Our new man in Kabul, Ambassador Ryan Crocker is making quite a name for himself - and not in a good way.
Yesterday Taliban insurgents waged an audacious and highly coordinated attack on the US Embassy and NATO headquarters that went on for 20 hours and killed more than a dozen people. Ryan Crocker's verdict on the bloodshed and the fact that insurgents were able to launch a brazen assault in one of the most protected areas of the city. Meh
“These were five guys that rumbled into town with RPGs under their car seats,” Crocker said. “This is not a very big deal, a hard day for the embassy and my staff, who behaved with enormous courage and dedication. But look, you know a dozen RPG rounds from 800 meters away — that isn’t [the] Tet [offensive], that’s harassment.”
If this is harassment I would hate to see what an actual attack looks like. But this apparently has become Crocker's diplomatic m.o.
Last week Crocker said in an interview in the Washington Post that Kabul's biggest problem wasn't security or insurgent attack . . . but traffic.
The situation he found in Kabul this summer, he said, is considerably better than what he saw in 2002, when he helped set up the first post-Taliban government.
“It’s better than I thought,” he said. “The biggest problem in Kabul is traffic. Out in the provinces, even in Kandahar, you see traffic jams there. Kabul is a more liveable city by far than the Baghdad I left in 2009.” And not only for Americans: Afghan school enrollment has risen from 1 million to 8 million — and from 0 to 2.5 million girls. Life expectancy has increased by 20 years in the past decade
This is reminiscent of Mark Sedwill's brain-dead comments last year about how children in Kabul are safer than they are in London or New York. And in reality according to Justin Forsyth of Save the Children, "Afghanistan is the worst place on Earth to be born a child -- one in four children living there will die before they reach the age of 5."
And then there were the comments Crocker made on the anniversary of September 11th when he argued that even ten years later; even as there is no al Qaeda in Afghanistan; and even as the organization's top leadership has been slowly whittled down by drone strikes . . . we can't leave Afghanistan:
“If we decide to go home before it is ready, you could see a Talibanization of this country and a return to the conditions that existed pre-9/11. You will see regenerated al-Qaeda getting back into the global jihad business.”
"We are here so that there is never again a 9/11 coming from Afghan soil," said Crocker who also added that “I do not think that al-Qaeda is out of business because they lost Osama bin Laden. Not by a long shot.”
Putting aside the fact that these comments contradict the Secretary of Defense who has said that al Qaeda is on its last legs and near defeat, what does it say about the US presence in Afghanistan? After ten years of fighting; after billions upon billions of dollars spent, apparently if we leave too early the whole thing will collapse and the Taliban will take over. It begs the question: if we've been so unsuccessful for the past ten years in propping up an Afghan government that can defend itself why continue to throw good money after bad as clearly it won't do much to make a difference? This is not to suggest that the US should leave tomorrow, but the argument that if we leave Afghanistan the Taliban will soon take over is a pretty direct refutation of everything that we've done there for the past 10 years. How Crocker squares that with his other claims of progress is hard to figure.
These were the sort of false arguments about the Taliban and al Qaeda that we were hearing in 2009; it's rather amazing that the US Ambassador in Afghanistan feels the need to trot them out again.
Finally, Crocker even threw cold water on the idea of political negotiations:
The ambassador is dubious that the largest Taliban factions, whose leaders are in Pakistan, will be ready to seriously negotiate with Karzai’s government, or with the United States, anytime soon.
This of course contradicts the President who has said that he believes progress on political reconciliation is possible. Of course we also know that representatives of the Taliban have been in discussions with the United States and that Mullah Omar has blessed these talks. So the argument that the largest Taliban factions are not interested in negotiations seems false. But even if one believes that negotiations with the Taiban are not possible, if it's the position of the US government that political reconciliation is the best means for ending the war in Afghanistan . . . why is our top diplomat in Afghanistan so openly deriding the possibility?
Look I understand that one of Ryan Crocker's jobs is to spin the war in Afghanistan for US audiences - and that his inclination is to try to accentuate the positive. But there is looking on the bright side - and there is being mendacious. Crocker looks like he's doing far more of the latter than he is the former.