Lessons In Iraq Applied To Afghanistan

Robert Siegel speaks with Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Iraq while General David Petraeus commanded forces there, about applying the strategies used in Iraq in Afghanistan.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And Im Robert Siegel.

Ryan Crocker was U.S. ambassador to Iraq when General David Petraeus commanded U.S. forces there. When Petraeus implemented the surge, beefing up troops, empowering Sunni Arabs in Iraq to take part in their own defense and giving Iraqi political factions some time and space for reconciliation, Ambassador Crocker was his diplomatic partner. He was a career Arabist. He'd been ambassador to Syria, Lebanon and Kuwait. He'd also served as ambassador to Pakistan.

With General Petraeus now commanding U.S. forces in Afghanistan, some people have wondered or even proposed that the Baghdad team should be reassembled in Kabul.

Ryan Crocker is now dean of Texas A&M's George Bush School of Government and Public Service, and he joins us. And first question, are you even considering a return to diplomatic service if you were asked to serve in Afghanistan?

Professor RYAN CROCKER (Dean-Executive Professor, George Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University): I have got a really great day job, as you noted, down at Texas A&M. And Afghanistan has a really great ambassador in the person of Karl Eikenberry. So I think things are just fine they way they are.

SIEGEL: We are now seeing strategies similar to ones that were used in Iraq being applied in Afghanistan. One is the arming of local villagers to be their own defense force. I just wonder, when you think about Afghanistan and your experience in Iraq, do the parallels between the two situations seem to you to outweigh the differences, or vice versa?

Prof. CROCKER: There are some interesting parallels. I think the surge strategy, if you will, in Afghanistan is modeled after the surge strategy in Iraq. I think it is absolutely essential. I think efforts such as the arming of concerned local citizens has parallels. But they are also fundamentally different places. Afghanistan, if anything, is even harder than Iraq was.

SIEGEL: In Afghanistan, there was some resistance from the central government to arming local forces. In Iraq, you had a state with a recent history of a too-powerful central government. In Afghanistan, from the time of the Soviet invasion, they barely had one. How does that difference figure in what strategies should work on the ground?

Prof. CROCKER: That is one of those important differences. Whatever evolves in Afghanistan, I think it is going to be decentralized. There is no question about it, but Afghans are going to have to find their own model. And I would just note that the central government in Iraq had significant reservations, as well, about the arming of local groups that were effectively outside of their control.

What we did there, of course, was to transition them under the Iraqi umbrella over time, so they began picking up the payrolls, and therefore assumed direction. And it may be possible to do something similar in Afghanistan.

SIEGEL: It's now a commonplace for U.S. officials to say there's no military solution possible in Afghanistan. Meaning there has to be some political settlement, meaning presumably some of the people who are now fighting the government have to be persuaded to come inside the government. What are the lessons of Iraq in that regard?

Prof. CROCKER: It's a great point, Robert. We had absolutely the same view in Iraq that there had to ultimately be a set of political solutions. What we learned there, I think, is that the military and the political elements have to work together.

The military element of the surge, if you will, is the hammer coming down on a very big solid rock. When you hit it hard, you start to open up some crevices and fissures that you can then exploit and pick apart, in the sense of finding individuals whose calculations have changed when they ran into the might of the American military, and were prepared to do deals, come out of the fight, switch sides, be part of the political process.

And I think thats what has to happen in Afghanistan, too. We need to bring the hammer down to show our adversaries that they are not having a walk in the park, change their logic and their calculations, and then see who's ready to stop shooting and start talking.

SIEGEL: Are we leaving Iraq in a condition that is clearly different to you from what we did in Afghanistan years ago when we left?

Prof. CROCKER: Well, Iraq is, for all thats happened, still an ongoing story. We'll be down to 50,000 troops by the end of August. But 50,000 is still a very substantial number. And the agreement that I helped negotiate doesnt call for full withdrawal until the end of 2011. So thats still 18 months ahead of us. But as they say: so far, so good.

SIEGEL: Well, former Ambassador Ryan Crocker, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Prof. CROCKER: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: Ryan Crocker is now dean and executive professor at Texas A&M George Bush School of Government and Public Service.

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