On the 100th anniversary of the publication of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," a discussion about why the poem and poet are well-loved but misunderstood.
Eighteen months ago, President Obama ordered a surge of 30,000 U. S. troops into Afghanistan. Tonight, he is expected to announce his decision about the pace and scope of bringing them home. Following the death of Osama bin Laden and a decade of war, more Americans than ever say they want our troops out of Afghanistan. Some experts claim drones and special forces can keep the Taliban and al Qaeda at bay. But others say security and corruption are still a concern. And while political talks show promise, they worry the Afghan insurgency is far from over. Diane and her guests discuss the risks and benefits of reversing the surge in Afghanistan.
- David Ignatius columnist, The Washington Post; contributor to “Post Partisan” blog on washingtonpost.com. His latest book is titled "Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage."
- Phyllis Bennis director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies; co-author author of "Ending the U.S. War in Afghanistan: A Primer"
- Lt. Gen. David Barno former Commander of the Combined Forces Command Afghanistan, 2003-2005 and Senior Advisor at the Center for a New American Security.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Since the death of Osama bin Laden last month, a record number of Americans have come to favor removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Tonight, President Obama is expected to announce he'll order a troop reduction of 5- to 10,000 personnel by the end of the year.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about what the administration strategy could mean for the Afghan government, NATO and the U.S. military, David Ignatius of The Washington Post, Phyllis Bennis with the Institute for Policy Studies and Lt. Gen. David Barno of the Center for a New American Security. Throughout the hour, I'll look forward to hearing your comments, questions.
MS. DIANE REHMGive us a call on 800-433-8850, your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSGood morning, Diane.
MS. PHYLLIS BENNISGood morning, Diane.
LT. GEN. DAVID BARNOGood morning.
REHMDavid Ignatius, what do you expect President Obama to announce tonight?
IGNATIUSWell, I think, Diane, you got the number right. From what we've been hearing, the president will announce that he's withdrawing 5,000 immediately and another 5,000 by the end of the year for a total of 10,000 this year. This is -- more troops being withdrawn in the military would like to see -- they favor the smaller numbers, something like 3- to 5,000 this year.
IGNATIUSI think the president will stress that his decisions are building on what he'll describe as the success of the core mission that he announced in December 2009, which was to dismantle and disrupt and destroy al-Qaida's presence in Afghanistan. He'll focus, obviously, on the successful raid that killed Osama bin Laden. He'll note other counterterrorism successes. I think the president really will say that this is a policy about defending the homeland.
IGNATIUSIt's about counterterrorism and that troop level should be seen in that context. It's a compromise policy. It won't make the military entirely happy, and it certainly won't make sharp critics of the work, who'd like to see a faster drawdown, happy.
REHMGen. Barno, do you believe those numbers are accurate, first of all? Second of all, what do you anticipate is going to be the reaction from various corners?
BARNOWell, we can't be absolutely sure what the numbers are, of course, until we hear the president's speech tonight. And on occasion, these things change at the very last minute. But I think David has it right. Those are solid numbers. They reflect what I'm hearing as well.
BARNOSo -- what he didn't note is that the remainder of the surge beyond this initial 10,000 potentially coming out by the end of this year, is that the remaining 20,000 of the surge would then be stair-stepped out during 2012 with all the 30,000 being out of the country by, roughly, the end of 2012 or early 2013.
REHMLeaving how many U.S. troops in Afghanistan?
BARNOThat would leave in the vicinity of -- the numbers are solid as there are about 68,000 Americans still remaining going into 2013, so very substantial force but, again, much more of a measured reduction. And I agree. This doesn't please all the audiences. The military is not getting, really, what they asked for, in a sense. There are certainly a number of representatives and senators in Congress who will be unhappy with this, based on the fact it's not fast enough and it's not large enough.
BARNOBut I think it's a very thoughtful compromise looking at the various issues at play there in trying to preserve the gains that we made over the last 18 months with the introduction of those 30,000 troops.
REHMA thoughtful compromise, Phyllis Bennis?
BENNISNo. I think this is real triangulation. I think that what we're looking at is not even counterinsurgency. If we want to look at the acronym COIN, I think it could better be used to describe congressional indoctrination for war spending. This is about winning the hearts and minds of the Appropriations Committees. President Obama, on this issue, has already lost the hearts and minds of the American people who say 64 percent of Americans now say the war is not worth fighting.
