President, Middle East Policy Council; Partner, MITA Group
Senior Research Fellow, Co-Director, Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative, New America Foundation
Principal, Sageman Consulting, LLC; Director of Research, ARTIS
Senior Fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution
Thomas R. Mattair
Director of Research, MEPC; author, Global Security Watch - Iran: A Reference Handbook
Cannon Caucus Room
Cannon House Office Building
Thursday, January 7, 2010
THOMAS MATTAIR: Well, good morning. Thank you for coming. I'm Thomas Mattair of the Middle East Policy Council. It's my pleasure to welcome you here to the 59th meeting in our series of Capitol Hill Conferences. We are here to discuss an important topic and we have an excellent panel.
But before we do that, I would like to take a few minutes to talk about the Middle East Policy Council. We are an independent, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) educational organization. And for the past 28 years, we've been trying to promote better understanding of United States interests in the Middle East.
And we do that in three ways. The first is our quarterly journal called Middle East Policy, which has been edited very ably by Anne Joyce for 25 years. And the second is this Capitol Hill conference series. Again, this is our 59th. And we present four of them a year, discussing important topics and bringing good panelists together.
And we always have the transcript of our Capitol Hill conference serve as the first article in our quarterly journal. But even before that, you'll be able to read the transcript of this next week and hear the audio and see the video on our Web site, which is www.mepc.org.
And our third program is a public outreach program, which includes commentary for the media. But the most important element of it is our teacher workshop program, a program in which Barbara Petzen travels around the country and helps high-school teachers, middle-school teachers, elementary-school teachers learn how to teach about the Middle East and Islam better. And she reaches about 1500 teachers per year and about 150,000 students a year with that program. So I ask you to look at our Web site and read about our programs, and think about subscribing to our journal.
Now, today, we're here to discuss Afghanistan. Obviously, the president has made his decision about the way forward. He made it in a very deliberate way, hearing advice from people whose views differed. And instead of choosing a more narrowly focused counterterrorism strategy, he chose to surge additional forces to Afghanistan and pursue a very ambitious counterinsurgency strategy.
We have people here on the panel who agree with this and people who question it and disagree with it. Certainly there are issues concerning the partners we have to work with in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the terrain and the demography. And another issue, of course, is that we've already lost 1,000 men and women in this war.
We've already spent $250 billion in this war. We will probably spend another trillion dollars in this war. But we do need to find a way to protect the American people from this scourge of terrorism. So we will ask the panel to discuss this today.
And I'm going to introduce all four of our panelists, first, because I think it will be faster. There's a more extensive bio of each one of them on the flipside of your invitation and I will just touch on the highlights of these people.
First is Bruce Riedel, who is a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and a former CIA officer who has also served in the Department of Defense and the National Security Council and has been a senior advisor to three American presidents on Middle Eastern questions and terrorism and political transition and conflict resolution.
At the request of President Obama, he chaired an interagency review to consider our policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan this spring. And in addition to this, Bruce is an author whose latest book is called "The Search for al-Qaida," which was published by Brookings in 2008 and will be out in paperback in about two months.
Then, we also have Peter Bergen, who I think is well known to many of you as a national security analyst and an expert on terror and al-Qaida. He has many other positions as well, for example, at New York University's Center for Law and Security and has worked for other media outlets as well as CNN, for example, Discovery Channel and National Geographic and also has been an adjunct professor at the Kennedy School at Harvard within the last year.
His books are well known. One of them is called "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden," which came out in 2001, has been translated into 18 languages and the other is "The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al-Qaida's Leader," which came out in 2006.
And our third speaker, to my immediate left, is Frank Anderson, my colleague and the president of the Middle East Policy Council, who has spent 27 years in the United States government working on Middle East issues and many of those years in the Middle East and who retired in 1995 as the chief of the Near and South Asia Division of the Central Intelligence Agency. And since that time, he's been providing consulting services to corporations on Middle Eastern issues.
And finally, to my far right, there is Marc Sageman, an independent researcher on terrorism, the founder of Sageman Consulting, the director of research at ARTIS and a consultant for RTI International. He has consulted for our government - many branches of our government, foreign governments, and the New York Police Department.
He holds academic positions at George Washington University and the University of Maryland. And he served in the Central Intelligence Agency from 1984 to 1991, spending 1987 to 1989 in Islamabad, running U.S. unilateral programs with the Afghan mujahedeen. Also, Marc is an author. His last two books are, "Understanding Terror Networks" and "Leaderless Jihad." This is an excellent panel which reflects different points of view on this issue, so without any further ado, let me ask Bruce to come to the podium.
BRUCE RIEDEL: Thank you for that very generous and kind introduction. It's a pleasure to be here. I've had the privilege of speaking to this forum before and it's always a great honor to be here, especially in a magnificent room like this.
Let me begin with a disclaimer. Although I was the chairman of the president's strategic review of policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan last winter and spring, he lived up to his commitment to me, it was temporary duty and I was freed at the beginning of April of 2009. I am not a spokesman for the United States government. Please do not regard my remarks as in any way representing the views of either the president or the U.S. government. I speak only for myself.
That said, what I would like to do is review for you very briefly the key conclusions of the review that I chaired, particularly on the substance of Afghanistan, al-Qaida and a bit on Pakistan and then spend most of my time talking about the way forward and where we go from here and what we can expect in the months ahead.
Briefly put, President Obama inherited a disaster in Afghanistan; a war that should have been won and finished in 2002 was not. Instead of going after our enemy relentlessly and remorselessly, we lost our attention and drifted off to the Mesopotamian Valley. The consequence was our enemy was allowed to regroup and recover.
The Afghan state that we tried to rebuild was gravely handicapped from the beginning. Al-Qaida was able to reestablish a safe haven, a sanctuary along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. And Pakistan, itself, a country of 170 million people, with the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world, became increasingly and significantly destabilized by the spillover from Afghanistan.
Let me look at the pieces just for a minute. Al-Qaida. In 8 years of struggle against al-Qaida, we have succeeded in moving its core leadership from Kandahar, Afghanistan, to a location completely unknown, believed to be - believed to be about 100 kilometers away, somewhere in Pakistan.
But the truth is, despite the largest manhunt in history, we don't have a clue where Osama bin Laden is. We haven't had eyes on target since Tora Bora. We hear his voice. We know he's there, but we haven't a clue where he is. That makes the whole issue of trying to establish how critical and influential he is in al-Qaida today all the more complex for analysts to understand.
What we do know is that this al-Qaida core has successfully embedded itself in what I call a syndicate of terrorist organizations in Pakistan. The old Afghan Taliban, the new Pakistan Taliban, the groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, like Jaish-e-Mohammed. This is not a monolith and al-Qaida is a very, very small part of a much larger syndicate.
It has no central direction. It has various different agendas. But one thing stands out. They cooperate with each other on a practical level and so far, none of them have been willing to turn on high-value target number one. In the last year-and-a-half, starting under the Bush administration, which deserves credit for building the program, we have begun to put significant pressure on al-Qaida in Pakistan through the use of the drones.
The Obama administration has escalated the use of the drones to about one attack a week. But as we saw in Khost in just the last few days, the al-Qaida core is far from defeated. They remain agile; they remain resilient; and they remain deadly. If, in fact, the Khost operation was the work of a triple agent, as many now seem to think, triple agent operations are extraordinarily complex and difficult.
This demonstrates the enemy we're dealing with is a very sophisticated and deadly one. I won't spend a lot of time on the situation in Afghanistan itself. Gen. McChrystal wrote a devastating and accurate report about the situation on the ground there. And Bob Woodward was nice enough to allow all of us to have the opportunity to read it in depth. If you haven't read it, I urge you to do so.
I would only highlight to you one point. It's in the appendix, when he talks about the detention facilities in Afghanistan and he, in essence, says, the detention facilities are no longer under the control of the NATO-ISAF coalition, that as a practical matter, those detention facilities are now operated internally by al-Qaida and Taliban and that is where the most important radicalization process of al-Qaida new operatives is going on in Afghanistan today.
I would submit to you in a counterinsurgency, when you've lost control of the prisons, where you captured insurgents, you are in deep, deep trouble. And turning that around will be a very difficult issue. But it is not a hopeless issue. Afghanistan 2010 is not Afghanistan 1980. We are not the Soviet Union and we do not face a national uprising like the Soviet Union faced.
When we fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan, we had the benefit that virtually the entire Afghan population was sympathetic to us. Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazaras, Pashtuns. The Taliban insurgency aspires to be that, but is in fact, a Pashtun insurgency. It has very, very little support outside of the Pashtun community. The good news for us, the majority of Afghans are not Pashtuns and even a majority of Pashtuns do not want to see a return to the medieval hell that Mullah Omar created in the second half of the 1990s. Smart policies can still reverse the momentum here.
Just a word about Pakistan - Pakistan is in the midst of an extraordinarily difficult transition from military dictatorship to democracy. We should support this transition enthusiastically, but we should recognize this is Pakistan's fourth attempt at doing so. You have to believe in the triumph of hope over expectation to expect Pakistan will get there, but it is in our interest to encourage them to do so because the Pakistani military establishment, over the years, has proven incapable of running the country and has developed extensive, intimate ties with the syndicate of terror that I talked about that runs along the border lands and now deep into the heartland of Pakistan.
For a variety of reasons, mostly dealing with India, the Pakistani military establishment believes it must maintain at least parts of those relationships. In the last year, we have seen part of the jihadist Frankenstein in Pakistan actually turn against its old master. And today, Pakistan is witnessing the most serious political violence in the country's history. It is bordering on civil war in many ways. The good news here is that the Pakistani people seem to have increasingly come to the conclusion that their freedoms and their way of life are truly threatened by this jihadist monster. That wakeup is the best news we've seen in Pakistan in a long time.
Where do we go next? Well, first thing I would stress is we cannot delink Afghanistan and Pakistan. In fact, we cannot delink Afghanistan from its larger regional environment. If we are to succeed in Afghanistan - whatever success means - it must be done within a larger regional environment. We will need to find ways to encourage all of Afghanistan's neighbors to help in trying to stabilize this country, and we will need to get other countries to help us to stabilize and solidify civilian control in Pakistan.
The president has embarked upon what I would call a very bold gamble. And there are no guarantees of success. This strategy requires a very delicate interplay of military, political, diplomatic and economic activity. It all must be coordinated together to build a synthesis which brings about what we want to have happen.
It will cost a great deal. An American soldier deployed to Afghanistan costs about $1 million per person per year. And there's no economy of scale. If you send more, it's not cheaper; it gets more expensive. It will also cost in blood and in lives.
The key in the long term for whether we succeed is whether we can build up an Afghan national security force - a combination of army, police, and local militias - that can for the long term contain insurgencies in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, but potentially other insurgencies in the future. Afghan states have been able to do that in the past. It is a myth that Afghanistan is an ungovernable space. That's bad history and bad understanding of the situation. But it's going to be extraordinarily difficult to do, and we've had a significant setback in the last year.
The Afghan presidential election was also a disaster. We had vote fraud on an extraordinary scale. One million fraudulent ballots. Even by the standards of Florida and Illinois, that is cheating - (laughter) - to a remarkable degree. Worse than that, the perpetrators were caught and they got away with it.
