>> a little publishing insight from marji ross. thanks so much. >> nice to see you. >> now on booktv from the 2013 tucson festival of books, a discussion with rajiv chandrasekaran, author of "little america: the war within the war for afghanistan." it's about an hour. >> rajiv has that america to being able to focus up close onf human detail. fol he uses small strokes to paint p broad picture. he listens more than he talks. . he speaks to generals frankly, but so do the grunts and the other minor characters who drive the plot of any major story. this month marks the tenth anniversary of george w. bush's invasion of iraq. nothing written or said better explains the resulting folly than rajiv's book, life in the
emrad city, the green zone. and yesterday again, rajiv, gives us detail, the new book, "little america." right now these days, a short-term sequester to find $80 billion, but over the next decade we have to scrape up three to five trillion, which is just about what we managed to squander on an iraq war that left so many dead and so many more people who hate us. so let's start there. in the front piece of imperial city, he quotes t.e. lawrence who advised his british superiors in 1917, do not try to do too much with your own hands. better the arabs do it tolerably than you do it perfectly. its their war and you're there to help them. under the very odd conditions of
arabia, your practical work will not be as good as perhaps you think it is. and among the flood of -- from the much lamented molly eye vans who says it's like reading a horror novel. you want to put your face down and moen, -- moan, how could we have been so stupid? we had this invasion, and a few of the reporters in the region were drowned out by the washington juggernaut. some of us reported from vietnam, recalled how thousand-year-old societies are a little suspicious of saviors with a shopping list. but it happens. so, what's wrong with us? >> good question. it's great to be here, thank you all for coming out so early on a sunday morning, and, mort, thank you for sitting here with me.
we -- we're a great nation. we like to think we can good out and fix other societies. we have a lot o to offer but every spending two plus years observing our nation-building efforts in iraq, and now more recently three years traveling back and forth to afghanistan, to observe what we're doing the there and actually spending more money in afghanistan than iraq and it's the longest war our nation has ever been engaged in longer than the revolutionary war. i come away with mixed opinions about this. on one hand you look at both of these and say, what are we doing in the business of trying to build, in some case rebuild, in the case of afghanistan, build from scratch, shattered societies where there's little human capacity, very little infrastructure to speak of, and we're sort of building it up
from theground. and its really -- what were we thinking? we could do this? at the same time, i'm not one of these people who is inherently a defeatess. though i've written two very critical books of our engage independent these two wars. i like to think in a nation of 300 million plus people, we possess those who have the relevant and necessary subject matter expertise to provide that sort of modest but essential help to serve in some ways as modern day lawrences in these societies. the problem is we don't select those people in the case of the area years of the iraq war, we chose people from the local political fidelity, and then nation building, and i write about how many of the higher -- many of the individuals who wanted to go out and work for the coalition provisional authority in 2003 and 2004 were
asked by officials at the pentagon questions about things like their view on roe v. wade and capital punishment. that brought us people like the 24-year-old kid with no background in finances to re-open the baghdad stock exchange, a 21-year-old kid who was an ice cream truck driver elm was assigned to the team of americans, asked to help rehabilitate iraq's interior ministry. its different in afghanistan under the obama administration. this is where the supposedly pros were going to be put in summary judgment the state department and usaid were supposed to bring in the experts from our nation's civil service and foreign service. the problem was many of our best people has already burnt out in iraq by then, and so they simply kind of put out a notice for jobs to be filled and waited for
resumes to come in. instead of going out and scouring universities like this, ngos and nonprofits, the private sector. if i were obama, i would have called up the human resources heads at apple and microsoft and google and said, give me one of your people for a year and go out and find people who are willing to live in these obscure conditions, fine people who are willing -- who possess these skills. we never did that. and so i'm not sure that when you look back at iraq anda, it really represents the best of what our nation can do if we really put our mind to it. >> host: thankses a lot. i think it's important that -- reporters in situations like this, military situations, are no less important than medics. it's kind of society's money, it's their blood, and people
have to know what's going on. there's a line in emerald city, a wonderful device dropping real vignettes through an have gone narrative, there's one in the green zone where you say, -- at a party at the end and at the end a coalition press officer notices two journalist in the crowd and pulls them aside and says, who invited you here? no press is allowed here. this is sort of a social occasion. the general said they'd been invited bay coalition staffer. the press officer told the journalists to stay put while she consulted with a superior. she returned later with hand-held video camera. kicking them out might cause a scene and would result in a story. the journalists could stay but they would have to promise on tape they wouldn't write what they saw. so, quote, we never came to a
