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Editorial: Retiring diplomat will be hard to replace

Three years ago, it looked as if diplomatic stalwart Ryan Crocker was headed for a quiet retirement in Spokane Valley, where he and his wife, Christine, also a foreign service veteran, had bought property on which to build their dream home. In the meantime, they were renting the house where he grew up.

Crocker, a graduate of University High School and Whitman College in Walla Walla, was getting reacquainted with his boyhood stamping grounds when he once again proved to be indispensable.

First, he agreed to head the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, and then he answered the call of President Barack Obama last year to quell the rising anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan.

This week, Crocker, 61, told the administration he would be stepping down due to undisclosed health issues. And so ends a long career in foreign service that also took him to Iran, Qatar, Iraq, Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria and Pakistan. He has served as ambassador to five countries; none of the postings could be described as cushy.

Over the course of his 40-year career, Crocker has earned near-universal plaudits for his diplomatic skills in some of the world’s thorniest settings. In 1983, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was bombed, and Crocker was slammed against a wall. Sixty-four people were killed in what would become the first of many attacks against a U.S. target by Islamic extremists. In Syria, a mob ransacked his residence.

Through it all, he patiently achieved diplomatic victories. In a 2009 interview with The Spokesman-Review, he explained his dogged approach:

“Perseverance does not require hope, but hope does require perseverance.”

Crocker warned the Bush administration of the complications that would arise from invading Iraq in 2003. Though his admonitions weren’t sufficiently heeded, his sense of duty compelled him to make the best of a precarious situation. He was tapped to work the civilian side of Gen. David Petraeus’ surge strategy, which is credited with controlling the insurgency and paving the way for the drawdown of U.S troops.

When relations between Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and then-Ambassador Karl Eikenberry grew perilously frosty, Obama turned to Crocker, who had established a bond with the volatile Karzai during a previous stint in the country. Once back in Afghanistan, Crocker was able to re-establish some semblance of mutual trust, which has improved the prospects for an orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops there.

Crocker has received numerous awards over the years, capped by the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest honor. He won’t be easy to replace. To date, the one assignment he has failed is retirement. He has yet to announce his plans, but we hope they include taking it easy in a safe corner of the world. He’s more than earned a life of rest and relaxation.

And if you should see him around, be sure to thank him for his invaluable service.

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