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.
Afghanistan’s capital returned to relative calm today. Taliban militants launched a daylight attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul yesterday. They also struck the nearby NATO headquarters and other buildings, using grenades and automatic weapons. No embassy or NATO staff members were harmed. But seven Afghans lost their lives and at least 15 were injured. The attacks underscored concerns about the ability of Afghan forces to provide security for the nation as U.S. and other foreign troops prepare to withdraw. An update on Kabul and analysis of U.S. strategy to end the war.
- Lawrence Korb senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.
- James Kitfield senior correspondent, National Journal.
- Quil Lawrence Kabul bureau chief for NPR.
- Ambassador Ronald Neumann president, The American Academy of Diplomacy; U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005-2007.
The National Journal’s James Kitfield examines how a decade of war has impacted America:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The siege of the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in Afghanistan is over. Afghan and NATO Special Forces killed the last of the small group of Taliban attackers this morning. We'll talk about the attacks and what they mean in the context of America's decade-long war in Afghanistan.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio: Lawrence Korb -- he's with the Center for American Progress -- James Kitfield of National Journal magazine and Amb. Ronald Neumann of The American Academy of Diplomacy. Before we begin our conversation, joining us by phone from Kabul is Quil Lawrence. He's NPR bureau chief in the Afghan capital. Good morning to you, Quil.
MR. QUIL LAWRENCEGood morning, Diane.
REHMGlad to have you with us. Tell me how the militants went undetected before the attacks.
LAWRENCEWe don't know exactly. Some of the police we spoke to at the scene this morning claimed that they had entered the building wearing burqas. That's a claim that the police often make, and I haven't actually seen any of these burqas they said they found at the scene. It might just be something they say to try and humiliate the insurgents or insult the Taliban, but it was a complicated, a complex effort.
LAWRENCEIt could have gone on over days or weeks, the stashing of ammunition near this building. It couldn't have been easy with all of the checkpoints around this part of town, this being the most fortified part of town with many embassies, NATO headquarters, many Afghan buildings, Afghan government buildings and, of course, the large U.S. embassy compound.
REHMDo you believe that the attack had anything to do with the 9/11 anniversary?
LAWRENCEIt doesn't appear to have been directly related to the 9/11 date. The Taliban, when they were claiming responsibility, said that this was to refute some comments that had been made by the commander of U.S. forces here, Gen. John Allen, in remarks that he did make on 9/11 about the Taliban having been weakened. But they didn't cite this as a 9/11 anniversary attack.
LAWRENCEIt's a series -- it's one of the -- in a series of attacks they've made in Kabul, three in the last three months, where they go for a maximum media exposure. They hit high-level targets. And the number of casualties hasn't been very high, but they've been hitting targets that people thought were safe. And that has really made an impression on people here in the city.
REHMThe U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, spoke today about the attacks. What did he have to say?
LAWRENCECrocker downplayed the attacks. He said that this was harassing fire. He said if this was the best the insurgents could do, he wasn't worried and mentioned how, in Baghdad, he faced this sort of thing all the time, where the embassy in Baghdad would get mortared when he was the ambassador there.
LAWRENCEAnd he also said that he thought that it was probably the Haqqani group, which is based in Pakistan right across the border from Khost province in Afghanistan. And in mentioning the Haqqani group, he was directly linking, essentially, Pakistan to this attack. He also mentioned that it's very difficult to defeat an insurgency in Afghanistan when it still has safe havens inside Afghanistan -- I'm sorry, when it still has safe havens inside Pakistan.
REHMBut the question remains, would the attackers have had help from inside the Afghan security forces?
LAWRENCEIt's a possibility. Many people mentioned that to me. Just talking to people in the streets during and after the attack, they said they thought there must have been sympathizers to the Taliban or people who had anti-American feeling. But it's also -- it also points towards a level of competence of Afghan authorities and whether they're able to detect people, whether they are able to get tips.
LAWRENCEThey've many times been able to pick up on conversations by phone. We can probably assume that they already have the phone conversations that were going on between Pakistan -- commanders in Pakistan and the fighters here on the ground. But they haven't been able to prevent many of these. They were, however, able to stop one of the suicide attackers yesterday before he could detonate his bomb.
REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal has a question for you.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDI'm curious. Does he have any evidence that this was actually the Haqqani network? 'Cause I haven't seen anything in the news reports. I'm just curious if he's -- or it's just an assumption, 'cause they're so sophisticated, it's the Haqqanis.