BENNISAnd to say that we are going to have -- of the 100,000 troops, plus 50,000 NATO troops, plus 100,000 or so DOD-paid contractors or mercenaries in Afghanistan for an indefinite period, that we're supposed to be satisfied by a token withdrawal of 5- or 10,000 out of that 250,000 is almost insulting as something that is designed to respond to the demands of American people that the money -- the war money be brought home.
REHMWhat about that money? And what about the use of Phyllis' word, token, General?
BARNOWell, I think, on the money side, you know, that's one of the large concerns that has come to the fore here in the last year. I think there's finally a realization here in Washington that we've got some insurmountable fiscal difficulties. The nation is facing trillion dollar deficits with a mounting national debt. And I think Secretary Gates has talked to the significance of that and looking at this decision in Afghanistan. But it's not the overarching driver behind the decision.
BARNOI think the president, if these numbers are correct, is rightfully assessing that. He wants to ensure he preserves and protects the gains that have been made by, you know, the loss of so many Americans and other NATO troops in Afghanistan and that we provide Afghanistan, at the end of this long 10-year effort, something that doesn't simply launch them right back into the era of the Taliban dominating the country.
REHMDavid Ignatius, talk about the supposed ongoing negotiations with the Taliban in the midst of this drawdown.
IGNATIUSIt's one of the most interesting aspects of what's going on in Afghanistan. I think the president will speak about the diplomatic surge that Secretary of State Clinton called for last February, and he will, in general terms, say that it's making progress. You know, he'll say we need to make much more effort in this area. I think that will be part of the speech. How's it going?
IGNATIUSMy sources tell me that the U.S. was able to arrange secret meetings with a Taliban representative who has a history of being very close to Mohammed Omar, the head of the Taliban, and held a series of meetings with him under the mediation of the Germans and the Qataris. Since those meetings were publicized about a month ago, that emissary appears to have withdrawn. The publicity was not to his liking. The expectation is that he'll come back.
IGNATIUSAnd, in general, most of the people that I've talked to say that this channel seemed to offer some real possibility, that this was someone unlike other emissaries that we've contacted who had real street credent in the Taliban. And as -- a final thing I'd say, is that the U.S. reading is that one condition for a deal with the Taliban, that they renounce al-Qaida is probably resolved by the death of bin Laden.
IGNATIUSBecause Mullah Omar's and most of the Taliban commanders' promise of loyalty was specific and personal to bin Laden, not to Zawahiri, the Egyptian who is now the (word?), the leader of al-Qaida. So, in a sense, that puts that issue behind. There's a lot of other really hard issues, but this is something to keep your eye on.
REHMGeneral, do the negotiations that David has talked about allow the president, at this moment, following the death of bin Laden, to begin this drawdown?
BARNOWell, I think so. And I think the key the president recognizes is that there's a great deal of psychology behind this announcement and that that's going to affect not only a domestic audience here at home, but it's going to have a big effect in the region. When he made his December 2009 speech at West Point, the single line take-away from that entire speech in the region -- and I've traveled out there extensively. I was in Pakistan for a week in January.
BARNOThe message after the December '09 speech was, the Americans are leaving, and they're leaving in July 2011. And the administration spent the next 18 months trying to roll that back. And they had, I think, a degree of success with that. Last November, at the NATO Lisbon Conference, there was a timeline laid out, that all the NATO nations and the Afghan government agreed to transition lead security responsibility in Afghanistan to the Afghans by the end 2014.
BARNOThat plan is still in place. What the president, I think, will illustrate tonight is what are the beginning of the stair-steps to get to that final transition to the Afghans by the end of 2014.
REHMAs I understand, the numbers, Phyllis Bennis, it cost the American people $1 million per military personnel per year…
REHM...to keep in Afghanistan. Is this drawdown of 5- to 10,000 by the end of the year going to satisfy the American people?
BENNISAbsolutely not. We've seen just in the last couple of days the U.S. Council of Mayors -- U.S. Conference of Mayors -- sorry -- passed the first anti-war resolution of that organization since the middle of Vietnam War in 1971, calling for all the troops to be brought home as absolutely soon as possible, and the money, the war money to be brought home to build bridges in Cleveland rather than Kandahar.
BENNISNow, that's problematic in a certain way. We bear a huge responsibility for the devastation of this war. We hear sometimes, well, only 25 percent of the huge numbers of Afghan casualties, civilian casualties are caused directly by the U.S. and NATO forces. The rest are caused by the insurgence, which, on the one hand, is a very troubling comparison to make if that's the standard we're using. That's still not okay.
