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Profile: Richard Holbrooke
a.k.a. Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke
Positions that Richard Holbrooke has held:
- US Ambassador to the United Nations (1999-2001)
- Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs (1994-1996)
Richard Holbrooke was a participant or observer in the following events:
Morton Abramowitz. [Source: Bradley Olsen]Morton Abramowitz, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, establishes a number of blue-ribbon commissions, headed by a select group of foreign policy elite, to create a new post-Cold War foreign policy framework for the US. Some of the group’s members are Madeleine Albright, Henry Cisneros, John Deutch, Richard Holbrooke, Alice Rivlin, David Gergen, Admiral William Crowe, Leon Fuerth, as well as Richard Perle and James Schlesinger, the two token conservatives who quickly resign. The commission will issue a number of policy papers recommending the increased use of military force to intervene in the domestic conflicts of other countries. Some of the commission’s members are appointed to brief Democratic presidential candidates on the commission’s reports ahead of their release. [American Spectator, 6/1999] Abramowitz is also influential in the career of counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who refers to Abramowitz as his “boss and mentor” at the State Department. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 48]
Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Richard Holbrooke, William Crowe Jr., Richard Perle, Morton I. Abramowitz, Madeleine Albright, Leon Fuerth, David Gergen, Henry Cisneros, John Deutch, Alice Rivlin, Arthur M. Schlesinger
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Neoconservative Influence
Soon after Bosnian Muslims declare independence from Yugoslavia (see April 6, 1992), Muslim volunteers from all of the Muslim world come to help fight against the Bosnian Serbs. These volunteers are generally known as the mujaheddin, just as they were in the 1980s war in Afghanistan (and many fought there as well). A military analyst will later call them “pretty good fighters and certainly ruthless.” However, their numbers are small, never reaching more than 4,000 (see 1993-1995). In an interview shortly after 9/11, Richard Holbrooke, Balkans peace negotiator for the US, will say, “I think the Muslims wouldn’t have survived without” help from the mujaheddin. But he will also call their help “a pact with the devil” from which Bosnia is still recovering. [Los Angeles Times, 10/7/2001]
Richard Holbrooke. [Source: US State Department]Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal urges President Bill Clinton to take the lead in military assistance to Bosnia. Richard Holbrooke, US ambassador to Germany at the time, draws up plans for covert assistance. [Wiebes, 2003, pp. 195]
Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs Richard Holbrooke persuades the State Department to license Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI), a private military contractor, to provide training to the Croatian army. [Ripley, 1999, pp. 81-82, 90; Scotsman, 3/2/2001] According to MPRI information officer Joseph Allred, the firm exists so that “the US can have influence as part of its national strategy on other nations without employing its own army.” [New American, 5/10/1999; Serbian National Federation, 8/1999]
Brigadier Gen. Michael Hayden (left, with glasses), US Marine Corps Gen. David Mize (front and center), and US Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Edward Hanlon Jr. (behind Mize) in Gornji Vakuf, Bosnia, on September 4, 1994. [Source: Paul Harris] (click image to enlarge)US ambassador Charles Thomas; Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Richard Holbrooke, his deputy Robert Frasure, head of intelligence for US European Command Brigadier Gen. Michael Hayden, US Air Force Gen. Charles Boyd, US Marine Corps Gen. David Mize, and US Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Edward Hanlon Jr., meet with the Muslim Bosnian army commander for Central Bosnia, Mehmet Alagic, in the town of Gornji Vakuf. The US group also visits Mostar, which is also controlled by the Bosnian Muslims. The Pentagon claims the US diplomats are there to familiarize themselves with the situation on the ground and the generals “just happened to be along,” but in appears in fact these meetings are part of a US effort to help the Croats and Muslims work together in upcoming offensives. Following this visit, US “logistics advisers” move into key locations throughout Bosnia, including the UN-controlled Tuzla airport. US Special Forces help build a secret airstrip in Visoko, central Bosnia, to land heavy transport aircraft (see Late 1994-Late 1995), and mysterious flights begin arriving at the Tuzla airports a few months later (see February-March 1995). [Observer, 11/20/1994; Scotsman, 12/3/1995] Hayden will later become head of the NSA and then head of the CIA.
