Expert Backs Limited U.S. Presence In Afghanistan
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has a different take on Afghanistan. In the current issue of Newsweek, Haass has an article with the headline, "We Are Not Winning, It's Not Worth It: Here's How to Draw Down in Afghanistan." Well, Richard Haass joins us from New York. Welcome to the program once again.
Dr. RICHARD HAASS (President, Council on Foreign Relations): Thank you.
SIEGEL: And one point you argue in your article that when Republican chairman Michael Steele called Afghanistan a war of Obama's choosing, he was right.
Dr. HAASS: He was right, despite the outcry that greeted his remarks. The Afghan war that was begun under George W. Bush nine years ago was a very different kind of war. It was a defensive war after 9/11. The purpose was limited to ousting at that point the government of Afghanistan. And then as soon as that was accomplished, the Bush administration considered and ruled out an ambitious policy of nation building in Afghanistan.
Mr. Obama, eight years later, became president, has since tripled American troops and has embarked on a very ambitious program of building up a strong central government, building up a strong national police and national military and is involved in what you might call classic nation building, sometimes called counterinsurgency.
SIEGEL: You do not advocate simply pulling out of Afghanistan all together. You have a proposal, a policy that would be somewhat less than ideal, we've heard about, which is partitioning Afghanistan into a Pashtunistan and the rest of the country. What is it that you would favor?
Dr. HAASS: What I favor is a more limited U.S. presence in Afghanistan, perhaps a quarter or a third of what we're now doing. I would favor putting far more of our aid and military and otherwise through local forces rather than through a corrupt and unresponsive central government. And I would favor talking directly to the Taliban. Not through Pakistan, but to have American envoys talk to the Taliban and see if we can't come up with a modus Vivendi under which if they were to return to positions of local power in parts of the country, they would observe certain redlines about what it is they could and could not do.
SIEGEL: But the current strategy, as I understand it is this: There has to be a political solution, ultimately, in Afghanistan. That means the Taliban have to be talking with people in the government. And the only thing that would make it reasonable for the Taliban to talk, from their standpoint, would be if the fighting were intolerable.
Therefore, the U.S. and the Afghan army have to gain some superiority on the battlefield before they can proceed to the political settlement. Not realistic in your view?
Dr. HAASS: Not realistic in my view. I simply believe that we don't want to stay that long. It's too expensive. It's a distraction from what I would think would be our real challenges in places like Iran or North Korea. I also simply don't believe that history suggests you could ever build up an Afghan government in which strong, loyal, non-corrupt professional police and military forces would be able to challenge the Taliban.
Plus, I think the Taliban would simply wait us out. They enjoy the sanctuary in Pakistan. And their capacity to wait and fight is, quite honestly, greater, I believe, than our capacity to continue fighting.
SIEGEL: Does it strike you as at least possible that if the U.S. were to abandon large parts of Afghanistan, that we might see what happened to the Israelis in southern Lebanon and Gaza when they pulled out, which is that the opposing force, in this case it would be the Taliban, in that case it was Hezbollah or Hamas, becomes hugely more powerful in local eyes because they drove out the occupier, they won.
Dr. HAASS: There's a chance in some cases they would, in a sense, have a narrative that they drove us out. On the other hand, they would constantly be kept on the defensive by American air power, by special forces, by the efforts of whatever Afghan government there was. So I think we could more than neutralize it. Plus I actually do believe there's debates within the Taliban about the wisdom of they're having worked so closely with al-Qaeda in the past.
Based upon my reading of what the Taliban are saying, I actually think that quite a number of them would not once again form an alliance, if you will, with al-Qaeda.
SIEGEL: Richard Haass, thank you very much for talking with us.
Dr. HAASS: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Richard Haass, who's now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote about this in Newsweek. He served as U.S. coordinator for policy toward the future of Afghanistan under President George W. Bush.
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