When things really started going south in Afghanistan (after we refocused on Iraq -- funny how that works), I remember thinking, "Man, if something happens to this guy, we're really screwed."
Contrast that to now, where Karzai has
Of course, 9 years of floundering will hurt anyone's image, but I realized that my initial good perception of Karzai was based mostly on the fact that he spoke good English and looked sharp in a Western-style suit (albeit wearing a funny hat).
It reminded me, in my simple way, how the attributes that make foreign leaders popular with the US -- generally, Western-educated elites with a favorable view of the West -- are the same ones that make them distinctly unpopular with their own people.
Maybe there's something systemic you can blame on colonialism, which relied on exploiting ethnic and sectarian divisions to divide and conquer, favoring one minority group over another and giving rise to elites resented by the rest of the country.
Or, looked another way, the more leaders understand DC politics and are liked by DC politicians, the less they understand and are supported by the people back home (*cough* CHALIBI *cough*).
Anyway, it's been a long time since my international relations courses (and I was a generalist, anyway), but it just seems that we need a rule of thumb: The more we, as Americans, "like" a leader, the less stock we should put in him or her (until they can prove that they can relate to their own people and get stuff done.)