Michael Crowley

Overshadowed by John Kerry's embrace of a typically Kerry-ian middle-way strategy in Afghanistan was his response to a reporter's question about Hamid Karzai's alleged drug lord brother: During our walk, we had a very direct conversation about that. In fact, he asked me about it, he raised the subject, quite interesting. And we talked about the perceptions of his brother. Let me just say this in answer to this. I have requested from our intelligence sources and law enforcement folks the smoking gun, the evidence. Show me, what do we know?...

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A fascinating WashPost story on a Foreign Service officer who has resigned to protest what he feels is a pointless war in Afghanistan. A combat veteran who reportedly read deeply about the war, Matthew Hoh will be difficult for Afghanistan hawks to dismiss. Here's a key passage: Korengal and other areas, he said, taught him "how localized the insurgency was.

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I hadn't been aware of the uproar in Afghanistan over the alleged desecration of a koran by American forces until the Washington Post flagged it in passing this morning. It's a reminder that the Taliban can match our guns and helicopters with some equally powerful lies.

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In the next step towards turning the screws on Iran, two key congressional committees will debate companion bills this week targeting Iran's gasoline imports, a Hill source tells me. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman will mark up that committee's bill on Wednesday. Chris Dodd will hold a markup of a Senate Banking Committee bill the next day. That might help Iran make up its mind about our latest nuclear offer.

I read this story as the latest effort by the military to squeeze the White House into giving McChrystal what he wants: One of the exercise's key assumptions is that an increase of 10,000 to 15,000 troops would not in the near future give U.S. commanders the forces they need to take back havens from the Taliban commanders in southern and western Afghanistan, where shadow insurgent governors collect taxes and run court systems based on Islamic sharia law.

NYT: Afghan and American officials said the earliest that a runoff vote could be held was late this month or early next month, with results expected about two weeks later. Some Afghans said, however, that the vote might have to be delayed because of bad winter weather until the spring, a nightmare situation for a White House that does not want to remain in limbo. For context, here's Stanley McChrystal quoted by Dexter Filkins in Sunday's NYT magazine: When the briefing was finished, McChrystal looked around the room.

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If David Ignatius is reading a technical atomic science journal correctly, the Iran game has changed dramatically--to Obama's benefit. Fingers crossed.

This speaks volumes about the challenges of steering Pakistan to a stable, pro-American, and anti-radical future: The report follows previous ones that say the U.S. is bringing in 3,000 Marines to the expanding U.S. embassy in Islamabad, a report that Special Rep Richard Holbrooke has repeatedly tried to put to rest, seemingly to little avail.

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Should the family be charged for the huge search and rescue effort? My first emotional reaction is to say yes--but the bill might be enough to wipe out a middle-class family. And these people have enough to worry about right now....

As we now know, the Obama White House is re-examining some first-principle questions about the war in Afghanistan. How connected are al Qaeda and the Taliban? What would be the effect of ceding territory to the Taliban? How effective are drone strikes without a major troop presence to support them. The answers to the questions remain unclear. But beyond the substantive mystery, there's also a process mystery. How did the administration and the military brass come away from their first review with such different interpretations of what had been decided?

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