Pakistan has been and continues to be a key country in the war against Islamic extremism. But Pakistan's actions in the last couple of years have raised questions about its commitment to US interests. The fact that Osama bin Laden was living for so long in Pakistan raises the most serious questions about Pakistan's good faith.
The core goal of the United States' mission in Afghanistan has been to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to prevent its return. Under the leadership of General David Petraeus much progress was made. Our troops have done an excellent job, but more remains to be done. An unstable Afghanistan will allow al-Qaeda to establish a sanctuary similar to the situation before 9/11. That is why I have opposed the President's decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan too rapidly. While al Qaeda has largely been driven out, it is important that the U.S. maintain a presence in order to prevent another 9/11 type attack.
According to polls, Americans are weary of the Afghan conflict, so Obama sees another chance to declare the war on terror over and also to score domestic political points. Americans are "war weary" about Afghanistan for specific reasons. As president, Obama has repeatedly insisted there was no rationale for a "war on terrorism" and that he will end the wars he inherited.
To seriously challenge for the presidency, a Republican will have to pointedly distance himself from Jeb's older brother: acknowledging that George W. Bush squandered the budget surplus he inherited. No Republican will be able to promise foreign-policy competence unless he or she acknowledges the Bush administration's disastrous mismanagement in Afghanistan and Iraq. It won't be enough for a candidate merely to keep his or her distance from W: Romney tried that and failed. To seriously compete, the next Republican candidate for president will have to repudiate key aspects of Bush's legacy. Jeb Bush would find that excruciatingly hard even if he wanted to. And as his interviews Sunday make clear, he doesn't event want to try.
Beyond 2014, America's commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change. We are negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counter-terrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates.
A: They're going to have to be given support from their own government and people, as well as the international community.
Q: It's grim for them.
A: For a lot of [Afghan] women, life is much better [than before the US invasion]. Girls are in school who never were before. Women are able to practice their professions and pursue their businesses. So for an increasing group of Afghan women, life is better. Still, there are all kinds of discrimination and difficulties. But for a large group of rural women, life has not changed very much. And what I worry about is that the security situation will keep a total lid on the aspirations and education of the rural women and begin to intimidate and drive out of the public space women who have seen their lives improve. And I think it's incumbent upon us and all the nations that have been in Afghanistan to do everything we can to prevent that from happening.
ROMNEY: Well, we're going to be finished by 2014. So our troops'll come home at that point.
Q: And Pakistan?
ROMNEY: Look at what's happening in Pakistan--Pakistan is going to have a major impact on the success in Afghanistan. Pakistan is important to the region, to the world and to us, because Pakistan has 100 nuclear warheads, and they're rushing to build a lot more. A Pakistan that falls apart, becomes a failed state would be of extraordinary danger to Afghanistan and us.
Q: Is it time for us to divorce Pakistan?
ROMNEY: No, it's not time to divorce a nation on earth that has 100 nuclear weapons. It's important for the nuclear weapons, it's important for the success of Afghanistan, because inside Pakistan you have a large group of Pashtuns that are Taliban, that they're going to come rushing back into Afghanistan when we go. And that's one of the reasons the Afghan security forces have so much work to do to be able to fight against that.
ROMNEY: Inside Pakistan you have a large group of Pashtuns that are Taliban, that they're going to come rushing back into Afghanistan when we go.
ROMNEY: No, it's not time to divorce a nation on earth that has a hundred nuclear weapons. This is an important part of the world for us. Pakistan is technically an ally, and they're not acting very much like an ally right now, but we have some work to do. I don't blame the administration for the fact that the relationship with Pakistan is strained. We had to go into Pakistan; we had to go in there to get Osama bin Laden. That was the right thing to do. And that upset them, but there was obviously a great deal of anger even before that. Pakistan is important for the success of Afghanistan, because inside Pakistan you have a large group of Pashtuns that are Taliban, that they're going to come rushing back into Afghanistan when we go. And that's one of the reasons the Afghan security forces have so much work to do to be able to fight against that.
RYAN: We don't want to lose the gains we've gotten. We want to make sure that the Taliban does not come back in and give al-Qaida a safe haven. We agree with the administration on their 2014 transition. And that means we want to make sure our commanders have what they need to make sure that it is successful so that this does not once again become a launching pad for terrorists.
BIDEN: We went there for one reason: to get those people who killed Americans, al-Qaida. [Ryan & Romney] say it's based on conditions, which means it depends. It does not depend for us. We are leaving in 2014, period.
Q: What conditions could justify staying?
RYAN: We don't want to stay. We want to make sure that 2014 is successful.
Q: He says we're absolutely leaving in 2014. You're saying that's not an absolute.