cpa barbecue with a camera. these people behind us aren't cpa people drinking beer. we were never here. another, we will not report the fact that everyone here is celebrating the end of the cpa, the others said. a short while later bremer -- jerry bremer, we remember him -- every wanted a picture with these two men and some asked for an autograph. as one has been sent a bunch of times, trying to stay out of pools and imbeds and every other damn thing people have come up to control reporters, and having covered vietnam where we could go anywhere we were dumb enough to go, how much did we suffer in iraq and then afghanistan by not by americans reporters and other reporters not getting a chance to see what was happening? >> guest: i think it very much circumscribed our knowledge of what was happening. i sort of bucked the community
of fellow journalists by spend as much time as i do in the green zone. early on, probably back april of 2003. so, almost ten years ago. u.s. troops arrived in baghdad. a couple weeks into the american presence there. there was already some -- looting going on, shiite clergy was rising up. there were questions about security in parts of baghdad, and american troops were posing the question, when do we get to go home? and i remember being on a scratchy satellite foreign call with the then-foreign editor for the "washington post," bill bennett, and i was telling him about all this. he listened patiently and waited for me to finish and then said to me, rajiv, think back to the
best journalism, the bet literature to come out of the vietnam war. it wasn't about vietnam as much as it was about the americans who went there to change this country and how they themselves were changed. focus on the american experience. and i thought at that point he was just full of it. there was writing going on. what was i going to worry about that? but over time, those words would echo in my head, and when many of my fellow reporters wanted to go out with the military out to anbar province and get in fire fights which i did but i chose to spend more time in the bubble. i felt a little guilty. you'd have a hot meal, bacon cheeseburger, the remark able thing is the amount of pork products we fed in a facility with a lot of muslim staff. but small matter.
so, i felt like, wow, i'm not really being a war correspondent here, i'm sitting in air conditioned rooms listening to people diagram on white boards the plan to bring in "no child left behind" standard in iraqi education. so inge it took awhile to sink in and then realize this is a bizarre world. and i was able to do that early on in part because it was an organization -- the american presence was put together on the fly, and there really wasn't as much of an established structure to corral journeyses. there was if you were with the military and the imbedding program. you have to have approvals and you were assigned to a unit. but with the civilian presence it was much for flee-flowing. over time that started to
change. that theme you read from was in the summer of 2004. and they tried those ham-handed tactics then but they would in some ways get better in terms of trying to restrict access, and for instance, with regard to photographs today -- with regard to afghanistan today, you can't just go on the embassy compound. you have to be escorted. they set clear ground rules. your able to rub elbows with people is very limited. they see this as controlling the message, which it is, but it also means we all understand much less of what's going on, in some cases for the good and some cases for the bad. if was easily able to have a beer at the embassy bar in kabul, which i have to sort of sneak into now, as a -- not registering as a journalist, if i could go there regularly, you know, i'd probably hear as many shocking details of dysfunction as i might here interesting stories of things going on that
actually would turn out to be what the government might consider to be a good news story. but because that interaction is so limited, we don't get much of either one. and i think we're all the poorer for it. the fewer journalist out there covering these wars today, and we can talk about that -- it's a real unfortunate development that has a lot to do with not just american fatigue about the war in afghanistan, but the real economic constraints faced by particularly the newspaper industry and by the media as a whole. but fewer journalists out there. you have -- but you have a story that is still vitally important, but it's much, much more difficult to really convey the substance of what is going on to the american people. >> host: a good point. everytime i hear the term "citizen journalist" i think of
citizen orthopedic surgeon. this is not a job for amateurs. people don't understand the context, they will mislead us, and also likely get themselves killed, and it's -- and you've got to see this as a different layer. in your paper, really funny -- not incident but situation. there was the great military specialist, tom wisconsin, who is imbedded and riding on the tanks into baghdad with the soldiers and the cheering iraqis are yelling, we're so happy you have come. and then anthony, who speaks very good arabic -- >> guest: this is one of this mo intv d instructive stories of the american presence in baghdad. tom and the late anthony, perhaps the preeminent journalist covering the middle
east of this generation. went on a patrol with the military in baghdad. tom was with the patrol, and they would go and -- the soldiers would introduce themselves to the individuals along the way, shopkeepers and such and say we're here for your protection, and they would hear back via -- through the translator that, we are were we support you thank you for coming here and liberating us, and then the patrols go on, and then anthony, who speaks fluent arabic, would pop into those places and say, so, what do you think of the americans? we oppose them a thousand percent, you know. they're here to kidnap or women. we will fight them at the first opportunity. and it was -- it wasn't a problem of poor translation. it was that they were saying one thing to the uniformed military and another thing to somebody who spoke their language and they were sharing what they felt. that was just such an important story.
