THE PLANK NOVEMBER 20, 2009
"We've been treating Karzai like [Slobodan] Milosevic," a senior Pentagon official said, referring to the former Bosnian Serb* leader whom Holbrooke pressured into accepting a peace treaty in the 1990s. "That's not a model that will work in Afghanistan."
Who played the critical role in dragging Milosevic to a peace agreement? Holbrooke. And his negotiating style amounted to diplomatic brute force, leading Bill Clinton to say that Holbrooke had "the same character as Milosevic."
Perhaps Holbrooke's just been stuck with the role of Obama's bad cop in Kabul. But to date is seems possible that Holbrooke's hard-driving style simply wasn't suited for our Karzai problem. There is, after all, a big difference between Afghanistan today and the Balkans in the 1990s. Back then, America was an unchallenged superpower with enormous leverage over Milosevic's small Serbian nation. Today America is stuck in a quagmire and has little to no leverage over Karzai. That presents a completely different challenge. Which may be why the Post also includes this:
And State Department envoy Richard C. Holbrooke, whose aggressive style has infuriated the Afghan leader at times, is devoting more attention to shaping policy in Washington and marshaling international support for reconstruction and development programs.
*Update, Nov 23: A reader writes in to note that Milosevic was simply Serbian--not a Bosnian Serb, as the Post article states, and that in fact there were occasional tensions between Milosevic and the Bosnian Serb leaders.