Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Holbrooke hearts Hoh in mid-resignation

The resignation of Matthew Hoh, a bright young U.S. administrative official (and former Marine captain) in Afghanistan, is sobering, because he details ways in which the U.S. presence stimulates insurgency. To veer off what admittedly should be the focal point, though -- Hoh's argument against a large military footprint -- one thing that struck me in the Post's coverage was the reaction of senior officials, particularly Holbrooke, to his resignation letter:

The reaction to Hoh's letter was immediate. Senior U.S. officials, concerned that they would lose an outstanding officer and perhaps gain a prominent critic, appealed to him to stay.

U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry brought him to Kabul and offered him a job on his senior embassy staff. Hoh declined. From there, he was flown home for a face-to-face meeting with Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"We took his letter very seriously, because he was a good officer," Holbrooke said in an interview. "We all thought that given how serious his letter was, how much commitment there was, and his prior track record, we should pay close attention to him."

While he did not share Hoh's view that the war "wasn't worth the fight," Holbrooke said, "I agreed with much of his analysis." He asked Hoh to join his team in Washington, saying that "if he really wanted to affect policy and help reduce the cost of the war on lives and treasure," why not be "inside the building, rather than outside, where you can get a lot of attention but you won't have the same political impact?"

Can you imagine how the Bush Administration would have reacted to such a resignation? They probably would have blacklisted Hoh, smeared him, perhaps had him prosecuted on some trumped up charge.

Holbrooke's reaction recalls his recruitment practices as related in George Packer's recent New Yorker profile:

One night in April, Holbrooke was on the last Delta shuttle from Washington to New York when Rina Amiri recognized him. An Afghan-American woman in her thirties, Amiri came from a royalist family in Kabul that had fled to America when the Afghan king Zahir Shah was overthrown, in 1973; since 2001, she had been working in Afghanistan on political and human-rights issues, for the U.N. and then the Open Society Institute. Amiri sat in the row behind Holbrooke and pressed him about a constitutional problem related to the Afghan elections. After a few minutes, Holbrooke suddenly said, “You know, I’m building this team.”

“I know,” Amiri said. “But I’m here to lobby you.”

“I’m very efficient. I just turned your lobbying into a job interview.” Holbrooke fixed her with a steady look. “Do you realize no one will offer you the type of opportunity I’m offering to affect your country?”

She asked him for more specifics. “You will have a lot of latitude,” he said. “That’s the way I work.”

Amiri was wary of losing her independence. She also worried about Holbrooke’s reputation for abrasiveness. Would she be in a meeting in Kabul where her American boss pounded his fist on the table? It took a month, but eventually Holbrooke won her over, hiring her as an Afghanistan expert. (Henry Kissinger once said, “If Richard calls you and asks you for something, just say yes. If you say no, you’ll eventually get

Obama's best and brightest may well prove capable of disastrous miscalculation. But their mental habits are reassuring.

1 comment:

  1. Holbrooke is good. Obama is good. Nice but nonetheless it's a very bad situation that requires political patience. Something in short supply in DC. It's almost as bad there as it is in Kabul.