BENNISBut the reality is the vast majority of Afghan civilians are killed by IEDs that are laid on roads on which NATO and U.S. soldiers travel. They are the target. And Afghan civilians continue to be killed in huge numbers. The U.N. has just announced that last year was the highest number of civilian casualties. And they're rising. They're not going down. They're going up.
BENNISThere's an old saying, Diane, an old Afghan saying that says that when two bulls fight, it's the shrubs and the plants who are hurt. And I think there's a reason that Afghanistan holds that as a symbol of what happens to people when other forces are fighting in their country.
REHMPhyllis Bennis, she is at the Institute for Policy Studies. She's co-author of the book titled, "Ending the U.S. War in Afghanistan: A Primer." We'll take a short break. Your calls, your email are welcome.
REHMAnd welcome back. Just before the break, we were talking about the U.S. Conference of Mayors and how, for the first time, they've issued a statement to the effect that they believe President Obama should be spending more time concentrating on building bridges in this country rather than in Afghanistan. David Ignatius, how does the drawdown enter into the whole discussion about deficit reduction?
IGNATIUSWell, we're spending an awful lot of money in Afghanistan -- $120 billion this year -- and for a country that is in serious fiscal trouble -- they're going to look for cuts in the defense budget, and I know the White House would love to cut as much as it thinks it responsibly could from the Afghanistan part of that. This is a hideously expensive war to wage. It's just so hard to get stuff there. It's so remote. The conditions in the winter, they're nightmarish if you've ever been there.
REHMAnd the fraud and (word?).
IGNATIUSThe degree of fraud, it's just, you know, every bad thing you could say that could lead to wasteful spending. I think the president is trying to strike a balance. He did decide to surge these 30,000 troops based on a strategy. They argued over it for months, and the president decided, in the end, that he would embrace this strategy. And so now he's trying to look carefully at what's working and what isn't and try to readjust in light of that experience.
IGNATIUSOne example, I think, of what he's deciding isn't worth the cost -- I think Gen. Petraeus would like to send some of the troops freed up by somewhat improved stability in the south, in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, in the -- what's called RC East, the area around Jalalabad, and then into Kunar Province toward the border, which has become a much hotter area of conflict. We pulled back from there to do the Helmand and Kandahar operations.
IGNATIUSSo I think Gen. Petraeus left to himself. The military command would like to surge into RC East next year. And my sense from my conversations -- it'd be interesting to what Gen. Barno and Phyllis think -- is that the president just decided he's not going to do that. The trick for him is to reduce spending. It's a very -- it's a war-weary country.
IGNATIUSWe just -- we need the money, and we want these troops home, but not to give up the gains that he thinks have been made over the past year-and-a-half.
REHMAnd, Phyllis Bennis, what about those gains? Do you have some concerns that reducing the number of troops by the end of the year could, in fact, reverse the progress that's been made?
BENNISI think, Diane, that many of the gains that are claimed are inherently temporary. They're only going to last as long as the U.S. troops are there. And if the U.S. troops leave now, some of that will change. If they leave five years from now, it will change then. So the question is what is to be gained. You know, we have to look very carefully. I would say one thing in response to something David just said about the surge of 30,000.
BENNISI think that's a bit misleading. What the Obama administration called the surge was indeed 30,000 originally. It became 33,000 quite quickly. But that followed an earlier surge of 21,000 troops within the first weeks of President Obama being inaugurated. So the real surge has been -- what's the total? I think it's something like...
BENNIS...54,000 troops that we're talking about. So the notion of taking seriously a partial drawdown of 4- or 5,000 now -- maybe another 5,000 soon -- simply doesn't match the scale of what this war has cost in terms of U.S. money and Afghan blood.
BARNOWell, Diane, one of the things, I think, that completely misses, is the fact that there's an Afghan military and there's an Afghan security force out there that's been growing fairly dramatically over the last several years. When I left Afghanistan in 2005 -- I spent 19 months there as the overall commander -- Afghan security forces at that time were in the neighborhood of 70,000 total, army and police.
BARNOBy the end of this year, there'll be 300,000 Afghan army and police. And they're increasingly capable, and they're getting interjected into the fight all around the country. So the key to our withdrawal and retaining the effects of that, preserving these gains, is going to be really handing these areas over to trained Afghan security forces that are advised by Americans. I think that's why President Obama is taking a bit of a cautious approach to this hand-off.
BARNOIf that's not done right, then we have every prospect for losing all the gains that have been made.
