Briefing on the New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: First, let me just say that President Karzai has called and is trying to reach me now, and I may have to leave, take the call. But he sent in word already that he watched the speech live on CNN from Kabul, that he was extremely gratified by it, and that he will be issuing his own statement of support in — quickly, but that may divert me.

I would just point you to the fact that no American chief executive has spoken about corruption this way ever before in open. Isn’t that a fair statement, Bruce? And on the way out, a former Assistant Secretary of State, who many of you know, but I better not give his name, since he isn’t — I was going to say it — with vast experience –

Q Is he a big guy? (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: They’re all big guys. (Laughter.) He said — he said to me, I’ve been waiting six years to hear a speech like that, and the emphasis on corruption is essential. You’ve all been reporting it for years. We view it as a cancer eating away at the country and it has to be dealt with. And obviously we’re not going to lay out how we’re going to deal with it. To some extent, we don’t know yet. There’s so much dispute about it. Senators have talked about it, including senators who are now President, Vice President and Secretary of State. And they bring what they said as senators to this issue.

And speaking for myself, I’ve written about it a lot. I don’t take back anything I ever wrote as a private citizen. Now we’ve been offered the extraordinary challenge of trying to deal with this problem. And we’re here to say, it is at the highest levels. Why? This isn’t baksheesh. We’ve got to make a distinction between ordinary problems that happen in every society. This is massive efforts that undermine the government. President Karzai himself has said this, and we need to work on this. It’s a huge recruiting draw — excuse me, huge recruiting opportunity for the Taliban. It’s one of their major things they exploit. But I can’t lay out to you how exactly we’re going to do this. We’re just starting out. And by the way, we’re in the middle of an election campaign in Afghanistan, which complicates everything enormously.

Q Do you — three precise questions — do you fully support President Karzai and his family? How are you going to get the confidence of the local population? And is there an exit strategy?

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