The differences on Bosnia policy between Madeleine Albright, Anthony Lake, and Richard Holbrooke on the one hand and the Pentagon on the other, are aired at a cabinet meeting. Albright et. al. argue for a firm commitment to military intervention. “They maintained that the stakes went far beyond the particulars in Bosnia. The issue was not one state or two, three, or none. Rather, the issue was US credibility as a world leader, its credibility in NATO, the United Nations, and at home.” Meanwhile, “the Pentagon was most concerned about avoiding a sustained military involvement, and saw in arm, train, and strike the shades of Vietnam.” Clinton comes down firmly on the side of intervention. After the meeting, Anthony Lake is dispatched to Europe to brief US allies on the new policy on Bosnia. [Daalder, 2000, pp. 106 - 110]
Paris-based American columnist William Pfaff writes with regard to NATO’s bombing campaign against the Bosnian Serbs (see August 30, 1995): “The humiliation of Europe in what may prove the Yugoslav endgame has yet to be fully appreciated in Europe’s capitals. The United States today is again Europe’s leader; there is no other. Both the Bush and Clinton administrations tried and failed to convince the European governments to take over Europe’s leadership.” Pfaff’s words will later be cited approvingly by Richard Holbrooke in his book, “To End a War.” Holbrooke will recall that the “[p]ress and public reaction was highly positive” to the operation. [Holbrooke, 1999, pp. 102-103]
Richard Perle and Douglas Feith act as advisers to the government of Bosnia during the Dayton peace talks. They do not register with the Justice Department, as required by US law. Richard Holbrooke is the chief NATO civilian negotiator and Wesley Clark the chief NATO military negotiator. [Washington Watch, 5/13/2001] After the Dayton peace talks, Richard Perle then serves as a military adviser to the Bosnian government. [AFP Reporter, 1997]
Slobodan Milosevic speaking in Kosovo on June 28, 1989, to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo. [Source: Tomislav Peternek/ Polaris] (click image to enlarge)Professor Gil White will point out in 2002 that Slobodan Milosevic’s 1989 speech in Kosovo in front of a huge crowd is consistently misrepresented as a call to ethnic war, when in fact it was the exact opposite—a call for racial tolerance and reconciliation. [Gil-White, 2/9/2002] In the speech itself, Milosevic said, “Equal and harmonious relations among Yugoslav peoples are a necessary condition for the existence of Yugoslavia… Serbia has never had only Serbs living in it. Today, more than in the past, members of other peoples and nationalities also live in it. This is not a disadvantage for Serbia. I am truly convinced that it is its advantage. The national composition of almost all countries in the world today, particularly developed ones, has also been changing in this direction. Citizens of different nationalilties, religions and races have been living together more and more frequently and more and more successfully… Yugoslavia is a multinational community and it can survive only under the conditions of full equality for all nations that live in it.” Milosevic ended the speech, saying “Long live peace and brotherhood among peoples!” [National Technical Information Service, 6/28/1989; BBC, 6/28/1989] In 1996, the New York Times describes this speech as follows: “In a fervent speech before a million Serbs, [Milosevic] galvanized the nationalist passions that two years later fueled the Balkan conflict” [New York Times, 7/28/1996] On the anniversary of the speech in 1998 the Washington Post reports, “Nine years ago today, Milosevic’s fiery speech [in Kosovo] to a million angry Serbs was a rallying cry for nationalism and boosted his popularity enough to make him the country’s uncontested leader.” [Washington Post, 7/29/1998] In 1999, the Economist described this as “a stirringly virulent nationalist speech.” [Economist, 6/5/1999] In 2001, Time Magazine reported that with this speech, “Milosevic whipped a million Serbs into a nationalist frenzy in the speech that capped his ascent to power.” [Time (Europe), 7/9/2001] Also in 2001, the BBC, which in 1989 provided the translation of Milosevic’s speech quoted above, claims that in 1989, “on the 600-year anniversary of the battle of Kosovo Polje, [Milosevic] gathered a million Serbs at the site of the battle to tell them to prepare for a new struggle.” [BBC, 4/1/2001] Richard Holbrooke repeats these misrepresentations in his 1999 book, referring to the speech as “racist” and “inflammatory.” Holbrooke even calls Milosevic a liar for denying the false accusations. [Holbrooke, 1999, pp. 29]
