Tales from the Trail

Holbrooke: No “dysfunction” on U.S. Afghan Team

July 1, 2010

 Barack Obama’s team running the Afghan war has its issues — but is it dysfunctional? No, sir, according to Richard Holbrooke.

” I have worked in every Democratic administration since the Kennedy administration, and I know dysfunctionality when I see it,” Holbrooke, the administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told the PBS NewsHour program.

” There are always personal differences and ambitions, but this is just not true. It’s not a dysfunctional relationship.”

Holbrooke’s interview with anchor Gwen Ifill came after a rough couple of weeks for Washington’s Afghan policy planners. Obama sacked his top commander in the region, General Stanley McChrystal, after the bombshell Rolling Stone article which included disparaging comments from McChrystal’s team about civilian directors of the war effort — Holbrooke included.  And McChrystal’s replacement, General David Petraeus, took over with a warning that there would be no swift turnaround after nine years of war.

Holbrooke said he was appalled by the McChrystal fiasco, but didn’t take it personally. He also said he wasn’t holding any grudges against the general, who “went out of his way” to offer a personal apology.  “In fact, he woke me in the middle of the night to apologize,” Holbrooke said.

As for Petraeus, Holbrooke had only good things to say, calling him one of the most outstanding military officers the United States had ever produced.

“And I have known them all back to General Westmoreland in Vietnam. So, I’m very pleased with where we are,” Holbrooke said.

He played down reported tensions with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, saying there was little choice but to work with him.

“This is a very tough situation in Afghanistan. No one denies that. But the important thing to underscore is that it’s not a government of one person. And the government doesn’t control the whole country. And the — and the bench strength is limited. We are lacking enough good, qualified Afghans. And the Afghan government is working on that,” he said.

Photo credit:   Reuters/Faisal Mahmood (Holbrooke at a news conference in Islamabad on June 19)

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