ran on the front page of the "washington post" but still sticks in any memory. one of those -- if the journalism we saw in the united states in the runup to the war left a lot of citizens wanting to credit ulouse, too quick to accept claims of weapons of mass destruction and it would be a cakewalk to rebuild iraqi society there was a lot of really good reportage in the immediate months that followed. and i don't think it -- it was internalized enough. all of the warning signs were out there for what we would then come, as a nation, have to live through for the following few years. >> host: you know, it's changing, the atmosphere. i've covered wars for a long time. the only time i've been a prisoner of war is at the hands of my own guys.
but what is interesting is some of the best -- i agree, some of the best reportage were people who were able to avoid it. like during the invasion, gary knight, very good british photographer, shooting for "news week" and got vehicles and got them muddy and markings on the top and came in from kuwait, as unilaterals, which meant they were fair game. then we had this incident, these cameramen were shot down in baghdad by helicopters and nobody could get anything out of the military or the american government until suddenly the gun camera footage showed up on wikileaks. what about that? the wikileaks think and the first bit of the gun camera footage in baghdad? >> guest: it's gut-churning.
and i still think there are unanswered questions out there about what they potentially suspected, what the pilots were thinking. they seemed pretty clear to me to be -- to look like journalists and operating as journalists. the real peril here, quite frankly, is -- has been less to u.s. citizens, americans, correspondents going over there, yes? several have been killed. but the real danger, day in and day out danger, has been faced by iraqi and afghan journalists who are many cases working for western news organizations like the reuters team. and if not iraqi and afghanistan, arab and people from neighboring nations. the guys who put their lives on the line, guys who have been arrested and detained in many
cases by coalition forces, reasoning there's going to be less of an outcry to get them out. "associated press" photographer, part of a pulitzer winning team, was detained for many months by the u.s. military. there's a double standard out there. that is appalling. and these are the individuals who, without them, i wouldn't have these books, i wouldn't have the reporting in the "washington post." we wouldn't have these stories. we rely on them to translate, to drive, to provide security for us, and more important, actually go out and do their own journalism. in many cases in iraq and afghanistan, places are quite simply too dangerous for u.s. nationals to get to. so you rely on brave local journalist, and they're the ones who are paying a much, much
higher price for all this. but they believe in the freedom of information, and they believe that their citizenry should be informed and ours should be, too. >> host: it's stunning how we don't realize. these guys normally earn a pittance, not only under pressure 0 from what might happen on the battlefield where there's gunfire but pressure on them from before. it's been for a long time kind of the undersung and the unknown part of reporting. another thing you touch on, just briefly, but importantly, in little america, we tend to -- we think of military action in the army and we look at these great terms, like smart bombs, you think, dumb pilots, or at least -- not so much the pilots but the drones, surgical precision. you hear surgical president in wartime situations, and kind of
an eye roll here. and it's the nature of the situation. there's an exchange here where you were saying nickels -- using a precised guided missile or bomb was safer for civilians than relying on group-fired weapons. have you seen a 19-year-old lance corporal behind a 50 cal, he said referring to a powerful machine gun? you're going to kill people three times away. so these things happen. a., you have protection, b., you have scared kids, c., you have a few -- certainly not all -- who get off on and it actually like it. and i remember writing in choppers in vietnam with these door gunners, who you see water buffaloes buffaloes and have great fun shooting at the water buffaloes and they're essentially putting peasant families out of work for generations for doing that. now -- sorry. it's your show.
