Ambassador Crocker Speaks on Middle East Issues After Leaving State Dept.
On September 17, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted former Ambassador Ryan Crocker, appearing in his first public event since his tour in Kabul. A small audience was given special insight into arguably the most experienced living U.S. Ambassador with assignments in the Middle East. Ambassador Crocker has served in Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, and, most recently, Afghanistan. Having returned to civilian life, Crocker often stated to the audience that he was now a “free” man. As such, the audience was privileged to have this opportunity to hear from someone who has spent nearly 40 years abroad and could speak candidly and honestly about situations on the ground and the relationships between states in the region.
He started this important dialogue with a lengthy but refreshing history of 9/11 leading to the 2002 state of the union speech where President Bush coined the phrase “axis of evil.” One of the most interesting things to arise from this early discussion was the fact that Crocker was having a pretty open dialogue with Iran at this time. Iran was sharing intelligence and insight with Crocker about Afghanistan and Iraq, but everything abruptly stopped following the “axis of evil” statement, and the relationship has never been the same since. But Crocker does believe that a UN-led dialogue is still possible with Iran. Not easy, but possible.
Crocker continued the discussion jumping forward to the military surge in Afghanistan. Crocker was quick to say it worked, but we are in need of a strong assessment of America’s future role in the country and our goals. He warned about the continual green on blue attacks, a prescient comment on the eve of NATO’s announcement that, except for specially-approved operations, coalition troops would be halting activities with Afghan National Security Forces. Even with the discussion of the recent attacks, he reinforced the stance that we cannot afford to back out early. We have an obligation to the Afghan women, whom he phrased as strong and independent, anecdotally recalling one woman telling him the Taliban “won’t put me back in a burka,” as well as the young men in their 20s and 30s who fervently want to rebuild their country. Crocker argued that if we back out early, we will let down these two groups of people, and we cannot do that (as the US did at the end of the 1980s); it will all fall apart if we fail to protect these groups. Crocker stated that it would cost the world about $4.5 billion annually to keep supporting ANSF and thus the country, which he said was cheap in the big picture of things.
Crocker goes on to defend President Karzai, stating that first and foremost Karzai took on an impossible job and has come out the other end. He asserts that Karzai won’t look to run for re-election, but he has an extreme interest in working with the next president. Crocker was quick to remind the audience that whereas in America the loosing presidential candidate goes into the private sector, over in that part of the world the loosing candidate can sometimes end up dead. Crocker emphasized Pakistan as a clear recent example of this.Crocker concluded his discussion by saying that there needs to be a quiet reconciliation between the Afghan government in Kabul and the Taliban; it is crucially important. There also needs to be a real and productive discussion and agreement between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the US to make any real progress towards US and Afghan security. Just because it is hard does not mean we should turn our backs on Afghanistan and all of our commitments and sacrifices over the last 11 years, he said.