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Interview: Ambassador Ryan Crocker

The longtime diplomat says Obama needs to choose an AfPak strategy before the Taliban further consolidates its hold.

Then-U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker chats with Pakistan's Secretary Defence Tariq Waseem Ghazi and General Officer Commanding Pakistan Army Aviation Majar-General Javed during a handing-over ceremony for U.S.-made Gunship Cobra Helicopters at Qasim Airbase in Rawalpindi, Feb. 2, 2007. (Mian Khursheed/Reuters)

BOSTON — Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker’s penchant for searing honesty even when it's not what the White House wants to hear earned him a nickname that has stuck.

“Mr. Sunshine.”

That’s how President George W. Bush sarcastically referred to the veteran diplomat when Crocker emerged as one of the very few to candidly and convincingly inform the White House of the dark clouds over Iraq when he arrived as the chief diplomat there in March 2007.

And now Crocker, who has recently retired after five ambassadorial postings in hot spots including Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, has a pretty bleak forecast as well for President Barack Obama as he pulls together his team of generals and advisers to deliberate on the best way forward in Afghanistan.

“The president has to decide what his goals are. The hand wringing could not have come at a worse time,” Crocker said in an interview with GlobalPost last week.

In an interview Friday while he was visiting Harvard University for a forum at the Kennedy School of Government, Crocker painted a situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan in which he said the Taliban is strong and resurgent.

And in which the Obama administration is in a race against time to execute a successful counterinsurgency campaign.

He said the Taliban leadership has managed to reconstitute itself in surprising and dramatic ways on both sides of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The brazen attacks by the Taliban on the Pakistani police and intelligence community in the last two weeks are evidence of that. And the Pakistani military’s offensive against the Taliban in Waziristan which got underway over the weekend is a fateful battle, he added.

Because of that, Crocker said, the Obama administration needs to be more decisive about its path forward and stick to it before the Taliban has any more time to consolidate its hold on large swaths of both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The wavering of the Obama administration in Afghanistan is a sign of a weakness in a region that has seen this tendency in America before.

A failure of “strategic patience” is historically one of America’s greatest weaknesses in the Middle East and Central Asia, Crocker explained.

“Our allies have come to fear it and our adversaries have come to count on it,” he added.