As mentioned here and here, in the past few days we have run William R. Polk's "Impressions" from his recent visit to Afghanistan, and then his recommendations for the way ahead.

Just now he has written asking to clarify the record from his original "Impressions" report. His note says:

In what you have printed of my account of my short visit to Kabul, I misspoke and gave a wrong impression in three places, and would be grateful if you could print a clarification.

First, while the term "mercenaries" is often applied to the guards employed by the American and other embassies, this gives an unintentional perjorative interpretation of them. They are well-trained paid contractors led and carefully supervised by the State Department security service; they are not freewheeling mercenaries in the old-fashioned sense of condottieres. My choice of words was unfair to the people involved.

Secondly, I should have been clearer on the most important point. I inferred from the issue of the leaked cables and particularly the press reaction to the episode that Ambassador Eikenberry had been "dressed down by the White House." In our talks, Eikenberry made no mention of anything like that. That was purely my inference from the discussion of the event, not from anything he said; indeed, upon reflection, I am certain that he would disagree with what I wrote. I should also clarify that Eikenberry only said that President Karzai is the elected head of state and government of Afghanistan -- period.
My own years of experience conjured up images of Vietnam. I did not mean to imply that he shares my view. In fact, he emphasized to me his commitment to his assignment and in my observations of him in meetings with his staff he was, as I wrote, extraordinary in his dedication. Indeed, to the point of working literally around the clock. I watched him and was amazed at his energy and the skill with which he handled a wide variety of people and sensitive issues. I would say that, without doubt, he is one of the two or three most impressive and dedicated ambassadors I have observed over the last half century. And certainly he is the hardest working.

On the same point, I inferred, largely from my talks with the reporters and from statistics, that the situaton in Afghanistan is more dire than before. Whether or not this is Eikenberry's private interpretation I do not know. Certainly in all of his remarks and in his appearance, for example, the talk he gave to a large group of prominent television station owners and reporters, he was most sanguine. What I wrote was, as I am sure you know, the interpretation of the press corps and I mistakenly allowed their impression to sluff over to him. Frankly, I was surprised that he was as encouraged and encouraging as he was. I am not, but that is my interpretation, not his. I would be grateful if you would put this out as a correction to my "impressions" of Afghanistan.

[Update. William Polk wrote again asking to add this clarification: Where I discuss the two leaked dispatches and mention that President Obama had urged that he work more closely with McChrystal, I think it is fair to insert that this is what I heard, not from Eikenberry, but got mainly from the press. In fact, Eikenberry disagreed with my assessment and pointing out that Obama called for candid assessments in his review. But Eikenberry went on to say that "the President was adamant that after he decided everyone had to get on board and work to effect them." Eikenberry thinks that is now happening better than before both between him and Karzai's regime and with all the American parties. I certainly hope he is right. I have to say, however, that my time in Kabul still led me to conjure up images of Vietnam.

Sorry for all this confusion. It is a very complex situation and I was rushed in trying to see everyone I could get my hands on.]

Noted. PS: This is a model of how to handle corrections. Promptly, non-defensively, and with fuller explanation of the points one did and did not mean to make.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to