The legitimacy of the Afghan government in the eyes of the Afghan people - and maybe more importantly, in the eyes of Americans and Europeans who are sending their sons and daughters to fight there - has been severely crippled. If the president's strategy fails, I suspect we will look back and say, the election dealt it a fatal blow. But we must persevere in any case and see if we can't work around it now.
The president's decision is in my view the best of some very bad options. In many ways, he only really had three. Option one was to cut and run. We can call it all kinds of different things - downsize the mission, reorient the mission. But nobody in Afghanistan - and just as importantly, nobody in Pakistan - would see it as anything other than once more the United States is packing up its bags and leaving us to deal with the results of a failed intervention.
The second alternative was to stay where we were with exactly the forces and the equipment and the tactics that we had. Americans are rightly afraid that Afghanistan is going to turn into a quagmire, but I've got bad news for you: We're already in a quagmire. That's why the option of staying where we are was unacceptable. When you're waist deep in the Big Muddy, you can't say, I hope we won't get into the swamp. We're in the swamp; we have to find a way to do it better.
Final word about Pakistan, while Afghanistan is very, very hard, in many ways, Pakistan is even harder yet. We are trying to change the strategic direction of a country; a country that is inestimably more important in every way than Afghanistan. Trying to get Pakistan back on a healthy course is vital not just for Americans and Afghans but for Indians, for Chinese, for Iranians, for people around the world.
For 60 years, the United States has had a policy towards Pakistan that has oscillated wildly between love affair and divorce. On some occasions, we have been madly in love with Pakistan's leaders and we have turned our eyes away from all of their faults and thrown money at them with no accountability. In other years, we've had bitter and ugly divorces in which we've accused Pakistan of all kinds of ills, cut off assistance - even assistance which was in our interest to provide. The result of this is simple: Pakistanis have come to the conclusion America is not a reliable ally because America has not been a reliable ally.
What America needs to do with Pakistan is a policy of constancy and consistency; of cajoling, of encouraging, of pressuring, of supporting, of helping, of correcting, of screaming at; engagement at all times and at all levels, bearing in mind that we should always keep the civilian government at the top of the agenda of who we deal with.
The stakes in Afghanistan and Pakistan today are enormous. They're enormous not just in South Asia but they're enormous for Americans. This is the place from which the attack of September 11th was planned and coordinated. Recent events have underscored the risk we continue to run. They may have been orchestrated in Yemen this time but the head of the snake, as far as we know, remains in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But the stakes are also enormous for this president. Wars consume presidencies. This is now America's longest war and it is bound to consume this presidency as well. The president's advisors, many of them - particularly those who worry about domestic issues and health care and rebuilding a badly damaged American economy - for good reasons, do not want to see America bogged down in an endless war in Afghanistan. But that's what they inherited and that's what they have to fix in the 3 years ahead that they still have. Thank you very much for your attention. (Applause.)
PETER BERGEN: Thank you very much for this invitation to speak at the Middle East Policy Council and to be on this distinguished panel. I wanted to start with some data about what Afghans think about Afghanistan because there's much discussion about what we think; I think it's helpful to also take into effect and count their opinions.
And there've been countrywide polls in Afghanistan by all sorts of organizations: the International Republican Institute, BBC News, Asia Society. These polls are conducted nationwide on a scientific basis and they're conducted every year starting in 2005, in the case of the BBC poll. And the results are pretty surprising I think to people who sort of think that the Afghan project is going south.
When asked, what is your view of the United States in Afghanistan, according to the BBC, 68 percent of Afghans think that the United States in Afghanistan is either doing a fair, good or excellent job. When asked the same question about NATO-ISAF, 78 percent of Afghans say that NATO-ISAF is doing a fair, good or excellent job.
When asked the question, would you prefer to be ruled by the current government or the Taliban, 82 percent of Afghans say they prefer to be ruled by the current government and only 4 percent say they'd like to be ruled by the Taliban, which is not surprising because there's one prophylactic against enthusiasm for the Taliban, which is previous rule by the Taliban. There's nothing quite like being ruled by them to have a negative view of them. And consistently, by the way, the Taliban usually gets a 7 percent favorable rating in polls that have been conducted back the 2005.
Who's the biggest threat to your security? Fifty-eight percent say the Taliban and only 8 percent say the United States. Is the national government doing a good job? In 2009, 71 percent said yes. Was it mostly good - again, according to the BBC - was it mostly good or very good that the United States overthrew the Taliban? This is last year - 69 percent said yes.
And the final and perhaps most astonishing figure, what's your view of the United States military? This is last year, again, from the BBC - 63 percent strongly support or somewhat support the U.S. military in Afghanistan. So I think those numbers are very important when we have this discussion. Afghans want this to work. They're not opposed to international forces.
By the way, exactly the same organizations routinely also poll in Pakistan. And to those who say, well, you can't trust polling data in Afghanistan, well, exactly the same polling organizations routinely poll in Pakistan and consistently find it to be one of the most anti-American countries in the world.
I believe both polls. I think Pakistan is a very anti-American country consistently and that Afghanistan remains - our numbers have dropped from 80 percent but we're in the sort of 60 percent range which means - we're conducting a counterinsurgency obviously in Afghanistan. What is the central doctrine of the counterinsurgency? The central doctrine is a center of gravity is the population. So given that the population is basically at least half or more on our side, I think there are grounds to think that this is going to be a successful effort.
As you know, this was the least-resourced post-World War II reconstruction effort the United States was engaged in. We spent something like 18 times more per capita in Bosnia and in Kosovo compared to what we did in Afghanistan. We got what we paid for. We did it on the cheap and we know what the result is.
So let me just - having given you those sort of data points, let me just make seven or eight quick points about what we're doing in Afghanistan because I think there are a lot of myths out there and Bruce very ably already sort of addressed the Soviet issue. This is not the graveyard of empires; this idea should be retired to the graveyard of clichés. All sorts of empires have gone into Afghanistan. But unlike most of those other invasions, the Afghans do want us to perform. And to compare our occupation to the Soviets is poor history on so many other levels.
Bruce mentioned the fact there was a countrywide insurrection. Every ethnic group and every class was involved in that insurrection. Mark Urban, who's written the best account of the Afghan war in the early years, he calculated that at any given moment, there were 175,000 or 250,000 approximately full-time soldiers on the battlefield fighting the Soviets. Now, even if you take the largest number of Taliban full-time soldiers, it's 20,000. We're facing a relatively small insurgency compared to what the Soviets faced.
This will not be Obama's Vietnam; this is a crazy comparison. It might be his Afghanistan - that's a separate issue - but it will not be his Vietnam; it's a very different conflict. The NVA was a 500,000-man army supported by the Soviets, Mao; it was a major problem for the United States. At the height of the violence in Vietnam, 154 American soldiers were being killed every four days. That's the same number that were killed last year in Afghanistan. So policy by analogy doesn't work in this case.
The other thing that Bruce touched on, which I completely agree with - the idea that Afghanistan is not a nation-state is absolutely ridiculous. In 1747, the Durrani Federation was founded - the beginning of Afghanistan as a nation. That makes it an older nation than the United States. What the problem of being in Afghanistan is not a lack of nationhood as an idea; it's that, generally speaking, it has had a weak central state. And there's nothing really wrong with that. Our trying to impose a very top-down central state has been part of our problem here, I think.
And as sort of related to that, by the way, the most popular institution in Afghanistan, scoring just enormously high numbers, is the Afghan national army which, obviously, is our ticket out; building that up. But when asked, which institution do you most admire, 82 percent say the Afghan national army, which is seen as sort of not operating in particularly any ethnic interest and it's seen as an institution that's really doing good work.
The other kind of common view is that Afghanistan is just too hard or too violent. Well, this is also completely ridiculous. You were more likely to be murdered in the United States in 1991 than you are to be killed in the war in Afghanistan today. And I'm just going to elaborate that because it's a surprising finding.
The murder rate in the United States in 1991 - there were 24,000 murders in 1991 in the United States; a population, let's say, roughly 260 million. Last year in the violence in Afghanistan, something like 2,000-plus Afghan civilians died in the violence; the population of Afghanistan, roughly 30 million. So just do the math. You were basically as likely to be murdered visiting the United States as a tourist in 1991 than you are to be killed in Afghanistan today - which is not to say that there isn't a problem.
By the way, you were also 20 times more likely to be killed as a civilian in Iraq at the height of the violence there. This is not Iraq or anything close to it. in Iraq, something like 35,000 civilians were dying every month in January of 2007 as the violence peaked, whereas last year, something like 2,000 civilians died in an entire year in the violence in Afghanistan. And the populations of the two countries are roughly the same.
The other idea that is - that Afghans are resistant to foreigners, well, I think the 63 percent favorable view of the United States military sort of speaks for itself. And why should it be a success, other than the fact that the population is on our side? And why do the Afghans - a very common polling question is, what's your view of the future?
Now, when Americans were asked this question at the tail end of the Bush administration in the middle of this great recession, I'm surprised that only 17 percent had a favorable view of the future. When you asked Afghans the same question at the same time, 40 percent had a favorable view of the future.
Now, that's sort of a surprising answer given the fact that we know all the bad things - the most corrupt country in the world, this huge drug problem, rising insurgency. But the reason that Afghans had that answer is that this all looks a lot better than what they've lived through.
I mean, can you think of a country in history which had lived through the Soviet occupation and Communist government, then warlordism and then the Taliban? This is a pretty bad combination. Each one of these would be devastating to a country. So even though we know all the problems that have existed in Afghanistan, still, what is going on today is better - certainly much better - than what has gone on in the past.
And 4.5 million of the refugees have returned. This is a very important number. Four million refugees left Iraq as a result of the occupation and then the civil war. Almost none of those refugees have returned; just maybe several hundred thousand if you're being generous. Refugees do not return to places they don't think have a future, and Afghans think that Afghanistan has a future. Millions of people in school, including girls, obviously. When asked, do you have more freedom than under the Taliban in a recent poll, 75 percent of Afghans said, yes.
Okay, so let's say we solve Afghanistan, given all I've just said. There's still the problem of Pakistan, which Bruce has ably already discussed. But there's been no 9/11 moment in Pakistan. But, though cumulatively, 9/11 has happened in Pakistan. If you take together the death of Benazir Bhutto, who after all, was the most popular politician in Pakistan's modern history, who would have scored a landslide victory in this election; you take that together with the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore - cricket being a form of religion in Pakistan - this was a very kind of a seismic event, a visiting cricket team being attacked.
You take together the 17-year-old girl being flogged by the Taliban on a video that was widely distributed in Pakistan; you take together the fact that something like a thousand civilians have died just this year in the North-West Frontier Province alone, including a hundred people attending a volleyball game just two days ago. You take that together and you find that Pakistanis' support for suicide bombing and the Taliban and al-Qaida is cratering. For instance, 33 percent of Pakistanis thought that suicide bombing was sort of okay several years ago in certain circumstances. That number's dropped to 5 percent.
And so the Pakistani operations in Swat and Waziristan are now done with the full support of the Pakistani people. They can't conduct a war in their own country against elements of their own population without the support of their own population. And they didn't have that in the operations in North and South Waziristan in 2005 and 2006. These were sort of performance art operations that were basically designed to satisfy the United States.
