at the provincial and local level.

Nice try, guys.

Passport

Quiz: After the United States and Britain, which country buys the most fine art?

For those of you who don't subscribe to the bimonthly print edition of Foreign Policy, you're missing a great feature: the FP Quiz. It has eight intriguing questions about how the world works.

The question I'd like to highlight this week is:

After the United States and Britain, which country buys the most fine art?

a) France    b) China    c) Belgium

Answer after the jump ...

Answer:

B, China. In 2008, China overtook France to become the world’s third-largest art market, as measured by sales of fine art at auction, according to a report in the Economist. China accounted for 7.7 percent of sales, surpassing France’s 6 percent. The United States and Britain were by far the leaders at 35.7 percent and 34.5 percent, respectively.

(The Economist reported on Monday that in 2009,  France did manage to regain it's No. 3 spot, but dismissed it as a temporary blip due to a Yves Saint Laurent/Pierre Bergé sale. China will be back to No. 3 soon because art sales in China are booming, with a whopping 24 percent increase in the value of art-auction sales between 2008 and 2009 -- in the middle of the Great Recession!) 

In general, the range of nationalities of buyers of expensive fine art has been increasing as countries outside the Western world become richer. In 2003, Sotheby's top buyers -- those who hauled home at least $500,000 of art -- hailed from 36 countries. In 2007, top buyers came from 58 countries.

And for more questions about how the world works, check out the rest of the FP Quiz.

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images