What Are We Doing in Afghanistan?

Hamid Karzai reviews troops of the first gradu...Image via Wikipedia

I’ll tell you but it’s off the record …

The Deputy Ambassador of US Embassy Kabul, Frank Ricciardone was apparently over at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University recently for an evening lecture titled, “What Are We Doing in Afghanistan?” He sat down with The Herald staff writer Monique Vernon to talk about his life as a diplomat and about American relations with Afghanistan but requested that his lecture be “off the record.”

He was asked about his advice for students who are considering a career in foreign policy? His response:

“I had five years of being a schoolteacher in Italy and then Iran, and I’m really glad I did that rather then jumping right into federal service. You can see the world in a different way, and I think I am a better diplomat for having lived among people in Iran and all over Europe on a very low budget.”

He was asked about our biggest foreign policy challenge in the AfPak region, and he had this to say:

“Our mission is to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan and prevent their return to either country in the future. Within that, we try to boil it down to a three-word motto, and the words that the Afghans like to hear are peace, justice and prosperity.”

He had a couple more paragraphs here.

As to why the lecture was open to the public but off the record, Ambassador Ricciardone gave a nice spin that sounds reasonable enough:

“There is kind of a custom, an interface between government and diplomacy and academia … It’s good to have that freedom where I don’t have to worry about someone extracting something and making a headline out of it at a moment of intense public interest in the foreign policy question of Afghanistan. I am a government official after all, and … I need to take great care that I faithfully represent the programs and the policies of the United States of America.

I thought that by making it off the record we could have a slightly more candid conversation with the question and answer part. Especially being around students as bright as Brown students are, I wanted to be able to give everyone a freer reign … It adds a level of protection, I think, for the decision-makers (in Washington).”

Huh? Read the entire Q&A here.

Did “gotcha journalism” cross his mind when he thought “bright Brown students?”

I am trying hard to be sympathetic to Ambassador’s Ricciardone’s position here. But I am having a mighty hard time. Here is one of our top career diplomats talking about what is currently our top foreign policy engagement. I am wondering on the purpose of giving a lecture titled “What Are We Doing in Afghanistan?” if one can only explain it off the record to a limited number of seats populated by Brown University students?

“Someone extracting something…” well now, how can one not extract a bite given this President’s
position on transparency and open government? The question I have is really quite simple. How can one engage the public effectively on Afghanistan given that a simple lecture is treated like an NIE?

As to adding a level of protection “for the decision makers (in Washington)” – whoops! Sorry, I think I fell off my chair when I read that.