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In a speech from Kabul last night President Obama pledged not to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan a single day longer than necessary, but he vowed, “to finish the job”. To date more than 1,800 members of the U.S. military have died following the U.S. invasion in late 2001. In a risky night time raid in Pakistan one year ago Osama bin Laden was killed. Ending bin Laden’s ability to lead a global terrorist network was the initial rationale for sending troops into Afghanistan. Please join us to talk about new questions about the U.S. exit from Afghanistan
- Michael Hirsh chief correspondent, National Journal magazine; author of "Capital Offense: How Washington's Wise Men Turned America's Future Over to Wall Street."
- Lawrence Korb senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.
- Omar Samad senior Afghanistan expert, US Institute of Peace, former Afghan ambassador to France (2009-2011) and Canada (2004-2009) and Foreign ministry spokesman in Kabul (2001-2004).
- Max Boot senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of "War Made New" (Gotham Books)
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Just hours after President Obama signed an agreement with Afghan President Karzai in Kabul, insurgents staged an attack. At least seven people were killed. The violence underscores difficulties ahead as the U.S. attempts to move from a combat to a support role.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about the transition: Michael Hirsh of National Journal magazine, Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress, Omar Samad of the U.S. Institute of Peace and, by phone, Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations. I hope you'll join the conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MR. MICHAEL HIRSHGood morning.
MR. OMAR SAMADGood morning.
MR. LAWRENCE KORBGood morning.
REHMLarry Korb, I'll start with you. What do we know about the explosions that took place shortly after President Obama spoke?
KORBWell, I think we know a couple of things. First of all, they could not have really been tied to Obama's visit. There was no way they could've planned it that...
KORBWell, again, those things you just can't -- you know, you just can't do right away. In other words, it looked like it required, you know, some planning and some preparation. We -- you know, unless they knew something -- nobody in this country knew he was going to be there.
KORBBut I do think the more important thing it shows is that the Taliban have changed their tactics because, on the ground with the surge of American forces, it's been difficult for them to maintain the same type of control, particularly they had in the south, and take over villages. So this is not the first time. Remember a couple of weeks ago, they also launched a, if you will, an attack on the -- some of the buildings in Kabul.
REHMMax Boot, what do you think?
MR. MAX BOOTWell, I mean, I agree with Larry that this is an attempt by the Taliban or the Haqqani Network to try to show that they're still a force to be reckoned with. I'm not sure they really achieve that with these occasional attacks into Kabul which, by and large, remains a safe and bustling city. I was just there a few weeks ago, and the streets are thronged. People are out. It's very different from Baghdad, for example, and when I -- as I recall it from 2006, 2007 when it was a virtual ghost town.
MR. MAX BOOTAnd the insurgents have suffered real setbacks, especially in southern Afghanistan, and they're still trying to stage these attacks to generate media reports. But I don't think it's a huge sign of strength that they're able to occasionally attack into Kabul. I think they are on the defensive and still trying to stay relevant. But that doesn't mean that we're necessarily going to prevail because a lot of that will be based on our willingness to stick around and to try to consolidate the gains that have been made. And it's by no means certain that we will do that.
REHMAnd, Michael Hirsh, what new information did we glean about the U.S., its intentions and its plans to leave Afghanistan?
HIRSHWell, President Obama flew to Kabul to sign an agreement that had been negotiated over a period of about 20 months, committing the United States to a 10-year partnership after the departure of troops in 2014. There isn't a lot else that's very specific about this agreement in terms of the number of U.S. troops that would be there in the capacity of counterterrorism operations and training or the amount of funds that the U.S. would commit.
HIRSHBut it did send a very important central message, which is one that Republican critics of Obama had been raising -- a question, that is -- about whether the Taliban were simply waiting out the U.S. departure. With this speech and this agreement yesterday, Obama essentially committed the United States to a much longer term presence in Afghanistan and in effect told the Taliban, you know, you can't come out from hiding for quite a while.
REHMOmar Samad, how do you read that agreement?
SAMADWell, then, I think that this agreement is an agreement for reassurance. It's an agreement for reengagement post-2014 but in a very different manner. It's also an agreement that sends a strong message to the Taliban and their backers in the region by saying, you cannot wait us out, as Michael said. And it has, of course, several audiences.