LAWRENCEThe ambassador made a statement early today that he thought it was probably Haqqani. But, no, he hasn't presented any evidence. I think that just because so many times there seems to be a sort of a franchised out to the Haqqani network to find the suicide bombers and get them in to town, as they did with the attack in June on the Inter-Continental Hotel.
LAWRENCEBut, no, we haven't seen any evidence displayed. We may eventually hear the audio tapes of phone conversations as we have in past attacks.
REHMAnd Lawrence Korb has a question.
MR. LAWRENCE KORBDo you think that the Haqqani network, or whoever did this, is -- thinks this is kind of a replay of the Tet Offensive -- well, regardless of whether it succeeded, psychologically, it tells people in the United States and other NATO countries that things are not going well, and it's time to change your policy?
LAWRENCEIt's interesting to make a Vietnam reference. Amb. Crocker also said that and specifically said this is not a Tet Offensive. When -- sometimes if you talk to some of the generals here who spent time in Iraq or, indeed, Amb. Crocker, who spent time there, and they say, well, remember Baghdad, you have spectacular attacks like this every day or a couple of times a week, and, here, they're managing to do them once a month.
LAWRENCEThat really doesn't do much to reassure Afghans around the country who feel that their security has gotten worse. And, indeed, United Nations estimates that there are more civilian casualties, most of them caused by the Taliban and other insurgents, but a higher number of civilian casualties than ever before in this conflict.
LAWRENCESo even if the numbers aren't as big or it's not as widespread as the Tet Offensive, there is definitely a feeling among the Afghan public that the insurgents are not getting weaker because they keep on staging these high-profile attacks.
REHMAnd Amb. Ronald Neumann.
AMB. RONALD NEUMANNThank you. I had heard that there were three attacks yesterday, one on an ENCOP major headquarters, one on a district police headquarters and the one in the hotel. And the two of the three were prevented by Afghan forces where it failed to penetrate the wall. Is that your information?
LAWRENCEI have information that they stopped one man with a vest near the airport. They prevented that attack and that there were two successful suicide bombings in the west part of Kabul. Of course, you know this city very well, so I could tell you it's near Habibia High School in the west and near the Ministry of Traffic. And then there were six attackers.
LAWRENCEThey had thought -- seven, but it turned out they were six indeed. I saw six dead bodies in the building near Abdul Haq circle this morning
REHMSo, Quil, are things back to normal today, if normal is a word that can be used?
LAWRENCENo. I would say not quite yet. It was an attack that really shook Kabul. It was a safe area of the city. And just because these rockets, which were aimed at, I suppose, where the Taliban would consider a legitimate target, which is NATO headquarters and the U.S. embassy -- but these RPGs were flying very wild at the target because they were firing, I suppose, from a 10-story building and a slight problem with the aim that the RPG or the rocket ended up landing sometimes almost a mile off target.
LAWRENCEI was very close to an RPG that hit the back of an -- of a school bus. And that was probably a quarter mile away from the U.S. embassy, and it frightened people. These -- an entire section of the city was on lockdown because they just didn't know where the next loose bullet was going to fly, all of these apartment buildings, people staying in their basements for almost 24 hours.
REHMQuil, I know that "Morning Edition's" Renee Montagne is also there with you in Afghanistan. Considering this latest attack, how do you and she manage to stay safe?
LAWRENCEWell, luckily, Kabul is not really the frontline in this war. We're not yet on lockdown conditions. We're still moving freely about the city as long as we keep a low profile. But I'd have to say in -- it's nearly 10 years of covering this conflict. I've never had such limited mobility. Early on, we were able to drive freely in a private car from here to Kandahar, from here to Mazar-e Sharif, from here to Badakhshan.
LAWRENCEAnd now, although the roads have much improved over the years and so many other things have been built, it's just -- it's unsafe. We can't drive four out of five major routes out of Kabul. And this is something that Afghans will mention all the time, that they feel less safe, particularly in the past three or four years than they have in the past.
REHMNow, we've had a word that the top commander for NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan says the Kabul attack has left 27 dead, including Afghan police, civilians and insurgents. U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John Allen says, of those killed, 11 were Afghan civilians with more than half of them children. Allen says five Afghan police officers were also killed.
REHMSo, Quil Lawrence, all we can do is hope and pray that not only this war comes to an end soon, but that you and all your colleagues stay safe. Thank you for joining us.
LAWRENCEMy pleasure, Diane.
REHMThank you. Short break, and we'll be right back.
