On the heels of the dispiriting news out of Kandahar concerning the Taliban jailbreak, comes some very good news indeed: If published accounts are to be believed, President Obama is preparing to nominate Ryan Crocker as ambassador to Kabul.
It is hard to imagine anyone better qualified for this post. Crocker had already established his reputation as one of the State Department’s top Arabists by the time he arrived in Iraq in 2007, having previously served as ambassador to Pakistan, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Syria. In Iraq he became, along with General David Petraeus, part of the “Dream Team” that implemented the surge and turned around a war effort on the verge of failure. A key part of the U.S. success was the fact that that the low-key Crocker cooperated so closely with Petraeus; civil-military relations were never as close in Iraq before or after as they were under the Petraeus-Crocker tandem.
In Afghanistan the civil-military relationship has long been dysfunctional. Karl Eikenberry has been the ambassador for the past two years and from the start he gained a reputation for feuding with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top military commander. Eikenberry did not even give McChrystal a heads-up before sending memos back to Washington opposing the troop surge that McChrystal advocated. Eikenberry has been careful to be more collegial with Petraeus, but the embassy still hasn’t been working closely enough with the military on issues of mutual concern such as fighting corruption and improving governance. Moreover, Eikenberry long ago alienated Hamid Karzai, whom he harshly criticized in cables published by WikiLeaks.
Now there is a chance for a fresh start with the “Dream Team” reunited in Kabul. This should be cause for optimism on many levels, not the least being what it indicates about President Obama’s mindset: He would hardly be luring our top diplomat out of retirement if he planned to bug out of Afghanistan. This is a welcome sign of commitment from Washington, and, more than that, a sign of commitment to fixing the fraying civil-military ties which have too long stood in the way of a successful and unified war effort.