SAMADThere's an American audience to which President Obama has said that this war is going to end, but it needs a bit of time to make sure that Afghanistan is stable by the time we leave. But the United States has continued -- it will continue to get -- be engaged in Afghanistan both in the training side, on the anti-terrorism side and in making sure that Afghanistan is helped to the extent possible with economic-social development and democracy building.
REHMMax Boot, with no monies pledged, how do you read the agreement?
BOOTWell, as was just said, I think it's long on promises and short on specifics, and there is a real crisis of confidence in Afghanistan right now about what the country will look like after 2014 with a lot of people taking their money out of the country with a lot of middle-class Afghans thinking about leaving. And to reassure them and to dishearten the Taliban, we need to be more specific about what our commitments are going to be.
BOOTAnd, for example, right now, there is a plan to cut funding for the Afghan security forces from $6 billion a year to $4 billion a year, which will necessitate laying off more than 120,000 soldiers and police, which will make it very hard for them to secure the entire country. And so when you see statistics like these being discussed at the highest levels in Washington and in NATO, it undercuts some of the promise that is made by the security partnership accord of continued American engagement until 2014.
KORBWell, I think, you know, the important thing here is that it respects Afghan sovereignty. People forget that in the last month, particularly President Karzai has been complaining about us being there, the way we're operating. And prior to this, we had agreed to let him have control over the night raids, which were enraging a lot of parts of the Afghan population. We've also turned over the prison at Bagram.
KORBAnd I think President Obama struck the right note in terms of respecting their sovereignty but saying, we're willing to do what we can. He also made, I think, an important point that whatever monies we pledged has to be approved by the Congress. And I think that's very important because for too long, the Congress hasn't been involved in this. We're still operating under a resolution that was passed back in 2001.
KORBAnd this will, you know, ensure -- the other thing is that having done this when he did, it enables him to go to the NATO meeting in Chicago this May and say, OK, this is what we're promising. What are you people, you know, willing to do? And I think that's very important particularly to send the signal, this is not just an American operation, and also that the United States, given our own economic problems, is not going to bear the full brunt of this.
REHMAnd, of course, as Omar said, you had several audiences for this speech. Support here in the United States has dropped substantially for this ongoing troop presence in Afghanistan. Do you believe there will be an expediting of troop exits, Michael Hirsch?
MR. MICHAEL HIRSCHWell, Obama's senior advisors said yesterday that there would not be an effect. We already know that another 23,000 troops are expected to come out by September, which will basically end the surge that Obama had announced. But, beyond that, we're not sure what the pace of withdrawal is going to be. A lot of this is going to depend on negotiations with the European allies, both over troop levels and funding, now and, you know, into the 10-year window we're talking about here.
MR. MICHAEL HIRSCHAnd that's going to be very critical because, as bad as U.S. economic problems are, arguably, the economic problems of some of the major NATO allies in Europe, France and Holland, for example, are even worse given the eurozone crisis. So this is going to be a very, very tough negotiation.
REHMSo, Max Boot, what would you expect from the NATO allies at this talk in Chicago?
BOOTI would not expect that much from our NATO allies. The best we can hope for is that they will not beat us in a rush out the exits. And I think we have to be prepared to pick up the slack, even if they're not going to do it. And I think there is a lot that still needs to be done in terms of continuing our troop presence, which will be 68,000 troops after the end of September, and having a robust advise and assist and counterterrorism presence after 2014.
BOOTAlready, the fact that our troop levels are drawing down faster than commanders had judged prudent, with 32,000 troops departing by the end of September has imperiled plans to shift the focus of operations from southern Afghanistan, where coalition troops have had good success over the last couple of years, to Eastern Afghanistan where you still have Haqqani sanctuaries located only a few hours' drive from Kabul.
BOOTThose plans, as I say, have already been imperiled by the troop cuts that have already been announced by President Obama. So I hope that he will not announce any more troop cuts that fly in the face of commanders' recommendations of what it will take to stabilize the situation on the ground and allow us to leave a stable and secure Afghanistan in 2014.
SAMADI think, Diane, a lot will depend, between now and 2014, on the situation on the ground, on the military security aspect of the situation. But also a lot will depend on Pakistan, in how it will play ball from hereon. President Obama last night was very clear. He challenged Pakistan to be a good partner, to benefit from peace and stability in Afghanistan, but also said, do not interfere and act in sovereignty issues.
SAMADAt the same time, it all depends also on Afghanistan's political transition. Afghanistan is facing elections coming up between now and 2014, very important in terms of political stability and how the Afghans are going to handle this handover of power, hopefully peacefully, to another regime and administration.
