'Shop' Talk: Afghanistan, 'Crasher Gate' and Tiger Woods

Freelance writer Jimi Izrael, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar and NPR Senior Producer JJ Sutherland discuss President Obama's call for a surge of U.S. troops to Afghanistan. The guys also debate who is to blame in "Crasher Gate," which centers on a Virginia couple who crashed a White House state dinner, and whether Tiger Woods can rebound from his recent "transgressions."

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. It's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.

Sitting in the chairs for our shape-up this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, and NPR senior producer J.J. Sutherland. Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Freelance Writer): Hey, thanks, Michel. Fellas, welcome to the shop. How you doing?

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Syndicated Columnist): Hey, Jimi.

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil Rights Attorney): Hey, hey, hey.

J.J. SUTHERLAND: How's it going?

Mr. IZRAEL: Double-J, what's up, man? Welcome to the shop. How you living?

SUTHERLAND: I'm doing well.

Mr. IZRAEL: Good, good. Well, you know what, President Obama outlined his new strategy for Afghanistan on Tuesday. Now, it was a highly anticipated speech where he called for an additional 30,000 troops. Michel, really?

MARTIN: You know, and I think the thing that's getting the most attention is the language around when those troops will start to come home. I just want to play a short clip for people who may not have had a chance to hear the speech. Here's what he had to say.

President BARACK OBAMA: I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.

MARTIN: Jimi, do you mind if I ask J.J. a question - which is that, is that a hard out?

SUTHERLAND: No, it's not. I mean, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said on the Hill earlier this week, he said, quite frankly, I detest the phrase exit strategy. What they're talking about is transitioning some areas of the country over to Afghan control, which is similar to what happened in Iraq. But remember, in Iraq, you know, this is what, two and a half years after the surge? We still have 120,000 troops there. There has been some withdrawals. There will be more withdrawals, you know, next year, but it's not like all of a sudden we declared victory and everyone's gone.

MARTIN: Jimi?

Mr. IZRAEL: What's been the military's reaction to this surge, J?

SUTHERLAND: Well, I haven't talked to everyone in the military, but basically, General McChrystal pretty much got what he asked for with - he basically asked for about 40,000 troops. The 30,000 troops that Obama is sending, plus today, NATO announced there would be 7,000 additional troops from the NATO countries. So it looks like he's basically going to get what he wants. The entire military was very much lined up behind him. General McChrystal is seen within the military as the guy to do this. He's Secretary Gates's personal choice for this position, and he replaced a general early this year.

MARTIN: I do want to mention - I should have mentioned this at the beginning - that J.J. has extensive reporting experience in this area and has reported from Afghanistan. So, thank you.

SUTHERLAND: Sure. But yeah, the military really sees this as the way forward.

Mr. IZRAEL: Double-J, do you think it goes far enough, though?

SUTHERLAND: Well, I'm not an expert in this kind of thing. I mean, I've covered this thing - does it go far enough? I think only - I mean, I hate to say this, but only time will tell. I mean, there's a lot of stuff going on. The real question here is what's going to happen in Pakistan, and what's going to happen with the Karzai government. I mean, this government is incredibly corrupt. I mean, Obama did say there will be no more blank checks, or blank checks are over for the Karzai government. It really is going to depend on whether they can actually become a legitimate force.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ruben.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yo.

Mr. IZRAEL: The R. You know what? We've been at war for eight years now. Is this really the best strategy for us to get out, seriously?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: No, I don't think it's the best strategy for us to get out at all. I think - I want to give Obama very high - President Obama very high marks for this because he defied some radical, left-wing elements of his own party who have a completely unrealistic view of the world, and they've forgotten that we're at war with people who attacked us. And President Obama went to West Point and flat-out reminded them, OK? In really good, strong language, he made the case for why we're in Afghanistan in the first place, and I applaud him for that.

And any day that I wake up and I'm on the opposite side of Maxine Waters is a good day, baby, because she's got it wrong, and I've got it right. And she's criticizing Obama, and she's wrong to criticize Obama. And I'm going to support him. So, having said that, the idea of the timetable, though, really makes me nervous because it makes it really hard to fight a war when you're basically telegraphing to your enemy when you're going to leave.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: They can hang back and wait 'til you leave. It makes it hard, really hard for you to get the Afghan people who are on your side to come up with you because they're like, well, wait a minute, when you split in 18 months or three years, I'm going to be toast, because they're going to come looking for me. So that's bad. And then it also is really hard because you're taking the word victory out of the equation for the military. I don't know about you, but I think those young cadets at West Point wanted to hear: We can go there, we can accomplish this mission, and we can win.

