With the news that Ambassador Ryan Crocker will leave his post in Afghanistan this summer, tributes to America's indispensable man abroad will begin flowing. The accolades will be all deserved.
President Barack Obama made one of his finer personnel decisions last year when he asked Crocker to represent America in Kabul. While Crocker had more than earned the retirement that he had recently begun, no one who has followed his remarkable career could have been surprised that he accepted the assignment.
Crocker has always gone where America needed him most, and America never needed him more than in the years after September 11, 2001. In January 2009, President George W. Bush awarded Crocker the Medal of Freedom. We often think about diplomats in back rooms, but as this excerpt from President Bush's speech makes clear, Crocker spent his career on the front lines.
The man has never run from danger. As a young officer during the late 1970s, Ryan catalogued Saddam Hussein's murderous rise to power. In 1983, he survived the terrorist attack on the American embassy in Lebanon. In 1998, as the Ambassador to Syria, he witnessed an angry mob plunder his residence.
After any one of these brushes with danger, most people would have lost their appetite for adventure -- not Ryan Crocker. In the years since September the 11th, 2001, I have asked Ryan to hold numerous posts on the front lines of the war on terror, and he has stepped forward enthusiastically every time.
When the American embassy in Kabul reopened in the beginning of 2002, Ryan Crocker was our first envoy. When we liberated Iraq and removed the thug Saddam Hussein from power in 2003, I sent Ryan to help lead the reconstruction efforts. When the American embassy in Pakistan needed new leadership, Ryan Crocker was put in charge. In 2007, I asked Ryan to return for a final mission to Iraq as America's ambassador.
Two years later, Iraq is becoming a rising democracy, an ally in the war on terror, an inspiring model of freedom for people across the Middle East. When the story of this transformation is written, historians will note the extraordinary partnership between two exceptional men: General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.