BENNISWell, I think that the facts of what Dave just said is true, but I also think we need to keep in mind two things. One is the United Nations, for years, has acknowledged that in the poorest countries, the more money of their very tiny budgets that is spent on the military and police, the lower the rates of survival of the population in terms of human development index questions, issues of maternal mortality, which has stayed exactly as it was when the Taliban was in control after nine, 10 years of U.S. occupation.
BENNISWe are creating a huge military in our image. That's true. Whether that has anything to do with what the people of Afghanistan want and need -- this is not a country like Iraq with a history of strong national leadership. It's a country that, historically, barely held together nationally, and where identities are bound up with village, with region, with tribe and not with national identity.
REHMPhyllis, what is it you would wish to hear the president say tonight?
BENNISI would wish President Obama to say, we have been in Afghanistan for 10 years. We went there to officially wipe out the al-Qaida forces there. All of the intelligence people have said that even before the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan that there were only between 50 and 100 members of al-Qaida in Afghanistan. That work is done. If he wants to declare it as a victory, fine.
BENNISBut the answer should be, we cannot afford to spend the money, and the people of Afghanistan cannot afford the continued dying to continue this war. I am now announcing that we are bringing home not only the 30,000 of the surge, but we are bringing home all 100,000 U.S. troops that are in Afghanistan. We are ending the process of paying the 100,000 additional contractors that are there, and we are ending this war, beginning tonight.
REHMAnd, David Ignatius, what would be, in your view, the result if Phyllis' desire were satisfied?
IGNATIUSThe risk -- I won't say the result because these things are hard to predict. But the risk would be that you would create a vacuum in Pakistan in which the different ethnic groups would turn to their regional patrons for support. The Pashtuns would turn to the ISI, the Pakistani military. The Tajiks would turn to the Indians, primarily. In the west, around Herat, the Iranians, who have a lot of influence, would become a dominant power.
IGNATIUSYou'd have a situation that I would liken to Lebanon, where the country just gets pulled apart, and you have a civil war and kind of permanent instability in a key strategic area. And I have to say we've been through that before. You know, we once before put a lot of money and effort into Afghanistan to get the Soviets out, and then we walked away in the '80s and '90s. And what we ended up with was a complete mess.
IGNATIUSBut it was also a mess that was deadly for the United States. The plots to take down the twin towers on Sep. 11 began not just in Afghanistan, but began in that vacuum. So, I think, people are afraid of repeating that history. And there's a desire to withdraw in a way that doesn't just preserve the gains the way we talked about earlier, but does the best job we can to protect our own interests, you know, not being a vacuum there.
IGNATIUSI'd love to talk in a moment about the diplomatic side of this because, frankly, I've come to believe that the absolutely critical factor going forward is the -- our ability to encourage regional framework in which Pakistan and India are guarantors of the security of the Afghan state that we leave behind. And if that can be done, then you end up with a situation in which a national army could actually function because you wouldn't have the regional...
REHMHow realistic is that, David?
IGNATIUSWell, it's been viewed as unrealistic forever. Afghanistan, in a sense, is the history of the failure of that idea. But, interestingly, in the last few months, you've had some signs of progress.
IGNATIUSSpecifically, the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, went to Kabul in May and stated a formula for what India would like to see as diplomatic outcome that was word-for-word identical to what the Pakistani Prime Minister Gillani had said when he was in Kabul the month before and is word-for-word identical to what the United States favors, which is an Afghan-led solution.
IGNATIUSAnd then he listed the three conditions for Taliban participation. It's no accident that that happened. That was a deliberate Indian decision. I'm told, as recently as today, by Indian sources that a quiet diplomatic round between India and Pakistan has been going forward. It's too early to talk about breakthroughs. But they've been meeting at the ministerial level a lot in the last few months.
REHMGen. Barno, if, as Phyllis fantasizes, all troops were withdrawn, how strong is the Afghanistan army without U.S. financial support to keep it going?
BARNOWell, I think that's a key point. And that's one of the reasons why the president is very unlikely to do a very precipitate, hasty troop withdrawal because not only do our dollars underwrite the equipment for the Afghan army and much of their training, our advisers and some of our advanced capabilities, from drones to air power to medical evacuation capabilities, come from the United States.
BARNOAnd I think even in the longer term -- a year or two years, three years from now -- that advisory component is still going to be a crucial part of this army's ability to fight the Taliban across the country. So, I think, that's a key point, and it's one of the most dangerous things that we could signal if we did decide to accelerate this troop drawdown. You know, David's exactly right in terms of the regional prospects if we were to do what Phyllis suggests.
