HT Spokesman-Review

Former S-R Reporter Jim Hagengruber interviews fellow Spokanite US Iraq Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Ron the Cop

Crocker: Premature Iraq exit would be ‘devastating’

U.S. self-image would suffer, Spokane Valley native says

Ryan Crocker and his wife, Christine, share a light moment in the temporary U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. (Brian Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Iraq after the surge: what next?M Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus will report to Congress on Tuesday on progress in Iraq. They will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at 11:30 a.m. (PDT).

BAGHDAD – On a bright Sunday morning in March, Ambassador Ryan Crocker stepped out of a meeting with top embassy staff, adjusted his silk tie and greeted two visitors from his hometown under the rotunda of Saddam Hussein’s former palace.

Diplomats of his caliber – 37 years in the U.S. Foreign Service, ambassador postings to the world’s toughest countries and now America’s leading political problem solver in Iraq – are typically known as masters of restraint and decorum. But Crocker’s grin can only be described as dumbfounded.

“Well, I never thought I’d stand here in the Republican Palace meeting The Spokesman-Review,” Crocker, a Spokane Valley native, said shaking his head and laughing.

In his jacket pocket, Crocker carried a preprinted, hour-by-hour schedule of the day. Between meetings with the Iraqi vice president, the British Air Marshal, Sen. Carl Levin, the Iraqi prime minister, top U.S. military commander Gen. David Petraeus and Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, Crocker offered an hour to reflect on his first 12 months as ambassador. His comments are a preview to testimony he’ll give alongside Petraeus on Tuesday on Capitol Hill on the progress and setbacks of U.S. involvement in Iraq.

The invitation for an interview was also no doubt a reflection of Crocker’s desire to ease back into the Spokane community. Early next year, Crocker and his wife, Christine Barnes – a fellow career Foreign Service employee – intend to retire to their 13 acres in the south Spokane Valley.

“I very much do consider myself a Spokanite. I haven’t been able to live there very much, but that has always been home. It’s always been my legal residence and I’ve voted in every election,” the 58-year-old Whitman College graduate said, moments after climbing a flight of marble stairs and punching a secret code to enter the secured hallway leading to his office. Taped on the wall outside his door were Valentine cards from the 4-H Club of Renton, Wash.

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