REHMOmar Samad, he is senior Afghanistan expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. When we come back, we'll talk more about the handover, which we'll hope will be peaceful. We'll talk about Pakistan's role, take your calls. Join us. 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the president's statement last night from Kabul, actually made at around midnight their time, about 4 a.m. our time. So the president is now on his way back, a 13-hour journey from Afghanistan to the United States. We're talking about the proposed exit of most troops -- most U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2014.
REHMHere's an email from Robert, who's listening on WRVO in Syracuse, N.Y., who says, "I've heard it suggested that once Osama bin Laden was dead, we had no further business in Afghanistan. By taking so long to get out, though, aren't we just failing to make the same mistake that launched bin Laden's terrorist career in the first place?" Larry Korb.
KORBWell, I think the email makes a very good point because we have to be careful that we don't enhance the al-Qaida narrative that we're there as occupiers. And that's why I think the president's very clear. We're not going to -- no permanent, you know, bases, that we're not on occupy power. And, in fact, the other thing that is important is, what are our objective? Our objective was to get bin Laden. We got him to make sure that, you know, Afghanistan doesn't become a haven for, you know, groups like al-Qaida or destabilize the region.
KORBThis idea that we're going to try and remake Afghan society in our own image -- and, again, the president emphasized that is way beyond our capacity to do. If we had done it right in the beginning, we wouldn't have this problem, and that really is the -- Obama was left with a mess when he came in because the commanders were asking for more forces. President Bush wouldn't give them to him because he was so focused on Iraq, so it was very difficult. And I think he's made the best out of, you know, a mess that he inherited in balancing all of these various concerns.
REHMBut, Michael Hirsh, what kind of risks does President Obama face in not getting out as quickly as possible?
HIRSHWell, obviously the risk to remaining U.S. troops, the risk of having what is effectively a quagmire, you know, on his hands. But the Obama administration, in rolling out this agreement yesterday, emphasized how different this was supposed to be from 1989 when U.S. -- you know, U.S. influence basically left the region under the George H. W. Bush administration after effectively we were done deploying the Mujahedeen against the Soviets and set the stage for civil war and Taliban takeover.
HIRSHThat's the -- you know, that is the perception in U.S. foreign policy circles and Afghanistan itself. So this was a very conscious effort to not do that once again.
REHMAnd, Omar, what about the people in Afghanistan themselves? How quickly would they like to see U.S. troops gone? Or how long would they like them to stay?
SAMADI think that Afghans have learned a lot from their history. Michael just mentioned 1989. The Soviets were defeated. And then there was a vacuum, and we didn't find a political settlement for Afghanistan and put the country back together. And we saw what happened as a result. It was taken over by terrorists and warlords and all kinds of things. Bad things happened to Afghanistan, but it then ended up being bad for the international community. And we do not want a repeat of that. I think that Afghans nowadays would like to see the U.S. be thoughtful in the way it exits.
REHMWhat does that mean?
SAMADIt means that it has to make sure that some strategic objectives are met before -- common strategic objectives, the ones that...
SAMAD...the ones that we have pronounced since 2001, such as making sure that terrorism does not find a home again in Afghanistan, making sure that extremism in a jihadi form that threatens world peace and regional peace is -- starts to be dismantled. And that's where, again, Pakistan's role is so important and maybe to some extent Iran's. But Afghanistan needs stability, and I'm not --nobody is talking about recreating Afghanistan in the image of the United States.
SAMADI mean, I'm not sure if any Afghan ever asked for that. That is besides the point. It's making sure that that country functions at somewhat correctly, but that does not mean that in the Western concept, the model should be an American model -- not at all. So we need to make sure that certain strategic objectives are met, and we have a deadline for 2014. I don't think that deadline is going to change. What is going to change is the fact that less and less combat is going to be a part of the NATO curriculum.
REHMMax Boot, are those objectives realistic?
BOOTI think the objectives are absolutely realistic because most Afghans reject the Taliban. They reject al-Qaida. They don't want to have these extremists in control of their soil, but they need help in order to prevent that from happening. And the Afghan security forces are growing stronger and more capable. They're going to be 350,000 strong this year, but they still need help with logistics, with fire support, with Medivac, with some of these higher level functions that, in one of the world's poorest countries, they are not well-equipped to provide.