>> guest: no. no. those become far more disciplined. and i've ridden on a lot of helicopters in afghanistan, and nice chance for target practice. they don't do it. in part because the overall ethos of counterinsurgency has taken root in the military. they understand their mission is to protect the local population, if they don't do that, they're not going to have a chance of success. we can put aside questions of who counter- incentury generals sis is the right strategy in afghanistan or not, is a big -- the associated question is whether, despite the military's embrace or counterinsurgency, almost with a messianic fervor, their defining ideology, whether
our military is set up to implement that strategy. when you have 19-year-olds with powerful machine guns and, yes, they need to take steps to protect themselves, but the inherent tension here is that if you want to build -- if you want to protect the population, you have to live among them. you have to get out of your vehicles with inch-thick armoring and walk around with them. now need to show you're willing to take some risks with them. and that involves, though, real force protection issues. and so there's been this balancing act, and this is one of the things general mcchrystal was trying to punch and got a lot of resistance in the ranks. he ordered that exchange you're reading about with general nickelson and the marines, a result of general mcchrystal when he was in command of the war in 2009, putting strict restrictions on they of air
strikes, saying, even if you see a bunch of taliban running into a building, you can't call in an airstrike there because you don't know if there are women and children in that building. he recognized too many civilians were being killed through these actions. now, imagine if you're one of those guys on the patrol and you're getting shot at by the talibans who just fled over there. you want to do them in, and so it was real cultural shift and one that uses military in some cases grudgely, some case unevenly accepted. but even so, it's really hard to do what we need to do with the sort of military that we have and with a desire to really minimize casualties. i say all of this not tackling the bigger issue of whether we should have been in there in that scope and scale in the first place.
>> host: what should we think about predator drones? >> guest: i was asked this question yesterday, and i am not going to have the sort of reflexive drones are evil answer here. particularly after seeing when you bring in a large conventional force, what you potentially risk from civilian casualties. drones are far more precise. now, that doesn't mean civilians are killed. it seems pretty clear a number of civilian casualties from the drone strikes that have occurred in pakistan that are operated by the cia. i don't mean to condone that at all. but those drone strikes have taken a lot of senior level and other important leaders of al qaeda out of business.
now, yes, it does cause a degree of blowback in pakistan, but some of these strikes are being done with the admission and acknowledgment of the pakistani government. war is awningly -- ugly business and we don't have a lot of great options. one option, we're not going to confront them. and that poses a real risk to the united states and our interests. sending in conventional troops isn't really an option. wouldn't good down well with the pakistanis and if you were to mount more raids like we did with osama, puts a lot of mental lives at potential risk. we should think we can regularly be sneaking into pakistani air space. so the drones, in my view, are the least worst option in all of this. i recognize that they're controversial, and i'm not -- what i'm not addressing here is the legal framework here.
i think there are very legitimate questions by the legal framework as well as the issue of the use of drones against u.s. citizens, which there's a fascinating piece on at the front page of the "new york times" about that very subject. >> host: one of the things you bring out so well in "little america" which comes from an early effort to try to -- in the 50s to try to develop afghanistan so this stuff might not happen. but one thing that comes out strongly in the book is there is -- seems almost not so much between u.s. forces and the tall bab but more between the state department and the pentagon. and we have a series of examples and pick it up anywhere you want -- how guys have come in and for example figured out that cotton would be the perfect crop in a situation like thats'
somebody in the washington gang doesn't like cotton, where inputs would be easily available and cheaply locally but got to come from either u.s. source0s are or the u.s. itself. talk about that stuff. >> guest: that how i got the subtitle of the book, the war within the war for afghanistan. i discovered as i traveled back and forth between d.c. and afghanistan, that i was really observing two fights. one was sort of the americans at large against the insurgents in afghanistan, and the other one was this internal conflict at multiple levels. there was a conflict between the state department, the pentagon. there was infighting between the statement department -- state department and the white house, the clash between richard holebrook and the national security council. fights even within various u.s. agencies, the cotton one was a galling example. in the farm lands of southern
afghanistan, in the 60s and 0s, afghanistans largely grew cotton. they do things like stitch carpets and sew clothes. a lot of the land turned to poppy cultivation during the soviet -- they needed to feed their families and poppy was the best alternative. fast forward to the opportunity -- the current american presence. a well-founded desire to get them away from growing poppy, for all the obvious reasons, not the least of which that money helps to sustain the insurgency. afghans said, help us grow cot top again, and a very couple smart u.s. experts thought that was a good idea. wasn't be the most efficient crop but something they knew how to grow and wanted to grow.
