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Gates Corrects Holbrooke; Will Actually Be Able to Measure Success

Sure, the interview was Friday, but the Defense Department just released the transcript of Defense Secretary Bob Gates’ interview with Al Jazeera, and it’s hard not to notice Gates’ “correction” of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who said a few weeks ago that “we’ll know” success in Afghanistan “when we see it.” Gates, politely, attempts here to pull Holbrooke’s foot out of the Obama administration’s mouth:

Q Were you baffled by the — President Obama’s envoy, Richard Holbrooke, when he was asked about progress and how he would measure progress and he said, “We’ll know it when we see it”?

SEC. GATES: I probably would have answered the question differently.

Q How would you have answered it?

SEC. GATES: I would have answered it: I believe that success or progress will be as — when we see the Afghan national security forces, the army and the police, assuming a greater and greater role in protecting the — in security operations protecting Afghanistan and the Afghan people, so that we can recede first into an advisory role and then leave altogether.

So in a way it’s somewhat comparable to the situation in Iraq, where we have — where our role has become less and less prominent, where the Iraqis have taken a more and more prominent role in protecting their own security. And I think that that’s how we will measure — be able to measure — one way we will be able to measure success in Afghanistan is as we see the Afghan security forces taking a more and more prominent and leading role in protecting their own security.

So we’ll, uh, stand down as the Afghans stand up … But notice that’s fairly incoherent. The goals of the Afghanistan war are to destroy al-Qaeda and prevent Afghanistan’s backsliding into a Taliban-run al-Qaeda safe haven. Unless Gates is willing to announce that the ultimate strategy to get to those goals are to outsource them to the Afghan security forces, this is one weird measurement. It’s entirely possible to shift responsibility for security Afghanistan over to the Afghan security forces while leaving al-Qaeda unmolested. Holbrooke might be forgiven for smirking.

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