September 22, 2010
Anna Christopher, NPR




In an interview today with NPR's two-hour midday news-talk program Talk of the Nation, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke responded for the first time to quotes attributed to him in reported excerpts from journalist Bob Woodward's forthcoming book, Obama's Wars. Holbrooke tells NPR host Neal Conan that he supports the President's strategy in Afghanistan. He also says: "I haven't seen the book. I have no idea what that phrase refers to, what I'm alleged to have said, if I said it at all."

Excerpts from the interview follow. The entire interview will be available at at 6PM (ET). All excerpts must be credited to NPR's "Talk of the Nation." Television usage must include on-screen credit with NPR logo. Talk of the Nation is broadcasting from New York City all week to cover the 65th U.N. General Assembly.

NOTE: This is a rush transcript and may contain errors.

NEAL CONAN: Excerpts of Bob Woodwardís new book Obama's Wars were published today in The New York Times and The Washington Post. He quotes you, Ambassador Holbrooke, as saying that the President's policy in Afghanistan canít work. Can you put that in context for us?

AMB. RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Gosh, I thought youíd never ask. Look, I read The New York Times article just as you did. It came out of nowhere. I am here in New York, as you just said, spending 85 percent of my time on the Pakistani floods, which is an incredible catastrophe. I havenít seen the book. I have no idea what that phrase refers to, when Iím alleged to have said it if I said it at all, what the context is. I think the best thing for me to do is to duck, and just say Iíll look at the book, Iíll find out what the allegations are, Iíll deal with them later. But I just donít have time to do it right now. Iím not trying to blow you off because youíre the only interview Iím giving right now, weíre so busy. But just let me take a pass on that, please.

MR. CONAN: Well let me put it in a slightly different way, then. From this remove, a lot of people in this country see a government that is weak, and corrupt, that appears to be losing ground to the Taliban. Weíre talking Afghanistan here. Can the Presidentís policy succeed?

AMB. HOLBROOKE: Well, I signed on for the strategy weíre now carrying out. And we are doing the civilian portion of it in ways that I am actually quite proud of. We have a fantastically dedicated team in the provinces and Kabul and Islamabad, and here in Washington and New York. And weíre doing the things that really matter to the people of Afghanistan in support of that strategy. I believe in those things. I think Afghanistan has gone through an unbelievably difficult 32 years, and they deserve, particularly given our historic role there, they deserve our involvement. Also, a vacuum in Afghanistan would be a strategic catastrophe for the region. And Iím not reasserting a domino theory left over from another war and another place and another century. Iím simply referring to the obvious interaction between Afghanistan, Pakistan and above all, the people who threaten our homeland so directly and operate of the border regions in Pakistan and then Afghanistan. So Iím supporting the strategy and implementing the policy under the direction of the President and Secretary of State Clinton.

Talk of the Nation, hosted by Neal Conan, is NPR's midday call-in program that explores politics, pop culture, education, religion, books, health, family and music, and invites listeners to join the conversation. The program has more than 3.2 million weekly listeners and is broadcast on more than 320 NPR Member stations nationwide. For local stations and broadcast times, visit