Ambassador Crocker, who never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity, then committed his second blunder. As soon as the attack on the U.S. Embassy was over, he should have publicly visited the estimated twenty hospitalized Afghan wounded, along with the families of the eleven killed, especially the families of the five children and the Afghan police officers slain by the Taliban. It is incomprehensible that Crocker did not meet with the victims and offer financial and other assistance.
The Taliban attack, reminiscent of the 1968 Tet attack by the Viet Cong against the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, was described by the Associated Press as “bold,” by Laura King of the Los Angeles Times as “audacious,” and by Julius Cavendish of The Independent as “sophisticated.” The Washington Post concluded that the attack “paralyzed Kabul for almost an entire day.”
In an attempt to show a brave public face regarding this humiliation, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement calling the Taliban attack “cowardly” (a bizarre comment which she did not explain). She went on to state:
“We will take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of our people.”
Secretary Clinton seemed oblivious to her diplomatic fumble and apparent Freudian slip. The public position of the Obama Administration should have been that the U.S. will take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of the Afghan people.
Then the Administration produced to the U.S. news media insider and apologist Michael O’Hanlon. O’Hanlon is fast becoming known as the Judith Miller of the Afghan war. On September 14, 2011, O’Hanlon wrote an opinion piece for Politico.com. in which he tried to spin the Embassy attack as minor and insignificant, arguing that Kabul in 2011 was nothing like Saigon in 1968. Fortunately pictures speak louder than Brookings Institution consultants. The pictures from Kabul were of U.S. troops having to engage the Taliban for 20 hours from the roof of the U.S. Embassy.
Whenever the United States finds itself engaging its enemy from the rooftop of its Embassy, it should be a wake-up call to take off the rose colored glasses.
In a telephone interview given to CBS News after the attack, Ambassador Crocker stated that he spent most of the 20 hours in his underground Tactical Operations Center. It was also announced post-attack, that the U.S. Embassy had canceled all travel by U.S. diplomats both into and out of Afghanistan and within the country thus confirming the Taliban’s ability to incapacitate the befuddled State Department.
The next day, shamed that the Taliban had forced him into hiding, Ambassador Crocker began to bluster. From the safety of his bunker he belittled the Taliban for taking “pot-shots” at the Embassy and he scorned their attack as little more than “harassment,” (yet at the time it was scary enough to send him scurrying into an underground shelter for 20 hours).
This deep-seated fear of the Taliban has prevented the U.S. Embassy from opening a consulate in Afghanistan’s second largest city, Kandahar and in the strategic city of Khost. Both are considered too dangerous for precious diplomats. Embassy officials opted instead to open two consulates in safe areas in the far north and west of Afghanistan. As American troops head into combat, U.S. diplomats head for the resort areas.
In ancient Sparta women would tell their sons and husbands as they marched off to war (“he tan he epi tan”), which in old Greek means: “with this shield or on it.” [i.e., Victory or Death]. In contrast the State Department’s war maxim is “Can I get a mocha latte in this bunker?”
The generic problem is the U.S. Government rewards success but does not punish failure or mediocrity so Ambassador Crocker will almost certainly remain. While America’s foreign policy cannot withstand many more Crocker bumbles, it is just a war and America has lost conflicts in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Lebanon, Nicaragua and Somalia, and may be on the verge of losing in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan, all with no accountability. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, who actually wanted to win his war, personally fired a host of lackluster and poorly performing officials and generals until he found a bold and daring group that took risks which lead to a Union victory. Firing the mediocre - what a novel idea!