Gen (r) James Jones, the advisor, “traveled to Pakistan for high-level meetings without Holbrooke (not even informing the State Department of his travel plans until he was virtually in the air),” writes Vali Nasr in his new book, The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat.
The message was “ignore Holbrooke,” he said, adding, “It was no surprise that our AfPak policy took one step forward and two steps back.”
“During one trip, Jones went completely off script and promised General Ashfaq Parvaiz Kayani, Pakistan’s top military man, a civilian nuclear deal in exchange for Pakistan’s cooperation,” Nasr writes.
“Panic struck the White House. It took a good deal of diplomatic tap-dancing to take that offer off the table. In the end, one of Kayani’s advisors told me that the general did not take Jones seriously, anyway; he knew it was a slip-up. The NSC (National Security Council) wanted to do the State Department’s job but was not up to the task.”
“Afghans and Pakistanis were not alone in being confused and occasionally amused by the White House’s maneuvers,” according to the book. “People in Washington were also baffled. The White House encouraged the US ambassadors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to go around the State Department and work with the White House directly, undermining their own agency. Those ambassadors quickly learned how easy it was to manipulate the administration’s animus toward Holbrooke to their own advantage. The US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, in particular became a handful for the State Department. In November 2010, Obama and Clinton went to Lisbon for a NATO summit, planning to meet with (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai there. When Eikenberry asked to go as well, Clinton turned down his request and instructed him to stay in Kabul. He ignored her and showed up in Lisbon.”
To create a new narrative in US-Pakistan relations, former envoy Holbrooke started by calling together a meeting in Tokyo of the newly created Friends of Democratic Pakistan, an international gathering to help Pakistan rebuild its economy and strengthen democratic politics.
He got $5 billion in pledges to assist Pakistan. “That is a respectable IPO,” Holbrooke would brag, hoping that the opening would garner even more by way of capital investment in Pakistan’s future, the author says.
“But if we wanted to change Pakistan, Holbrooke thought, we had to think even bigger - in terms of a Marshall Plan. After a journalist asked him whether the $5 billion in aid was too much for Pakistan, Holbrooke answered, “Pakistan needs $50 billion, not $5 billion.” The White House did not want to hear that - it meant a fight with Congress and spending political capital to convince the American people. Above all else, it required an audacious foreign-policy gambit for which the Obama administration was simply not ready,” Nasr writes.
In reality, the author of the book points out, the US was spending much more than that on Afghanistan. “For every dollar we gave Pakistan in aid, we gave $20 to Afghanistan. That money did not go very far; it was like pouring water into sand.” “Even General Petraeus understood this. I recall him saying at a Pakistan meeting: “You get what you pay for. We have not paid much for much of anything in Pakistan.” In the end, the US settled for far more modest assistance: The 2009 Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation earmarked $7.5 billion in aid to Pakistan over five years — the first long-term civilian aid package. It was no Marshall Plan.
Holbrooke, the writer says, convinced Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that America had to offer a strategic partnership to Pakistan, built around a formal “strategic dialogue” — the kind of forum that America holds with a number of countries, including China and India.
Despite efforts by Hillary Clinton, the writer claims, the White House, however, was not all that taken by the diplomatic effort, and the CIA and the Pentagon decided on America’s goals vis-a-vis Pakistan. These were predictably narrow in scope and all terrorism-focused and bore no responsibility for the outcome.
The issue was raised at the State Department briefing on Monday, where a spokesperson described the relations between the State Department and the White House as excellent and defended progress made in Afghanistan.
“We have an excellent working relationship with our White House and interagency colleagues,” acting deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters. “And let me just tell you a little bit about where we are in Afghanistan, because that’s – some of the thrust of the book is talking about policy development on Afghanistan. “We’ve increased the capacity of Afghan security forces to fight insurgents, transitioning Afghan security lead – transitioning to an Afghan security lead, building an enduring partnership with Afghanistan.We now have Afghan forces leading nearly 90 per cent of operations across the country. We’ve signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement. We’re working on a new – negotiating a new bilateral security agreement. We’re working on preparations for a free, inclusive, and transparent election in 2014. So we really stand behind the record of the progress we’ve made in Afghanistan, but beyond that I’m not going to get into interagency discussions,” he added.