Democratic party leaders hold special briefings on Iraq for House Democrats. The message they give to lawmakers is that Saddam Hussein can only be dealt with militarily. Richard Holbrooke, former UN ambassador under Clinton, says he believes that Saddam Hussein is the most dangerous man in the world. Similarly, Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst who served on Clinton’s National Security Council, says that Hussein could have a nuclear bomb within a few years and that containment is no longer an option. And echoing the claims of hawks like Paul Wolfowitz, Dennis Ross, Clinton’s top Middle East negotiator, says that Iraqis will greet Americans as liberators if Hussein is removed. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also agrees with the policy of regime change, saying that Hussein is developing nuclear weapons and cannot be deterred. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 124-126]
Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is running a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination centered on strong national security and aggressive foreign policy, surrounds himself with a group of hardline neoconservative advisers:
Neoconservative eminence Norman Podhoretz (see October 28, 2007). Podhoretz says, “I decided to join Giuliani’s team because his view of the war [on terror]—what I call World War IV—is very close to my own.” Podhoretz has said he “hopes and prays” President Bush attacks Iran. [Newsweek, 10/15/2007] Giuliani says of Podhoretz’s advocacy of US military action against Iran, “From the information I do have available, which is all public source material, I would say that that is not correct, we are not at that stage at this point. Can we get to that stage? Yes. And is that stage closer than some of the Democrats believe? I believe it is.” [New York Times, 10/25/2007]
Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and current American Enterprise Institute scholar who argues that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s diplomacy is “dangerous” and signals American “weakness” to Tehran and advocates revoking the US ban on assassination;
Stephen Rosen, a Harvard hawk who wants major new defense spending and has close ties to prominent neoconservative Bill Kristol;
Former senator Bob Kasten (R-WI), who often sided with neocons during the Reagan years; and
Daniel Pipes, who opposes a Palestinian state and believes America should “inspire fear, not affection.” Pipes has advocated the racial profiling of Muslim-Americans, argued that the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was not morally offensive, and has, in his own words, advocated “razing [Palestinian] villages from which attacks are launched” on Israel. [Newsweek, 10/15/2007; New York Times, 10/25/2007; Daily Telegraph, 11/1/2007] Pipes is even “further out ideologically than Norman Podhoretz,” writes Harper’s Magazine reporter Ken Silverstein. [Harper's, 8/28/2007]
Support for Israel's Likud - Some Giuliani advisers, including Kasten, former State Department aide and political counselor Charles Hill, and Islam expert Martin Kramer (who has attacked US Middle East scholars since 9/11 for being soft on terrorism) indicate Giuliani’s alignment with the right-wing hawks of Israel’s Likud Party, notes Forward Magazine: pro-Israeli lobbyist Ben Chouake says Giuliani is “very serious about his approach to ensuring the security and safety of Israel.” [Forward, 7/18/2007] Giuliani has a long record of supporting Israel’s right wing; as early as 1995, he publicly insulted Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and in 2001, told an Israeli audience that the US and Israel are “bound by blood.” [Newsweek, 10/15/2007] Giuliani says he wants to expand the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) and invite Israel to join. [New York Times, 10/25/2007] A Republican political operative calls Giuliani’s advisers “red-meat types” chosen to cloak Giuliani’s near-complete lack of foreign experience. The operative says that Giuliani is also trying to head off criticism for his departure from the Iraq Study Group (see December 2006) before it finished its report. Republican attorney Mark Lezell, who supports Giuliani opponent Fred Thompson, says, “The concern with that particular team is that they have been at the forefront of policies that have yet to succeed and could well qualify as political baggage.” [Forward, 7/18/2007]
'Out-Bushing Bush' - Not all of Giuliani’s foreign affairs advisers are neocons. His policy coordinator, Hill, takes a more centrist view and says, perhaps disingenuously, “I don’t really know much about neoconservatives,” adding, “I don’t know of a single person on the campaign besides Norman [Podhoretz] who is a self-identified, card-carrying member of this neocon cabal with its secret handshakes.” Hill says the US should “deliver a very clear message to Iran, very clear, very sober, very serious: they will not be allowed to become a nuclear power,” but stops short of advocating a military solution. Richard Holbrooke, a foreign policy adviser to Democratic candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), says jocularly that Giuliani is “positioning himself as the neo-neocon.” Dimitri Simes of the Nixon Center says of Giuliani’s team, “Clearly it is a rather one-sided group of people. Their foreign-policy manifesto seems to be ‘We’re right, we’re powerful, and just make my day.’ He’s out-Bushing Bush.” [Newsweek, 10/15/2007; New York Sun, 10/25/2007]
