When Ryan Crocker testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, he’ll be hearing a lot of versions of the same question: How quickly can President Obama withdraw troops from Afghanistan?
Crocker, a 37-year veteran of some of the most difficult diplomatic foreign service postings, is coming out of retirement to serve as Obama’s next envoy to Kabul. Assuming he’s confirmed, Crocker’s next assignment could be his toughest yet, as Congress—and Americans—have grown weary of the nearly 10-year-old war.
Crocker’s confirmation hearing will amplify an ongoing debate about the war as Obama considers the scope of the drawdown that is scheduled to begin next month. White House press secretary Jay Carney said earlier this week that Obama hasn’t yet made a decision on the size of the drawdown, and he’ll wait for recommendations from outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. David Petraeus before he makes his decision. But both Crocker and Leon Panetta, who appears on Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing to be the next Defense secretary, will be prodded by lawmakers on the subject.
Obama’s under increasing pressure from his liberal base and some GOP lawmakers to set the table for a significant drawdown. On Tuesday, Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said that he wanted to see 15,000 troops—half of the troops who were deployed as part of the Obama-backed troop surge—return home by the end of the year.
"I think he should stick to the commitment he made that there would be a significant reduction of U.S. forces in July," Levin said. "I think that's going to be the key issue. It’s a critically important issue.”
Crocker has declined requests for interviews since Obama tapped him for the ambassadorship in late April. But in a November interview with Stanford University’s journal Bellum, he called for strategic patience in Afghanistan-Pakistan policy. “We’ve got to commit to, really, a long war, to be fought by a variety of means—all instruments of power, not just the military—and to sustain a strategic engagement and partnership, especially with Pakistan, who has seen us come and seen us go. So we need to signal that we’re there to stay,” Crocker said.
Crocker has a peerless reputation at Foggy Bottom, and should easily win confirmation. He served as ambassador to Kuwait City, Beirut, Islamabad, Damascus, and, most famously, to Baghdad, where he teamed with Petraeus during the 2007 troop surge that helped turn around the war in Iraq.
Crocker, whose disdain for Washington jobs during his State Department career was well known, also volunteered to reopen the U.S. embassy in Kabul in 2002 after the toppling of the Taliban government.
“As soon as we went to war in Afghanistan—and drove the Taliban out—he was the first one raising his hand to start the embassy,” said Thomas Krajeski, a longtime colleague of Crocker’s and former ambassador to Yemen. “This is a guy who believes foreign service officers should serve in foreign places, and the harder the better.”
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