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Cry, the Beloved Potential Ambassador to Afghanistan

Karl Eikenberry — man, does he have a tough time ahead. Eikenberry, you’ll recall, is the Obama administration’s choice to lead U.S. diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan. His confirmation hearing is scheduled for Thursday. But won’t he be somewhat hemmed in by the fact that the administration is going release its new strategy for the war after his hearing (barring some sudden roll-out at the president’s press conference tonight)? Senators are going to want to hear Eikenberry’s approach to implementing policy. But if the policy’s not been unveiled, he’s going to have to labor a bit not to preempt the president. No?

Another thing worth listening for: how’s he going to work with Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke? As I report in a forthcoming piece, Holbrooke’s got pretty solid control of the portfolio for Afghanistan and Pakistan. (I’d say ‘Af-Pak,’ as the new lingo has it, but my new rule is that the only one who gets to use that term is the Aflac duck.) I asked Ron Neumann, who served as ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, and here’s what he said:

Policy only takes you so far. It gets you general goals. Implementing those goals has to be done through coordination and cooperation on the ground. That the ambassador has to take in hand, because it’s day-by-day, hundreds of decisions. If they work as a team, it can be very strong. If [the administration tries] to run everything from a flying-in envoy, then it could slow things down. The devil is in the details.

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