NPR has sent around an excerpt from a “Talk of the Nation” interview with Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to early reports, Bob Woodward’s new book depicts Holbrooke as skeptical that Obama’s Afghanistan strategy can succeed. Holbrooke tells NPR that he’s going to “duck” any questions about the book until he’s had a chance to see it. But when asked a more direct question about Obama’s policy, he gives an answer that doesn’t inspire great confidence:
MR. CONAN: Well let me put it in a slightly different way, then. From this remove, a lot of people in this country see a government that is weak, and corrupt, that appears to be losing ground to the Taliban…. Can the President’s policy succeed?
AMB. HOLBROOKE: Well, I signed on for the strategy we’re now carrying out. And we are doing the civilian portion of it in ways that I am actually quite proud of. We have a fantastically dedicated team in the provinces and Kabul and Islamabad, and here in Washington and New York. And we’re doing the things that really matter to the people of Afghanistan in support of that strategy. I believe in those things. I think Afghanistan has gone through an unbelievably difficult 32 years, and they deserve, particularly given our historic role there, they deserve our involvement. Also, a vacuum in Afghanistan would be a strategic catastrophe for the region. And I’m not reasserting a domino theory left over from another war and another place and another century. I’m simply referring to the obvious interaction between Afghanistan, Pakistan and above all, the people who threaten our homeland so directly and operate of the border regions in Pakistan and then Afghanistan. So I’m supporting the strategy and implementing the policy under the direction of the President and Secretary of State Clinton.
Note that Holbrooke says he “signed on for the strategy,” has a fantastic team, thinks Afghanistan is important, and is “supporting the strategy and implementing the policy.” But why can’t he just say whether he thinks the strategy will succeed? Perhaps I’m over-parsing, but the concern here is that Woodward is right and he simply doesn’t.