BOOTAnd that's a role that the U.S. and our allies perform. And even as we step away from direct combat and put Afghans more in the lead, we will need to provide some of that support for years going forward because otherwise we risk a collapse and a repeat of what happened in the 1990s when the Taliban took over and allowed al-Qaida to come in. And now, even with Osama bin Laden dead, al-Qaida still exist and can still come back and fill a vacuum if we allow one to be recreated.
HIRSHI agree with all that, but, you know, the sleeping serpent here, really, which is only briefly alluded to by Obama in his speech, is the problem of Pakistan as we've been discussing. A new Pentagon progress report comes out every six months. Just yesterday, the same day of Obama's trip, it talked about how Pakistan continues to supply a very robust safe haven to Taliban forces and al-Qaida affiliates. That's a very scary prospect.
HIRSHRelations are all but frozen still with Pakistan in the wake of the attack -- the inadvertent attack that killed 22 Pakistani soldiers, and there has been no apology. U.S. diplomats are trying to redress this in some way. There is -- there are probably going to be a series of visits in the next few weeks. But this is really, in some ways, the biggest unresolved problem because as long as there is a safe haven that is as robust as this, the military conflict may not be ended.
KORBWell, I think Michael's quite right. Pakistan is the key. And Obama did mention last night about negotiating with the Taliban, which is, I think, has -- people have not focused enough on. You got to remember, Karzai wanted to negotiate with the Taliban back in 2002 and 2003, and we said no. They're going to have to be part of the solution, and Pakistan is also going to have to be part of the solution. Whatever the negotiations involve, Pakistan has got to be involved because, as long as they keep providing a safe haven and training grounds, it's going to be impossible for us to achieve our objectives.
REHMOmar Samad, President -- pardon me, Obama signed the agreement with President Karzai. How much support does President Karzai have? At this point, how much strength, how much power?
SAMADVery difficult to answer it precisely, but I think that, if you compare it to 10, 11 years ago, he has more power, but probably less acceptance in the eyes of the Afghans because so many things have happened over the years that Afghans -- the Afghan population overall has turned somewhat sour. And I believe that...
SAMADBecause they expected more from their leadership. They expected better governance. They expected rule of law. They expected a system that functions better and provides services to the people in a system where there is not so much corruption and so on and so forth. They also expected less conflict and less warfare.
SAMADAnd that's where they blame probably the international community for not having done enough. But they also squarely lay the blame at the door of our neighbors, saying that it is those safe havens, it is those bases outside of Afghanistan that feed the insurgency inside the country.
REHMHow much political power does the Taliban have within Afghanistan?
SAMADEvery survey that has been conducted over the last few years shows the Taliban have somewhere between seven to 10 percent of popular support in Afghanistan. And that support probably goes down if you ask them, do you want them to be at the head of government again or lead Afghanistan once again? And I think the Afghans overwhelmingly reject that.
REHMMax Boot, is negotiating with the Taliban necessary?
BOOTAt this point, it's hard for me to imagine we could have fruitful negotiations with the Taliban because they are convinced that they can wait us out. And also, even if there are factions within the Taliban that are willing to negotiate, their leadership is effectively under the thumb of the Pakistani army and ISI, their intelligence service, which does not want to see negotiations because they're afraid of any part of the Taliban splintering outside of their control and making a deal with the West.
BOOTSo I don't think we're going to have fruitful negotiations with the Taliban in the short run. And trying to push for a deal -- what you've seen Karzai do in the past and what you've seen the administration try to do in the past -- actually risks a very violent, dangerous outcome, which is that if the government in Kabul were to make major concessions for the Taliban, you could well see the old Northern Alliance or the Tajiks, Hazaras and other groups reforming and saying, we're not going to put up with the Taliban coming back.
BOOTSo that's actually a very dangerous road to go down. Instead, I think the more fruitful avenue right now is to push not for what's known as reconciliation, which is the high-level peace talks with the Taliban, but to push for reintegration, which is to push lower level Taliban fighters to put down their arms and come over to the other side or just simply to stop fighting. And there have been some success with those efforts with four or 5,000 Taliban fighters now reintegrating over the course of the last year.
BOOTAnd I think if we keep the pressure on them with Afghan and coalition forces, you will see more of that happening. But if we try to put the emphasis solely on reaching some kind of peace deal with the Taliban, I think it's not going to have a high degree of success, and there are major dangers involved in that.