And President Obama doesn't talk that way. So there is a really cute cartoon that I saw this morning that has these two guys in Afghanistan, you know, in military gear, and they're looking up at the sky, and one says, look, there are parachutes. Reinforcements are parachuting in. And the other one says no, those aren't parachutes, those are bungee cords, you know.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ah, sad.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: That's a sad statement basically for a lot of folks on the ground - my business is keeping those people who are on the ground safe. I think General Stanley McChrystal is a top-notch leader. I've met General David Petraeus and interviewed him. He impresses the hell out of me. I mean, he's got a Ph.D. from Princeton. The thesis that he wrote about at Princeton - his thesis was about how to avoid the lessons of Vietnam.

MARTIN: You know, I got to tell you�

Mr. NAVARRETTE: He's a smart and capable guy.

MARTIN: Ruben, I've got to tell you, though, there are a lot of smart and capable guys who've lined up along the other side of this thing, like for example, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman is hardly a radical leftist. And he's making the argument that this way, on balance�

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Depends what he said.

MARTIN: Okay, there you go. But Arsalan, you go ahead. I hardly think Arsalan qualifies as one of those radical leftists you're talking about. Arsalan�

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Depends what he says.

MARTIN: OK, there you go. But Arsalan, go ahead. I hardly think Arsalan qualifies as one of those radical leftists you're talking about.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Depends what he said.

MARTIN: Well, I'm sitting right across from him, so�

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, for someone who's actually, you know, flown over the Durand line, which is the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, probably over a dozen times in my life, we have to remember that historically, Afghanistan has been called the graveyard of empires. From Alexander the Great to the Mongol, British and U.S.S.R. communist empire, nobody has ever been able to pacify Afghanistan.

And so to think that, you know, an additional 30,000 troops is somehow going to be the silver bullet is rather myopic, in my view. Let's also not forget that for five years, ever since the onset of the Iraq War, Afghanistan was the forgotten war. Nobody gave a damn about Afghanistan during those years. And now, you know, now that Afghanistan is in the forefront, everybody seems to be, you know, an expert on it when they couldn't - they probably couldn't even name five cities that are in Afghanistan.

MARTIN: OK, but it is eight years later, Arsalan. You know, eight years is a long time to work on your learning curve, right?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: It is, but like I said, for five of those eight years, Afghanistan was on nobody's radar. And, you know, we have to keep in mind that, you know, this has lasted longer than World War II has.

MARTIN: So what's your bottom line?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: My bottom line is that I was against, you know, President Obama's decision. I think that at the end of the day�

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Whoa, I just felt the ground move. Did you feel that? Arsalan just criticized President Obama. Slow down, whoa.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Listen dude, you know, when he goes to West Point and he uses George Bushian rhetoric, you know, a lot of us who, you know, voted for - the 66 million - you can oh and groan all you want, but that's true, you know.

Mr. IZRAEL: Make your point, bro.

MARTIN: Yeah, make your point, because a stopped clock can read right twice a day. I mean, just because something is a Bush policy doesn't mean it's wrong. So�

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, yeah, what - basically, what I'm trying to say is what's good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander. Just because a surge worked in Iraq, does not necessarily mean it's going to work in Afghanistan. Iraq and Afghanistan are as about as similar as California and Vermont.

MARTIN: Oh, OK. Well, to be continued. To be continued. Obviously, there's a lot to talk about. If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop and we are joined by Arsalan Iftikhar, J.J. Sutherland, Jimi Izrael and Ruben Navarrette. Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks Michel. You know, what? In other news, who knew all you needed to do get into the White House was a tux and an attractive woman on your arm? Now, after slipping past Secret Service last week at a state dinner for the prime minister of India, one couple is chanting Obama's theme: yes, we can. Michel, how did that happen?

MARTIN: How did that happen? How did that happen?

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean, Obama owes me money and I can't get in. What's up with that?

MARTIN: Yeah, I'm just wondering if I put that sari on, would I have gotten in? But I don't - I don't want to go there. I don't want to go there. There was a hearing on the Hill yesterday. The Salahis did not show up. The members of Congress asked White House social secretary Desiree Rogers to come and the White House declined, citing separation of powers.

Here is Peter King of New York - Republican congressman Peter King of New York, who seemed to be in quite a high dudgeon about all this. He's speaking to Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, who took responsibility for the security breach. Here's what he had to say.

Representative PETER KING (Republican, New York): It's interesting to me that for this one event, the most important one of the year, where we have a prime minister from a country which was attacked by terrorists last year - that at this event, the social secretary's office just left and the Secret Service was there by itself. So listen, I thank you for accepting responsibility, but the only way we can find out as to who initiated this change and what the real procedure is going to be in the future, and why was it done this way last Tuesday - to me, we can't do it unless we have someone from the White House having the guts to come down here and testify instead of hiding behind a phony claim of separation of powers.

