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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.

That need for patience was the thrust of Crocker’s historic testimony before Congress with General David Petraeus in 2007 when the two men called for and received more time, more troops and more patience with the surge of troops in Iraq.

By most estimates, that patience succeeded in helping the Iraqis find the stability their country needed for the U.S. to begin to draw down its forces.

The same kind of approach is needed now in Afghanistan, he said.

“I certainly wouldn’t suggest you take what was done in Iraq and do it in Afghanistan. But certain principles do apply,” he said, adding, “and strategic patience is one of them.”

Crocker has the lean, sinewy shape and focused intensity of a marathon runner, which in fact he is. He’s been jogging about five miles miles every morning through war zones for more than a quarter century.

He has served as ambassador in Lebanon (1990-1993) , Kuwait (1994-1997), Syria (1998-2001) and he opened the U.S. Embassy in Kabul following the fall of the Taliban in 2002 and then served in Pakistan (2004-2007) and Iraq (2007-2009.) In January of this year, Crocker was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his nearly 40 years of public service.

The first time I met Crocker he was in his office in Islamabad in 2006 when he was serving as the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan.

He had a tattered U.S. State Department flag framed in his office, the remnants of the flag that hung in his office in the Beirut Embassy during the bombing of 1983, which he narrowly survived.

I had a chance to interview him again in Iraq and to see him in Washington when he provided riveting testimony on Capitol Hill on the situation in Iraq.

For Crocker, the post-9/11 world is indeed a marathon.

It is truly “the long war,” as it is sometimes called.

And the Obama administration would be wise to listen to the advice of this retired foreign officer, who is widely regarded as perhaps one of the best diplomats the United States has had in the modern Middle East, now as it navigates its way forward in Afghanistan at this pivotal moment.

“The original strategy that was laid out in March by the president seemed wise. It was a broad counterinsurgency with a significant civilian component,” Crocker said, wondering why Obama is second-guessing and wavering in that plan.

Clearly, Obama is being tested right now in Afghanistan, particularly by the military establishment which, through General Stanley McChrystal, is trying to impose a penchant to escalate the conflict and add at least 40,000 more troops.