RYAN: Do you know why we say that? Because we don't want to broadcast to our enemies, put a date on your calendar, wait us out and then come back.
With regard to Afghanistan, he said he will end the war in 2014. Governor Romney said, #1, we should not set a date, and #2, with regard to 2014, it depends.
When it came to Osama bin Laden, the president, the first day in office, he called in the CIA and signed an order saying, 'my highest priority is to get bin Laden.' Prior to Pres. Obama being sworn in, Governor Romney was asked a question about how he would proceed. He said, 'I wouldn't move heaven and earth to get bin Laden.' He didn't understand it was more than about taking a murderer off the battlefield; it was about restoring America's heart.
And lastly, the president has led with a steady hand and clear vision. Governor Romney, the opposite. The last thing we need now is another war.
RYAN: We don't want to lose the gains we've gotten. We agree with the administration on their 2014 transition. And that means we want to make sure our commanders have what they need to make sure that it is successful so that this does not once again become a launching pad for terrorists.
BIDEN: Let's keep our eye on the ball. The fact is we went there for one reason: to get those people who killed Americans, al-Qaida. We've decimated al-Qaida central. We have eliminated Osama bin Laden. That was our purpose. And in fact, in the meantime, what we said we would do, we would help train the Afghan military. It's their responsibility to take over their own security. That's why, with 49 of our allies in Afghanistan, we've agreed on a gradual drawdown so we're out of there in the year 2014. [Ryan & Romney] say it's based on conditions, which means it depends. It does not depend for us. We are leaving in 2014, period.
A new tower rises above the New York skyline, Al Qaeda is on the path to defeat, and Osama Bin Laden is dead.
Last year, I visited with our forces and leaders in Afghanistan to receive a first-hand account of our efforts on the ground. I was impressed with the dedication and resolve of our troops. We can all be proud of their representation of our country while in harm's way. Getting the Afghan military and security forces equally organized, trained and equipped is the key to a achieving a stable Afghanistan. In addition, reconstruction efforts and reforming the national government will be vital to our longer term success.
Should we fail, the consequences will be severe. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are anxious to regroup and return Afghanistan to a terrorist training camp. If Afghanistan and Iraq return to being safe havens for terrorists, our way of life and lives will once again be under attack.
Robert Gates gradually came around to supporting the McChrystal request, and Hillary Clinton did, too. During that period, the two often sided with each other in administration debates; they were happy to show that the secretaries of state and defense could work smoothly together, unlike their immediate predecessors, Donald Rumsfeld with Colin Powell & Condi Rice. The Clinton-Gates combine helped to win over the president to sending more troops, despite the skepticism of other senior administration officials such as Biden; the president was not prepared to override the recommendations of the two departments primarily responsible for foreign affairs. Obama approved the deployment of 30,000 more American troops for Afghanistan, bringing the total to about 100,000, and also called on NATO allies to provide another 5,000 or more of their own.
HUNTSMAN: We've been at the war on terror for 10 years now, we've been in Afghanistan. And I say we've got a lot to show for our efforts: The Taliban is no longer in power. We've run out al Qaeda, they're now in sanctuaries. We've had free elections. Osama bin Laden is no longer around. We have strengthened civil society. We've helped the military. We've helped the police. I believe it's time to come home. And I would say within the first year of my administration, which is to say the end of 2013, I would want to draw them down. I don't want to be nation building in Southwest Asia when this nation is in such need of repair. Afghanistan is not a counter insurgency. But we do have a counter-terror mission in Southwest Asia. And that would suppose leaving behind maybe 10,000 troops for intelligence gathering, for Special Forces rapid response capability and training.
HUNTSMAN: The end of 2013.
ROMNEY: Well, we want to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can. The commanders are saying they think 2014 is a better date. If I'm president, I will inform myself based upon the experience of the people on the ground that are leading our effort there. I want to make sure that we hand off the responsibility to an Afghan security force that is capable of maintaining the sovereignty of their nation from the Taliban. I don't want to do something that would put in jeopardy the hard earned success which we've had there. And I would bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, of course, based upon my own experience there, informing myself of what's happening there and listening to the commanders on the ground.
HUNTSMAN: We also deferred to the commanders on the ground in about 1967, during the Vietnam War, and we didn't get very good advice then.
BIDEN: It has the potential to be wound down. It`s in direct proportion to how wound up the Afghan military is, how good they are, how quickly they come online. And how much responsibility the Afghan Government is able to exert politically within Afghanistan. For example, the president said that we were going to withdraw "the surge," 33,000 forces by the end of this summer. And we`re not going to slow this down. This doesn`t mean that we`re going to wait until the last minute to say the other 60,000-some folks are going to come out at the end of 2014. We are going to continue to drawdown forces on a continuous basis, continuing to turn over responsibility to the Afghans, because at the end of the day, our objective is to as responsibly as we can withdraw American forces from Afghanistan.