BARNOAnd that's basically a regional civil war. And we have actually seen this movie before. It's "Charlie Wilson's War." A lot of Americans remember that from the end of the era, of fighting the Soviets there. This would be far worse because now you've got several regional players, specifically the Pakistanis and the Indians who have nuclear weapons. And so the destabilizing possibilities of a regional civil war that starts in Afghanistan could be much more dangerous.
REHMOf course, we've been talking thus far about money, but what about the blood of American personnel?
BENNISThis is a huge factor, Diane. And I think that one of the problems has been when you talk to soldiers coming back, so many of them have said we don't know what we're doing there. We don't know what we're doing there. And this notion that we somehow have to continue the war because, if we don't, we will be dishonoring those soldiers, I think, stands it on its head.
BENNISThe soldiers that I work with, who tend to be very young -- organizations like Iraq Veterans Against the War, Afghanistan Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families for Peace -- these are the crucial voices of the military who have paid the highest. And they are the ones saying that this war must end.
REHMPhyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's hear some of the comments from our listeners, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Let's go first to Carl in Traverse City, Mich. Good morning to you.
CARLGood morning, everyone. Wonderful panel. May I ask Phyllis a question please?
CARLIf I may call you Phyllis.
CARLI apologize. I don't recall your last name.
CARLPhyllis, you said something very interesting. Did you mean to say, and did you state correctly -- I'm sure you did -- there are 250,000 troops in Afghanistan if you count the contracted services or contractors?
BENNISThat's right. That's right. There about a hundred -- just under 100,000 U.S. troops. About -- between 40- and 50,000 NATO troops other than the U.S. and about 100,000 U.S.-paid contractors, of which 20,000 are considered officially security contractors, meaning they're armed. The other 80,000 are doing things that, in an ordinary army, would be done by low-ranking privates and such that would be cleaning and cooking and driving, that sort of thing.
CARLAnd this surge that we've been talking about actually totals 54,000, if I heard you correctly?
CARLAnd, I guess, my question to you and to the panel is, why is there such misinformation about this? I think most Americans are under the impression the so-called surge was 30-some thousand troops. We're -- we have not been told that we're talking about 250,000. And we're not talking about a total surge of 54,000. Why do you think that is?
BENNISWell, I think, Carl, that you raise a very important question. I think the information is out there, but it's not something that's talked about. When President Obama was first inaugurated, he very quickly announced that he was sending an additional 17,000 troops -- that rapidly became 21,000 -- to Afghanistan, and as he put it, and then we'll figure out the strategy.
REHMAnd then the pieces are put in separately, are they not, Gen. Barno?
BARNOWell, they are, but this takes us back to the first year of the administration, 2009. And President Bush, before he left, got a recommendation from commanders in Afghanistan to increase those troop numbers. He asked President Obama, as I recall, to ratify that, which he did. But then there was this nine-month period of time with Gen. McChrystal making his assessment in a very long deliberation inside the administration.
BARNOSo the president announced what's called the surge today, that 30,000 in December of 2009. Now, of course, it was added onto the forces that were already there. So that's where that number comes from.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling, Carl. To Birch Tree, Mo. Good morning, Michael.
MICHAELGood morning. I have to say that Ms. Phyllis speaks for me wholeheartedly, and I love it when I hear the truth. And so where we dropped the ball in Afghanistan was by not providing them infrastructures: schools, roads, communication between each other. So why not give them $10 million a year for their infrastructure? Have them do the work, not our contractors.
MICHAELAnd bring the boys home and put a solar panel on every roof and a new grid, and do the things that we need for our infrastructure.
IGNATIUSWell, there has been a lot of U.S. spending on economic development in Afghanistan. I have to say a lot of it has been wasted. And if I were to note the biggest frustration I feel, as somebody who visits that country often, it's that the Afghan government, which is our partner nominally, is so corrupt. Our mission there has been, in part, about building governance so that they'll be a more stable and prosperous Afghanistan going forward. And I hate to say it, but what we've created, in part, is a new kleptocracy.
IGNATIUSYou -- just, you know, huge fortunes have been made in Kabul in the most corrupt ways, so I think that should concern everyone. And I think, again, I think one has to think carefully about the potential dangers of pulling out too many troops too quickly. But there's no arguing with the reality that this is a corrupt, deeply flawed -- I want to say incompetent -- Afghan government.
