Daniel W. Drezner

The odd utility of Richard Holbrooke

The odd utility of Richard Holbrooke

In light of Hamid Karzai’s agreement to go forward on a run-off election in Afghanistan, I was curious about special envoy Richard Holbrooke’s role in this denouement.  Jon Western links to this Nukes & Spooks McClatchy blog post chock-full of some inside dirt

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…

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.

Everyone did keep quiet… except Senator John Kerry.  The Wall Street Journal‘s Jay Solomon and Peter Spiegel explain why: 

According to one Western diplomat, the Afghan president was more comfortable dealing with Sen. Kerry than with U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry or the administration’s special representative to the region, Richard Holbrooke. Mr. Holbrooke angered Mr. Karzai when he suggested shortly after the Aug. 20 election that a runoff might be needed.

I’m beginning to wonder if Hoobrooke is simply the exemplar of the bad cop in foreign affairs.  For his sake, I hope so.  Otherwise, he’s stuck being an envoy to a region in which the Indians won’t talk to him, the Afghans won’t talk to hi, and the Pakistanis that will talk to him are feckless.