KORBWell, I think when you talk about, you know, the support for American troops there negotiating, remember we got a lot of these blue-on-green attacks, where, basically, Afghan security forces are killing Americans. And yesterday, there was a report that came out that mentioned we haven't even been honest about them because if they shoot, miss or just wound, we're not counting those type of thing. So there's been an awful lot of that.
KORBAnd when you talk about, well, we can reintegrate or we can take these people in, they are, in my view, are using that as a tactic against us. And so I think when you're -- you're not going to get an optimal solution. You know, people forget that it was Karzai who picked 2014, not us. He was the one that says, I want you to end your combat mission. And at some point, the future of Afghanistan is going to be in the hands of the Afghan people, and they're going to have to, you know, make a decision, regardless of how long we stay.
REHMAnd what about the Taliban? Will it hold a position of power, Omar?
SAMADWell, the idea is to have a door open for any Talib or any armed opposition member or group to come into the fold, under the tent, and join the rest of the Afghan family. That hasn't really worked very well, and reintegration is one factor which seems to have had some results. Political reconciliation is a very long road, very hard one, and the Taliban do not seem to be ready. The -- when I talk about Taliban, I'm talking about the hardcore decision-makers within Taliban because we are hearing now that any Talib that shows any inclination towards making peace is eliminated. And that is very bad news.
REHMOmar Samad. He was the Afghan ambassador to France from 2009 to 2011. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." It's time to open the phones, 800-433-8850, first to Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, Kevin. Thanks for joining us.
REHMGood morning, sir. Go right, ahead.
KEVINI just have a quick question. It seems as if that in 2014, we're going to change from a combat role to more of a support role, and that's fine. My question is how much money and how many more troops do you think it's going to cost us? And how much longer do you think we're actually going to be in Afghanistan in any way, shape or form? Like, is there any way to tell or forecast that time length and cost?
HIRSHWell, these are precisely the details that have been left vague. We do expect to hear more in the next several weeks, the NATO summit in Chicago, May 20, 21.
REHMAnd do you really think details will come out of that summit?
REHMI didn't think so either.
HIRSHBut I think that we will know a little bit more. I mean, what we do know is that the president has committed to removing the remaining 68,000 troops by 2014, or at least the end of 2014, and that, for the ensuing 10 years, there will be U.S. funds -- again, we don't know how much -- supported by other NATO allies' funding, along with an undefined U.S. special operations and counterterrorism force that will be on Afghan bases.
HIRSHAgain, we don't know what the size of it is. We do know that this, in some ways, completes the end of U.S. overt presence, regular Army-type presence in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq and really has turned our global presence in terms of counterterrorism into a covert one, one which you're not going to hear a lot about, except when there's successful missions occasionally like that of the killing of Osama bin Laden. That's really all we know at this point.
SAMADI just wanted to add that it's true that the specifics are missing from the partnership agreement. But what is known is that the Afghan side has asked and expects around $4 billion a year to sustain and help and fund the Afghan security forces, the army and the police. And the expectation is that maybe the United States will provide a quarter of that. So that's going to be, of course, discussed within the U.S. system, with Congress playing its role.
SAMADHow many troops are expected beyond 2014 is also a very sticky point. It also has to do with what these troops are going to do and what the status of forces agreement, which is being worked on right now, which is separate from the -- separate, meaning that it's a separate document that will be worked on for the -- over the next year with the U.S., will define all of that. But we think that it's going to be around between 15- to 20,000, more or less, U.S. special forces, trainers and others based in Afghan military installations.
SAMADAnd the time frame is 10 years. So this strategic agreement covers 2014 to 2024. And Afghanistan has struck these types of deals not only with the U.S., but with many other countries, including NATO -- the UK is in the works -- Germany, Australia, France, Italy, EU, India and many more to come, I think.
REHMMax Boot, quick point.
BOOTWell, quick point is that $4.1 billion figure for funding the Afghan security forces, as far as I know that hasn't actually come from the Afghan government. That's been generated in Washington because we think that's what's affordable. But, in fact, as Sen. Carl Levin and others have said, this may be a very ill-advised form of economy because we may be saving a couple of billon dollars at the risk of eviscerating the Afghan security forces and not -- and making them too small to control the country. So we have to be very wary of cutting spending on the Afghan security forces.
REHMAll right. Max Boot. He's at the Council on Foreign Relations, author of "War Made New."
REHMAnd as we talk about the goal of U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan by 2014, let's go to Oklahoma City. Good morning, Sam. You're on the air.
