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January 2009
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Sanity in Afghanistan?

This could be very good news.
President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton spoke to State Department employees this afternoon, and they announced that Ambassador Richard Holbrooke has been named “special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

[Clinton:] Ambassador Holbrooke will coordinate across the entire government an effort to achieve United States’ strategic goals in the region.
This effort will be closely coordinated, not only within the State Department and, of course, with USAID, but also with the Defense Department and under the coordination of the National Security Council.

So who is Richard Holbrooke?
Well, for one thing, he’s the author of this OpEd in the Washington Post last year: Still Wrong in Afghanistan

Karzai and much of the international community in Kabul have warned Bush that aerial spraying would create a backlash against the government and the Americans, and serve as a recruitment device for the Taliban while doing nothing to reduce the drug trade. This is no side issue: If the program continues to fail, success in Afghanistan will be impossible.
Fortunately, Bush has not been able to convince other nations or Karzai that aerial spraying should be conducted, although he is vigorously supported by the American ambassador, William Wood, who was an enthusiastic proponent of aerial spraying in his previous assignment, in Colombia. Wood, often called “Chemical Bill” in Kabul, has even threatened senior Afghan officials with cuts in reconstruction funds if his policies are not carried out, according to two sources.
But even without aerial eradication, the program, which costs around $1 billion a year, may be the single most ineffective program in the history of American foreign policy. It’s not just a waste of money. It actually strengthens the Taliban and al-Qaeda, as well as criminal elements within Afghanistan.

Someone who understands that aerial spraying is counterproductive! And he’ll be coordinating our entire Afghanistan/Pakistan efforts.
And make no mistake about it. He understands.

The program destroys crops in insecure areas, especially in the south, where the Taliban is strongest. […]
Everyone talks about “alternative livelihoods” and alternative crops as the solution to the drug problem. This is true in theory — but this theory has been tried elsewhere with almost no success. Poppies are an easy crop to grow and are far more valuable than any other product that can be grown in the rocky, remote soil of most of Afghanistan. Without roads, it is hard to get heavier (and less valuable) crops to market — and what market is there, anyway?

And while he didn’t go so far as to jump on board the Senlis proposal, he seems open to new ideas.

Solving this problem requires bold, creative thinking. Consideration should be given to a temporary suspension of eradication in insecure areas, accompanied by an intensified effort to improve security, build small market-access roads and offer farmers free agricultural support.

And finally, in a completely different vein, here’s the clincher in my mind. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke appeared on the Colbert Report, brokering a settlement between Colbert and Willie Nelson over their competing ice cream flavors, and at one point:

Colbert: Have you met Willie Nelson?
Holbrooke: No, no. But he sings better than you…. I just visited his trailer, and I breathed in, and you know I feel very good… [Big grin from Willie]

Here, our new Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, while not a good singer, even joins in a song with Stephen Colbert and Willie Nelson!

A guy like that? That’s someone I like representing the U.S. out there in the world.

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