REHMDavid Ignatius, he is a columnist with The Washington Post. His newest book is titled "Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage." And we'll take a short break here. When we come back, more of your calls.
REHMAnd as we talk about the president's expected announcement this evening of a drawdown of some U.S. troops, most people are speculating between 5- and 10,000. Here's an email from Bob in Ellicott City, Md., who says, "Regardless of what agreements might be made with the Taliban, the Vietnam experience probably illustrate what will actually happen. The Taliban will move into whatever they want to do.
REHM"There's nothing the U.S. can do about this. We cannot continue to believe we build countries to our liking. Our goal in Afghanistan was to eliminate the people responsible for the 9/11 attack. We accomplished this over an expanded period of time. We've also accomplished bin Laden's goal of almost bankrupting our economy. We need to totally withdraw from Afghanistan. Let them determine the course that their country will take."
REHMThere are a lot of people in this country, Gen. Barno, worried about a new feeling of isolation -- isolationism that we'll be building in this country after Afghanistan.
BARNOWell, I think one of the mistakes we sometimes make -- and this comes out often in the media -- is that we look at Afghanistan as the island of Afghanistan, as a country set in the middle of an ocean without any connections, without any other influence, without any other impact on the neighbors around it. In reality, this is a very important, very dangerous part of the world for the United States.
BARNOIn our long-term goals in Afghanistan -- and I think the president's announcement tonight will reinforce this -- are really anchored on what our vital interests in that part of the world? It's not just about Afghanistan. Their next-door neighbor to the east is the second largest Islamic country in the world, Pakistan, with 180 million people. By mid-century, they'll have 300 million Pakistanis. Next to them is India with 1.2 billion.
BARNOBoth those countries have over 100 nuclear weapons. So we have some very deep, very significant regional, national security interests out there that we have to be very careful about how we address those in the coming years.
REHMAll right. To Cortez, Fla., Skip, you're on the air.
SKIPHi. We hear all this rhetoric from the politicians, and we wring our hands and point fingers. And nothing seems to be a -- gets accomplished. Ignatius -- David -- is that David Ignatius?
SKIPYeah, what happens to our -- why is it that I perceive our politicians to be so myopic about their decision making? I mean, you mentioned "Charlie Wilson's War." And, you know, he was being very conservative, you know, $3 or $4 million to help build the schools. And why is our intelligence service failing us so dramatically and for supporting someone like Hamid Karzai?
IGNATIUSWell, a lot of questions wrapped up in that. The -- it is true. And there was a stinging report by a major general about the poor quality of U.S. intelligence, just the lacking a feel for the Afghanistan on our fingertips even as we spent these tens and now hundreds of billions of dollars.
IGNATIUSI think a very interesting thing to look into the future about is that Gen. Petraeus -- commander in Iraq, now in Afghanistan, really, the most decorated and, you could argue, successful military leader we've had in a long time -- will now have the job of running the CIA. And your job in that agency is to be skeptical. Your job is to look generals in the eye and say, general, I'm not sure that you can deliver on that.
IGNATIUSI'm not sure that this is really going to work out the way you say. The CIA has been quite skeptical, just in response to Skip's question, on the -- questions is everything working out great in Afghanistan. They've been the naysayers that said, wait a minute. We're not so sure about this. But it's now going to be Gen. Petraeus' job to be the skeptic.
REHMSo what is the effect of Secretary Gates' departure, Gen. Barno?
BARNOWell, I think there's going to be a lot more continuity than there will be disruption in that. We saw yesterday that soon-to-be Secretary Panetta was confirmed with 100-to-0 vote in the Senate. That's very impressive. That's a tremendous vote of confidence in him. And I think he will carry on, substantially, the Gates legacy. They're very close friends. They have interesting backgrounds that both bring unique skills to the table.
BARNOPanetta, formerly head of OMB, Office of Management and Budget, is going to have to bring that knife from his OMB days into the Pentagon and try and shape that into a more efficient organization. Part of that will be wrapped around this drawdown, this responsible transition coming up here in Afghanistan.
REHMIs he likely to be less responsive to the pressure of the generals?
BARNOI think he'll have no difficulty standing up to that pressure. He's been interacting with this group for years as the director of the CIA. He knows, I think, the key players well. He's run an organization that has some similar responsibilities out in that part of the world, and I think he'll have no difficulty making up his own mind and being tough in the face of the arguments that he receives and reasoning them out.
BENNISWell, I wanted to respond to something else that Skip asked about, which is the problem with the lack of accountability of so many politicians to what the American people want. American people are saying 64 percent -- that's almost -- two out three people in this country are saying this war is not worth fighting. And there are a few politicians that are hearing that, that are listening to it.
