A few weeks ago, Ryan Crocker visited Washington after completing his year-long tour as U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, as well as a storied 38-year career in the Foreign Service during which he also served as ambassador to Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Lebanon, and Pakistan. While Washington was caught up in everything from the Benghazi attacks to the presidential race to Congress’s brief visit to town before adjourning again to campaign, Crocker’s visit—and the subject of Afghanistan in particular—got relatively little notice.
That is regrettable. Crocker’s speech at the Carnegie Endowment on September 17, covered by CSPAN, and his public conversation with us at Brookings on September 18 were hugely informative and important. For those despondent about this war effort, they were moderately encouraging as well. There was, as usual, no naive optimism in Crocker’s remarks, no promise of an easy and quick win. Known affectionately if somewhat sardonically as “Mr. Sunshine,” a nickname first given him by President Bush, Crocker is famous for hard-hitting and extremely realistic assessments of the challenges facing America abroad. Those lucky enough to visit Iraq during the surge often remember a beaming Dave Petraeus standing beside a grim-faced Crocker, two very different personalities leading America’s greatest military turnaround since Inchon. So any hopeful words from Crocker merit particular attention.