REHMAnd we're back now talking about the latest in Afghanistan, the attack on the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul yesterday. While those involved have been killed themselves -- and they are considered to have been Taliban attackers, as you've just heard from Quil Lawrence, reporting in Afghanistan and from Kabul -- the streets are not safe. Here in the studio, Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
REHMHe was assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. James Kitfield is senior correspondent for National Journal. Amb. Ronald Neumann is president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. He was U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007. He's the author of the book titled, "The Other War: Winning and Losing in Afghanistan." If you'd like to join us, I look forward to hearing your phone calls, 800-433-8850.
REHMSend us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Amb. Neumann, what do you think yesterday's attacks say about the readiness of Afghan forces to take over?
NEUMANNI think you're seeing both progress and problems, and I think we should be careful that the analysis is a little bit balanced. My understanding from ISAF headquarters this morning was that there were three attacks. They failed -- the other two did detonate, but they failed to penetrate security. A number of these attacks have. The Afghan security forces were largely in the lead in dealing with this, and did deal with it.
NEUMANNThat's a big improvement from, say, May of '06 when they melted down during the riots. On the other hand, you obviously have a problem. You've got two sets of problems. One is preventing people getting in. That is enormously difficult when you're talking about very small numbers of people in a country where everybody owns arms. This is really hard to do.
NEUMANNSecond problem, obviously, is how did they get into a psyche that had this kind of ability to fire on the embassy and NATO? So you have holes. You have things that have to be plugged. You have an alarm with people. But I think you can also exaggerate those things a great deal and get into the sky-is-falling mode too easily.
REHMJames Kitfield, talk about the administration's current plans for withdrawal and maintenance.
KITFIELDWell -- and it probably has something to bear on this instance. What this tells us, I think, that some things we already knew, which was that the -- certainly, the Haqqani network is not defeated. We keep -- you know, the commanders in -- are -- Regional Command East on the border with Pakistan, where they have sanctuary, have said that time and again.
KITFIELDThis was almost certainly one of their operations 'cause they're the most sophisticated of all the sort of subgroups under the Taliban umbrella. And they're -- and the Taliban are very savvy propagandists, and they know that this is a critical time for us. We're trying to get reconciliation talks going. They understand that we are trying -- the U.S. and NATO forces are trying to hammer them and the Taliban relentlessly to build leverage for those talks.
KITFIELDThey are using this sort of, really, to me, a propaganda coup to say, no, we are still here, and we have some leverage in these talks as well. So -- and we know that there's a period now. The surge troops that we put into Afghanistan last year will be out by next summer. So our ability to sort of -- our maximum ability to affect the situation on the ground is this period right here.
KITFIELDAnd they're trying to sort of say, in this period right here, even though this is your maximum time to sort of counter us, we're still here, and you need to negotiate with us.
REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal. Larry Korb, do you think that the attacks yesterday and the continued presence of the Taliban could, in fact, change any plans the U.S. has about its timetable for withdrawal, also the economic situation here at home?
KORBNo. I don't think they will. I mean, President Obama was very -- I don't think they will. President Obama was very clear, when he sent the troops in, that he would begin taking them out. And he has followed that because he does not want to repeat a Vietnam type of thing, where you keep sending more and more troops and hoping for the best.
KORBI think that you also have a situation where, in this country, time and time again, even strong national security people are saying, why are you spending $2 billion a week in Afghanistan when you've got problems here at home? And I thought what was remarkable in the debate the other night, among the Republican candidates, they basically are saying, you know, let's accelerate. Let's get out.
KORBRemember that the -- our NATO partners -- and we have 40,000 NATO troops. They're also under pressure to get out. So I agree with James. Now is our maximum time to negotiate, and I hope that we are doing it and recognize that the longer we stay, the less bargaining leverage we're going to have -- I mean, the longer this goes on. So now is the maximum time. Now, I think, you need to do it.
KORBAnd the Taliban, as James points out, they're very sophisticated. They recognize that, you know, maybe this wasn't a military victory. But, you know, the Tet Offensive was not a military victory, okay, when you look at it later on. But, nonetheless, psychologically, it sent the message, we're here. You're going to have to deal with us.
KORBAnd I think even the Afghan people are saying, you can't protect us the way that we thought. So we're anxious to cut some sort of deal here.
REHMHere's an email from Jonathan, who says, "I've not heard a single expert go on the record with discussions of true progress in Afghanistan. Neither has anyone predicted hope for success after U.S. military withdrawal. Why do we continue to waste American lives and money on a geographical area of loosely connected tribal warlords? The Karzai government barely rules Kabul, has little influence across the rest of the country." Amb. Neumann.