BENNISOne is the very brave Congresswoman Barbara Lee from California who has a new amendment out for the -- in the Defense Appropriations bill that would prohibit any spending on the war in Afghanistan, except to safely and securely bring the troops home. Now, it will be very interesting. I don't anticipate that will pass, but it will be very interesting to see what the vote is in -- when that vote comes up.
BENNISI think that we do have to recognize that there are politicians out there who are trying to do the right thing. The pressures on them from other sides is enormous.
REHMBut the differences between Republicans and Democrats on this, David.
IGNATIUSWell, they're narrowing a little bit. This is a war-weary country. And so it's been fascinating to watch the Republican candidate's (word?) on the stump in the debate last week in New Hampshire taking -- you'd almost say an anti-war line, you know, bring the troops home, to the extent that John McCain got furious and said, what's happened to the party of Ronald Reagan?
IGNATIUSAnd he was saying they were like Democrats. So I think that there is a broad...
IGNATIUSMeaning that Democrats traditionally have been more skeptical about the use of military force overseas. It's fascinating to watch President Obama came to the office as the candidate who had criticized the war in Iraq, went against it, who's campaign saying, the war in the Iraq is the wrong war to be fighting. We need to go to Afghanistan is where the real challenge for American security lies.
IGNATIUSAnd he's then tried to do that systematically with these reviews month after month, trying to get a balanced program. And he's now, increasingly, I think, out there -- not alone -- but he's out there making the cause for persistent military role at a time when a country really is getting weary.
BARNOWell, I would just suggest that even though the poll numbers are significant, and, I think, Capitol Hill is paying attention that, the intensity, I question, is whether it's really there or not. I was in high school during the Vietnam War. I remember hundreds of thousands of Americans protesting in Washington against the Vietnam War. I went to West Point as Vietnam was ending. I had eggs thrown at me on a university visit.
BARNOSo that's a very different country and a very different degree of intensity what I'm seeing out there now. So I think people are concerned, but I also think the president is going to address those concerns with his numbers.
REHMBut, of course, during Vietnam, you did have a draft.
REHMYou did go across the board in terms of who was fighting this war. Now, you have less than 1 percent out there representing all of us living, dying, sacrificing. To Little Rock, Ark. Good morning, David.
DAVIDGood morning, Diane. You know, one thing that's come to my mind lately is the fact that, you know, during the first year or so we were in Afghanistan, we made great strides and really kind of cleaned the place up. But then we went into that great distraction of Iraq, and it kind of sucked all the air out of the Afghan conflict. And they got left on the back burner. And during that period, corruption set in.
DAVIDI think Karzai -- part of the reason that he's there is because he was somebody who would play ball with our corrupt contractors and administrators. And so, for several years, we sat there while that thing festered, and the enemy got better. They adapted to our methods, and they got stronger. And a lot of Arab people moved into there and brought their skills with them to fight our people.
DAVIDSo, you know, we're looking at something that was a wound. It festered. And now, I feel like we're sort of cleaning it up. You know, we got people there now who are actually prosecuting an effective strategy against the, you know, our -- the enemies we made there, frankly. And I've got a lot more confidence in Petraeus and some of these people who are prosecuting the war now as opposed to the people who made the horrible mess that we're having to deal with.
REHMDo you agree with that, David?
BARNOWell, I think there's more -- there are more resources. There's a more systematic strategy. There is more high-level attention to the war and that that's -- has shown some benefits. I think the bet that the Taliban has been making is that America would tire so quickly that the president, in July 2011 -- that is to say next month -- would announce such a substantial drawdown that they could basically wait us out because we were going away,
BARNOAnd there was a lot of feeling in the region that that was so, and people began scrambling to figure out, you know, what deals to cut. And one thing you can say for what the president is doing -- we've had some criticism on the show of it -- is that it sort of sets the Taliban back on their heels a bit. We aren't going. We're going to keep a substantial number of troops. Now, you know, we've had some criticism about that number.
BARNOBut what that means, if you're a Taliban commander, is that the reasons to get serious about negotiating and, you know, because you're not -- the Americans aren't going to go away. They're not going to go away this year. They're probably not going to go away next year. So maybe you better get more serious about negotiation and follow this track, which we're really working hard to animate.
BARNOI mean, that's an aspect of what the president will announce tonight that people shouldn't forget.