Entity Tags: Bob Kasten, Ken Silverstein, Charles Hill, Daniel Pipes, Steve Rosen, Ben Chouake, Richard Holbrooke, Mark Lezell, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Martin Kramer, Dimitri Simes, Norman Podhoretz, Michael Rubin
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
President Obama signals a new direction for US policy towards Israel and Palestine by promising to seek a lasting peace between the two warring sides. Obama says the US will always support Israel’s “right to defend itself,” but will also seek an equitable, peaceful solution for the Palestinian people. In conjunction with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama names former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as the administration’s special envoy to the Middle East, and former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as the administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mitchell helped broker the Clinton administration-led peace agreement in Northern Ireland, and Holbrooke helped write the peace agreement that ended the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia. [Associated Press, 1/22/2009; The Nation (Lahore), 1/23/2009]
President Obama says that the US’s battle against global terrorism will be refocused away from Iraq and towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the first step in that process, Obama names veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke as the US’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan (see January 22, 2009). In his acceptance remarks, Holbrooke says: “This is a very difficult assignment as we all know. Nobody can say the war in Afghanistan has gone well.… In Pakistan the situation is infinitely complex. I will say that in putting Afghanistan and Pakistan together in the one envoy, we fully respect Pakistan has its own history and its own traditions.” Obama says that the situation remains “perilous” in Afghanistan, and any progress in combating the Taliban-led insurgency will take time. Holbrooke will lead “our effort to forge and implement a sustainable approach to this critical region,” Obama adds. [The Nation (Lahore), 1/23/2009]
NWFP Minister Bashir Bilour with Swat Treaty Hasham Ahmed. [Source: Agence France Presse - Getty Images]Pakistan agrees to a truce with Taliban fighters that would impose strict Islamic religious law—sharia—on the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan, a setback for the Obama administration’s hopes to mount a united front against Islamist militants there and in Afghanistan. The agreement gives the Taliban religious and social control of the Swat region, considered of critical strategic importance in battling insurgents in the wild border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. James Dobbins, a former Bush administration envoy to Afghanistan, says: “It is definitely a step backwards. The Pakistanis have to take a stronger line with extremists in the region.” Obama administration envoy Richard Holbrooke says, “We are very concerned about Pakistan and stability.” A Pentagon official calls it a “negative development,” but other officials are more circumspect. “What is, of course, important is that we are all working together to fight terrorism and particularly to fight the cross-border activities that some Taliban engage in,” says Pentagon spokesman Gordon Duguid. NATO officials take a tougher stance, with NATO spokesman James Appathurai calling the truce a “reason for concern.” He adds, “Without doubting the good faith of the Pakistani government, it is clear that the region is suffering very badly from extremists and we would not want it to get worse.” Amnesty International official Sam Zarifi says, “The government is reneging on its duty to protect the human rights of people from Swat Valley by handing them over to Taliban insurgents.” [Associated Press, 2/18/2009]
