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October 19, 2009

Where's Dick?


We're in the midst of the biggest political crisis in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001. Pakistan has launched a major offensive into the South Waziristan tribal area, a move that was preceded by a string of murderous terrorist attacks against Pakistani security forces. U.S.-Pakistani relations almost went thermonuclear over a U.S. aid bill that Pakistani military saw as a hammer against it.

Where then is Richard C. Holbrooke, the president's Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan?

The hard-charging Holbrooke is hardly known as a shrinking violet, and he has a legendary reputation for working the news media, including special briefings for his favorite reporters. But his public profile has gone from hero to zero in recent weeks.

A quick check of the State Department web site shows that Holbrooke's last public appearance before the media was nearly a month ago, during the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Coincidence? We thought not. And after a couple of phone calls, Warren and Jon here at N&S figured out what's up.

Three administration officials, who asked not to be identified by agency, told us that, while Holbrooke is laboring away hard behind the scenes, he's received direct orders from the White House to cool it publicly while Washington desperately tries to unscramble the Afghan electoral mess between President Hamid Karzai and his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah.

"This process is so sensitive. He'd love to deal with this. The White House thinks ... it's not the time for him" to be out front, one of the officials said of Holbrooke.

Perhaps it was that reported shouting match in Kabul a few weeks back between Karzai and Holbrooke?

Instead, it's Sen. John Kerry - a man not known for shouting - who has been in the Afghan capital, dickering with Karzai in the hopes of getting him to accept a run-off, or a compromise with Abdullahx2.

To be fair -- and we do try to be fair here at N&S, we're told that the White House orders are not directed at Holbrooke alone. Everyone involved in Af/Pak policy has been told to keep a lid on it while President Obama deals with the difficult decision of how to keep the situation there from dropping into the abyss and whether to send more American servicemen and women to Afghanistan.

The orders followed remarks a few weeks back by Afghanistan commander Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal to the effect that a "counter-terrorism" strategy, relying on fewer troops and more Predator drone strikes, wouldn't be effective. The remarks were widely seen as limiting the president's options.

"McChrystal got ahead of the process and was pulled back," said a second U.S. official. "In light of that, we have said to all of the people who are involved in the review process: your words should be directed to the president and the principals (senior advisers) and not to the public. This has not been directed at Richard, but to all of the officials involved in the process."

"The idea here is to leave the prerogatives to the president. By accident, McChrystal was seen as jamming the commander in chief."



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jon grand, are you sure you're talking about the right Dick?

jon grand

Where's Dick? With his outsized sense of self-importance and certitude concerning the primacy of his own judgements, its hard to imagine him missing. It would not suprise me if were visble from space. I don't doubt his talents or his intellegence. but he too often represents the hazards of "foreign policy by ego".


First of all, my comments represent a hypothetical "solution" for an America that insists on pursuing this strategy.

Personally, we accomplished the goal years ago by invading Afghanistan in search of Bin-Laudin. The message was: we will pursue to the ends of the earth the one that attacked us. We made that point and should have pulled out after a year.

If we find and kill Bin-Laudin, we make him a martyr . If we just stopped at making him impotent to live in the open and attack again, because the cost to anyone giving him sanctuary is astronomical, we would have been more effective than continuing this farce with no end-mission.


That is the CIA advantage. Criticized by who? You think CNN will be embedded with the CIA? The only opinions will be held by those that are alive and rich, which will be positive, or dead, which will have little to say ( sorry, that is harsh-truth). The military has some accountability. The CIA, no. How many interviews have the CIA granted about the thousands of Drone Attacks on a foreign country that officially denies are even happening. The press looks the other way on this stuff. Hence the advantage.

Really, how they are "viewed" only is important to the media. If we get the results, we will spin it as needed. No US reporter will be there, at least not one that doesn't think that the administration is doing the noble thing.

John Dingler

If the US can just hire Uzbecki's Chechens, Cubans, or US Homeless to invade Pakistan, why wouldn't this motly crew be just a version of the Taliban, they being terrorist foreigners who infiltrate a country, hence subject to the same criticism?



Anonymous CIA officials point out, 2 weeks after the speech, the "leak" about "Chaosisitan".
( http://www.newsweek.com/id/217108 )

Biden asks in the interim why more money is not being spent in Pakistan ( presumably on CIA drone-type attacks since sending in official US ground troops is out of the question)

Apparently, the CIA is suddenly leaking on McChrystal . Why? Possibly to further the Biden plan that would give them the huge increase in funding that would come from leading the war (now a secret drone war) in the region.

Admittedly, such a CIA war has an appeal. No real US troops and the accompanying political liability
They can hire Uzbecki's Chechnians, or Cubans, to invade Pakistan.

They can meet with warloads ( tribal leaders) , offer them the choice:
"take of a ton of money, or watch the skies for you and your family's demise"
type of deal.

Politicians have full deniability:
"We just voted to increase CIA funding" we had no IDEA they would use it this way", if it fails.

If it succeeds, many American lives saved, terrorists gone, happy tribal leaders, happy politicians everywhere.

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"Nukes & Spooks" is written by McClatchy correspondents Jonathan S. Landay (national security and intelligence), Warren P. Strobel (foreign affairs and the State Department), and Nancy Youssef (Pentagon).

jon, nancy & warren

Landay, Youssef and Strobel.

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