BENNISI don't think there is a strategy. I think the shifting back and forth between what's called counterinsurgency versus counterterrorism continues to go back and forth. Neither one of them has worked very well. I think we have to come back to something that Adm. Mullen, who was then the chief of staff of the U.S. military, said when he was testifying last year.
BENNISAnd he was asked, how is it that without planes, without tanks -- how is it, Admiral -- the senator asked him -- how is it the Taliban is winning? And he looked him in the eye and said, you know, Senator, it's their country. And I think that was a crucial acknowledgement that the Taliban is not going away. The U.S. will go away, will go away this year or will go away in five years or in 10 years. But the U.S. doesn't live there. Our troops don't live there.
BENNISOur mercenaries don't live there -- some of them do, actually. Of that 100,000, many are Afghans, of course. But I think the reality is we are dealing with a situation where the Taliban are not loathed by the Afghan people. But they are acknowledged as part of that country's history in a way that our occupying forces will never be.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Tysons Corner, Va. Good morning, Sarah.
SARAHGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
SARAHOne of your guests commented early on in the program and has continued to emphasize not wanting to give up the gains that we've lost in that country. And I want to take him to test on that and ask him to be more specific because that implies to me, like, this little sort of long-term definition of success that we're not really delineating clearly here.
SARAHAnd I find that pretty frustrating because, as your guest Phyllis has said, it really doesn't make much difference whether we leave today, five years, 10 years from now. There's never a good time. And we may end up sacrificing those gains. So I was wondering if I could get some clarification.
REHMAnd I think there are a lot of people who'd like clarification on what our vision is of long-term success. David.
IGNATIUSThe strategy that the president endorsed in December 2009 called for clearing the Taliban strongholds in the south, which had been resistant to all previous efforts since 2001, Kandahar and Helmand provinces. They haven't been entirely cleared, but there are areas that were very insecure before, basically, with no-go zones that -- where the Taliban have been pushed out. Lashkar Gah, the regional capital of Helmand province, is thought now to be secure enough that it can be transferred to Afghan control.
IGNATIUSI wouldn't have thought that possible a year ago. I'm less impressed than some about the gains that have been made, but it'd be wrong for me to say there haven't been gains. Journalists that I respect a great deal, among them Carlotta Gall of The New York Times, who have sources in the Taliban, have consistently reported over the last year that in the south, in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, the Taliban really have been rocked.
IGNATIUSThey're not wiped off the map. But places that -- where there are strongholds, they don't hold anymore, and they're feeling some pain. So if the question is, have we accomplished anything? Do we have an idea of what we're doing? The answer is yes. Again, I temper that by saying I think the gains are less than some (unintelligible).
REHMAnd, of course, if Jessica Matthews were here, she would be talking about the lack of gains in the north, Gen. Barno.
BARNOI think it makes a big difference when we leave. I guess we would (word?) on that if we leave today versus next year or the year after. What we're trying to do is establish conditions to allow the Afghan security forces to take on these responsibilities. And the idea that if we left, simply peace would descend upon Afghanistan, I think, is a specious idea, just that it doesn't have any credibility.
BARNOWhat's going to happen is a deeper war and a broader war between the Afghan people, between the Afghan government and the Taliban. It's going to be even more destructive than the one that we're in right now. The gains we're trying to preserve in many respects didn't exist during the Taliban era. Girls didn't go to school in Afghanistan during the Taliban era. They had less than 100 miles of paved roads in the entire country during the Taliban era.
BARNOThey had very little access to the outside, very little access to international community in terms of aid and development. They've got, clearly, billions of dollars there today. So we have to be very thoughtful about what's going to happen after. We can't be thinking about simply what the situation is today and trying to extract ourselves in that situation without doing it in a responsible way.
REHMLast word, Phyllis Bennis.
BENNISI think we have to be clear that what we are leaving behind is not a country that is on its way to some peaceful, better future. I agree that if we left, it's not going to be Switzerland overnight. But we have to be clear what we have not done. The vast majority of women who died prematurely in Afghanistan don't die because they're killed by the Taliban. They die in childbirth.
BENNISAnd the position of Afghanistan as the worst place for a child to live, to grow up and the second worst place in the world for a woman to live through childbirth is Afghanistan exactly as it was when the Taliban was in power.
REHMPhyllis Bennis, the Institute for Policy Studies, Lt. Gen. David Barno, the Center for a New American Security, David Ignatius, the Washington Post. Thank you all so much.
BENNISThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCERThe Diane Rehm Show is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales.
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