NEUMANNYeah, I'd love to pick up on a few of those points. First of all, I don't think it is true that there -- I'm quite sure it is true that there is -- or false that there's no progress. I think it's more complicated than more people -- most people understand. You clearly have had progress in parts of Helmand, which were full of fighting in the news last year, but it doesn't tell you much.
NEUMANNYou've had progress in securing the road corridor from the Pakistani border in Jalalabad and Kabul. But the question now is, can you turn those over to Afghan forces? So it's false to say there's no progress. It's also not correct to say this is like you're -- you've gone from here to Baltimore, and you're on the way to New York. It isn't that kind of a road. You're going to have to turn it over to the Afghans to prove it.
NEUMANNSecondly, I agree -- well, I don't agree that it is of little consequence. I think that what will happen if we go too quickly or with no solution is a civil war, the increase of extremism in Pakistan, which has 100 and, I don't know, 50 or 60 million people and nuclear weapons. I mean, there are some really dire issues we have to deal with. This is not a bumper sticker kind of discussion.
NEUMANNAnd it's kind of amusing to watch our political debate, which is a little like kids' soccer, where everybody runs to one ball, which seems to be the budget debate. Now, I agree with Larry. We should negotiate. I think we have to understand that is not quick. There's a long history of other wars. Pick your -- Namibia, Cambodia. They all took years. We're in a process now of talking about talking, and there's a lot of posturing for position.
NEUMANNAnd the only thing you can do by trying to -- we should talk. I'm totally in favor of that. The only thing you can accomplish by trying to rush is to have a worse deal.
KITFIELDYou know, for your listener, I'll go on record and say there has been progress. I mean, I was there in 2008 and reporting how it was backsliding. So I have to, having seen it in the last couple of years, say, without question, there's been progress. They have really wrenched the grip of the Taliban out of its traditional strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar.
KITFIELDThose Afghan forces and U.S. forces down there, those are functioning much more like normal places now. They have increased the size of the Afghan security forces by 110,000. They will be up to 305,000 by next month.
REHMBut do they operate?
KITFIELDThey do operate, actually. I mean, they are working side by side with U.S. forces. They're now in tandem on most operations in Regional Command East and South. They are -- by all measures, they're -- they have literacy training now for these guys. So they really have established something like what they did with the Iraqi security forces, which is a meticulous training system that is now run mostly by Afghans.
KITFIELDSo this means it could be sustainable. So the bright light on the horizon here is a really credible Afghan security force is being stood up. Now, there is -- there are problems, but that progress is undeniable. I mean, there are -- there's data behind it.
KORBWell, certainly, we're better off than we were before we put, you know, tripled...
KORB...before we tripled the number of troops. There's no doubt about that. But the real question is -- as you pointed out earlier, more Afghans are dying. And that's what they are concerned about. Yes, the Taliban are doing it. If you've made all this progress, how come they're still dying? And, again, the Taliban don't have to win. They just have to not lose. And I think that's the key thing.
KORBAnd that's why, like it or not, we're leaving, as well as our European partners. And so, therefore, with the ambassadors, we should start negotiating and start now and recognize neither side can win.
REHMAll right. We've got callers. Let's open the phones. First to Little Rock, Ark. Good morning, David. You're on the air.
DAVIDHi. I just wanted to reinforce the parallel with the Tet Offensive. You know, the war is not currently in our urgent national interest, so there's only a certain price that we're willing to pay to stay there. It's not going to go down to a war of attrition, last-man-standing-type situation. It's going to be more of a war that we're not willing to fight anymore.
DAVIDAnd I think the Taliban understands that all they've got to show is they have more strength than we're willing to fight to actually win the war. We're not -- you know, they're (unintelligible) last man. And I think that war was lost when we pulled out and went to Iraq. And all they got to do is just show that they are not gone, and it's going to cost us more than we're willing to pay. And we will (unintelligible).
REHMAll right, sir. Thank you. Larry Korb.
KORBWell, I think the caller makes a great point. We let the opportunity slip away when we decided to divert our attention to Iraq, and now we're paying the price for that. Having killed bin Laden, basically, that takes away, I think, a very important reason for us going there in the first place. Yesterday, Gen. Petraeus and Michael Vickers, the undersecretary for intelligence, were speaking.
KORBAnd they basically said al-Qaida is just, you know, about finished. So I think that's the reason. Now, what we need to do is to have an Afghanistan that's stable, doesn't threaten its neighbors. I mean, that's our goal. This idea, you're going to have a democratic, you know, Afghanistan is well beyond our capabilities.
