Tales from the Trail

AfPak — It’s his baby now

ruggiero

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.

McCain sees India, U.S. teaming up against “troubling” China

SUMMIT-WASHINGTON

As President Barack Obama begins his visit to India, his erstwhile rival John McCain is voicing hope that Washington and New Delhi will tighten up their military cooperation in the face of China’s “troubling” assertiveness.

McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate and the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told a think-tank audience in Washington on Friday that the two huge democracies were natural allies in the quest to temper China’s ambitions.

“While India and the United States each continue to encourage a peaceful rise for China, we must recognize that one of the greatest factors for shaping this outcome and making it more likely is a robust U.S.-India strategic partnership,” McCain said.

Washington Extra – Analyze This

A confusing labyrinth. That is how the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) described the American development effort in Afghanistan, in a damning report on how $17.7 billion in aid and reconstruction money was doled out to 7,000 contractors between 2007 and 2009 with little or no coordination.kabul

With all the criticism that surrounds the Afghan government and the tactics employed by the U.S. military, the major shortcomings in the West’s development effort in Afghanistan sometimes seem to get too little attention. The U.S. Special Representative to the region Richard Holbrooke once said he had “never seen anything remotely resembling the mess” he inherited in terms of the development effort, while former Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani once described the aid effort to me as “dysfunctional and lacking accountability.” It is a view shared by many experts, who see it as a major reason why the West has failed to win more Afghan hearts and minds, and why things are now not going as well as President Barack Obama would have hoped.

Incredibly, SIGAR had tried to analyze contracting in Afghanistan for the years 2002-7, but found much of the data the government agencies had compiled prior to 2007 was “too poor to be analyzed.”

Karzai appeals to U.S. taxpayers

karzai1Afghan President Hamid Karzai is taking a page from the playbook of American politicians campaigning for public office: talk to the taxpayers.

Karzai is on a campaign to give the boot to tens of thousands of foreign private security guards working in Afghanistan. He’s already put the U.S. government on notice that the private security firms operating in his country will be disbanded within four months.

On Sunday, the Afghan leader took his case directly to the American people.

“I am appealing to the U.S. taxpayer not to allow their hard-earned money to be wasted on groups that are not only providing lots of inconveniences to the Afghan people but actually are, God knows, in contact with Mafia-like groups and perhaps also funding militants and insurgents and terrorists through those funds,” Karzai said on in an ABC “This Week” interview.

Clinton: do you really need all those SUVs?

Emma Ashburn covered Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in which she  defended international health spending at a time of domestic belt-tightening.

“At a time when American unemployment is recorded as slightly less than 10 percent, and we know structural unemployment is worse, and we’re asking hard-working, maybe unemployed Americans, to keep paying their taxes, some of that money will go to fund our development and diplomacy efforts worldwide.”

“I have to be able to look them in the eye and tell them they’re getting their money’s worth,” Clinton said. USA/

Backlash over WikiLeaks release of Afghan war documents

There may be more shoes to drop from WikiLeaks if it releases another 15,000 documents on the Afghanistan war that the whistleblower website is reviewing. It is already seeing some backlash after releasing 75,000-plus documents on the Internet.

The Times of London reported Wednesday that the leaked documents expose informers helping U.S. forces and have put hundreds of Afghan lives at risk.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange responded in an interview from London with NBC’s “Today” show. “We are checking to see whether this is in fact credible. It is probably unlikely. We have taken care to in fact hold back 15,000 for review that should it have this type of material in it. If there are those names in there and they are at risk, this would be because of a misclassification by the U.S. military.”

Washington Extra

wikileakIn many ways the documents released by WikiLeaks last night merely underscored the bleak assessment of the Afghan war which General Stanley McChrystal issued last August.

At the time McChrystal warned the overall situation was “deteriorating”, complained of “under-resourcing” and called for not just more resources but a “fundamentally new approach” from NATO forces if failure were to be avoided.

McChrystal, who had access to a whole lot more information than WikiLeaks, said the Taliban were aided by “elements of some intelligence agencies” — meaning the Pakistanis — something US officials have been saying for years. He talked of a popular “crisis of confidence” with the government of Afghanistan and warned that the steady stream of civilian casualties had to be stemmed.

Steele staying put

steele2“I ain’t going anywhere,” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said on Thursday, in response to calls for his resignation from critics in his own party, MSNBC reported.

“I’m here. I’m here,” Steele said at the launch of the Colorado Republican Party’s 2010 “Victory” headquarters.

Steele brushed aside the criticism, calling it a “distraction.”   With victory in the November midterm elections at stake, Steele said he was focused on “winning.”

Man of Steele seems to have avoided kryptonite for now

After a weekend of some prominent Republicans calling for his resignation — Liz Cheney among them — and a round of phone calls trying to explain himself, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele appears likely to hold onto his job through the election. USA-POLITICS/REPUBLICANS

Washington Whispers has a look at how Steele’s gaffe on Afghanistan does not affect Republican fundraising, which is obviously key to the November elections when Republicans are hoping to gain seats and possibly control of Congress from President Barack Obama’s Democrats.

After the election will be quite another story for the RNC chairman, with Republicans probably looking to replace Steele. Hotline has a piece on possible candidates in the next go-around. (Sarah Palin is not considered to be a serious contender).

Holder goes from war zone to the strike zone (hopefully)

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who just returned from Afghanistan, is making another trip — to a baseball game. GUANTANAMO/

The nation’s top law enforcement official will be throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at tonight’s game between the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets, a Justice Department spokeswoman said.

The 59-year-old Holder, who grew up in New York City, is a longtime fan of the Mets, and a big baseball as well as a basketball fan.