well, the u.s. agency for international development put roadblocks at every stain of -- step of the way. they said cotton is not to afghanistan's advantage. us a beck stan and pakistan grow more efficiently. afghanistans just need this as a way to get farmers to feed their families. 'and then finally, aid cited a 1986 act of congress, a the bumpers amendment, sponsored by senator dale bumpers of arkansas, that is a protectionist act that bars u.s. taxpayer money from helping another country's cotton industry. the white house could have got an waiver to help afghanistan but nobody wanted to pick the fight. so here you have the most, in my view, most effective competitor -- to poppyut there that a team of agriculture experts thought was the right thing, the afghans wanted, and
we just didn't do it. it was simply galling to me. >> host: you know, i think it -- there will be a mic floating around, but toward the end of "little america" one line stands out, and i think looking ahead: for years we talked below the limitations of the afghans we should have focused on ours. so are there any questions? >> guest: there are two microphones on the side. if you can go to the microphones so they can pick it up on tv. >> host: why am i not surprises there are questions. >> went to a lecture one evening by allison mccoy that traced the heroin interdiction of
southeast asia and then the heroin went to afghanistan and we were -- our hands were in that. do you know about that? >> guest: there's so much poppy grown in afghanistan,en and that's the -- poppy -- the paste and the poppy gives you opium that gets refined into heroin. nobody is bringing heroin into afghanistan. helmund province, one province of afghanistan, just to the west of kandahar, where we sent our marines starting in 2009. i write about this in the book. just that one province, in 2007 and 2008, produced more opium then processed into heroin, than the entire world population of junkies could consume in a year. nobody is bringing it in. there hasn't been any evidence, i've seen, that the united states has been -- or u.s. jim,0
interests have been profiting. if you turn the clock back to the 80s, there's some people who have argued -- and i haven't seen come -- compelling evidence -- the cia encouraged cultivation to help fund the resistance. we do know that poppy funds back then were used to help fight the soviets. and like with the overall growth of the antisoviet jihad, some of then was helpful a generation ago comes back to bite the afghan people and u.s. interests in the current environment. >> i'd like to know a little bit about president obama's feelings towards the military? has it evolved? what was his relationship earlier and what is it now? >> guest: that's a great question. and i think the president's relationship with the military
operates on two different levels. there's sort of the -- the relationship with the southeastern-most commanders and the relationship with the grunts, the men and women really doing the fighting. i'll take the latter one first. the president and the vice president and their spouses have a real genuine commitment to helping active duty military, their families, and those who were wounded. you look at what they're doing, not just with wounded warriors but with veterans employment issues. they're devoting an awful lot of resources to that issue, and i think it stems from a real sort of -- i think a real genuine sense of, we need to help those people and their families who have been fighting in these long wars, many cases individuals who have done repeated tours there, individuals who have come back with, if not physical injuries,
suffering with post traumatic stress. with regard to the senior leadership of the military, i think there's been an evolution there. i write a bit in the book about the 2009 debates that were taking place inside the white house.whether to surge in afghanistan, whether to grant general mcchrystal the 40,000 troops he was asking for in the late summer of 2009. and then something very curious happened. mcchrystal, general petraeus. and admiral mike mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, essentially all lined up in support of the troop surge, and they became the principle advocates for the surge. generally in our system the military provides the best advice to civilian leadership, then step back and let the civilians hash it out. in this case, however, bob gates, then the secretary of defense, a consummate washington
player, decided he would hang back and let the military do the lobbying for the surge, and that pushed civil military relations into a sort of new place in our republic. putting the uniformed military in a very different position than it's been in, and there's some who argue the president felt boxed in by this. that he didn't necessarily feel like sending that many more troops was the optimal decision, yet he had all his generals lined up saying this is the only option that will work, and gave him very little maneuver room, which is why i believe when you saw the -- when president announced the surge, giving mcchrystal much of what he wanted but not all, he put a deadline on it, saying the surge troops would come home by ju 11. reflecting his deep skepticism