REHMBut after 10 years of war, James Kitfield, are the Afghan people ready to accept, for the sake of peace, the Taliban?
KITFIELDThey are not willing to accept the Taliban come back and rule them. They've had a taste of that, and it was not very pretty. We kind of forget how, really, owners they were when they ran this country. They were really, you know, seventh-century fundamentalists who wouldn't let girls go to school, cut people's heads off in market squares, you know, for stealing fruit, things like this. But, I mean, they are tired of war. We're tired of war.
KITFIELDYou know, I'd like to say that the question now is not whether we'll be standing there with the last man. We'll be out mostly by 2014. The question is, will we leave an Afghan security force that will stand -- that will be able to take on the Taliban? I think there's a fair chance that could happen.
KITFIELDAnd before -- I mean, I disagree with Larry on this Tet Offensive analogy because the Tet Offensive were tens of thousands of insurgents who took over the city of Hue, who, you know, attacked the U.S. embassy, really fought for a number of weeks to a standstill of forces. This is a -- maybe 20 insurgents who, on a pretty meticulous operation, were able to scare people.
REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Amb. Neumann.
NEUMANNThanks. I very much agree with James. The Tet -- the Tet analogy ought to be put aside. It was a much more complicated operation, much more successful. And if this is a Tet, that's a failure of the media to distinguish the difference. But I would say there are a couple of things on this negotiation. Yes, we are going to go out, although we're going out at a measured pace. But it's not just the Taliban who could wait.
NEUMANNThe big question -- the ones -- the one you raised earlier, the Afghan army. If the Afghan army continues to improve, as it is improving, then you leave an Afghan force which also is not going to lose. So it's not only the Taliban who can just wait us out. The quality of the Afghan army, plus or minus, has yet to be determined. But that's going to be a significant variable in how people approach negotiations.
REHMWell, what about creating the institutions necessary to keep that country stable? Can you really do that by virtue of the -- however number of military, Afghan military you have in place?
NEUMANNYou can make a difference. There are a number of institutions -- I mean, you have to start by remembering that this was a country totally destroyed 10 years ago, 25 years of warfare, no infrastructure. I first visited Afghanistan in 1967. They didn't have a whole lot then. And it was not only the physical destruction. It was the destruction of the education system, the generation that did not go to school, everything.
NEUMANNSo it was an intellectual destruction as well as a physical one. I mean, when you compare -- people like to talk about a marshal plan. There was more infrastructure and more government structure in Europe the day the bombs stopped falling than there was in -- is still in Kabul after 10 years. There's a huge difference. There is a lot of progress, a lot of which is not adequate. We often have a definition, if it's not perfect, it's failure, which is a little bit silly.
NEUMANNThere is a lot of governmental problem in Kabul. We have also intensified the governmental problem, frankly, by very poor policies, which went a long way to convince President Karzai that we were deliberately trying to undermine him. This pushed him back on his political supporters -- the very people we'd like him to fire -- and created what you might call a political isometric.
NEUMANNYou know, that's an exercise where you push really hard against yourself, get really tired and go nowhere. And so, I think, some of the institutional problems are of our own creation.
KORBWell, they certainly are. But, you know, Americans don't want to fight and die for President Karzai. I mean, basically, he's not the type of leader around which you can build. The key thing is his term ends in 2014. And I hope that we're preparing now to ensure that you have an election to get someone in there who has the support of the people.
KORBAnd remember, again, I don't want to push this analogy. We have -- they have killed members of Karzai's family, so they're -- this other side is recognizing that...
NEUMANNI don't know a single Afghan who believes the assassination of Ahmed Wali Karzai was carried out by the Taliban.
KORBWell, if -- then if it wasn't -- then if you can't protect the mayor there, who is the enemy then? And I...
NEUMANNA little family problem.
KORBThen Americans are fighting and dying for that? No. That's the problem.
REHMLarry Korb, he is former assistant secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration, now at the Center for American Progress. We'll take a short break. And we've got lots of email, phone calls, your tweets and your Facebook postings. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd we're talking about the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Many questions from you, including to you, Larry. What did the international task force on negotiating peace conclude?
KORBWell, basically, they concluded that that's -- you need to start -- as the ambassador said, you need to have a special representative. I would suggest -- when I was there, I suggest that -- you know, that we have somebody from Turkey, for example, a Muslim country, member of NATO, you know, take the lead. Now, we've been told that the Taliban have set up an office in Qatar. And I agree with the ambassador.