The operation in Waziristan today is a real operation - a real military operation. The operation in Swat - it may not have been conducted to American counterinsurgency standards, but it's been successful. So Pakistan is changing. Now, will they go after the Afghan Taliban? Who knows? Will they go after al-Qaida? Who knows? But the enemy of the perfect is not the reasonably okay. And what we're seeing in Pakistan is probably the closet alignment between American strategic objectives and Pakistani strategic objectives since the Soviets invaded in 1979.
Two final points: advocates - you know, the train has left the station but I think it's important because the president's already made his decision. But advocates of doing less - the "cut and run" option that Bruce mentioned - or doing it lighter in various shapes or forms, have to answer really two questions.
One, we've basically done this already twice; we've already done the do-nothing option, which was closing our embassy in 1989, zeroing out aid to one of the poorest countries in the world and just washing our hands a bit. Into that vacuum stepped the Taliban and al-Qaida. And we've already done the do-it-light option, which is basically Bush's ideological aversion to nation-building and we got what we paid for, and the Taliban and al-Qaida came back, this time morphed together much more closely ideologically and tactically.
And a final point, I think that we can define down some of our goals in Afghanistan in an important way based on what the Afghans actually want. The Afghans don't necessarily want a particularly legitimate government. I mean, we all want legitimate governments as a desirable goal, but they haven't had much experience.
The Taliban did have a certain legitimacy because they brought security. The warlords had no legitimacy; didn't bring security. And obviously, the Soviets had no legitimacy. So the Afghans are not really expecting a kind of ultra-capable, ultra-legitimate government. What they are expecting is security. And I think the new Obama plan will deliver that.
And the final piece of polling data is, when asked, what is your principal concern, Afghans in a recent poll said - 34 percent of them said, my principal concern is security. And only 4 percent said, corruption. So the new plan, I think, can begin to deliver security. After all, why did the Taliban come to power? The one good they did deliver was security. If we can deliver security and then other things in addition, which we will, then that is a plan for real progress in Afghanistan. Thank you. (Applause.)
FRANK ANDERSON: First, let me repeat Tom's words of thanks, everyone, for coming - in my Middle East Policy Council role - and then in the interest of time, I'll get right at this. Bruce and I were speaking as I came in, and remembering that in some form or another, I've been engaged in or working on Afghanistan for 27 years. And I probably read everything that comes out, at least in the English language, on the subject. I've recently traveled there and will again. I suppose I've become an expert.
From the point of view of policy prescriptions, the more I know, the less I understand. And I must say that in 1982, I had easy explanations for what the United States ought to do in Afghanistan. They're much less easily at hand now. Afghanistan is a dizzingly complex place. It's geopolitically complex. Its relationship with Pakistan and its other neighbors is almost impossible to easily fix or even describe.
It's culturally and politically complex in ways that every time I look at the place, I find another level of social organization that I didn't know about before. In this complexity - and I'm going to go to Sarah Chayes of NPR, recently a development activist in Afghanistan, who said, you can't analyze it. You have to experience it to the point that you develop intimacy. And in that intimacy, numbers aren't often useful. It's just repeated experience and reflection.
My experience and reflection now bring me to a couple of memories. And one of them comes surprisingly not from a geopolitician or a government person but a pop psychology book in the 1960s called "Games People Play." And one of the games that people play is "let's you and him fight."
In my government experience, it was the essential game of the Cold War. We fought by proxies and it was "let's you and him fight." Afghanistan, every time it is invaded, every time it interacts with people, states, from the outside, there is a complex game of "let's you and him fight" that goes on. In order not to be drawn into it, once again, you have to develop intimacy. My sources for intimacy and understanding are those that I want to point out today. I don't have any prescriptions; more interestingly, a poet, a journalist, a development activist and a wanderer.
The poet is Rudyard Kipling. There are so many of us that've been involved in it, we've all read Kipling, but I'll remind you of his poem, "Arithmetic on the Frontier." He begins it describing with some dismay the British determination that one has to be "educated" expensively before you're regarded as qualified to face the foe, or "reckoned fit to face the foe." But then he describes:
"A scrimmage in a Border Station,
A canter down some dark defile
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail."
A couple of lines later:
"Strike hard who cares - shoot straight who can,
The odds are on the cheaper man."
And then he points out that:
"One sword-knot stolen from the camp
Will pay for all the school expenses
Of any Kurrum Valley scamp."
But nevertheless, these people:
"Who knows no word of moods and tenses,
But, being blessed with perfect sight,
Picks off our messmates left and right."
And something that we should be painfully reminiscent of is his line:
"With home-bred hordes the hillsides teem,
The troop-ships bring us one by one,
At vast expense of time and steam.
And his last line is:
"The 'captives of our bow and spear'
Are cheap - alas! as we are dear."
My experience in government and in life absolutely supports Kipling's judgment that the odds are on the cheaper man. Not an Afghan experience but an early experience with the failed 1980 plan to rescue hostages who were held in our embassy in Iran, and lots of military history reading has led me also to believe that the odds are on the simpler plan.
Our 1980s involvement in Afghanistan against the Soviets definitely put us on the side of the cheaper man. It was very expensive even then for the Soviets with proximity to get and support their people there. They had no requirement - or, we had no requirement to recruit or train or transport or command the forces in Afghanistan. At that time, "the hillsides teemed - (chuckles) - with hordes" that flocked to the fight. The mujahedeen clearly inherited that "perfect sight" that enabled their ancestors to pick off Kipling's messmates left and right.
And our plan was simple and time-proven: It was to make life so miserable and costly for the Soviets that they would pack up and leave. All we had to do was provide guns, ammunition and a surprisingly small amount of cash to those teeming hordes. We did require help from Pakistan and several other states, and did have to operate a relatively long and expensive supply line. But our challenges were cheap and simple compared to the Soviets.
Just as an aside, I think we're been strongly and justifiably criticized for not picking up the more complex and costly long-run job of post-conflict development when the Soviets left. And the result was Afghanistan decaying further into chaos in which the Taliban were the only option. They brought security. They brought protection to the people of Afghanistan. And they managed to conquer it not through fighting but through negotiation as they moved through the country.
And as ugly as it was, they did provide security and protection to the people, except from themselves, until they went the way of every recent political force in Afghanistan: They became more rapacious, uglier in all, and the people of Afghanistan welcomed us and NATO forces when we returned in 2001. I believe that our failure since 2001 is less of being diverted than it is of being mired down in expense and complexity. In the very beginning, the game of "let's you and him fight" was played to our detriment. Sarah Chayes does a good job in her book, "The Punishment of Virtue," describing how the appointment of the government of Kandahar was frustrated. The president of Afghanistan, newly appointed, had appointed whom he believed to be the right man and certainly had the tribal and military force - or, paramilitary force - behind him to take the job.
U.S Special Forces, on the other hand, got engaged in appointing a tribal rival because we lost that game of "let's you and him fight," because all he had to do - the tribal rival - was point and call the Taliban to the other guy. Our continued complexity and cost, we need reform or transformation of Pakistan - in order to succeed. The Soviets needed to transform Afghan society in order to succeed. The Taliban and our other enemies do not need to transform the society.
Right now, as Bruce has pointed out, the leader of the government we're seeking to develop is providing, at best, lukewarm support to our reform agenda, and there are those who complain that he's actively obstructing it. Our plan still and increasingly depends on long and expensive supply lines. Bruce's comment about a million dollars a year per soldier - there's an oft-quoted number which I've been trying to verify, but it's quoted often enough that it's become a cultural truth, that it costs $400 per gallon for every bit of fuel that is put into an ISAF truck in Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif or Herat or Kandahar.
We have to maintain cooperation with neighboring states that have mutually incompatible interests. Forget the complexity of Pakistan. Pakistan and India are both vigorously pursuing programs that each of them believes is inimical to the interests of the other. And Pakistan has many reasons to believe that our aims and theirs in Afghanistan are in conflict. Not all of these reasons are illegitimate.
Our efforts to develop a corps of people who have the language, the cultural understanding that they can have this intimacy are being frustrated. We've just been treated to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff rebuking the service chiefs because they were unable to come up with one-fourth of the required 900 members of an envisioned Afghan/Pakistan expertise course.
We are being dragged in place after place in Afghanistan in a game of "let's you and him fight." The Pashtun minority in Afghanistan is increasingly being led to believe or believes that we are supporting a civil war on behalf of other ethnic groups. A visit to Camp Eggers in downtown Kabul and a walk around the United States Embassy where most walls are festooned with pictures of Ahmad Zia Massoud would indicate that, I think wrongly - but still, it's a visible sign to any Pashtun walking around that we're on the other side.
Let me go back again to my sources of intimacy and recommend to you Sarah Chayes' book, "The Punishment of Virtue." She's spent a good bit of her life in the last 8 years - the book centers on the incident which I describe where U.S. special operations blocked Hamid Karzai's planned governor for Kabul but she interweaves into it a very well-written and interestingly - a history that's well-written, well-organized and based on a lot of her own research with original sources.
A second really important understanding of the country can be taken from Joel Hafvenstein's book, "The Opium Season," which details a year in which he was involved as a subcontractor in USAID efforts in 2004/2005 to provide alternative livelihoods to draw away the workforce from opium production. It gives a great view of the violence and corruption, these complex tribal and warlord relations, and moreover, it shows the bureaucratic profiteering and dysfunction that is increasing the complexity and cost of our involvement, not just in wars but in development.
A third source, and I think it's outstanding if you want to understand the country, is Rory Stewart, who within weeks after the fall of the Taliban walked from Herat to Kabul in the winter - which is supposed to kill you - and through Tajik, Hazara and Pashtun villages, and described that experience in a way that I think any soldier, any diplomat, any development expert must read before he goes and attempts to understand Afghanistan.
In terms of policy prescriptions, interestingly, these three people, who can be accused of an intimate understanding, are not advocates of "cut and run." Their prescriptions, as Peter has pointed out, as Bruce has pointed out, are based on the requirement to provide security for the people of Afghanistan. Sadly, now that security must not only be from the Taliban or from predacious warlords, but the security must be from the organs of the state that we are seeking to advance and stabilize.
Rory's comment - (off-side conversation) - that we do have a possibility for more realistic, affordable and therefore sustainable process - that would not make Afghanistan stable or predictable. It would merely be a small, if necessary, part of an Afghan political strategy. The U.S. and its allies would only moderate influence and fund a strategy shaped and led by Afghans themselves.
We've got to come up with a way to do that simply. And that simplicity has to be based on an intimate understanding of these folks so that we can stop losing the game of "let's you and him fight." Looking forward the next 18 months, I don't believe - and I'm late to this - that we ought to cut and run. If you had asked me just a few months ago, I would have said, get out.
I do believe that we must transform ourselves. We have got somehow to get to the point where we can afford this involvement, notwithstanding polls in Afghanistan, polls in the United States indicate that we have a very limited time in which we can continue to invest blood and treasure. We have to address our structural problems and incompetencies. I don't know if we can do this.
The way that we have gone to war, there are thick field manuals and regulations - Army regulations on how to deal with contractors on the battlefield. The United States Agency for International Development no longer has anybody, I think, or very few people, who actually go out and run a project. Everyone in the agency interacts with a contractor. I'm on a contract, myself, to the Office of the Secretary of Defense. It is, I think, a well-conceived and well-executed program; it costs at least three or four times what it would cost if government employees were carrying it out.