SAMGood morning, Diane. I think our key lies in Pakistan, and we must address their security concerns. And also, I believe to be -- us to be successful, we must foster the pluralistic society in Pakistan more and then Afghanistan. I think Pakistan is turning to the hard line. I think we need to see -- it's not the military, what we spend on the money on the security forces, how we can benefit the people of Pakistan and give them the way out of this quagmire, you know? That's what I think lies in here.
REHMAll right. Max Boot.
BOOTWell, I completely agree with the caller that Pakistan has turned into a more hard-line country, which is opposed to American interest than Afghanistan and maybe more broadly in the region as well. And, you know, I agree with the caller's suggestion. We need to do more to revitalize civil society because I don't think the problem is President Zardari or the prime minister. I think they're basically OK. The problem is really the army and the intelligence service, which run their own foreign policy.
BOOTAnd, unfortunately for the last decade, we've been subsidizing the army and the intelligence service, which is then sending terrorists like the Haqqani Network into Kabul to kill Americans. So that is clearly a dysfunctional policy that has to end. And one the things that I think we need to change in addition to stopping this open-ended funding of the Pakistani army, I think we also need to stop deferring to Pakistani sensitivities on certain issues, such as -- we've been doing a lot of drone targeting of al-Qaida in Pakistan, but we have not been targeting the leadership of the Taliban.
BOOTThey have safe sanctuaries in Pakistan, and a lot of American commanders in Afghanistan think that should end, that we should go after some of these leaders who are sending the suicide bombers and the terrorists who are attacking us. We've been reluctant to do that because we haven't wanted to offend the Pakistanis. But if we're serious about getting out, by and large, by 2014, I think we need to take some more risks and try to do more to disrupt the Haqqani Network and the Taliban even in Pakistan itself.
KORBI think it's important to keep in mind the aid we give to Pakistan should not be military aid. It should go to the civilians because when you go to Pakistan, they have no idea about the amount of aid we've given to them for, if you will, civil projects. So I wouldn't give the Pakistani military another nickel. Whatever aid we give, I would give to the, you know, to the people because they need to understand, you know, what we've done because we give aid to the military. Not only they not, you know, help us in dealing with the Taliban, they spend it on weapons to deal with India.
REHMBut, Larry, realistically, how do you give money directly to the people without going through that militarily controlled government?
KORBWell, again, I mean, you can -- you have monitors there to make sure that it goes. Now, obviously, it's not going to be perfect, and I think there's just no way to do it. But I think you have to be very careful, though, about telling the Pakistanis you're going to come in to their, you know, if you really want to turn them around because we need their help to bring the supplies across. And that's part of the problem we have now, that very difficult and expensive to supply our forces because after we kill the Pakistani soldiers, they have basically cut that off.
REHMMichael, I want to turn to domestic politics here. President Obama was criticized for politicizing the death of Osama bin Laden, criticized for the trip, making a big deal of it. Deservedly so in your view?
HIRSHOnly partially. And I would note that most of the criticism was targeted at the campaign ad that came out before his trip in which you rather bluntly ask whether his GOP rival Mitt Romney would have made the same decision that he -- Obama made to go after bin Laden. And, in fact, they had Bill Clinton narrating it. That really did provoke a lot of criticism. John McCain, Obama's 2008 rival, among others, said it was just a cheap political trick. You heard less direct criticism of this particular trip.
HIRSHMcCain himself sort of backed off because there was the commander in chief. He was in a war zone. The Obama administration made the case that they had to, you know, do this trip. Karzai had wanted to sign this agreement in Kabul ahead of the May summit. So even though there clearly was some 2012 politics involved with, you know, the idea of a president standing against the backdrop of military vehicles to announce this agreement, there was less direct criticism.
HIRSHBut the more he continues to harp on it and the more he continues to mention the bin Laden killing, which he's now done for the last five days, at least, I think, or he and his campaign have mentioned it, the more you'll hear criticism coming back from the Republicans.
REHMMax Boot, how big an issue do you think this is going to be in the election?
BOOTI don't think it'll be a huge issue. I think there are differences between Gov. Romney and President Obama, but I don't think it's going to be a defining issue in the campaign. But I think what -- and I should mention here that I am a defense policy adviser for the Romney campaign, but I can't -- I mean, I'm not speaking for the Romney campaign here, but I'm -- I think what Gov. Romney is -- what he's basically said before is that he agrees on the goals that President Obama has outlined of drawing down American troops while stabilizing and securing Afghanistan.
