Strategic Impatience

General David Petraeus, the commander of forces in Afghanistan, remembered special envoy Richard Holbrooke yesterday in the Washington Post. Petraeus said that Holbrooke’s “vision, tirelessness and determination will inspire all of us in the months ahead.” The two worked closely together, and Petraeus fondly referred to Holbrooke as his “diplomatic wingman.”

Also yesterday, State Department spokesman PJ Crowley tried to shed some light on the rumors going around about Holbrooke’s last words. Crowley, who noted that he had “consulted with a number of folks who were in the room” before a sedated Holbrooke went into surgery on Friday, said the special representative had a lengthy conversation with his medical team, who tried to get him to relax. Holbrooke said that was impossible, “I’m worried about Afghanistan and Pakistan,” to which his surgical team replied that they’d try to deal with it while he was in surgery. And Holbrooke responded, “Yeah, see if you can take care of that, including ending the war.” Crowley noted that the exchange reflected Holbrooke’s determination to bring the situations in Afghanistan and Pakistan “to a successful conclusion.”

Frank Ruggiero, Holbrooke’s deputy since July 2010, is taking over as acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was present yesterday at the Afghan strategy review in the Situation Room. The question on many people’s minds is, of course, what next? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants the structure to remain the same, keeping a team intact that Holbrooke put together. Yet, Holbrooke was a stand-out force in the administration, and Ruggiero is not likely to be a permanent replacement. With an at-times-strained relationship with the White House, some officials have said that Holbrooke was only still in the position of special representative because Clinton wanted him there. But regardless, as Crowley noted, it’s hard to “easily replace someone of Richard Holbrooke’s stature or personality.”

The team met yesterday for about an hour and forty-five minutes to discuss Afghanistan strategy. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Obama has already reviewed a preliminary report about the situation on the ground that supports the beginning of a troop drawdown in July.

Meanwhile, U.S. envoy George Mitchell met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak today about the peace process. Mitchell said that in the days ahead, he will carry out “substantive . . . conversations with an eye towards making real progress.” The envoy is attempting to get enough dialogue between both sides, even if it is indirect, to build a framework for peace negotiations. Before meeting with Mubarak, Mitchell also sat down with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

In Pakistan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen is stressing the urgency of the fight against militants. He cited a tension between the desire to solve the problem “overnight” and the need for “strategic patience.” He and others, Mullen said, are guilty of “strategic impatience,” but that isn’t good for the long-term relationship between Pakistan and the United States.

And in other news, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner held trade talks with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan (and his hundred-member delegation) in Washington yesterday. Despite ongoing quarrels about currency values and protectionism, the two sides agreed to try to cooperate for the good of the global economy. According to Treasury spokeswoman Natalie Wyeth, Geithner and Wang “discussed developments in the global economy and their cooperative efforts to strengthen economic recovery.”