Our own political system is not going to be changed in the coming years but it's one of the incompetencies with which we have to struggle. I profoundly believe that the president's ability to reformulate strategy in the last few months was hampered almost to the point of impossibility by the other side failing never to pick up the cudgel that "you in your campaign described this as the good war. Now, you know, make it a good one." Never fail to pick up the cudgel of "you're not listening to your generals."
I must say that the last administration was similarly beat about the head, neck and shoulders by the Democratic Party as it tried to formulate a policy. The partisan shots are not just unseemly; they're enervating. Other systems, one of the things that Joel Hafvenstein pointed out, our efforts to reduce opium production in Afghanistan were hampered by U.S. agricultural interests that won't let us promote the production of cotton. Got to fix it.
I'm getting down to it now. The two things that we have got to address in order to simplify this - I think we've got to get outside the box. What Bruce and Peter said, you've got to solve this in a regional way. Some opportunities are arising. Interestingly, CSIS has come out with a point that our efforts to establish an alternative logistics path through "the -ikistans" - through Kirghizia, through Uzbekistan - are creating new relationships that might grow into a modern Silk Road that could be an engine for development in the region.
I'll go back to my original point of humility. As time goes on, I am less confident in my ability to provide policy prescriptions. I can only say that the ones we are trying to carry out now are far too complex and far too costly to succeed in the time that we have available. (Applause.)
MARC SAGEMAN: Thank you very much. Thank you for inviting me here. I want to start with a disclaimer. I completely agree with Frank. The more I learn from personal experience and from extensive studies on Afghanistan, the less I know. So with that in mind, I hope you'll indulge me and perhaps listen to what I have to say.
First of all, we're not dealing with a war. We're dealing with two wars. And one, nobody really talks about; the one that's probably the most important. And they're kind of disconnected and they're independent of each other.
The one that nobody really talks about is a war fought right here in Washington, D.C., within the Beltway. This will have far more impact on whatever is happening in Afghanistan than probably what's happening in Afghanistan itself. But this war is fought on the field of polemical exaggeration and hysteria, and obfuscating terms that actually hide the reality on the ground in Afghanistan. It's driven by naked political ambition rather than the national interest, and it leads to very strange bedfellows, as we see right now where the president has far more support with the Republicans than he has with his own party. What is the surge going to do? Well, the surge is going to increase opposition to the war, as we have seen already. And not only within this country but also within Europe, where, of course, our NATO allies are right there with us. And this, of course, just like Frank mentioned, gives us limited time to do something because with the surge, we are going to see increased numbers of deaths, we're going to see the images of body bags being flown back.
And that, the number of deaths - not just ours but the number of deaths of Afghans - will paradoxically increase domestic terrorism both in this country and in the West because of the moral outrage. I can only refer you to what happened two months ago with Maj. Hasan killing people in Fort Hood. So in a sense, the surge paradoxically and ironically will accelerate our withdrawal from Afghanistan, especially by 2012, because it is going to be a huge issue in the presidential election. And of course, much of it will depend on what will happen in our election 10 months from now - to see how much the Democrats are going to lose in Congress.
Okay, enough about Washington, D.C. What about Afghanistan itself? Well, there are four issues and they are not totally linked and, in a sense, they have some independence. It's Afghanistan, of course; Pakistan; Taliban; and al-Qaida. I don't really have the time to get into Pakistan because of limited time, but it probably will depend on internal factors within Pakistan.
In terms of Afghanistan, let me repeat several times: We do not have any vital interest in Afghanistan, period. We do not have any vital interest in Afghanistan except for domestic national security. That is why we are in Afghanistan. As a matter of fact, we are looking very closely to Yemen right now. Ten years ago, we would have been looking at Sudan - in fact, 15 years ago we'd have been looking at Sudan. And we are looking closely at Somalia.
So you can see, we actually do not have any vital interest in Afghanistan itself, except for domestic national security interests. Okay, that leads to the next question: What is the threat here in the United States or in the West? Well, I've done a comprehensive survey of all al-Qaida-like plots - successful and unsuccessful - in the West in the last 20 years since the creation of al-Qaida. Well, there's been no al-Qaida resurgence, as trumpeted 3 years ago by even some people on this panel. There've been only two plots in the last 3 years linked to al-Qaida. That was Hammad Khurshd in Denmark in September 2004, and probably Najibullah Zazi in New York and Denver here. There has been no fatality in the West linked to al-Qaida in nearly 5 years in the West.
If you look at the plots, over 80 percent are homegrown, without any relationship to any terrorist organization. And those that have some relationship to any terrorist organization, it is no longer al-Qaida. It's the IJU, an Uzbek group; it's Lashkar-e-Taiba, as pointed out by Bruce; it was TTP, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Barcelona plot; and now al-Shabaab in Somalia, you know, the fellow who tried to kill the cartoonist in Denmark last week; AQ in the Arabic Peninsula, the underwear bomber; and people are always afraid of the AQIM in North Africa.
So there are a few Afghans in al-Qaida and almost no al-Qaida in Afghanistan. If we trace back, you know, the plots that have any connection to terrorist groups in the West in the last 8 years, we see that none - and I repeat, none - are traced back to Afghanistan. Those that I traced back to the terrorist groups until this past year were all traced back to Pakistan, and now to Yemen and Somalia.
So in order to actually promote national security here, we need to focus on the group that can project to the West. And those are the groups that I just mentioned. The Afghan insurgents do not project to the West. They have a domestic agenda.
Okay, so what are our stated goals for being in Afghanistan? Well, to disrupt, dismantle, defeat al-Qaida and its allies. Well, this is mostly accomplished for the disruption and dismantling in Afghanistan. They have moved to the FATA, as pointed out by Bruce. So we have succeeded on part of that. We have not defeated al-Qaida. Al-Qaida is not dead, as was shown last week by the killing of the CIA officers in Khost.
Okay, so what is the surge going to do for us for the next 18 months? It's going to be very uneven and it will depend on the implementation of what we do, and it's going to vary according to the locality in Afghanistan. It is not going to be even. So some of them will be good and those of course will be trumpeted in Washington, and those that will be bad will be trumpeted in Washington - (chuckles) - because you have two camps.
What we really should be able to do is to isolate the foreigners, namely al-Qaida and foreign terrorist groups - mostly foreigners - from the locals, especially from the Taliban. This is much easier than defeating the Taliban. But now that we are in Afghanistan, what is our goal there? I would put it to you, our goals are three-fold and they are all political. One is to provide security; second is to help them develop good governance, and third, to stimulate their economy.
Okay, so let's look at each one in turn. In terms of security, I believe the surge will improve security. And perhaps, it may even temporarily, at least, prevent a civil war within Afghanistan. In terms of good governance, well - and what do I mean by good governance? Good governance, a provision of administration to provide justice; something the Taliban did fairly well, actually, which is why it had some popularity.
And now people reminisce with nostalgia about that, despite what Peter says. The only thing that - they don't like the Taliban but they did like the fairness and the lack of corruption. So it's to provide fair dispute resolution, to provide justice and to decrease the corruption and nepotism that you find that's paralyzing any local initative.
Unfortunately for us, this is up to the Afghans to do. We cannot impose our institutions from the top. From my own experience with the Afghans - and I was in contact very intensively with them day to day for 3 years - you realize the limits of your power with them. You can't really control them, you can't - and you know, I had a wad of cash to really give them. So you can see the limits of your influence on the Afghans so you can, you know - push them gently in that goal. And so we have to be very cognizant of our own limitations of what we can do because this is very much an Afghan issue.
And third, we need to stimulate their economy. That means they have to develop jobs and a sense of purpose. And this is dependent on good leadership, which, of course, is absent - as Bruce told you, the leader has little legitimacy because of the disaster of the election - and investment, which we actually can provide.
This actually led me to go back and review what Soviet policy was in Afghanistan for 10 years. This has been badmouthed so far in this panel. I was on the other side. I was intimately involved in running the war against the Soviets for 3 years, so you don't have to underestimate your enemy. The whole point that I'm trying to put to you is that we should not repeat their mistakes. We should learn from their mistakes.
And what did the Soviets have? Well, the Soviets had an advantage. They were dealing with a less corrupt Afghan government and they were dealing with actually fairly strong leadership as soon as they got rid of Babrak Karmal and put Najibullah in as the president. Najibullah was actually a fairly effective president and uncorrupt. And they did not have any pressure from domestic protest because they basically hid the body bags. They actually did not tell the population how many people they lost during the war until after the war. They were very careful about that. Nobody could mention Afghanistan.
They actually developed a fairly efficient and effective counterinsurgency doctrine after 1986. They learned from their mistakes after about 6 years. And what they did is exactly what we are suggesting right now, which, to me, was a surprise because it was fairly sophisticated. They were preaching national reconciliation and achieved quite a bit of success with it.
They withdrew from the countryside, consolidating the cities, and provided security in the cities and the road wars for most of the time they were there. I know because I was very frustrated; I was trying to disrupt that security from my side. They encouraged armed local militias in order to kind of frustrate me and my colleagues, the mujahedeen, at the time. And they were pretty good.
They also had a fairly decent administration for dispensing justice for this kind of conflict resolution. And they built roads, they built schools, they built factories, they built hospitals. That sounds really familiar.
Well, what did that give them? That gave them a decent interval of 3 years from the time they withdrew to the time when Najibullah fell. And that decent interval lasted as long as the money and the support flowed from the Soviet Union. As soon as Yeltsin took over, he cut it off and Najibullah fell within months.
How about the international coalition? Well, we have some advantages over the Soviets. The war was very unpopular with the Soviets. We have professional soldiers and the morale is much higher than the Soviet Army. We don't have a superpower on the other side supporting the resistance. There are no Stingers. Can you imagine what would happen right now if the Taliban had Stingers to shoot down our helicopters? It would be a disaster.
And we have not killed as many civilians as the Soviets did. They probably killed close to a million people, which, you know, earned them tremendous, tremendous unpopularity, as pointed out by Peter. So what's going to happen in 18 months? Well, in 18 months, we're going to withdraw mostly by 2012 because of the elections; secondary to, as I said, the war within the Beltway.
We will increase security in Afghanistan but the question mark is, will that security be enough to allow the Afghans to take responsibility for the future and develop their own country? That's really the key issue. I'm fairly pessimistic because it depends on having a good Afghan partner, and right now, I don't think we have it yet. Karzai lacks legitimacy and is impossible in this country.
So this really will depend on, again, achieving security which I think is achievable, good governance which is a big question mark. And of course with good governance comes, with our own money, investment for jobs, jobs, jobs. Without jobs, jobs, jobs, Afghanistan will not be a positive scenario in the future.
But, saying that, I must conclude by pointing out that this is not going to affect our domestic national security. As we see with the last three plots, the underwear bomber came from Yemen - well, I mean, was helped in Yemen; came from Nigeria and London. The attack on the Danish cartoonist came from Somalia. And Maj. Hasan came from Washington, D.C. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
DR. MATTAIR: Peter has to leave at 11:00 so he should take the first few questions, and there's a microphone in the back of the room for anyone who'd like to ask a question.