BOOTBut he would defer more to the advice of military commanders in terms of how to achieve those goals. And one of the troubling things that President Obama has done, I mean, he looked great yesterday. I mean, he was -- looked very presidential and said all the right things in Kabul. But some of his actions have undermined the rhetoric that we heard yesterday. For example, the fact that he's pulling all 32,000 search troops out by Sept. 30 of this year, which was against the advice of Gen. Petraeus and the Secretary of Defense Gates at the time and others.
BOOTThe fact that he's doing that, it's hard to figure out what the military justification for doing that. But you can see a political justification because he can go into our election having said that he is ending the war in Afghanistan. And so I think one the things that Gov. Romney has talked about is that he will not allow politics to intrude into his decision making on Afghanistan.
KORBWell, I think it's important to keep in mind when Obama added the extra troop in December 2009, he asked the military, including Gen. Petraeus who was then head of central command, how long will it take you with these troops to turn it around? They said 18 months. We've already passed the 18 months. So he kept his promise. He did not want to have an open-ended commitment, another type of, you know, Vietnam. So when I hear this -- the military, that's not true.
KORBThey said, give us 18 months. We can turn it around. He said, OK, you’re getting those extra troops for that. And I think that's very, very important to keep in mind when we talk about this withdrawal.
REHMMax Boot, as an adviser to Gov. Romney, how does he establish his military credentials with potential voters this November?
BOOTWell, I think he simply does it by showing his depth of knowledge, which I think is pretty considerable. He's traveled around the world, and he's thought deeply about these issues. And I think you will see that in the debate that he will do very well. He will not be stumped. And in fact, he's gone through a bunch of debates over the last year in the Republican primaries where I think he's acquitted himself very well and showed a high level of knowledge.
BOOTAnd remember, I mean, of course, it's hard to compete against any president who is commander in chief. But remember, President Obama, when he was Sen. Obama, had no military experience, had no background on national security affairs. So, of course, anybody who actually occupies the office has an inherent advantage in that regard, but I think Gov. Romney has shown and will show that he is a serious thinker with serious proposals on national security issues.
HIRSHLook, this is not going to be the central issue of this campaign. Foreign policy is not. The economy clearly is. But an issue that is going to be important is what I would call the commander-in-chief issue. And it's one that the Obama campaign is very consciously putting out there, and that is the idea that this is a trustworthy president. He looks presidential. He goes to Kabul. He ends the wars that he promised that he would end. He kills bin Laden.
HIRSHWhereas, Mitt Romney -- and this is all part of the campaign that I'm just describing to you -- is someone who has made some rather extreme statements during the course of the primary campaign in order to win over his own Republican base and has put us in jeopardy of going back to the administration of George W. Bush -- as Joe Biden said in a speech the other week -- the go-it-alone policy that got the United States into so much trouble.
HIRSHThis is the message that they're going to try to convey that this man, Barack Obama, is a more trustworthy commander in chief. And I think you will hear a lot of that.
REHMAll right. To Valdosta, Ga. Good morning, Cary.
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
CARYWell, my comment has to do with the fact that we continue -- we talk about the troops leaving or not leaving Afghanistan. I have a son who's on sixth tour in the Army in the Middle East. And I guess my concern is, how long can we expect these young men and women to continue to turnaround and go back into a war zone and have spent so little time with their families or had little times to recuperate without talking about if we're going to enter into a war situation?
CARYI know this is an old issue, but draft situation where we have sufficient troop strength, either to put more troops in it or take more troops out so that we're not overwhelming the troops that we have there. And as additional comment, my son has been in 21 years, and many of the people in his particular area of expertise have not been allowed to retire because, during the war, they're not allowed unless they're given approval.
REHMYes. Cary, I know that. I join with many, many others in thanking you, your family and your son for his service. That's incredible. Cheers to him.
KORBWell, here's the problem. And one of the things I was able to do when I was in government was persuade President Reagan, who was a libertarian, to keep draft registration for exactly this reason. I can show you a memo that we wrote and the Joint Chiefs of Staff signed off, said, the all-volunteer military is a peacetime force. When the Bush administration decided to go into Iraq, Afghanistan wasn't finished. They should have mobilized the Selective Service so we would not have had to deploy these people back-to-back.