US presidential envoy Richard Holbrooke meets briefly and informally with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Mehdi Akhondzadeh. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representatative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Akhondzadeh are participants in a major international conference at The Hague convened to discuss the problem of Afghanistan. The two talk briefly during a lunch break. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will say of the meeting: “It was cordial, unplanned, and they agreed to stay in touch. I myself did not have any direct contact with the Iranian delegation.” Clinton says the US has asked the Iranian delegation to intercede in the cases of two American citizens being detained in Iran and a third who is missing. The New York Times calls the two contacts “another step in the Obama administration’s policy of engagement… a tentative process, in which the White House makes symbolic gestures, like President Obama’s recent video greeting to the Iranian people and government for their New Year (see March 19, 2009), while continuing to formulate its longer-term strategy.” Some experts believe that the meeting between Holbrooke and Akhondzadeh is not entirely fortuitous, but is the product of some planning. In the conference, Akhondzadeh says Iran will help reconstruction in Afghanistan as well as take part in efforts to curb the exploding Afghan drug trade. “The fact that they came today, that they intervened today, is a promising sign that there will be future cooperation,” Clinton says. “The Iranian representative set forth some very clear ideas that we will all be pursuing together.” The US and Iran have mutual interests in curbing Afghanistan’s drug trade, Clinton says: “The questions of border security, and in particular the transit of narcotics across the border from Afghanistan to Iran is a worry that the Iranians have, which we share.” [New York Times, 3/31/2009]
A deputy to Richard Holbrooke meets with a representative of Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to discuss the role his group, Hizb-i-Islami (HIA) could play in ending the Afghan conflict, according to Afghan media. The HIA is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and Hekmatyar has a reported $25 million price on his head. The meeting is held with Hekmatyar emissary Daud Abedi. The US-Hekmatyar meeting is the most recent in a series of meetings and negotiations reportedly involving Hekmatyar representatives and the Afghan government, Taliban representatives, and the Saudis, inter alia (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008 and February 2009). [Daily Telegraph, 4/8/2009]
Withdrawal of Foreign Troops a Top Priority - In an interview with Asia Times reporter and analyst Syed Saleem Shahzad, Mr Abedi will recount the meeting, which he describes as positive, adding that he participated on his own initiative, was given Hekmatyar’s approval, and did not involve Pakistani officials. Abedi will not name the US official(s) he met because the talks are, he explains, ongoing. He says a ceasefire is possible in Afghanistan once talks are concluded and an exact schedule for the earliest possible departure of foreign troops is known: a top priority for the HIA. “I know what the HIA wants and what the Taliban wants in order to see if we could make a situation possible in which foreign troops leave Afghanistan as soon as possible,” he will say. Abedi denies that there is any chance the HIA will join the Afghan government in the near future. Insurgents loyal to Hekmatyar hold complete command over Kapissa province’s Tagab valley, only 30 kilometers north of Kabul. Syed Saleem Shahzad will suggest that the HIA, whose political wing has offices all over Afghanistan and keeps 40 seats in the Afghan parliament, is fully geared to replace President Hamid Karzai in the upcoming presidential elections. [Asia Times, 4/10/2009]
Deep Ties to Major Players in Region - Hekmatyar, among the most ruthless and extreme of the Afghan Islamic warlords, has had deep ties to Osama bin Laden, the CIA, the ISI, and the drug trade (see 1984), 1983, and (see March 13, 1994).
General Stanley McChrystal, commander of military forces in Afghanistan, pushes successfully for the installment of his personal choice to head the CIA station in Kabul after Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan, objects to the CIA’s original choice for the post. ABC News will report that after the CIA withdraws its preferred candidate due to Holbrooke’s objection, McChrystal successfully pressures it to appoint the official he has in mind, who is known only as “Spider.” [ABC News, 2/19/2010; Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2010] According to ABC, Spider is a friend and career paramilitary operative with prior experience in an elite Marine commando unit and as the CIA’s liaison to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) at a time when JSOC was headed by McChrystal. ABC notes that Spider previously served as CIA station chief in Kabul sometime in the middle of the decade (see (June 2004)). A spokesperson for Holbrooke will later deny his involvement in the decision. CIA spokesman George Little will also deny that Holbrooke or McChrystal had any involvement in the agency’s decision.
