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Holbrooke: Everybody on the Afghanistan team gets along great

Despite what you may have read, the top Afghanistan policymakers in the Obama administration are all working together constructively and are on the same page, according to Special Representative Richard Holbrooke. In an interview Wednesday with PBS NewsHour‘s Gwen Ifill, Holbrooke said he has seen some truly dysfunctional administrations in his storied, multi-decade diplomatic career ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Despite what you may have read, the top Afghanistan policymakers in the Obama administration are all working together constructively and are on the same page, according to Special Representative Richard Holbrooke.

In an interview Wednesday with PBS NewsHour's Gwen Ifill, Holbrooke said he has seen some truly dysfunctional administrations in his storied, multi-decade diplomatic career -- and this administration isn't one of them.

Despite what you may have read, the top Afghanistan policymakers in the Obama administration are all working together constructively and are on the same page, according to Special Representative Richard Holbrooke.

In an interview Wednesday with PBS NewsHour‘s Gwen Ifill, Holbrooke said he has seen some truly dysfunctional administrations in his storied, multi-decade diplomatic career — and this administration isn’t one of them.

"I have worked in every Democratic administration since the Kennedy administration, and I know dysfunctionality when I see it. We have really good civil-military relations in this government," he said.

Holbrooke touted his close working relationship with new Afghanistan commander, Gen. David Petraeus, and pushed back against Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, and others who have pointed to quotes from officials and the Rolling Stone article that led to the firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as evidence that U.S. leaders in Washington and Kabul are not on the same page.

"This is one [administration] which is absent of any ideological differences, as occurred in the last administration and several I served in. We work closely together," he said. "There are always personal differences and ambitions, but this is just not true. It’s not a dysfunctional relationship."

Holbrooke, who happened to be in Afghanistan when the Rolling Stone story broke, revealed that McChrystal woke him up in the middle of the night to apologize for quotes attributed to the general’s aides that called him a "wounded animal," and an anecdote that portrayed McChrystal as irritated at getting emails from Holbrooke.

"I was appalled that they said those things, but I don’t take it personally. These things happen," Holbrooke said.

So who’s to blame for the perception that Obama’s Afghanistan team is in disarray, according to Holbrooke? The media.

"The press then created a narrative out of an isolated incident," he said, referring to the McChrystal story. "Honestly, it just isn’t true."

The press is also apparently to blame for the confusion over President Obama’s July 2011 timeline for beginning the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

"Well, I have got be honest with you. If there’s a misunderstanding, it may be because the issue has not been correctly represented in the media," Holbrooke said. He declined to blame the confusion on leading senators like Graham and John McCain, R-AZ, who have repeatedly said they are still confused as to what exactly what will happen next summer.

Holbrooke finished off the interview by arguing that the Obama administration’s relationship with the Afghan government shouldn’t be judged on the ups and downs between the U.S. and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

"So, 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," he said.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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