MARTIN: I didn't know that the Constitution is phony. But I'm a little wondering why the social secretary's job is to protect us from international terrorists. I'm curious about that, you know.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, well, there's that. Ruben, you know, Ruben, I know - it's been reported that three members of the Secret Service have been suspended.

MARTIN: Placed on administrative leave.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Suspended, may be fired. Right, they might be fired, exactly.

Mr. IZRAEL: But they weren't - they weren't agents. They were uniformed division magnetometer people. They were specially trained, you know, so I think that's actually an important distinction. But what do you think about this? I mean, this is really heavy.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It's getting heavier. I mean, it started off as a minor thing but it's become more - it's become bigger now because people are being asked by Congress to go testify, and then blowing off Congress basically. And not just Desiree Rogers, social secretary for the White House, but ordinary folk. Ordinary folk - you know, gate crashers who say, you know what, I'm not going to honor a request by Congress to go testify.

MARTIN: But they didn't - it wasn't a subpoena, though. They could subpoena them if they choose to do so.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right, and there probably is a subpoena.

MARTIN: It wasn't a subpoena. It was an invitation.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I understand. And there probably is a subpoena coming. But for regular folks, typically not only do we not have chutzpah to go crash the White House, but when Congress calls me, I go. I mean�

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I'm just saying. But this other business, really, I find troubling is this notion of separation of powers is obviously Democrat-speak for what we used to call during the Bush administration, executive privilege. And there are many times when members of Congress who were Democrats called Karl Rove and other members of the Bush White House to the Hill to testify and likewise, they defied Congress and cited executive privilege.

Now somebody's real smart in the White House, probably Rahm, and says, no, we can't say executive privilege. That's going to hark up Bush images. Let's call it separation of powers. It's the same thing. It's a bad look for the White House to use - to borrow a phrase from Arsalan -Bush rhetoric to justify keeping Desiree Rogers out of the firing line.

Mr. IZRAEL: A-train?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah. I mean, the Bush administration used the executive privilege many times. You know, to be honest to the whole Salahi thing, I'm sick and tired of these professional photo opportunists, you know, trying to, you know, get their gigs on reality television. I mean, it really, you know, they make the balloon boy look like Nelson Mandela.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I mean, it's something that - it shows an obsession with the cult of celebrity. I mean, to what ends, you know, will people go to, you know, get, you know, their 15 seconds of fame? Apparently, all you need is, you know, a tall, anorexic blonde in a red sari�

MARTIN: Damn.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: To get into the White House.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, you just�

MARTIN: Go ahead, J.J.

SUTHERLAND: I'm just really glad that there are now rules. I mean, it's OK to sort of compete for a bisexual romp with Tila Tequila. It's OK to be a house girl for a pornographer on TV. But it's not OK to, you know, send your boy up in a balloon or crash a party with the prime minister of India. I'm just glad there are very clear boundaries.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You've got to have standards. You've got to have standards.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, I'm glad somebody is drawing a line, right?

SUTHERLAND: Yeah, exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what, speaking of the cult of celebrity, it's been a rough week for golfer Tiger Woods, you know, the number one golfer in the world. And it has nothing to do with his stroke on the links but his link to other women who aren't his wife. Oh, snap.

MARTIN: You know, Jimi, you've been writing a lot about this�

Mr. IZRAEL: I have.

MARTIN: �and I'm very interested to know why you're so interested in this story. In fact, you - because you were one of the last people to say, oh, you know, celebrities should spill just because they're celebrities and so - but you actually feel that there's something important about this. What is that? Why is that?

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, I think in the case of Tiger, Tiger is one of those people that has gone out of his way to fortify this brand of, I am a role model. You can be Tiger Woods. And you don't want to be Tiger Woods right about now, you know what I'm saying? And, I think he has an obligation to step forward to those people that he's kind of propped himself up in front of and say, I made a mistake and this is what I'm going to do rectify it. And here's how you can learn from my mistake.

MARTIN: Why does he have an obligation?

Mr. IZRAEL: If you're a role model, that's what you do. That's part of your job. That's in the job description.

MARTIN: That's interesting.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, sorry. Yeah, it's a ticket to ride, baby.

SUTHERLAND: I hear, I hear�

MARTIN: Ruben, what are you thinking? Because you're big into, you know, what dad should do and stuff, so tell me�

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Tell me, what do you think?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I hear - I hear what - well, I'll tell you, I mean, if we believe that Tiger Woods was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of a golf club, if we believe that, and that's still being alleged, right?