KORBWe got to start -- the sooner, the better -- and recognize that neither side can win. And I think that's the key thing. The one leverage we have, even though we're leaving -- we'll be out by 2014 -- we will still -- can keep some forces. Of course, we're making a strategic agreement. And I think the Taliban demand -- they want us out completely, so we can say we may be lighter. But we'll be there later unless you negotiate.
REHMAmb. Neumann, do we have a special negotiator with the Taliban?
NEUMANNWe don't even have much of a talk with the Taliban yet. I think Marc Grossmann, our special representative who took Richard Holbrooke's place, is the one who's pretty much got this portfolio. But at this point, there is a lot of maneuvering with the Taliban, in particular, trying to see if they can get a price for the benefit of talking to us. We were trying to do that. Previously, we've backed off that.
NEUMANNWe're now -- we have no conditions for starting talking. We've laid out conditions that we think have to be observed in the conclusion. Taliban are still trying to get paid for the privilege of talking to them to begin with. That's basically a poor deal, but it's a normal phase that you go through where people try to see how far they could back the other side down before they start negotiating.
KITFIELDWell, I mean, in terms of who's negotiating, we have, as our ambassador to Afghanistan in Ryan Crocker, the preeminent diplomatic troubleshooter of his generation, so we have a very able negotiator. Obviously, the Afghans will have to lead the talks because it's really between them and the Taliban, with us and the Pakistanis on the sidelines. You know...
REHMBut what about Karzai, is he holding his own talks with the Taliban?
KORBKarzai has reached out for quite a long time and said he's willing to talk. He actually -- we were flying, if you remember, some Taliban to Kabul and -- sort of facilitate those talks. One of those turned out to be -- not even have the current ties to Taliban. But two things have happened in the last month that give me ideas that, behind the scenes, there was movement.
KORBOne of which is there are reports now that Taliban are opening up a diplomatic presence in Qatar, and that's going -- and that's outside the realm of Pakistan where something that we've approved of because we think Pakistan is being unhelpful on these talks. And we have -- we were fine with that.
KORBSo it gives me an idea that those talks will be probably held in the Middle East, in Qatar, and they'll be -- there's a formal sort of diplomatic presence there for the Taliban, first time that's ever happened. And you had this message from Mullah Omar for the first time since he was deposed in 2001 saying there have been talks with the Americans, and they sound like he was willing to maybe come to the table.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones. First, to Detroit, Mich. Good morning, Rudy.
RUDYHello, Diane. How are you doing?
RUDYI'm a big fan of the show. I just have a statement and a question about the Afghan security forces, how they're going to be sustained after we leave. From what I know, Afghanistan has a lot of mineral resources, but it's been very difficult to access them. And so what sort of revenues does the Afghan state have to pay for the future addition of security forces or maintaining them?
RUDYWill the U.S. have to foot the bill on that? Just a quick question. Thank you.
REHMAll right. Larry.
KORBWell, I think the international community and the neighboring states should help foot the bill because they're a threat. India, for example, China, they don't want an unstable Afghanistan.
REHMBut will they?
KORBWell, I mean, I think this is where the United States has to make it clear. It's not only us that are affected. Our main thing is we don't want al-Qaida to come back. And I'm certain, with special forces and drones, we can make that -- keep that from happening. But the other countries in the region have an interest. They want a pipeline across Afghanistan.
KORBSo, basically, them -- or go through international institutions -- have to step up because, given our economic situation, we can't be the only ones.
REHMDoes that answer it, Rudy?
RUDYYeah, that -- I mean, but from what I understand, it has very limited resources. And so will the international community have to constantly prop up Afghanistan?
NEUMANNThere's quite a bit of potential, although there's question marks. We know that there are two or three times the amount of structures that could have gas and oil that were known previously. There is a gold mine, which is being bid on now. The Chinese, just a couple of years ago, won a $3 billion bid for copper in Afghanistan. There's a very large iron deposit, variety of other minerals.
NEUMANNNow, none of those are a silver bullet because you've got to get the legal structure in place. You have to bid. You have to get foreign companies in. But the totality of that suggests a lot of potential for Afghanistan down the road.
KITFIELDIt takes dimes -- pennies on the dollar to support the Afghan forces versus having our own forces there. I think, for the foreseeable future, we'll be happy, happy to pull out if we leave in place a security force that can keep stability in that country. We have a lot rich friends in the Middle East who also have ties to Afghanistan who we can tap, Saudis being the primary ones.
KITFIELDSo I think we'll be happy to help them pay for those security forces until this whole civil war with the Taliban is basically figured out.