about the arguments made be the military. now, one other quick point. as we look and see how the president has allowed and embraced the use of drone warfare in pakistan and beyond, and the use of u.s. special operations forces in places like yemen and north africa. this is sort of light footprint, lower cost, more targete can have more control from the white house, you know, john brennan, now going to the cia. had far more control over how elements of that war were played out, as opposed to afghanistan, which was you give the troops and then the generals good off and do their thing. i think the president's relationship with the military is has sort of evolved a little bit, but it got off to a bit of a rocky start in the first year
of his first term. >> host: you want to take a senator rubio water break? >> guest: i'm good. go by the mic and i'll >> your focus is on iraq and afghanistan, and you certainly pointed out the ineptness and incompetencety that has taken place, which makes me wonder if it's possible for us in the future to ever go into a war without making a total mess of it, and if so, what do we need to do differently, we need to change, or just continue to screw these things up. >> guest: well, a couple different things to say about that. we shouldn't forget bob gate's parting comments right before he retired. where he noted the cadets at west point that any future president that wants to stand a land war in asia needs to have his head examined.
that said, i don't think we all, despite the enormous costs of the iraq and afghanistan wars, given the -- this will be a vast understatement but the unsatisfactory outcome of both of these wars, and i think probably a great desire among many americans not to engage in wars like this ever again. i don't think we can simply assume that we will never be called upon to do something like this or some elements of this. let's say the assad regime falls tomorrow. and there's an international coalition that tries to go in not just to safe garrett chemical and biological weapons there but to help with some initial aspects of transition in syria. there's going to be certain skills and certain elements of what we have done in iraq, or
tried to do in iraq and afghanistan, that we're going to need too be able to transfer to other environments potentially. and in that means we need to have an honest assessment of our efforts. this is happening. if this -- the book, "little america" was, in my view, equally critical of the military and civilian agencies of our government. but they responded very differently. at the state department i'm persona non grata. how below the military? i was instant sited to lecture to the entire student body at the naval post graduate school in monterrey, the national war college in d.c. the book was on the fall reading program at the army war college, had a book club discussion at
the commandant's house. the uniformed military in our country, which has a lessons learned culture, wants to embrace a thoughtful critique. they might not agree but they want to learn. there's a danger if other components of our government simply, for political reasons, other reasons, want to say, hey, we did a great job, and that becomes the narrative, as opposed to honestly looking at what worked and what didn't. the special inspector general for tree -- the reconstruction of iraq passed on the $60 billion effort to rebuild the country, in which he noted $8 billion is unaccounted for. more importantly, that to me is a lesser issue in some cases because these are a butch of auditors saying, do we have proper receipts? my biggest question, how many bills of dollars didn't go to helping secure the iraqis,
helping to promote our interests there, helping to protect our troops, helping to actually create sustainable projects for the iraqs. and so we mucked that one up, and we're spending more money in afghanistan, and arguably may well get even fewer results out of that. there needs to be a really honest, intensive effort to look at what worked and what didn't, and there are nascent efforts -- for instance at the state department -- to build out an office for reconstruction and stabilization operations. but to date, bureaucratic antibiotics have conspired to restrict the size of that. other parts of the bureaucracy don't want to contribute people to it because it takes away from their power. others say with build this capacity will just be an encouragement for another president to invade another
country. and, yeah, there's some truth to all that. but if you don't honestly prepare for that sort of stuff now, if you're called upon to do some of this later, boy, i really hope that we don't sort of, once again -- we're seeing bad mistakes from iraq playing out in afghanistan. we can't afford to now see this play out somewhere else. we can't. >> i have a related question about whether there's been any genuine reflection from the, quote, lessons we could learn from iraq and afghanistan, and can you talk about what you would do internally within government, in the various agencies, and externally in the foreign policy establishment, and in the citizenry.
