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Stanley A. McChrystal for U. S. Ambassador - Kabul; Richard C. Holbrooke for U.S. Ambassador - Islamabad

Matthew J. Nasuti (Former U.S. Air Force Captain)
Tuesday 6 July 2010

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America’s last chance to prevail against the Taliban depends on a sound strategy and a unified, competent civilian/military command structure. The current State Department effort is fractured by having Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry, “Special” Representative/Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke and Deputy Secretary of State Jacob J. Lew sharing authority over Afghanistan.

This author, in 2009, called for Karl Eikenberry to be replaced as he is gloomy and orthodox. More importantly, he does not support President Obama’s current counterinsurgency strategy. President Obama has four reasons to replace Eikenberry:

1. The U.S. Embassy, in 2009, decided to open “show” consulates in Mazar-e Sharif and Herat instead of complementing the military strategy by focusing on opening a consulate in the heart of Taliban territory - Afghanistan’s second largest city, Kandahar. Other countries have consulates in Kandahar; they are not afraid of the Taliban. In contrast, Eikenberry’s decisions radiate fear of the Taliban and confusion over President Obama’s strategy.

2. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, in 2010, created negative publicity for the United States when it decided to hire controversial Blackwater/Xe to provide security for the unnecessary Mazar-e Sharif and Herat consulates. Ambassador Eikenberry will not admit that the consulates are a mistake and he has no qualms about compounding his mistakes.

3. The ArmorGroup security guard sex and alcohol scandal at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, in September 2009, was a major public relations embarrassment for which no U.S. Embassy officials have yet to be held accountable.

4. The U.S. Embassy announced that it will complete its civilian “surge” by January 1, 2011. On that date, it will finally have all its personnel in-place for the expanded effort that President Obama announced in January 2009. This surge (more accurately a trickle) of well under a thousand civilian experts has been a half-hearted and lackluster effort that is hurting the war effort.

Deputy Lew is believed to have played a major role in some or all of the above decisions, which is a good reason for having him also exit stage left.

The White House has rejected the idea of replacing Eikenberry. Its rational (a reasonable one) is that such a change would be disruptive to the war plans. However, replacing Eikenberry with Stanley McChrystal would cause no disruption at all. Ambassador McChrystal knows all the players in the country, he is apparently well regarded by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, he should work seamlessly with his former boss, General David H Petraeus, and the strategy for success is his.

While President Obama was correct that a military officer cannot be critical of his civilian superiors, this author has less of a problem with an outspoken civilian ambassador, especially one serving in a war zone. President Obama has stated that a successful war effort is more important than all other considerations. That war effort requires the nomination of Stanley McChrystal as U.S. Ambassador to Kabul and the assignment of all Deputy Lew’s authority to Ambassador McChrystal.

Ambassador Holbrooke should be nominated as U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, where his skills could be put to better use. The critical importance of Pakistan merits a high profile Ambassador.

The hide-bound Senior Foreign Service bureaucracy within the U.S. Department of State has never accepted the notion of ambassadorial accountability for mediocre performance. I

Its solution for Afghanistan would likely be to add another layer of ambassador, such as a “Very Special Ambassador” to oversee both Ambassador Eikenberry and Special Ambassador Holbrooke. President Obama must streamline the gaggle of State Department officials overseeing the war effort if America and the Afghan people are to prevail over the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

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