A 2008 paper published by the Council on Foreign Relations, entitled "US-Pakistan Military Cooperation" was clear, calling Pakistan "one of America's most important military alliances." The CFR paper states that our relationship is often strained, such as by Pakistan's detonation of a nuclear weapon in 1998; but Pakistan has been our ally since 1947, and a strong military ally since 9/11. One of Pres. Bush's commanders, Lt. Gen. Carter Ham, called Pakistan "a great partner so far in the war on terror"; another, Adm. Mike Mullen, said "Pakistan and the United States remain steadfast allies, and Pakistan's military is fighting bravely against terrorism."
Clearly Rep. Bachmann was 100% correct and Gov. Perry was 100% mistaken.
BACHMANN: There are al-Qaeda training grounds there. At the same time, they do share intelligence data with us regarding Al Qaida.
PERRY: The bottom line is that they've showed us time after time that they can't be trusted. And until Pakistan clearly shows that they have America's best interests in mind, I would not send them one penny, period. I think it is important for us to send the message to those across the world that, if you are not going to be an ally of the US, do not expect a dime of our citizens' money to be coming into your country. That is the way we change foreign policy. Now, if we want to engage these countries with our abilities and our companies that go in, rather than just writing a blank check to them, then we can have that conversation. But to write a check to countries that are clearly not representing American interests is nonsensical.
Perry: The mission must be completed there. The idea that we will have wasted our treasure and the lives of young Americans to not secure Afghanistan is not appropriate. But the idea that we would give a timetable to our enemy is irresponsible from a military standpoint, it's irresponsible from the lives of our young men and women. And it is irresponsible leadership of this president to give a timetable to pull out of any country that we're in conflict with.
Q: What's your appraisal of the combat situation?
Perry: I think we're making progress there. The issue is training up the Afghan security forces so that we're comfortable that they can protect that citizenry and continue to take the war to the terrorists that are using Afghanistan--and Pakistan, I might add. Our military is doing the best job that they can, considering this administration is telegraphing to the enemy when we're going to pull out.
"Al Qaeda and the violent extremists who you're fighting against want to destroy. But all of you want to build, and that is something essential about America. They're got no respect for human life. You see dignity in every human being. They want to drive races and regions and religions apart. You want to bring people together and see the world move forward together. They offer fear. You offer hope."
By the time Obama finished his 20-minute speech, the troops' polite applause had turned to stomps and whistles.
PERRY: Well obviously, before you ever get to that point you have to build a relationship in that region. That's one of the things that this administration has not done. Yesterday, we found out that Haqqani--the terrorist group directly associated with the Pakistani country--has been involved with [terrorism. We need] to have a relationship with India, to make sure that India knows that they are an ally of the US. For instance, when we had the opportunity to sell India the upgraded F-16's, we chose not to do that. We did the same with Taiwan. The point is, our allies need to understand clearly that we are their friends, we will be standing by there with them. Today, we don't have those allies in that region that can assist us if that situation that you talked about were to become a reality.
SANTORUM: We should be establishing relationships in Pakistan with allies of ours, folks like Pres. Musharraf, so we could work to make sure that that coup could be overturned and make sure those nuclear weapon do not fall in those hands. But working with allies at that point is the last thing we want to do. We want to work in that country to make sure the problem is defused.
GINGRICH: I think people need to understand how real this is. This world is in danger of becoming dramatically more dangerous in the not-too-distant future. People talk about an Iranian weapon? There may be well over 100 nuclear weapons in Pakistan. And the example you used is not too far-fetched to worry about.
SANTORUM: I'm not for taking them out of the region. We want victory.
HUNTSMAN: The world is a better place when th US is strong. So guiding anything that we talk about from a foreign policy standpoint needs to be fixing our core. But, second of all, I believe that, you know, after 10 years of fighting the war on terror, people are ready to bring our troops home from Afghanistan. This country has given its all. What remains behind, some element to collect intelligence, special forces capability, and we're going to have to do that in every corner of the world. But we need to fix this core and get serious about what the rest of the 21st century holds for this country.
HUNTSMAN: We don't need 100,000 troops in Afghanistan nation-building at a time when this nation needs to be built. The time has come for us to get out of Afghanistan.
PERRY: I agree with Gov. Huntsman when we talk about it's time to bring our young men and women home and as soon and obviously as safely as we can. But it's also really important for us to continue to have a presence there. And I think the entire conversation about, how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan, I don't think so at this particular point in time. I think the best way for us to be able to impact that country is to make a transition to where that country's military is going to be taking care of their people, bring our young men and women home, and continue to help them build the infrastructure that we need, whether it's schools or otherwise.