Q: My name is Mustafa Malik. I worked some 30 years as a journalist and researcher in the United States. I retired 2 years ago. My question is for Peter Bergen, specifically. What I hear now in this seminar and the last few exactly what I was hearing before the Iraq war. And the premise was that we will be hailed as liberators because Saddam Hussein is unpopular; that we'll have democracy that will be Western, secular democracy. Now, it is an Islamic system.
The reason I'm here is that, have you really just checked the hypothesis somewhere that we are not the Soviets? That Afghan people love us?
You said that - and one last point I want to make - I'm told that the other speaker was comparing Afghanistan - our presence in Afghanistan to Soviet presence in Afghanistan; they were doing exactly the same thing that we are trying to do.
I would just mention that I was born in India. The British were doing the same thing in India. They developed railroads, schools, colleges, and sent Indians to Britain for education, and to understand the blessings of Western civilization -
MR. BERGEN: What's the question?
Q: My question is, are we not doing the same thing other colonial and imperial powers did and failed, believing their own premises about testing what Afghans are doing? I visited twice Pakistan in the last 3 years. I exactly heard them say that this is the same jihad against foreigners that we fought in the 1980s, now against Americans.
DR. MATTAIR: Okay, thank you, Mustafa. We have it.
MR. BERGEN: Are we making the same mistakes as the Soviets; are we making the same mistake that we made in Iraq in 2003? I think that was the question. Well, the difference between the Soviet occupation and the American - and by the way, our 42 other countries that are involved in the effort in Afghanistan - is like night and day.
And Marc Sageman touched on this briefly, but I think it's important to remember that 1.5 million Afghans were killed by the Soviets - 10 percent of the population; 5 million of them became refugees. It was the largest refugee population in history at the time. A third of the population left. The Soviets also left the most heavily mined country in the world. I mean, to compare this to what is happening today is just really, I'm afraid, not very good history.
On the issue of, is this similar to what we were doing in Iraq in 2003, are the arguments similar, I think a more relevant question is, what are the similarities to where we were in Iraq when the surge was a question of great interest to policymakers and everybody else in the country?
And think about the Iraq surge for one second. The Iraq surge, which I personally opposed along with practically everybody else probably on the panel, I thought was just doubling down on a bad bet. Part of the reason that I opposed it was a lack of knowledge about what was actually going on in Iraq.
The Iraq surge went into probably one of the nastiest civil wars in recent modern history. The Ministry of the Interior at the time of the surge was essentially a Shia death squad. Now, no matter how bad the Afghan situation is right now, it is not embroiled in a major civil war, nor is the government essentially a sectarian entity, as the government of Iraq was at the time. So actually, this surge is going into a much better situation than existed in Iraq.
And just addressing the American domestic scene, Americans are much more casualty-averse than most people suspect. And there's very good academic data - in fact, Peter Feaver of Duke University has done a lot of work on this. What Americans don't like is losing. And when they were losing in Iraq, the war was very unpopular. It's almost a nonissue now that it seems to be somewhat stabilizing.
And so I think if the surge, as Marc says, brings more security and Americans feel like, well, there's progress that's being made, the casualties that come with that are going to be dealt with in a way that, politically, they'll be handled.
You may recall, the worst months of the war in Iraq were six months after the surge, where 120 Americans were being killed every month in the wilds. But as the situation stabilized, the American domestic political scene changed. And I think you'll see the same thing on Afghanistan.
Q: Hi, I'm Susan Cornwell with Reuters and this is a question for Bruce Riedel. Are you concerned that - and it's for anyone who wants to comment on it, frankly, but are you concerned that this recent focus on Yemen will result in dwindling support for the war in Afghanistan, especially here on Capitol Hill? And I'd also be interested to hear how you sort of assess this threat from Yemen, and what you think. Is some kind of direct U.S. military intervention thinkable there? Thank you.
MR. RIEDEL: I'll answer the last question. Anyone who wants direct U.S. military intervention in Yemen needs to have their head examined. We've got enough on our plate as it is. We don't need a third war in the Middle East. The experience of foreign armies in Yemen, most recently the Egyptians, ought to be one that cautions anyone who thinks there's a made-in-America solution to the problem of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has become a more powerful and more dangerous foe in the last year at the direction of Osama bin Laden - and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has said it was at the direction of Osama bin Laden. The al-Qaida cells in Saudi Arabia, which had been badly repressed, effectively repressed, by the Saudis merged with the al-Qaida cells in Yemen. It proved to be quite a smart, strategic move. They seem to have benefited from the interaction between the two.
They seem to have found a very clever bombmaker. He may have failed on his two attempts; one on the deputy minister of interior, Mohammed bin Nayef, last August, and the second on the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, but I wouldn't bet on them failing every time. If that bomb had gone off properly on that flight to Detroit, we would have had a catastrophic incident. The president quite rightly put it the other day, "We dodged a bullet." I think inside his own head, he knows something even more important: He dodged a catastrophic bullet.
We will have to apply to Yemen a reasonable amount of effort to try to assist a very weak partner, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to focus on al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. We should have no illusions about this partner. His enthusiasm for the mission is very limited; he has a lot else on his plate. But if we give him the support, if we help Yemen, if we provide the intelligence support, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula can be brought under control. At least, we have to make every effort to do so.
I think your larger question was should they be, now, diverted from Pakistan to Yemen - and I don't think so. Marc and I disagree on some of the particulars but I think we come down on the same bottom line: The most dangerous threats over the last several years have all originated out of Pakistan. Certainly, the most dangerous threat of them all, the failed attempt in August of 2006 to down multiple airliners over the Atlantic, was based in Pakistan.
Barack Obama inherited a reality that we are at war in Afghanistan. We don't have a time machine. We can't go back and redo this war the right way. We are in it now. What happens in that war will have a tremendous impact across the border, which is the far more important strategic prize in this conflict.
Q: I'm Nassim Nastanazai (ph) from Voice of America. I have a question for Mr. Peter Bergen. As we heard in this meeting and also the media always comment that most of the Pashtun areas, they don't have security, they don't get benefits from reconstruction, let alone, the economic development. And also, I read in one of the reports last year from one of the provinces, only one person went to Kabul University.
So if this situation continues, this will be in the benefit of Taliban or al-Qaida. What can we do to transform that, to separate mainly Pashtuns who feel that they are marginalized in the government to transform or to include them in this process of security or economic development and good governance? Thank you.
MR. BERGEN: You know, one thing that Afghanistan lacks is effective Pashtun political parties. Right now, you're stuck with a choice between, on one hand, Hamid Karzai, or the other, the Taliban. And my understanding is that Hamid Karzai has been - this is not something he's encouraged. So perhaps in the next 5 years, you'll have Pashtun political parties that emerge, similar to the ANP, for instance, in FATA and the North-West Frontier Province; secular Pashtun political parties that represent something, an alternative, that isn't necessarily the Taliban.
Obviously, the questioner is completely right that a lot of Pashtuns feel excluded from the benefits of the - the potential benefits of the Afghan national polity, but I do think the most important good that we can deliver is security.
And let me give you one benchmark that would be a useful one that is very observable in the next 18 months. Just as Route Irish was - the Route Irish was the road between Baghdad city airport and Baghdad. It was the most dangerous world in the road for about 3 years. You were very likely to be killed by a suicide bomber if you drove down it. And the fact that that was the most dangerous road in the world said everything you needed to know about Iraq.
The fact that the Kabul-to-Kandahar road, which used to be - I've taken the road many times. Under the Taliban, it was a 17-hour trip. It went down to about seven hours. In 2005 and 2006, I could take randomly selected cabs from the Kandahar bazaar and drive that road without incident. If anybody in the room took it today, basically you'd be effectively signing your own death warrant.
This is the most important road politically and economically in the country, and it would be very observable in the next 18 months if it returned to a road that actually could be used. And that would be a sign of real progress. So that's the kind of thing that most Pashtuns want. That road connects the Pashtun capital to the national capital. And that's the sort of thing, I think, that the new surge will deliver. That is something we can deliver.
DR. MATTAIR: Jeff, do you mind if I ask a quick question first? Peter, before you leave, how would define a vital U.S interest in Afghanistan when Gen. Jones has said there are probably only 100 al-Qaida fighters there, and in response to what Marc was arguing.
MR. BERGEN: Well, you know, there were 200 members of al-Qaida on 9/11. So small numbers of people can affect history very greatly, and I would make two points. Talking about Afghanistan without talking about Pakistan would be like talking about Palestine without talking about Israel, or vice versa.
I mean, the notion - we may say there's a border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but none of the people we've been talking about today do. The Pakistani Taliban don't recognize the border; the Afghan Taliban don't recognize the border. By the way, that's a misnomer since all the Afghan Taliban are really headquartered in Pakistan. Lashkar-e-Taiba doesn't recognize the border. The Islamic Jihad Union doesn't recognize the border. Al-Qaida doesn't recognize the border. The border doesn't exist.
And so, to talk about Afghanistan without reference to the fact that all these groups are in Pakistan - are headquartered there and go back and forth all the time - I think is not right. And we cannot - the 82nd Airborne or the 10th Mountain is not about to invade Pakistan. That is not going to happen unless there is a major attack in the United States that can be traceable back to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
However, given that fact, what we're doing in Afghanistan is a counter-sanctuary strategy so that they don't also take over Afghanistan, as they did - we've already run this videotape once before. We know what a vacuum in Afghanistan produces. And so that's what we're trying to do, the counter-sanctuary strategy. And we're also trying to affect what goes on in Pakistan. And these things are interrelated. On the question of, does al-Qaida threaten us or not, the most lethal attacks - I mean, it's not the number of attacks that al-Qaida gets through; it's the lethality or the threateningness of each attack. So 9/11 was the biggest terrorist attack in history. Seven/seven (7/7) which was directed by al-Qaida in London on July 7, 2005, was the deadliest terrorist attack in British history. If the planes plot had succeeded, as Bruce points out, that would have been 1500 dead Americans, Canadians and Brits in the middle of the Atlantic in 2006. If the Northwest flight had worked, that would have basically closed down the global economy and killed the American economy in the middle of the nastiest recession since the Great Depression.
Al-Qaida is the group that is doing these attacks. Maj. Hasan killed 13 people - it was sort of a big deal, but it's not a, sort of, national security problem. Would the Northwest flight have been a 9/11-style event or would it have been like Pan Am 103? It's an interesting question. In the post-9/11 world, I don't think it looks like Pan Am 103; I think it looks bigger.
DR. MATTAIR: Thank you. Jeff, thank you for waiting.
Q: Thank you. Jeff Steinberg, EIR. For many years, from this podium, Chas. Freeman criticized the Bush/Cheney administration for practicing what he called diplomacy-free foreign policy, so I'd like to ask about the diplomatic dimensions and perhaps some other opportunities that may present themselves in this situation.
Number one, a critical aspect of Afghanistan is obviously the fact that it has been, historically, a surrogate war between Pakistan and India - that the support for al-Qaida, Taliban and these elements from within the ISI and others in Pakistan is all oriented towards the fact that India is seen as exploiting Afghanistan as a rear flank in the conflict between India and Pakistan.
