This may stun the Washington cognoscenti, but America's coolest head and most knowledgeable diplomat on Afghanistan believes the recent spate of Afghans killing NATO soldiers and firing on the top U.S. general's plane is a sign of increasing Taliban weakness. "A large number of the attacks are perpetrated by Taliban infiltrators and represent a progressive degradation of their ability to engage us in unit combat," argues recently retired ambassador Ryan Crocker, a career diplomat of 38 years. "They lost the ability to mount large-scale operations early in the NATO surge. Their -fallback—high-profile suicide attacks—didn't work particularly well for them either, thanks to the excellent work of Afghan and international security forces." Then his final plea, which he surely knows will strike few responsive chords: "We need to maintain perspective. There are tens of thousands of interactions every day between Afghan and international forces without incident."
This positive assessment represents what the 63-year-old Crocker actually believes. In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with Newsweek, he does not mince words or play to the crowd (or to presidents). Agree with him or not, he knows what he's talking about when it comes to Afghanistan or practically any other country in the Middle East and South Asia. Crocker is a person of great courage and directness—traits that should make recent presidents and many of their top aides tremble at the thought that he just might write his memoirs.