REHMIf, in fact, talks with the Taliban do occur and they are successful, and we go back to some state of normalcy, what about the rights of women? Where will they be, Larry Korb?
KORBIt's interesting you mentioned that because when I was part of this task force -- it was run by Lakhdar Brahimi and Tom Pickering -- we met with the former Mullah Omar's number two, who was put in prison in Bagram and got out. And we talked about this. You know, what will you do? And he said something to us that basically said, we won't be any worse for women than Saudi Arabia. And, of course, you know, we...
REHMSaudi Arabian women can't even drive, for heaven's sake.
KORBI agree. I agree. And one of our other members was a former Turkish foreign minister who said, no, you got to be like Turkey, you know, a Muslim country. And I think that's a key issue. But at least, he didn't go and say, we want to go back to the old days like, you know, it used to be.
NEUMANNDiane, this is one of these issues where you can have it fast or you could get the kind of things you want. The faster you want to run after negotiations, the more you will give away things like the status of women because you're paying the price to the Taliban in order for them to stop fighting, to have the kind of agreement that, I think, you're talking about, that is one of the reasons you take more time.
NEUMANNAnd you, you know, Prime Minister Rabin, the late prime minister of Israel, said once that he had to negotiate as though there were no fighting and to fight as though there were no negotiations. He understood that these were parallel tracks. They were not alternatives. We have to understand the same thing.
KORBWell, I agree. And I don't know how long they'll take. And I think what we have in our back pocket is we're not going to be out completely. We'll be, you know, maybe down to 10,000 by 2014, but we'll still be there. And the Taliban doesn't -- you know, doesn't want us to stay at all. They want us out completely, so that's the negotiating card that we have.
KORBAnd, you know, it's interesting. We're talking about the Haqqani network and then Mullah Omar. The Haqqani network, when I was in government, we empowered them to fight the Soviets.
REHMI know. I know. Sad thought. Let's go to Cunningham, Ky. Good morning, Jeremy.
JEREMYGood morning. I just -- the biggest question that comes to my mind when I think about both Afghanistan and Iraq, for that matter, is what's really the point? We are trying to overthrow the Taliban. We're trying to help overthrow al-Qaida. We're going after all of these terrorist groups, and we don't even have our own society in order. We don't have our own house in order.
JEREMYYet we're sending our young men and women to two countries that have shown for decades and decades and decades that they're not interested in democracy. They're not interested in changing the way that they -- that their governments function. And what -- and -- I'm raising my son by myself as a single father.
JEREMYAnd, you know, I'm looking at discouraging him from going into the military in the future because I don't want him to die for Karzai's family. I don't want him to die for Karzai's corrupt government. If he's going to fight for America, then why don't we come back, pull out. If they collapse, they collapse. Another one will take over.
JEREMYWhy are we so worried about these small cells and groups that we really, honestly, have no business messing with to begin with?
REHMPassion from Jeremy.
KORBWell, let me make a couple of points. He's right, I think, in terms of what we did. But, remember, it wasn't just the administration. Congress voted for these wars. The mistake that they made is not paying for them. These are the first wars we've ever gone into significant where we not only haven't raised taxes, we cut them. And the other thing is we should have acted the Selective Service System rather than straining the men and women.
KORBAnd that would have got Americans to, you know, focus as he has. I think the final thing is, from now on, we're not going to do this again. We're going to use counterterrorism, not counterinsurgency and nation building. We go after the terrorist like we went into Pakistan and got bin Laden. We didn't try and occupy Pakistan. We got out of there.
REHMSo, James Kitfield, he -- Jeremy is talking about fighting for Karzai's family instead of fighting for this country and what it needs. How big of a factor do you believe Afghanistan will be in the next election?
KITFIELDI actually don't think it will be a big factor, which says a lot about how war weary this country is. We talked about the Obama administration is set. They're -- we're transferring the lead to the Afghans in 2014. We're pulling the...
REHMBut that's still two years -- three years away.
KITFIELDI mean, that is a pretty near horizon as these things go. These wars take decades sometimes. And if you want to get involved in them, you either have -- you have the will to keep them -- you know, see it through, or you don't. And we don't.
REHMAnd, clearly, at this point, we don't.
KITFIELDRight. So my -- I keep making the point. We can see the end of this thing. We know how it's going to end. There's no political movement in this country that's going to say, no, stick to Afghanistan for longer than 2014. So we know what the timeline is. We know what -- the withdrawal slope. And all I will say is, you know, in a shorthand, how we got into this, I mean -- Jeremy expressed the war-weariness of this country very well.
