A Donnybrook over Holbrooke

Over at Electric Politics, former diplomat George Kenney offers a seldom-seen view of super-emissary Richard Holbrooke, once a top figure in the Clinton Administration and now President Obama’s special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan. Whether you agree or disagree, it is interesting to get something other than the almost uniformly laudatory media coverage. Kenney’s posting ran more than a month ago, but is certainly still timely. Here are excerpts:

Nobody should be fooled into thinking Holbrooke has strong diplomatic skills. He hasn’t. What he has is a boundless talent for self-promotion and a drive that won’t quit. If a President, any President, were serious about diplomacy, anywhere, Holbrooke would be last person to pick. That Mr. Obama has put Richard Holbrooke in charge of the Great Game (American Millennial version) should be taken as a very serious indicator that nobody has any idea what to do.

More worrying still is, as Holbrooke articulated it so crudely yesterday, the administration’s belief that they are fighting people in Afghanistan who pose a direct threat to us. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, there’s nothing about Afghanistan that is of the slightest importance to U.S. national security except for the fact that Afghanistan borders Pakistan and that events in the former may well further destabilize the latter. Our only interest in the region is Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and, to a slightly lesser extent, India’s. We don’t want them to have a nuclear war and we don’t want them to proliferate.

An intelligent foreign policy approach to Afghanistan would recognize our priorities up front and work for de-nuclearization of the region — which would almost certainly require comprehensive and radical nuclear arms reductions by all the nuclear states, including Israel — and economic development in Pakistan, to start. Obscuring those priorities does nobody any good, with the possible exception of extreme self-promoters, like Richard Holbrooke, who care mainly or, when the chips are down, only about themselves.


  • Russ Baker

    Russ Baker is Editor-in-Chief of WhoWhatWhy. He is an award-winning investigative journalist who specializes in exploring power dynamics behind major events.