Intelligence Officers Fear CIA Subordinate to the Military - Current and former intelligence officials will later tell ABC that the CIA’s capitulation to McChrystal and Holbrooke indicates a waning of its influence in Afghanistan. “McChrystal can have anyone he wants running the CIA station,” says a former senior intelligence official and Pentagon consultant. The officials fear the episode is proof that the CIA has become subordinate to the military in shaping strategy and relegated to an historically unprecedented supporting role. “The CIA is supposed to be a check on the military and their intelligence, not their hand maiden,” adds former CIA agent Robert Baer. “This is a sign of things to come, where the military dominates intelligence.” [ABC News, 2/19/2010]
Militarization of the CIA and a Special Forces Surge - Soon after McChrystal is tapped to become the new commander, he leads an effort to increase the role of Special Forces in intelligence and operations which coincides with increased militarization of the CIA in Afghanistan. Within months, the CIA will expand its teams of spies, analysts, and paramilitary operatives in Afghanistan to support an expanding covert war led by Special Operations and military intelligence (see September 2009). According to one current intelligence official, the CIA has roughly 800 personnel in Afghanistan. [ABC News, 2/19/2010] In June, just ahead of McChrystal’s confirmation, the Pentagon sends 1,000 additional Special Operations personnel to Afghanistan, raising the publicly acknowledged number of Special Operations forces there to about 5,000 (see June 5, 2009).
Stanley Karnow, seated, in Washington, paying respect to the first American causalities killed in Vietnam. July 8, 2009. [Source: Chase Martinez / Washington Times, via AP]Richard Holbrooke, US special envoy to Afghanistan, and Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal, telephone Stanley Karnow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnam War historian to discuss the similarities between the two American wars and to seek guidance from the eminent scholar. Holbrooke will later confirm that the three men conferred on the two wars. “We discussed the two situations and what to do,” he will say during a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels. Karnow, an acknowledged critic of the war in Afghanistan, will also confirm that the discussion was held. “Holbrooke rang me from Kabul and passed the phone to the general,” says Karnow, who authored the 1983 book, Vietnam: A History. He does not, however, elaborate on the specifics of the conversation. The telephone call is made in the context of a reevaluation of American strategy in Afghanistan amidst an escalation in spending, troops, and casualties. President Obama has tasked General McChrystal to conduct a strategic review of the increasingly criticized and unpopular war.
Comparing Ngo Dinh Diem and Hamid Karzai - Among the issues voiced by scholars and analysts who draw their own analogies between the Vietnam War and the war in Afghanistan is the credibility of President Hamid Karzai’s government, which is widely seen as corrupt and ineffective. David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency specialist who the Associated Press reports will soon assume a role as a senior adviser to McChrystal, compares Karzai to former South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. “[Karzai] has a reasonably clean personal reputation but he’s seen as ineffective; his family are corrupt; he’s alienated a very substantial portion of the population,” Kilcullen says. “He seems paranoid and delusional and out of touch with reality,” he continues. “That’s all the sort of things that were said about President Diem in 1963.” Ngo Dinh Diem was killed in a US-backed coup in 1963 (see November 1963).
Comparing the 1967 Vietnam Ballot and the 2009 Afghanistan Ballot - The Associated Press quotes other analysts who draw parallels between Afghanistan’s presidential election schedule for August 20 and the failed US effort in Vietnam to legitimize a military regime lacking broad popular support through an imposed presidential election in 1967. James McAllister, a political science professor who has written extensively on Vietnam, recognizes why US policy chiefs are looking to the Vietnam War for parallels and lessons, especially with regard to the presidential elections. “That [1967 ballot] helped ensure that US efforts would continue to be compromised by its support for a corrupt, unpopular regime in Saigon,” McAllister says. Rufus Phillips, Holbrooke’s former boss in Vietnam and author of the book Why Vietnam Matters, echoes this warning. “The rigged election in South Vietnam proved [to be] the most destructive and destabilizing factor of all,” says Phillips, now in Kabul helping to monitor the upcoming election.