KITFIELDAnd I get that we're all weary of these wars. You know, I think if you go back to 2001, we all understood Afghanistan, though. We were -- 3,000 Americans died on 9/11. We just, you know, celebrated 10th anniversary. Those images are back in everyone's mind. The Taliban ruled Afghanistan, were friendly to al-Qaida. We had to go in there, and we had this tradition of we go in a place and invade it.
KITFIELDWe try to leave it better than when we came in, and that has cost us dearly. If we were to just go in there and topple governments then leave and let what follow may -- we can do that, but that's also what led to 9/11, if you recall.
REHMAll right. Let's go and hear from another perspective. Jim in Clifton, Va., good morning to you.
JIMGood morning, Diane. Long-time listener, first-time caller. Thank you for taking my call.
REHMGlad to have you with us, sir.
JIMAs a retired military officer, I try to follow security issues in the region. And I recently read an essay where the author was arguing for a continuing presence in Afghanistan, in part, to have regional influence, particularly with Pakistan, which has more vital interests to U.S. national security policy. And I'd love to hear the panel's comment, and I'll take my answer on the air. Thank you.
REHMThank you. Amb. Neumann.
NEUMANNI think Pakistan is -- Pakistan looks at Afghanistan through the lens of its fears of India. And that's, by the way, one of the problems. If we have a rapid pull-out and a civil war, which we could have, I think Pakistan will move closer to extremists because the Indians will back their own friends. Our role in Afghanistan is partly -- wasn't designed for this, but I think it has to be partly focused on bringing together a bit of a regional solution.
NEUMANNThat's where everybody stops messing around. That's going to be hard to do. I also think that if we are leaving quickly and there is a civil war, Pakistan's strategic interest will move toward helping extremists and away from helping us, that we will influence them severely.
REHMAmb. Ronald Neumann. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And, finally, a caller in Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Tim.
TIMHi there. Thank you. Just a quick kind of comment after listening, is that I keep thinking about the idea of what victory looks like anymore. And, you know, going all the way back to World War II, it was very obvious what victory looked like. There were people standing, you know, in a very grand manner and it's very proper and -- on a big boat. And they sat down, and they signed documents together saying, we surrender, and then we win.
TIMAnd it was all clean and easy, and everyone moved forward. But, you know, tragically, every conflict that we've gone into since then, victory certainly doesn't look like that. It isn't victorious at all. It's messy. It's very unclear. And, really, it only seems to make sense to those who are the experts and those who are the ones who make the decisions to put an end in these conflicts.
TIMAnd so, for me, what I look at going into the future is that it's going to be extremely difficult for those politicians, you know, the people in the military who make these decisions to sell the idea of America going into conflict to win, when what winning looks like is not clear at all, particularly when we're at an age of the 30-second sound bite.
KORBI -- he made a great point. The last time I went to Baghdad, my grandson said you got to buy a gift. I go, the last thing I want to do is go shopping. So I got a polo shirt for him. And I looked inside when I got home. It said made in Vietnam. Remember when people used to say, if you leave Vietnam -- look, I think Jim is right. It's a messy place. You're not going to have complete victory, but we can't overestimate the damage that it can cause to us.
KORBWould I like Afghanistan to be a central Asian Valhalla? Sure. But I don't think we have the wherewithal to make that happen, so we're going to have to accept the less-than-perfect solution like we did in Vietnam.
KITFIELDI think he makes a great point. These kinds of wars, these uncertainties don't have the sort of Battleship Missouri moment. They're very unsatisfying in a lot of ways, and I think we'll be very, very sober about doing this again for quite a long time.
NEUMANNI agree with everything that you both said. I also think that -- having watched every single administration in World War II involve itself in some form of intervention, including administrations like the Carter administration -- we have to assume that it probably will happen no matter how bad an idea it may be.
REHMYou think it will happen again?
NEUMANNI'm absolutely convinced of it. And I think the -- I think history tells you that it will happen because every time we've made up our minds that we're not going to do it, we've ended up doing it again whether it's a Granada or Panama.
REHMWe don't learn from history.
NEUMANNWell, the other thing we don't learn is to preserve anything we have learned in the tactics, the capabilities. We could have done Afghanistan a great deal smarter at the beginning, not only because we went to Iraq, but also because we simply neglected the place for the two years before we went to Iraq. So it would be a good idea if we would at least learn a few lessons and hang on to them.
REHMI fully agree. Amb. Ronald Neumann, he is president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. James Kitfield, senior correspondent for National Journal. Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Thank you, all.
NEUMANNThank you. It's fun.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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