And yet, it seems that the Indian government, in the recent period, has recognized that there's a shift in Pakistan and that the attacks that are going on against the internal jihadi forces are a more serious factor. You saw, for example, the prime minister of India pulled 30,000 troops out of Kashmir recently. Similarly, obviously, the Russians see a benefit to solving this Af-Pak problem because they're giving us a degree of logistical support that's pretty unprecedented, even beyond what they did in 2001 after 9/11. And the Chinese have a strong vested interest in dealing with the fact that there are certain bases of operation for the Uighur network.
So I'm wondering whether or not there are diplomatic avenues that go beyond the U.S.-NATO cooperation that go more to people who have a much more immediate vested interest in long-term stability, economic development and solving these regional problems?
And secondly, the other thing I worry about is that we're headed for an Iran crisis in the immediate weeks and months ahead that may change this equation radically. And I wonder how much that's been taken into account in the deliberations on the Afghan policy. What would be the implications of an Israeli or larger military action against Iran over the nuclear issue. Thank you.
DR. MATTAIR: Do you want to take it?
MR. RIEDEL: Sure, let me take a stab at that. You're absolutely right: The diplomatic dimension to this is absolutely critical. I think that the strategy the president outlined in March put that at the top of the agenda. I know we've spent a lot of time talking about the counterinsurgency part, and for good reason. That's the most expensive part; that's the part where body bags come home. But I firmly believe the regional diplomatic part of it is much more important to the long-term chances of stabilizing Afghanistan and, even more importantly, Pakistan.
If you look at the travels of Richard Holbrooke, you'll see that he's been on the case. He's at least going around and making the effort. How far he's succeeded, I think it's too early to tell. If you'll recall, just a year ago, the president spoke inadvertently to Time magazine - I think it was Time - about the importance of working the Pakistani-Indian dimension. I think he learned an important lesson from that. You can't talk about that dimension, but it doesn't detract from the fact that it's absolutely vitally important.
If we want to change Pakistani behavior, we have to deal with the thing that drives Pakistani behavior - and that's India. It got a whole lot more trouble - more difficult - 13 months ago in Mumbai, when Lashkar-e-Taiba, probably with the assistance of al-Qaida, carried out that attack. Why did they do that? Precisely to make it more difficult to get a reduction in tensions between Pakistan and India.
The jihadists who we are fighting have understood from the beginning of this conflict that if you want to take the heat off of them in Pakistan, heat up the border between India and Pakistan. That's why, after we drove al-Qaida and the Taliban out of Afghanistan in 2001, what do they do? They attack the Indian parliament. It was a brilliant tactical move that resulted in strategic space for them.
In order to try to improve relations between Pakistan and India, we have to do something that American diplomacy is not good at - not talk about it, operate under the radar screen, be supportive of others, not try to have the stage all to ourselves. I'm not sure American diplomacy can do it, frankly, and I don't think it's in our genes. But that's what we need to do. Is the administration working on that? As I said at the beginning, I'm not a spokesman for the administration, but I would point you to one fact. The first state visit dinner of this administration was with the Indian leadership, because I think this administration understands exactly how important that is.
Now, I realize most of you don't realize that, that state dinner included Indians because we'd become obsessed with a couple from West Virginia that showed up at the dinner, but fortunately, in India, they do understand it was about the importance of the U.S.-Indian relationship. Is it impossible? No, I don't think it's impossible. In one of the most important journalistic articles, I would say, of this last year, Steve Coll pointed out, in The New Yorker, in an article about the back channel, that India and Pakistan have actually come a long way, over the last several years, in finding the basis for a solution to their longstanding problems.
They didn't find it, but they've come a long way towards finding it. American diplomacy should have, as its objective, trying to help Indians and Pakistanis get back to that back channel and to try to put this back on track. I won't say very much about Russia, other than to say I think the amount of support we've gotten from the Russians is not quite as high as you have hoped that we have gotten so far.
The Chinese - I will unabashedly push a new paper that the Brookings Institution is putting out this week on our Web site on how the United States and China should work together to try to improve the stability of Pakistan. If Pakistanis regard us as the unreliable ally - and that's not usually the terminology they use; it's a little more colorful than that, but I won't use it in this mixed audience - they regard China as the reliable ally - the all-weather friend. We need to get the Chinese involved in this in a big way. And on Iran, you're absolutely right. If we enter into a period of confrontation with Iran now, the Iranians will look for ways to hurt us, and the easiest way for the Iranians to hurt us right now is Obama's war right next door. The most prosperous, efficient and effective part of Afghanistan today is around the city of Herat, because the Iranians provide the electricity, provide the economic development and help to provide the security. They could change that overnight, if they wanted to.
And as we think about how we go forward with Iran, which I would be the first to admit is a very serious national security problem for us, we have to think of it in this regional dimension and how what we do with Iran will affect the war in Afghanistan.
DR. MATTAIR: Frank, do you want to comment on that?
MR. ANDERSON: Actually, no. I can't think of anything I would add.
DR. MATTAIR: Marc?
DR. SAGEMAN: Just to add a little extra dimension, namely the Indian-Chinese dimension, because since the Chinese are allied with Pakistan, you also have to look at it through the Indian-Chinese connection as well, and that, of course, complicates it even further.
DR. MATTAIR: Just one little point, I think that on Russia, Bruce, Russia promised us thousands of flights a year to deliver lethal equipment to our troops in Afghanistan. As of November, I think they had permitted one. So they're 999 short, at least.
Q: Karen Moeller (sp) with Pacifica Radio. Frank Anderson had talked a little bit about contactors, and I just wanted to throw this question out to anyone: What role do you think companies like Blackwater, or what's formally known as Blackwater - what role will they be playing in Afghanistan? What are your thoughts on that?
MR. ANDERSON: There was a bad echo, but are you asking me about what role Blackwater is playing in Afghanistan?
Q: Yeah, well, what role do you think organizations like Blackwater - or now, I believe it's called Xe - what role do you feel like they'll be playing in Afghanistan?
MR. ANDERSON: I think that one of our serious dysfunctions is that we have organized ourselves in such a way that what are essential state functions are now performed by businesses. I can't think of any way that it makes sense or that a nation should justify that its embassy in Afghanistan - and all its embassies all around the world - are protected by businessmen.
Rather than the Marine security guards, when you approach the embassy in Kabul, you go through a layer of Afghan police - that's comforting - then a group, not of Blackwater, but another American security company. And then you can turn left - and I don't even know which contractor covers the gate of the embassy - or you can turn right into the International Security in Afghanistan Force - ISAF headquarters - where you first go through another Afghan private security company and then you're confronted by gates and barriers manned by the Macedonians.
It's just - there's no way that we should have allowed ourselves to be deployed where we have to have businessmen performing essential state functions. I can't think of any other thing to say. And it's not just security - it's not just Blackwater. It's - well, it would be wrong for me to list individual companies - but we have stopped doing the business of government. Government is now performed by businesses, and I don't know how many more times it costs to have a government function performed by businessmen, but I know it's at least two or three.
Q: So do you see that there will be an increase in this type of involvement, or will it be the same, or will it be different than what we did in Iraq?
MR. ANDERSON: Fixing this would require revolutionary change. We have, over the last 30 or 40 years, privatized function after function after function with the idea - and it was once an ideological view from one political party - that business is essentially more efficient than government. Looking at those around the room who've been in government and then in business - and I'll tell you my personal experience - it just doesn't play out.
Bureaucracy is inefficient. You know, if you get 50 people in a business, it's going to become inefficient because you've got business and it's not going to be more or less efficient than 50 people in the government. We have increasingly chosen not to employ government people - and I suppose it makes sense that you privatize the snow plowing function in the city of Washington. I think it makes less sense that you privatize the analysis of intelligence. I think it is obscene that you privatize the application of violence.
Q: If I could just add, I fully agree with everything Frank has said. The irony is, as we've outsourced all of these government functions, particularly in the intelligence community, we've just built a larger and larger intelligence community bureaucracy with more and more layers of review, more and more people who are reading contracts every day and overseeing contractors, rather than doing their jobs.
We now have more institutions in the intelligence community than we've ever had before. The best example of that - look at the picture of the president meeting with his so-called intelligence advisors in the White House two days ago. How many people were in that room? Who's the sheriff? We've got a huge posse of bureaucrats; who's in charge?
Q: My name is Ali Abu Zakuk and I am working in the NGO field in the Middle East, North Africa and - (inaudible). I would like, since I am here in the Middle East Policy Council with a good number of people who are really in the intelligence and policymaking, in the larger picture, in the macro picture of the United States' relationship with the Muslim world, aren't we really, in a way, becoming hostage to two smaller groups?
Outside, in the Muslim world, al-Qaida does not represent even one thousand or half a thousand of the 1.5 billion Muslims. And in the United States, we have a very strong group which really influences the policy of the United States, that creates problems for us in the United States and other places. As policymakers, where is our national interest, and who is guarding it? Many questions are in the Muslim streets when I go there as an American, but I am as an American Muslim.
And I see they may accept me as, you know, a brother in faith, sometimes, but they lash me as an American for our policies, everywhere - from Nigeria to Sudan to other places. So my question to you in this good gathering: How can we get out of this mess and where can we build a relationship that will protect the vital interests of our society here without sacrificing our good relationship with the larger scope of the Muslim world?
DR. MATTAIR: Anyone?
MR. ANDERSON: It is an ideological question about whether or not terrorism should be addressed as a crime or a geopolitical military issue. It's unpopular - or it has been; it's becoming less unpopular - to recognize that it is a crime - the way that you have to deal with terrorism is the way that you have to deal with murder and narcotics and bank fraud. In our judicial system, if you want to prove a crime, you have to prove motive, means and opportunity.
If you want to prevent a crime, you need to figure out a way to attack motive, means and opportunity. We have selected to go to war, in at least one case, and arguably, we've continued in war, in ways, in another, that has had very limited effect on the terrorists' means. We've done a pretty good job and we've certainly invested a lot in reducing opportunity. Al-Qaida and other terrorists are clever and they've done a fine job, from their point of view, of overcoming barriers, but we are a much more secure nation and it's a much more secure world. It's tougher to be a terrorist now than it was before. We've reduced opportunity.
It's not soft, it's not surrendering to the enemy, to recognize that we have to address motivation. To the extent that terrorists are motivated to act against us by our policies, we have to question whether or not the policies are sufficiently important or are of positive value to us that we ought not to adjust them. If they are, we - you know, you address the terrorist by attacking his means.
The second President Bush made a good point; there are some people in the world who are angry at us because of what we do. There are others who hate us because of what we are. Those who are angry with us because of what we do - we have to make a choice. Do we adopt policies that respond to their anger, or do we decide that our policies are important enough to us that we're going to persist in them and then deal with their anger through reducing means and opportunities?
To the limited number of people - those who are associated with al-Qaida and others - they're not angry with us because of what we do, no matter what they say. They hate us because of what we are. And it isn't that we're democratic; it's just that we're what we are. We're richer; we're more comfortable; we're more powerful; we're more loud and brash. And therefore, they want to kill us. Our only opportunity with those people is to hunt them down and kill them.