KORBWe established the rule, for every year in a combat zone, at least two years at home. They voided that. And over and over again, and the other thing that he -- Cary talked about was stop loss. You're not letting people get out when they're -- we are supposed to, which is basically a backdoor draft. And so, yes, we as a country and as a people have let this down, and it's a moral outrage.
BOOTWell, I agree. You know, I join with Diane in thanking the caller for his son's service. And I agree that -- with what's been said about the military being too small. I don't think we need to draft because I think there's very little support in that in either the military or in society at large. I think it's perfectly possible to grow the size of the Army through voluntary enlistment. One of the big mistakes that President Bush made after 9/11 was he did not increase the size of the Army.
BOOTAnd, unfortunately, right now, I think we're actually compounding the mistake because President Obama and Congress under the plans, which are currently going through in the budget, are going to cut Army in strength by 100,000 soldiers over the course of the next decade, which means there's going to be an even greater burden placed on the small remaining number of troops.
KORBWell, again, that this is going to be phased in over five years. It's going to bring the Army back to 2005 levels, not to pre-1991 levels.
REHMLarry Korb at the Center for American Progress. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To David in Reston, Va., good morning to you, sir.
DAVIDGood morning, Diane. Thank you for having me on your show.
DAVIDI'm a big fan.
DAVIDI just wanted to point out that when Gov. Romney was whining about Obama speaking about the assassination of Osama bin Laden, I didn't hear him calling out anything when the Bush administration repeatedly beat the drum of 9/11, 9/11 every time they wanted to get anything done. It could have set something back then, and he would have a little more credibility at this point.
REHMAny comment, Max Boot?
BOOTI don't think Gov. Romney is dealing with the Bush administration right now. He's dealing with the fact that President Obama has turn what should be a unifying national moment over the death of Osama bin Laden and tried to turn it to partisan advantage with that video claiming that Mitt Romney wouldn't have ordered the raid and so forth. And so I think Gov. Romney was just responding to an attack, which I think has been condemned, not only by Republicans but by quite a few Democrats as well.
HIRSHWell, I think there was more than a little bit of irony, though, in the fact that Romney appeared at an event yesterday in New York with Rudy Giuliani, who has really never stopped touting his own reputation, his accomplishments on 9/11, which he was deservedly praised for. But he became kind of a joke on the campaign trail running for president in terms of politicizing 9/11. So I think there's, you know, there's some taint on both sides here.
KORBDon't forget, today is the ninth anniversary of Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech.
REHMSo it happens all the way around. All right. And, finally, to Miami, Fla. Good morning, Sarid. (sp?)
MR. SARID OSMONDGood morning, Diane. My name is Sarid Osmond. (sp?) And I kind of wanted to comment on Max Boot's commentary regarding, you know, the surge troops and who it benefits militarily. As an Afghan-American, Max -- and I've served there -- and as a taxpayer, I have a couple of concerns just so it's genuine 'cause I've actually lived in both lands. And recently, I worked there on the rule of law contract, which is just mired with corruption. And I worked closely with some other (unintelligible).
MR. SARID OSMONDSo my question is really about two things. One concern is that, you know, the directional (word?) of all this conversation is that, you know, no matter -- small issue, we still get, you know, spread out of the way. What's important is what will happen to the aid money that we do give to Afghanistan. Who will oversee it? That's one.
MR. SARID OSMONDBecause we know over the past 10 years, the two pillars of counterinsurgency, security and rule of law, in my humble estimation -- and you can ask Mr. Shahmahmood Miakhel at the U.S. Institute of Peace or any other objective Afghan-American or U.S. policy analyst -- they haven't helped in any way.
REHMAll right. I want to end this program, Omar, by asking you to talk about security rule of law and aid money.
SAMADYes. Those are all critical elements as we move forward in Afghanistan. The United States has to have a very clear policy, making sure the Afghanistan does not implode or become another hub for terrorism. And Afghanistan has to make sure that it stays on track with all these commitments to good governance, to democracy building, to rule of law, and most of it is an Afghan responsibility. So that's why the political transition is going -- very important. Strengthening Afghan civil society, media, political parties is going to be very important.
SAMADAnd dealing with corruption, absolutely.
REHMA huge deal. All right. Omar Samad, former Afghan ambassador to France and to Canada. He is now at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Larry Korb at the Center for American Progress, former assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration. Michael Hirsh of National Journal magazine, and Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations, author of "War Made New." Thank you all so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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