Mr. IZRAEL: I do.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I do, too, and if that's out there, you know, it was nothing - and Michel can relate to this as a mother, too - I'm sure the notion that popped into his wife's head, that somehow you put my kids in jeopardy of a broken marriage, I'm coming after you, pal. And,I think that once you become a parent, then there's a whole new set of responsibilities that goes along with, you know, this kind of behavior. But I hear Jimi's point loud and clear. You live by the sword, die by the sword.

This whole notion of, I am Tiger Woods, the branding of Tiger Woods - one of the things that's a bad look for Tiger is after years of using the media, using the media to generate this image and make a billion dollars in revenue, OK, and have a really nice life, all of a sudden now he wants the media out of his life, out of his business. This point was made today in an article, editorial by USA Today. The same point, this basic idea that somehow for years, you've milked the media and now all of a sudden, you want the media to - the media is a problem, the media is a problem.

MARTIN: It's interesting.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It starts off being about infidelity, but it comes down to some childish behavior by Tiger.

MARTIN: Interesting point. I just want to clarify just for the record that Tiger Woods, in his statement, specifically pushes back against the notion that he was a victim of domestic violence, that his wife attacked him and that there was any violent interaction between the two of them. I just think that's a - fair to say. And you can go to his Web site for the full statement, which is mainly where he's been communicating with the public. Arsalan, I know you have some thoughts about this, particularly as an attorney.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah, absolutely. You know, as a resident lawyer here in the Barbershop, I think, you know, one of the reasons why he is pushing back on this is because Florida has a very strict liability law when it comes to domestic violence. In 1991, Florida became one of the states to initiate a pro-arrest policy where essentially, women's advocates in Florida for years had said that, you know, domestic abuse was not being reported.

And I'm quoting from the Florida law. It says, quote: The decision to arrest and charge shall not require the consent of the victim or consideration of the relationship of the parties. Which means that if she did, in fact, you know, cause the lacerations on his face, if the police did find that because they were outside of their home, they would have a duty�

MARTIN: A duty.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: �a duty under Florida law to arrest her. And so, you know, I think that's going to play an important part in the investigation.

MARTIN: OK, but maybe he pushed back against it because it's not true.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, but that�

MARTIN: And also, reasonable people can disagree about whether arresting people is the best way to address these kinds of complex, interpersonal problems.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: But what I'm trying to say is that even if Tiger quote-unquote did not want to press charges, they would have to under the Florida law. And very - one very quick thing is that, you know, we've had famous, you know female abusers in the past. Tawny Kitaen, the chick from the Whitesnake videos, was arrested in 2002 for attacking, you know, her husband, Chuck Finley, a baseball pitcher. And most famously, of course, Lorena Bobbitt who, you know, cut off her husband's�

Mr. IZRAEL: Don't...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: But do you care? Do you care?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I do. I mean, there is a double standard here. You know, domestic abuse happens against men also and in this case, because Florida has a strict liability law, I think that that's something important to keep in mind.

MARTIN: That's interesting.

Mr. IZRAEL: Preach it, brother. Preach it.

MARTIN: J.J. do you care? Do you care?

SUTHERLAND: I don't really care who Tiger Woods is sleeping with. The only really surprising thing to me about this - I mean, as someone said, he's made a billion dollars over this. Someone who's a billionaire doesn't have someone who cleans up their messes for them? I mean, you know, why is Tiger leaving a message on some cocktail waitress's voicemail? Doesn't he have like, a Mr. Wolf from �Pulp Fiction� to take care of that for him? I mean, that's just the weirdest part to me, like why is Tiger so�

Mr. NAVARRETTE: He needs a cleaner.

MARTIN: Why are you enabling him? What is up with that? You're giving him tips for cheating. What's up with that?

Mr. IZRAEL: All right, gentlemen, I got to putt the ball to the lady of the house, Michel Martin. Fore.

MARTIN: I didn't really mean that. You know, I have nothing but love for you, J.J. I know you're a stand-up guy. You know you're a stand-up guy. And he is - along with Jimi Izrael, who is a freelance journalist who writes for theroot.com. He's also a presidential fellow at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist, and he writes for cnn.com and the San Diego Union Tribune. He joined us from San Diego.

Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of themuslimguy.com and a civil rights attorney, and the author of a forthcoming book. And J.J. Sutherland is a senior producer at NPR. He's covered the Pentagon and reported from Afghanistan. They were kind enough to join us from our Washington, D.C., studios. Thank you all so much for speaking with us. And that's our program, sorry guys�

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

MARTIN: �that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.

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