With everybody else, I think there are opportunities to improve our position with them and with us, addressing motivation - what are our policies?; means - cut down their ability to obtain finance, reduce their safe havens, reduce their personnel; and certainly opportunity - apply security across our infrastructure and our society.
DR. MATTAIR: Bruce and Marc, can you comment on that? Do you think that if we were to - can we take their arguments away from them? If we were to help a Palestinian state come into being, if we were to have a lighter military footprint in the Persian Gulf and an over-the-horizon capability, if we addressed the grievances they articulate, would that make a difference, or not?
DR. SAGEMAN: I think it would decrease the probability of terrorist acts. It's not going to take them away. There's always going to be malcontents, so don't be too naïve that we're going to really put an end to terrorism. It's here to stay - not just this type of new jihadi terrorism, but it's going to be ecological terrorism, it was leftist terrorism 40 years ago. There's always malcontent. We're never going to live in a utopia where everybody's happy.
But that being said, it's also, in a sense, aggravated by what I call that first war, within Washington, where people milk this issue for naked political ambition. Because it happens to be very popular with voters. It's the same thing on being tough on crime. I agree with Frank; I view terrorism as crime, as well.
But you know, everybody's kind of rushing to say, I'm tougher than my opponent on crime, because it's very popular. And so the domestic agenda will always drive the foreign agenda. And so if you have foreigners who stupidly listen to what we say, well, they're going to be upset because what we say - our target audience is a domestic audience, and not going to always resonate domestically, but of course, it's going to really put us at a disadvantage abroad.
MR. RIEDEL: My answer to the question is yes, it would make a great deal of difference. If the United States looks at the motivations and the dynamics that lie at the heart of the appeal of al-Qaida in the Islamic world, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the sense of alienation over what happens in Palestine has always been one of al-Qaida's strongest recruiting mechanisms.
If you look at the lives of the leaders of al-Qaida - Osama bin Laden and especially Ayman Zawahiri - it's always about the Arab-Israeli conflict. May I remind you of something, however? Their end state - and here, I think we're in the same place - Frank, Marc and I - is not a just and lasting peace. Their end state is the elimination of Israel. We are never going to convince them, through our actions, to change. But we can affect the milieu in which they recruit and operate.
I suspect, in the next day or so, we are going to see a martyrdom video tape or a martyrdom video will of some sort from Mr. al-Khorasani, the man who attacked us at Khost. And I suspect that he will talk a lot about the Zionist crusader alliance and who he was fighting. We should not succumb to the argument that trying to take away these motives is somehow appeasing the enemy. The Arab-Israeli conflict has become a threat to the national security of the United States of America and we must recognize it as a threat to the national security interests of the United States of America.
The president made a very good start in Cairo. The devil is in the details. I think I can say with some authority that trying to get Israelis and Palestinians to agree on anything is a lot harder to do in the real world than it is to do in the think tank world. But that doesn't diminish the absolute importance of the administration pursuing this. Countering the narrative and ideology of al-Qaida has to deal with the issues that al-Qaida says itself are the essence of its appeal. Talking about it is a good first step; following through is absolutely imperative.
DR. MATTAIR: Yes, Bruce, I agree 100 percent with what you just said.
Q: I'm Robin Walker with the Truman National Security Project. Bruce, you mentioned this briefly, but since we have decades of experience here with the CIA, I thought I'd ask you guys for your analysis of the bombing in Khost recently. What does it mean that we were taken by a Jordanian double or triple-agent? What does it mean that two of the people killed were Blackwater employees, or former Blackwater employees? Just your analysis on that please.
MR. RIEDEL: My two colleagues spent more time in the dark side of the CIA than I did, so I may be the least qualified to discuss this. First of all, we don't know what happened yet. We have very scanty press reports. But let's assume it was some kind of triple- or double-agent or whatever he was - a quadruple-agent.
To me, one of the most interesting things is, what was it that he was bringing to the table? As far as we can tell from the press accounts - and I stress, we only have press accounts; we don't really know what happened - he was bringing to the table some really big bait - the location of Ayman Zawahiri - specifics on where we would find high-value target number two. We haven't had that in 8 years. That was huge bait.
Now, I'm not going to comment about the wisdom of the tradecraft of the people involved here. I think they've paid the ultimate price for whatever mistakes they made. But I can understand that if that was, indeed, the bait, this was a big, big operation.
MR. ANDERSON: I guess I can only add a little, but confirm a lot to what Bruce has said. Like Bruce, I only know what's been in the press. And I'm actually comforted that the leaks of past events have not been repeated. We don't know everybody who was killed. But the things that came out indicate that this was a double- or triple-operation, and as Bruce said, accomplishing that is difficult.
One of the things that you have to do in a double-agent operation, which is one in which you send someone pretending to be a source in to your enemy so that, that person can either act or learn enough to be to your interest by giving you more information than you give up. But you've got to give up information. It's called feedstock. You have to give up intelligence.
This operative or person, if the press is to be believed, gave up a lot over time and developed confidence on the part of the CIA, or perhaps it was the Jordanian service that was handling him. There was a member of the Jordanian royal family who was tragically among the dead. I have to go along with Bruce. I can't figure a way to question the tradecraft of people 10,000 miles away. I wasn't in the room. To some extent, it may be the case that inexperience played a role. I understand that the chief of base was on her first overseas assignment.
The agency is a far less experienced institution than previously. It grew very quickly. It grows quickly in times of war and retracts in times of peace, and every time it grows, it has growth pains - a lot of people doing what they're doing for the first time. I once had a boss scream about a friend saying, no one should be the chief of station for the first time. It could very well have been inexperience, could very well have been mistakes.
I don't think, other than the subject, as we've beat it to death so far, that it means much that the people who were killed were Blackwater. They should have been government employees; they weren't. What it means is that in this war, if we want to get time on Zawahiri and someone's bringing us information that sacrifices - and it almost certainly did - other targets in order to get to this target, we might fall for that one again.
DR. SAGEMAN: Let me add something to this. I'm not a journalist and therefore, I don't usually comment on recent events, because it turns out, in my experience, that as the investigation unfolds, all the hysteria happens to be wrong. And so let's not judge immediately what happened when you call it a double or triple-agent or something like that. Let's look at the facts, on this one.
This was a guy who had a reputation on the Internet, who was a very reluctant recruit of the Jordanians, who was sent, reluctantly, to the area in order to penetrate al-Qaida. I don't think of him as a double-agent so far. I think of him as a very reluctant recruit who probably fessed up to al-Qaida when he actually met with them and they said, look, we can turn this around.
And he might have just been sent back - not double agent; this is really a failed operation from the start, it could be. So let's wait a little bit before we label it a double, triple, sophistication and so on. I think simple explanations are always the best, even in the intelligence world, but let's not pre-judge this and wait until the investigation unfolds.
Q: Megan Katt from CNA. My question is regarding the strategic communication in Afghanistan. Peter Bergen, at the beginning of his talk, talked about public opinion polls and how the coalition still has a pretty strong favoring. However, our popularity has decreased year after year as our words and actions haven't exactly matched. And a couple of panelists talked about how the Soviets, you know, did try to build schools and hospitals, but then they'd completely alienate the population by flattening a village if a mujahedeen had fired on them and, you know, creating high casualties.
Similarly, in Afghanistan, we've had a hard time matching our words and deeds, and McChrystal has tried to remedy this recently. But the insurgents have been very good at exploiting civilian casualties and diminished expectations. And I'm just wondering how important you think strategic communication is overall in Afghanistan and what you think we might be able to do better. Thank you.
DR. SAGEMAN: Well, strategic communication is always secondary, tertiary, quaternary to bullets. If you kill a family member, I don't really care how good your strategic communication is. It's about action and how you spin that action. And in a sense, it can't really come from us. It really has to come from local discussions by Afghans about what we have done or not done.
On the positive side, we have not killed as many people as the Soviets did - about 1.2 to 1.5 million, estimate - during their 10 years there. We have done far less damage. And therefore, in a sense, we're not at the low point that the Soviets were when they decided to do counterinsurgency in 1986.
But this whole notion about strategic communication is always secondary to the facts on the ground, and especially the images on television - and right now in Afghanistan, television is a very competitive business and allows all kinds of rumors and plots and all kinds of nonsense to be shown on TV. And they're going to trump whatever we're going to do. So it's a very hard task, whoever's doing that. I think it's almost an impossible task. But the facts on the ground always trump whatever you say.
Q: Again, Nassim Nastanazai from Voice of America. President Obama, when he delivered the speech about the new strategy in Afghanistan, he said that the U.S. has a partnership with Pakistan and we will not leave alone our partners. Many Afghan analysts - or some of them, at least - they fear that after the 18 months, the situation of the '90s, when the Soviet Union left, will repeat and Afghanistan will be left alone to the mercy of its neighbors. What do you think about that?
MR. RIEDEL: I think if you look at what the president said at West Point and how he and his advisors have qualified that since, mid-2011 is not the point at which 140,000 NATO soldiers magically disappear from Afghanistan and start coming home. It's the point at which we aspire that we'll begin what I think will be a very slow, very small drawdown.
Here, I think Marc and I disagree. I don't think that the politics of this in the United States are going to force this administration to draw down substantially before 2012. One thing I think is certain: We certainly will not have achieved lasting security change if that's the case. What I do think is this: I think that by mid-2011, we will have a pretty good idea of whether or not this strategy - the McChrystal strategy, the Obama strategy - has a chance of succeeding.
If by the middle of 2011, which will be 12 months after we've gotten all of the forces, or at least most of the force in theater, we've ramped up civilian advisors to 1,000 or so from what they were at around 300 at the beginning of 2009, we've begun providing economic assistance, we've begun working regional diplomacy. If by mid-2011, we don't see any sign of change, then we've learned something. The patient was dead. President Obama inherited a dead patient on the table and we cannot rebuild the Afghan state.
If that's the case, we're in a very, very deep and difficult situation. There's no simple, you know, let's all come home and pretend it's not a problem. More will probably not be the answer. Staying on indefinitely will not be the answer. And quitting will not be the answer. One thing I can say for sure is I sure hope President Obama doesn't ask me for another strategic review at that time.
DR. SAGEMAN: Let me make a small comment - a technical one. You know, the Soviets withdrew in nine months and they live next door to Afghanistan. That was a tremendous, tremendous logistical feat on their part, to be able to do that. You don't know the difficulty involved in withdrawing 100,000 people that they had. And they were, again, next door. And if you looked at the logistics to Afghanistan by a large military, as opposed to insurgents, who actually can come across the border at will, you realize that there are two major roads.
You know, one is to the north - (inaudible) - and the other is the Jalalabad-Peshawar highway through the Khyber Pass. Both of them are fairly precarious and can be interrupted at any point. And you just need to hit the first car and the last car of the convoy and those guys get stuck; there are no side roads. And so to think that we can withdraw rapidly is complete nonsense.
Q: Hello. My name is Hara Khan (ph) and I'm with the Washington Quarterly at CSIS. Ever since Obama's come into office, and especially after his speech on December 1st about the troop surge, comparisons have been drawn with Vietnam. And though we heard the comparison with the Soviet invasion, I was just wondering what all of your views were on Vietnam and whether they are even comparable, and in what ways they may not be.