Karnow: Lessons We Learned from Vietnam and What to Expect in Afghanistan - “It now seems unthinkable that the US could lose [in Afghanistan], but that’s what experts… thought in Vietnam in 1967,” Karnow will say later, from his home in Maryland. “It could be that there will be no real conclusion and that it will go on for a long time until the American public grows tired of it.” When asked what lessons could be drawn from the Vietnam experience, Karnow will tell the Associated Press: “What did we learn from Vietnam? We learned that we shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Obama and everybody else seem to want to be in Afghanistan, but not I.” [Associated Press, 8/6/2009]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai attempts to cut a secret deal with one of his presidential election rivals in a bid to knock his strongest challenger from the race, to ensure a clear victory and, ostensibly, the minimization of sectarian violence a tight result might provoke in the hyper-armed country. In the proposed deal, Karzai asks former Afghan finance minister Ashraf Ghani, a candidate currently running third in the polls, to give up his election bid in exchange for a job as “chief executive”—a post described as similar to prime minister—in a Karzai government. Such an agreement would likely unite the Pashtun vote and knock Karzai’s main contender, Abdullah Abdullah, out of the race. Karzai’s offer will be confirmed by several sources, including Ghani himself, and may have backing from top US officials. “If Ghani agrees to the terms, Karzai will dump his team and move forward, with Karzai as president and Ghani as chief executive,” one campaign official will tell The Independent. During the election campaign, Karzai has made deals with tribal leaders and various warlords, promising them positions and patronage in exchange for the votes they control. The Independent cites international officials who believe that as many as 20 cabinet positions have already been pledged.
Karzai's Offer Confirmed - President Karzai’s brother, Qayum Karzai, is the first to approach Ghani with the proposal according to sources close to Karzai’s inner circle. Karzai presents Ghani with the argument that Ghani can’t win the election anyway, and even if he did, he wouldn’t be able to hold on to power. Ghani’s staff will also confirm that Karzai emissaries make an offer, but they say that Ghani has no plans to pull out of the race and will continue his campaign. Ghani himself will later confirm Karzai’s overture. “I’ve been approached repeatedly, the offer is on the table. I have not accepted it. The issue is the extent of crisis. We are in a very difficult moment in our history,” he will tell reporters in the province of Faryab (see August 8, 2009).
Top US Diplomats Holbrooke and Eikenberry Back the Proposal - Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador, are understood to have discussed the proposal with Ghani, according to the Independent report. “It makes sense,” a policy analyst with close links to the US administration says. “Holbrooke likes Ghani, and he has come round to the fact that Karzai will probably win.” Furthermore, The Independent notes that the idea of a chief executive was originally devised in Washington as a way of handing the responsibility of running the government to a skilled technocrat, a profile that certainly fits Ghani. The Washington Post will later report that according to Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, US officials back the idea of a new chief executive position under Karzai. The Post also reports that US officials have discussed the “chief executive” proposal with Ghani. US embassy officials, however, deny any involvement in back-room deals. [Independent, 8/7/2009; Washington Post, 8/14/2009]
Threats of Post-Election Armed Protests, Civil War - Analysts and journalists suggest that Afghanistan’s coming elections threaten to split the country along ethnic and sectarian lines, possibly igniting a civil war reminiscent of the 1990s (see March 13, 1994). “The whole country is armed. Everybody has weapons. You have to keep everyone happy,” one Afghan analyst says. Anticipating fraudulent results, Abdullah’s campaign staff have threatened to hold demonstrations if Karzai wins. Abdullah’s supporters, who are largely Tajik, have warned of Iranian-style protests, but “with Kalashnikovs,” should Karzai win a second term. [Independent, 8/7/2009; Reuters, 8/8/2009]
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