AfPak — It’s his baby now

December 16, 2010


On a day when the most powerful people in Washington were discussing Afghanistan and Pakistan, there was one man who might be excused for looking a little shell-shocked.

Frank Ruggiero, who stepped in as acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) following the sudden death of his boss Richard Holbrooke on Monday, had little time to prepare for his first big outing as President Barack Obama’s  pointman for the biggest foreign policy headache facing the administration.

Ruggiero spoke to the press after Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates formally unveiled  their official review of the year-old Afghan strategy, which said enough progress was being made to begin withdrawing U.S. troops in July despite fragile and uneven gains against the Taliban insurgents.

Clinton — accompanied by virtually Holbrooke’s entire office — joined Ruggiero at the press conference in an orchestrated display of continuity and solidarity.

“I have complete confidence in this SRAP team,” Clinton said, adding that Ruggiero had hit the ground running  as he took over the duties of the office.

Ruggiero certainly brings a different style to the job than Holbrooke, whose outsized personality and unbridled enthusiasms had made him for decades one of the United States’ most outspoken and recognizable diplomats.

Trim, business-like, and sticking calmly to his script, Ruggiero revealed little beyond what Obama, Clinton and Gates had already laid down as the official line on Afghanistan-Pakistan –a  “clear-eyed and realistic” view that says the United States can still achieve its goals in the region despite a myriad of unresolved problems.

Ruggiero, who prior to joining Holbrooke’s team was the senior civilian U.S. official in southern Afghanistan,  said there was no question of a course change following the death of the 69-year old diplomat.

“We’ll continue his mission, which is what he would want us to do,” Ruggiero said.

PHOTO CREDIT: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque ( Frank Ruggiero (L), acting Special Representative for Afghanistan-Pakistan, General David Petraeus (C), commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and U.S. President Barack Obama meet with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai at the NATO Summit in Lisbon November 20, 2010)

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