DR. SAGEMAN: I think I will defer to Frank. He was old enough. (Laughter.) But in a sense, the war in Vietnam was fought within the Beltway. We withdrew because of domestic reasons and not so much what happened in Vietnam. The Soviets also - same thing. They did not lose a single major encounter to the Afghan mujahedeen while they were there for almost 10 years.
And in Vietnam, we didn't really lose any major encounter to the North Vietnamese or the Vietcong. So the war will be fought within Washington. That's why I say we are actually fighting two wars, and you have to really look at both of them together.
MR. ANDERSON: There's, I think, a very important distinction between Vietnam and Afghanistan: Vietnam was bipolar. The country was either in support of what had been the Republic of Vietnam in alliance with the United States or it was in support of the legacy of Ho Chi Minh and what I think was a reluctant alliance with the Soviet bloc.
They became united around an anti-colonial ideology. They were willing to take - they were disciplined enough to take enormous losses. And in the end, they were able to put together a conventional force - you know, we were never defeated by the Vietcong; we and our South Vietnamese allies were eventually overcome by a conventional force that, you know, drove tanks into Saigon.
Afghanistan is not bipolar. I don't know - I can't do the math on how many parties there are. And I would argue that what's going to happen - and I might take issue with Marc on this - it might depend as much on what happens in Afghanistan as it does on what happens in Washington. Afghans, in their multiplicity of institutions and associations and relationships, really want what almost anyone wants, and that is security and the opportunity to protect and grow one's family.
We're in trouble in that, in the south of the country right now, security is more provided in Taliban areas than it is in those that are friendly to the government. That's not the case throughout the rest of the country. And the Afghan government, right now, is not the friend of most villagers in southern Afghanistan. It's, if not the enemy, it's just this force that has organized a top-down corruption.
Local officials pay for their position and there's a flow upward of resources that are extracted from the people to corrupt politicians in - well, farther up the stream. That doesn't have to continue. Hamid Karzai was a great hope. Everyone who knows him personally - I'm not in that category - respected him. He might change his mind.
The pressures that led him to permit and maybe support this corrupt structure could be reversed, over time. The people up and down that structure might change their mind. The parliament has stood up against his nominations. Who knows what's going to happen up and down that road? And if we succeed in some things that we can do - Peter's pointed out the crucial importance of that Kabul-Kandahar road. That shouldn't be a military impossibility, to secure that, and that changes the economic nature of southern Afghanistan. And it could get better.
MR. RIEDEL: If I could just add one point, there's no question that the ghost of Vietnam haunts this administration. I can tell you, from being in it for 60 days, the ghost of what happened to Lyndon Johnson walks the corridors of this White House. It walks the corridors of this building every day. It's a mistake. We've got to get over it.
We've got to stop fighting the Vietnam War. I don't know whether we could have won or could not have won in Vietnam, but it is not relevant to Afghanistan. As Marc pointed out earlier, there is no superpower supporting the Taliban. There are no Stingers going to come to the Taliban. There's no Soviet Union and Communist China behind the Taliban.
Equally, Afghanistan is not Iraq. Let's not refight the surge arguments of 2007 and 2008 over Afghanistan. Gen. Petraeus is the first to say the lessons of Iraq are not going to be applicable to Afghanistan. These are two fundamentally different countries. I know all of Asia looks like one big thing to Americans, but we've got to be a little bit more sophisticated. Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam are not the same exact problem. As Frank very wisely told us at the beginning, we need expertise in the intimacy of the problem.
DR. SAGEMAN: Let me add to that. You know, when I talk to officials - real officials in Washington, here - I'm always amazed by the sophistication of their understanding of the issue. That does not trickle down to the newspapers. That does not trickle down to MSNBC; that doesn't trickle down to FOX News. Unfortunately, people watch FOX News and MSNBC, and so here you have this dichotomy of people who know better, but can't really say much on TV, which is so polarized. And I completely agree with Bruce. Afghanistan is not Vietnam; it's completely irrelevant to Vietnam. But the news media is making it so.
DR. MATTAIR: Well, as we get a little closer to the end of this session, let me come back to a more general question. Bruce, you were quoted in the newspaper, maybe in September, as saying that a successful counterinsurgency strategy required a partner who is viewed as legitimate. And you have said that, you know, it's an illegitimate government.
And yet, you also were quoted in the paper as saying that the administration should give McChrystal what he wanted. Now, can you explain your thinking about why you think counterinsurgency is necessary and why the more limited counterterrorist strategy of going after terrorist leaders with Special Forces and drones is not going to be sufficient?
MR. RIEDEL: Certainly, I'm not the only person who thinks a successful counterinsurgency requires a legitimate partner. I think that's kind of the essence of the whole theory of counterinsurgency. That's certainly what Gen. Petraeus and what Gen. McChrystal argue. I think I made clear - and I'll make it more specific - I think that the international community's handling of the Afghan presidential election was a major, major setback for us.
I'll go further: We acted, throughout the whole summer around this election, like a deer in the headlights. We could see a problem in front of us. We saw it roaring down the highway. It slammed into us. And we seemed to just stand there. That is a major mistake and it is not clear to me that we can recover from it. I think that there is a possibility to recover from it, because I don't think we should vilify and demonize Hamid Karzai.
His opportunity to work deals in Afghanistan is much more sophisticated than ours. His opportunity to reach out to his opponents is much more sophisticated than ours. He has some very, very good people in his cabinet. And fortunately, the parliament was smart enough to recognize those people and to put them back into office. But trying to get an effective Afghan partner is going to be very hard, and we have set ourselves back considerably by the handling of the Afghan presidential election.
The reason I don't think the so-called "counterterrorism-lite" strategy works is because I think it is based on a false premise that you can encourage Afghans and Pakistanis to give you the kind of critical human intelligence you need for the drones to work when you don't provide them with any security or any incentive to work with you.
My colleagues here have spent a lot more time in running assets than I have, but I don't see how you're going to persuade someone to go out there and risk his life if the message you're sending him is, well, I'm not going to be here when you come back, but I'll leave you a cell phone and you call me with the targets. Counterterrorism-lite is a fantasy strategy. It is more akin to Tom Clancy novels than to reality on the battlefield.
Look at the Khost operation. I don't know exactly what the people in that forward operating base were doing, but I think you can surmise one thing: They were the eyes and ears of the human intelligence collection program that was working to make the drones succeed. If you adopt the lite approach, you won't have forward operating bases. So where are you going to be meeting with your assets? Where are you going to be developing that human intelligence?
Last point about it: If we adopt the approach that we're in Afghanistan and Pakistan to play Whac-A-Mole with terrorists, why are the Afghan government and the Pakistani government going to say yeah, come on in, we'd love to have you here? You're doing nothing for me; it's all for you. That doesn't make any sense. And by the way, our 44 partners in ISAF are going out the door so fast when you adopt this approach. Don't stand in the doorway, because you're going to get hit by it as they revolve through it.
Q: Just one quick question. All of us here - you panelists - emphasized the question of democracy in Pakistan/Afghanistan. Now, do you realize the perspective from the other side, that all colonial powers were democratic governments, the only so-called successful government in the Middle East is a colonial power, Israel. On the other hand, legitimacy, to them, really does not flow from democracy, which, to us - it flows from their tribal leadership and their ethnicity and religion.
So Hamid Karzai may be corrupt or he may be a saint; is not our association with him eroding his legitimacy in the eyes of the people, just as, in Pakistan, he was elected by overwhelming majority and he has now 19 percent approval rating. And it is because of his allowing the drone attacks. So are we not going to the very basics - their institutions, their leadership, and maybe, ultimately, we have to talk with Mullah Omar, or let them be thrown from the top of the embassy. Thank you.
DR. MATTAIR: Does anyone want to take that?
MR. RIEDEL: I'd just speak to it for a second in the question of Pakistan. You're absolutely right, President Zardari's popularity, which was always based on an accident of matrimony, not on anything that had to do with Mr. 10 Percent himself, has fallen. I think that we probably will see the end of the Zardari government in 2010.
But we've tried the alternative of military dictatorship three times. Each time, we've ended up pretty unhappy with the outcome. And the Pakistani people have ended up pretty unhappy with the outcome. We talked a lot about polling, and I'm as skeptical about polling in illiterate societies as I think anyone is. But there is interesting polling in Pakistan that says despite the fact that the country now has an anemic economy, despite the fact that political violence in the country is now at unprecedented levels, the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis - something around 85 percent - say they do not want to have another military dictatorship.
DR. MATTAIR: I think we would have time for one more question, if anyone has one.
Q: Given the composition of the panel, I can't resist asking for your assessment of the - after evaluation - of the Amsterdam-to-Detroit incident. I mean, obviously, most of us are sophisticated enough to know that success stories all have to be kept secret and failures get magnified to a very great extent. Have we made substantial progress, in terms of the standing up of the structures to prevent these kinds of incidents and the restructuring after 9/11?
DR. SAGEMAN: Well, this is kind of a very interesting question. Everything worked, but the system failed. That's because the system is no good. The father of Omar Faruk Abdulmatullah went to our embassy in Lagos and told us he thought his son was a terrorist - he was afraid of that. The folks in Lagos - my understanding is that they wrote cables back and said, this guy may be a terrorist. The guys back home said, oh, okay, so we're going to put him in our database, and we did.
Everybody was doing the bureaucratic thing. But the system doesn't really work, because it only works if you have inquisitive people back here going beyond just shuffling paper from one pile to another and saying, this is kind of interesting - let's kind of see that. You don't have that initiative. Everybody is basically doing CYA work. You do this, you do that and it's nobody's responsibility. I don't think the system works. I think we're going to see a re-evaluation of that system very soon, and trying to plug in this notion.
You know, the model that may work is what the Israelis have been doing in terms of air transport. They take young people - usually at universities - physicians, law students, medical students - at Ben Gurion airport, have them talk to all the passengers coming in - just talk. And those kids are young - they're 20. They're very curious. And if a story doesn't make sense, they keep on asking questions until they kind of - you know, it's this sense of curiosity and saying, it doesn't really make sense, and so on.
And those kids burn out very fast. They usually let go after one year or two and they never stay for long. They're not professional people like at TSA or elsewhere. It's really this sense of inquisitiveness and finding out what's going on. That is what we're lacking. We just have bureaucrats working now in counterterrorism; we don't have this sense of inquisitiveness. And I don't think that without this human factor, all this kind of putting data in large data sets is going to prevent the next terrorist act.
And this, actually, was a very sophisticated act. I don't think a body scanner would have detected it. The amount of explosive that was sewn into the underwear was basically three packets of sugar - the equivalent - 80 grams. It's really three ounces. So you're talking about a minute thing that you probably would not even have discovered if you patted down the person.
Now, what really - where he should have been stopped was at the initiative of his father. And that should have been followed up, and maybe we should design a system where the person himself drives the system so that if something like that is going on, you immediately check your database to see if he's in the United States. If he's not, whether he has a visa. If he has a visa, you cancel it. And if he wants to come here, that act drives the system to, perhaps, respond. But right now, I don't think the system works, even though everybody did his job.
DR. MATTAIR: Okay, thank you. I'd like to thank the panel and thank the audience for coming. And let me ask one more time that you take a look at our Web site - www.mepc.org. Take a look at our journal and other programs we offer. Thank you for coming. (Applause.)