>> guest: well, you know, i think there's still a shocking kind of lack of knowledge of both of these countries. iraq, obviously, less important now that we don't have troops there. we're getting out of afghanistan, but there really -- the start of these conflicts, at the height of them, there really wasn't the sort of rich nuanced knowledge of these countries, they're societies, their traditions, cultures, that we need to be able to engage in these things with some prospect of a meaningful outcome. and that exists -- the fault here is within the academy? within the think tank world ask the outside of government world, and then inside government,
inside the intelligence community, inside the worlds of dip diploma si and foreign aide. shockingly few people with the necessary language skills, the necessary regional expertise. we just haven't built that talent, nor did we -- once the war started, nor did we mobilize people quickly enough. did we really have no to have an army of pashtun speakers in 2000? no once got into afghanistan, where was the approach to build that knowledge base? didn't happen. >> host: excuse me. let me ask a bakeup question. i'm still trying to understand how we ended up trying to remake a country that has eluded remaking since alexander. we went in because that's where bin laden was after 9/11, and
omar and his kandaharrys and stuff were sheltering him and somewhat reluctantly. and it was pretty focused in the early days, and then after tora bora, we shifted to iraq, and then after iraq, we went back to afghanistan, but the taliban really -- how is the taliban a threat to america and why go back to afghanistan in that way and not continue with al qaeda and all terrorist. >> guest: the taliban aren't really a threat to the united states. they are a threat -- this is where you have to make these logical leaps -- if the taliban were to come back into power in afghanistan, would they invite al qaeda back in? some argue yes, some argue no. i don't think the evidence is clear on that. yes, did provide sanctuary to osama and senior al qaeda
leaders. would they still do that today? or the taliban changed in some way? b., how much of al qaeda is left to actually come back into there? and, would afghanistan be the same sort of hospitable place from which to plan transnational terrorist activities that it was back in 2001. now, there are a lot of question marks around that. but the u.s. strategy for the past several years has been predicated on the notion that, yes, all this will happen and that's why you have to build up an afghan government that is strong and stable enough to beat back the taliban, control its territory so you don't have ungoverned spaces in afghanistan, and by extension, that promotes u.s. national security interests. but doing so is incredibly costly. it's incredibly time-consuming, and in the case of afghanistan, i think has a real questionable
chance of success, in part because the very government we're trying to empower there is seen by its people as being hopelessly corrupt and inefficient. why do villagers at the local level support the taliban? afghanistan? it's not because they're big fans of the taliban's religious sell lott tri. far from it. most afghans have no love for that. but the taliban privilegeds not just the basic order and security, the taliban in some cases provide basic things the people want and can't get from their government, such as, my neighbor stole my goats go to the government and they'll say, pay me a bribe for me to deal with your case. go to the taliban, mullah, he'll deliver swift justice. your neighbor's arm may get chopped off but it's swift justice and in deeply rural
areas that's not a bad thing. then the taliban say to the people, we're not going to demand bribes prom you, whereas the local policemen and the local leadership are all about shaking down the population, and so part of the grand u.s. effort has been to try to reform afghanistan's government. but karzai has been an incredibly unwilling partner. why? he was supposed to have a press conference with chuck hagel today. that's been cancelled. karzai in a speech earlier today accused the united states of conspiring with the taliban to convince the afghan people to allow u.s. troops to stay there longer. i mean, do we really want to be in afghanistan longer? but what's going on there? well, what karzai -- karzai was never a partner in our efforts there because, to him, everything we were trying to do was promoting good governance,
was by extension going to be pushing out the war lords, the powe brokers, the cronies who he depends upon for political support so he worried all this would help erode his power base. so, his government was not just not only -- multibell double negatives -- not only not a willing partner in these efforts; actively south to sabotage a lot of what we were trying to do. with friends like that, how do you implement course insurgence. >> host: the echos of vietnam in my ear, i can barely here. >> guest: not to mention the president and his corrupt brother precisely. >> host: what we have done to go after this nonenemy to try to remake it, created so many more enemies and now we're fight al qaeda and mali and sumatra and
