Regional Violence Plays Role In Afghan Strategy

Every day there seems to be a story about violence in Afghanistan and the countries that surround it. As the Obama administration devises a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, officials must take into account what is going on in the region.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And the talks with Iran come as the Obama administration is trying to devise a strategy for neighboring Afghanistan. Joining us now for our regular weekly analysis of political news is NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good Morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good Morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: As the administration determines what to do in Afghanistan, how does what's happening in its next-door neighbors, Iran and Pakistan, factor into the administration's choices?

ROBERTS: I think that they just simply can't ignore it. We woke up yesterday morning to a suicide bomb in southeast Iran, killing members of the Revolutionary Guard right near the Pakistan border. And every day it seems to be some kind of violence across the region - Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and, as you say, Pakistan, the most worrisome.

And that is very difficult for the policymakers, because they realize when they're dealing with Afghanistan that they're having to talk much more - and they're doing this - talking much more, about how important Pakistan is in the long run. It's, after all, a nuclear power and we're committing right now far fewer resources there than in Afghanistan.

Today, the U.S. central commander, David Petraeus is there along with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry - are both in Pakistan trying to deal with this growing concern, as - as you say - as the administration continues to debate, internally, what they're going to do about Afghanistan.

MONTAGNE: Which is still front and center. And what's the latest thinking about what the administration might do?

ROBERTS: Well, the talking points over the weekend were all about the election in Afghanistan. And that the members of the administration and Senator Kerry, speaking from Afghanistan, said - talked about the election and that we have to have a reliable partner in Afghanistan before we can go forward to try to send in more troops or shore up the situation there.

Clearly, they're putting pressure on the Karzai government to come clean in the elections, to submit to a runoff if that's the case and to end the corruption. There seem to be two targets in the administration and Senator Kerry's remarks. One is Afghanistan and one is target here at home.

For Afghanistan, they're basically saying clean up your act. And, Renee, this is a region you know very, very well. So far, they don't seem to be having much effect in saying that to the Karzai government. But for the folks at home, administration officials and Senator Kerry seem to be saying be ready for the U.S. to declare that the Afghan government has improved enough so that we will send in more troops.

Senator Kerry said that some of his questions about sending in more troops had been answered during his trip to Afghanistan. And he said that it is not a Vietnam. Now, he is a very influential voice to say such a thing, as a Vietnam veteran, as someone who's been very skeptical. He was making the point - this is a country that harbored the people, who attacked…

(Soundbite of coughing)

ROBERTS: …excuse me, the United States of America and it is not Vietnam. So, he seems to be sending something of a signal.

MONTAGNE: And, Cokie, the two wars that America is fighting are expensive -Iraq and Afghanistan - and in the midst of course of a difficult economy, is there any sign that the president and Congress are taking any more action to stimulate the economy, the U.S. economy?

ROBERTS: Well, of course, the administration would argue that health care will help the economy, and that's still the number one priority item in Washington. But the house has agreed to extending unemployment benefits, the administration is proposing giving $250 to senior citizens since they won't be receiving a cost of living increase.

And there is, though, a lot of renewed anger at Wall Street. Talk about the bonuses, coming out over the weekend from the administration - very upset about that - upset that Wall Street is objecting to consumer protections; and an emphasis from the administration that the stimulus hasn't still kicked in; a report this morning about education jobs, but they're worried about the deficit.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much. NPR's Cokie Roberts.

And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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