With Spotlight On Afghanistan, Where's Holbrooke? Sen. John Kerry took the foreign policy spotlight this past week, jetting off to Afghanistan, where he persuaded President Hamid Karzai to agree to a runoff vote, and meeting with officials in Pakistan. It raised the question: Where's Richard Holbrooke, Obama's designated point man on Afghanistan and Pakistan?
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With Spotlight On Afghanistan, Where's Holbrooke?

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With Spotlight On Afghanistan, Where's Holbrooke?


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris in Washington.


And I'm Melissa Block in California.

Senator John Kerry has taken the foreign policy spotlight this week, jetting off to Afghanistan and Pakistan to deal with various crises, which has left some observers wondering where is Richard Holbrooke? He's the Obama administration's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Holbrooke tried to answer that today as NPR's Michele Keleman reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: When Afghan president Hamid Karzai needed to be persuaded to agree to a runoff vote, the U.S. representative to the region, Richard Holbrooke, was here in Washington. It was Senator Kerry drinking tea with Karzai to cut the deal.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): We believe that with this decision by the president today and this movement forward that a time of enormous uncertainty has been transformed into a time of great opportunity.

KELEMEN: And just days earlier when complaints started mounting in Pakistan about a huge U.S. aid package, again, it was Senator Kerry trying to dispel the myths about the aid and ease tensions with the Pakistani military. So the burning question at many a State Department briefing this week was, where's Holbrooke?

Unidentified Man: Where is he now?

Mr. IAN KELLY (Spokesman, State Department): Mr. Holbrooke is here in Washington.

KELEMEN: Spokesman Ian Kelly didn't have to answer that question today. Holbrooke decided to kick off today's briefing himself. The official reason was to talk about plans for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to go to Pakistan soon, though it looked mainly like an attempt by Holbrooke to stop the rumor mill that he's on the outs with this administration.

Mr. RICHARD HOLBROOKE (Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan): I'd like to make a joke and say I'm always happy to be eclipsed by John Kerry, but then you'll take it seriously.

KELEMEN: Holbrooke says he goes to Afghanistan and Pakistan every couple of months, but he wanted to be here in Washington while President Obama reviews U.S. policy for the region.

Mr. HOLBROOKE: The period since I was last in Afghanistan has been the most intense policy-review period I've ever experienced in my government career. And my job was to be here to help Secretary Clinton and prepare for these extensive meetings in which she and I both participate.

KELEMEN: Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation has known Holbrooke for many years and says he's the kind of guy who wants to be in the room when the president is making decisions. Besides, Clemons says, Holbrooke has a notoriously bad relationship with Hamid Karzai. So, having Senator Kerry there meeting with the Afghan leader this past week made some sense.

Mr. STEVE CLEMONS (New America Foundation): I think that Holbrooke put himself in to be the bad cop and, to some degree, John Kerry has become the good cop in part to try to move Karzai forward. But that doesn't mean that this wasn't really animated in part by what Holbrooke was trying to do. He knows that they have a problematic relationship, but that doesn't mean Holbrooke is going to disappear from the picture.

KELEMEN: Holbrooke's job description has been fairly vague, but Clemons says the former U.N. ambassador has managed to put together an interagency team to better coordinate the U.S. approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan, another task that will keep him here in Washington fairly often.

Mr. CLEMONS: He still remains, I think, a significant part of the picture. And I don't think there's anyone yet who can supplant him or take that role. No one would want to. I think Richard is going to have it as long as he wants it, whether Karzai likes him or not.

KELEMEN: At his news conference today, Holbrooke tried to dispel the notion that his poor relations with Karzai are getting in the way of his job.

Mr. HOLBROOKE: They're fine. They're correct. They're appropriate. I speak to him on behalf of my government, he speaks as president of the country. I respect him if he is re-elected as president on November 7th. We all look forward to working closely with him in pursuit of mutual goals.

KELEMEN: As for the upcoming runoff election in Afghanistan, Holbrooke said that there is a reasonable hope that there will be less fraud this time around, in part because there are only two candidates now, Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, and there are more U.S. forces in place than there were during the first round in August.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

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