The Af-Pak Review and Holbrooke: Today’s Q’s for O’s WH – 12/14/2010

By Jenny Schlesinger

Dec 14, 2010 4:18pm

TAPPER:  The region of Afghanistan and Pakistan is obviously so complicated and so important to this administration that appointing somebody of the nature of a Richard Holbrooke to a lot of foreign policy experts made sense because he — he was well known, he'd been doing it for decades. Can you talk at all about who you think could replace him?  Or do you think it's just going to be a career foreign service person or…  

GIBBS:  I will say this.  I — I don't know if those discussions have begun at State.  There were no discusses of that in the meeting this morning, and I have not heard discussions amongst the team here at the White House on that. Our focus, obviously, as — as I said a moment ago, is on completing the review that Richard had been a big part of and to celebrate the life that he lived.  

I — I think, in many ways — and I don't think anybody would disagree — that — the cliche would be you've got big shoes to fill. I think it's probably a — it's a safer thing to say that Ambassador Holbrooke is, as the president said, a giant in foreign policy and — and is not — is — is irreplaceable.  I — that is not to say that there won't be somebody that the president picks.  I think Richard possessed some very unique qualities.  His experience went back to the conflict in Vietnam.  You — all of you are — know of the role that he played in bringing peace to the war-torn regions of Bosnia.  So, in many ways, he was — he was a unique figure in American foreign policy. 

TAPPER:  And one senior administration official said that one of the reasons so many people thought of him sometimes as a — as a pain is because he would find a — a friction point in a meeting and — and — and he would charge right for it, bringing up whatever conflict there was, and that that might have been lacking at today's meeting since he was not there.  Was there anybody to serve that role?  

GIBBS:  Well, again, the process that concluded today on the review is a process — it's a two-month process.  So I think the notion that vast arguments would break out at that point in the process — the interagency process is probably — probably not what the administration official had in mind.  

I — I do think it's fair to say — and I think — look, it's why — it's why you want somebody of that — that experience level and that stature and, you know, you want somebody who will bore down on the problems and the challenges that you face.  I think that was certainly one of the things that Richard did.  I — I — I have no doubt that his presence will be sorely missed.  

Again, I think he created and had a very talented team at the State Department that will continue the work that he did in somebody — as somebody who was — who played a big role in the formulation of the president's strategy and who was enormously supportive of the series of decisions that the president made at the end of last year and was — that he was helping to carry out on the civilian side in both countries this year.  

TAPPER:  Do you think the war is going better now than it was a year ago?  

GIBBS:  I don't think there's any doubt.  We have — and I think you'll see this from the review.  And, again, I preface it by saying it is not without its challenges.  It is not without…  

TAPPER:  We're losing more troops than we were a year ago.  

GIBBS:  And I think — I think that is the sad impact of having more — more forces to stem the momentum that the Taliban had been making.  There's no doubt that we would not be seeing either security or civilian progress were it not for the stemming of that momentum.  

That's — you know, look, the president argued for years that we needed more forces, even as more forces were diverted to other conflicts away from what the president believes was the central front. 

I think you'll see in the review, when it's made — when — when a summary is made public, that because of the increased troop level, you've had an opportunity to push back on — push back on the Taliban in important areas of the country, something that wasn't happening until more forces were added.  

Many challenges remain.  As I said, as we have seen success, we understand that that success without — without following — following up in the capacity-building of either Afghanistan as a whole or those regions specifically, it's going to be hard either from a security or a governmental perspective to hold those areas.  

We've got to recruit, retain — recruit, train and retain a security force of police and army to be able to do that.  You also have to create the civilian capacity that's necessary to deliver both the basic functions of either a regional or a national government and — and continue to make progress in doing so in order to hold those regions.  All of that is — is what continues. 

-Jake Tapper

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