HUNTSMAN: We are 10 years into this war. America has given its all in Afghanistan. We have families who have given the ultimate sacrifice. And it's to them that we offer our heartfelt salute. But the time has come for us to get out of Afghanistan. We don't need 100,000 troops in Afghanistan nation-building at a time when this nation needs to be built. We are of no value to the rest of the world if our core is crumbling, whic it is in this country. I like those days when Ronald Reagan said that the light of this country would shine brightly for liberty, democracy, human rights, and free markets. We're not shining like we used to shine. We need to shine again. And when we star shining again, it's going to help the women of Afghanistan, along with any other NGO work. We can get it done, but we have to make sure that the Afghan people increasingly take responsibility for their security going forward.
A: I do. In all three cases, I don't see a military threat. I initially thought the intervention in Afghanistan was warranted--we were attacked and we attacked back--but we've wiped out Al Qaeda and here we are; we're still there.
Q: Isn't there evidence that we merely drove Al Qaeda from Afghanistan into Pakistan?
A: No, I have the same view. We have helped the people of Afghanistan establish freedom from the Taliban. But now we are at a point where they are going to have to earn and keep that freedom themselves. This is not something we are going to do forever. We've been there 10 years. We've been training the Afghan troops. It's time for the troops of Afghanistan to take on that responsibility according to the time table established by the generals in the field. And those generals recommended to President Obama that we should not start drawing our troops down until after the fighting season in 2012. He took a political decision to draw them down faster than that. That is wrong.
Huntsman also told Esquire that he plans on running a campaign built in part on the parallel platforms of debt reduction and ending the war in Afghanistan.
A: I would get out of both Iraq and Afghanistan tomorrow. Six months after we engaged in Afghanistan we'd wiped out al-Qaeda effectively--that was 10 years ago. Now we're building roads, schools, bridges, highways and hospitals--we have those needs here in this country.
ROMNEY: It's time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that comes to our generals that we can hand the country over to the Afghan military to defend themselves from the Taliban. I think we've learned some important lessons in our experience in Afghanistan. I want those troops to come home based upon not politics, not based upon economics, but instead based upon the conditions on the ground determined by the generals. But I also think we've learned that our troops shouldn't go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation. Only the Afghanis can win Afghanistan's independence from the Taliban.
Q: Congressman Paul, do you agree with that decision?
PAUL: Not quite. I make the decisions. I tell the generals what to do. I'd bring them home as quickly as possible.
A: Well, initially, Afghanistan was totally warranted. We were attacked. We attacked back. That's what our military is for. We should remain vigilant to the terrorist threat. But after being in Afghanistan for six months I think we effectively wiped out al Qaeda. And here it is, we are there 10 years later. We're building roads, schools, bridges, highways and hospitals and borrowing 43 cents out of every dollar to do that.
JOHNSON: Well, first of all, I'm not in favor of a timetable. I believe that that timetable should be tomorrow and I realize that tomorrow may involve several months. I was opposed to us going into Iraq from the beginning. Afghanistan originally, I was completely supportive of that, we were attacked, we attacked back, that's what our military is for and after six months, I think we pretty effectively taken care of Al Qaeda.
But that was 10 years ago, we're building roads, schools, bridges and highways in Iraq and Afghanistan and we're borrowing 43 cents out of every dollar to do that. In my opinion, this is crazy.
It's time we faced facts: fighting the Taliban over there is at the same time propping up the biggest drug-based regime in the world.
The World Bank issued a report in 2006 on "Afghanistan's Opium Economy." Isn't it interesting that we're fighting a "war on drugs," yet over there we have no problem with this? Certainly those drugs are going to get here eventually, again just follow the money. But obviously the Afghans involved can buy protection and continue their business.
We've also taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies abroad. In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan security forces. Our purpose is clear: By preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.
Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them. This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead. And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.
Biden returned conveying a plea for urgent help, and Powell joined it, but while Bush "was agreeable and willing to listen, he was also noncommittal," Biden wrote later. Though Bush talked of a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan, he had other ideas, and was already giving Cheney and Rumsfeld "the force and resources they requested for a new target"--Iraq.
By now it was becoming increasingly clear to Biden that a critical pivot was under way from the unfinished business in Afghanistan to the neoconservatives' vision of spreading democracy throughout the Middle East, starting with deposing Saddam Hussein.
Biden and Republican Senator Chuck Hagel introduced a bill providing more money for Afghanistan, but the administration opposed it.