other place wes don't know about. another question. >> i have a family member deployed to iraq twice and afghanistan three times. he was an officer and is no longer in the military. he left. and i'm just wondering, this is pretty typical of -- we asked so much of our national guard men and women, as well as our fulltime military, and especially the medical personnel have been deployed time after time after time. if, god forbid, we should have a major conflict erupt, are we going to have to institute a draft in order to have enough military force? >> guest: that's a good question. first i should note, thank your family member for his service in both countries. and to note that those -- you're
mentioning those who in the medical corps. their work has been heroic. there are literally thousands and thousands of american men and women who served there who are alive today because of the work that the mill corp -- medical corps had done who in previous wars would have come home in caskets but are going to live out lives, some badly wound it but will live because of the medical care they received on the battlefield. you know, about one percent of our country has served or is serving, and that's a really small slice of our society. and we have left the fighting to a small cadre of professional officers, volunteer grunts. now, i think our all-volunteer
force has done great things for our country. this isn't the days of vietnam where you have issues of real morale and discipline within the ranks. our military is more competent than it's ever been. but it comes with a cost. when that burden is shared by only a small fraction of our overall society, the rest of the country can sort of go on and live normal lives and not think anything of it. i was in suburban virginia, northern virginia, just two weeks ago, and while you're on that base, the war in afghanistan is sort of a -- something people think and talk about every day. you go two miles away to a subdivision in fairfax county, virginia, people could go months
without think organize talking about the war. it doesn't hit home in the same way. i think -- if we had a draft we wouldn't be fighting there. but i'm not sure that we as a country want to be -- to have all of the other problems that are associated with a draft army. the question is, how do you, with an all-volunteer force -- at least in my view -- ensure that you use that force for only the most important of mission's, and not just using it because it's sort of there and you can use it. because it comes with a cost in terms of lives, in terms of limbs, and in terms of taxpayer dollars. >> can you sketch out what you think syria will look like over the next five years? >> guest: oh, boy. i wish i had a good crystal ball
on that one. at it an incredibly murky situation in syria. i think there are very real chances over the next many months that the assad regime will crumble because of continued pressure from the free syrian army and other rebel movements. to me the big question is, what happens after? what happens to the chemical and biological weapons? what happens to the shape of the government to what degree this muslim brotherhood and other sort of more extremist forces going to be run that country? what happens to the minority white population, do they flee as refugees? are they persecuted retribution killings? there arlet 0 huge unanswered questions, and it feels like there are echos of iraq just in
terms of the failure to really -- well, failure may not be the right word but the lack of more robust kind of preparations for a follow-on government, and part of this is -- it's easy to criticize, i know, but in part it's because, yes, you have figures in exile but other people part of a regime like that are still in the country so it's hard to pull this all together. but it feels like we could see sort of a repeat of baghdad 2003 over there. >> host: we have time just for one real quick question. >> just wonder evidence if you could comment on the taliban in terms of women? it's naive to think of them in such kind terms when he had a young woman who was shot in pakistan for demanding to be
educated and 2700 women a year who suffer from gunfire to get out of terrible marriages and difficult situations. thank you. >> guest: yes, i was not trying to describe them in kind terms. i mean, make no mistake about it, there's there, they have an incredibly extremist ideology bought trying to explain why they have appeal, and they do have appeal -- in rural more traditional parts of afghanistan. but i think one of the many very distressing likely outcomes of our continued withdrawal from that country is that the status
of women, which has marginally improved in some parts of the country, and more than marginally in big cities, places like kabul, women -- the rights women enjoy today, their ability to be educated, to work, to serve in government, it's a world of difference than what it was under the taliban rule in the 1990s. it's been less -- progress has been less significant in the deemly conservative southern and eastern parts of the country, and i think there will be an erosion of women's rights in afghanistan over the coming years, despite continued u.s. efforts there in terms of money, in terms of making it a priority and diplomatic engagements. and that's going to be a sad thing. my hope is that over time, the women of afghanistan will start to gain rights.
it's going to be an evolutionary process. it's not going to something that changes overnight. and i do think in the pig cities, -- big cities, particularly in kabul the gains wimp have made won't go away overnight and they will continue to fight for that. ... >> we just had our radio in tucson, but let me just close with a line from your book. it's not a foreign policy. [laughter]