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Analysis of Lowering Goals for Afghanistan's Future; The Crisis This Time; Imagine a World

Aired May 21, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Good evening, everyone. And welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Tonight, as the U.S. and NATO allies meet in Chicago to discuss ending the Afghan war, it is clear that the Obama administration has significantly lowered its goals and expectations for success. The new American policy is best expressed by a phrase that's said to be privately used in the White House. "Afghan: good enough."

My brief tonight. "Afghan: good enough" may not be good enough for Afghanistan, for the United States, or for the rest of the world. But listen to the U.S. national security adviser, Tom Donilon, briefing journalists in the run-up to the Chicago summit.


TOM DONILON, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The goal is to have an Afghanistan again that has a degree of stability such that - that forces like al Qaeda and associated groups cannot have safe haven unimpeded, which could threaten the region and threaten U.S. and other interests in the world.


AMANPOUR: The key words there are "degree of stability." It's clear then that the Obama team no longer expects Afghanistan to be totally off-limits to al Qaeda. This after more than 3,000 U.S. and allied causalities, at least 11,000 Afghan casualties, and more than $600 billion spent in America's longest war. "Afghan: good enough" much like leading from behind in Libya, could become a phrase that captures the Obama administration's foreign policy doctrine.

Meanwhile, the U.S. goal may have been lowered to impede al Qaeda and Afghanistan, to use Tom Donilon's word again, but they are still a global player. And today, a massive terrorist attack rocked Yemen. Just listen to this. A suicide bomber in an army uniform blew himself up during a rehearsal for a military parade, killing more than 100 soldiers and injuring many hundreds more. Al Qaeda has a strong base in Yemen now, and some experts fear that once NATO forces leave Afghanistan, al Qaeda could again set up a base there.

Later in the program, I'll look at the economic crisis in Europe, which is part of the reason for the hasty pullout in Afghanistan by America and its allies. I will talk to the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

But first, joining me now, Vali Nasr, a former senior adviser to the U.S. State Department on Afghanistan and Pakistan. And David Sanger of "The New York Times," who has written a new book on this very subject, "Confront and Conceal," which comes out in two weeks.

Gentlemen, thank you both very much indeed for joining me. Let me ask you first, Vali, since you were there as this policy was being made. "Afghan: good enough." What on earth does that mean?

VALI NASR, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: That means that there would be an interlude of stability in Afghanistan after the United States should leave so that the Taliban don't show up in Kabul. You don't have chaos in southern Afghanistan. You don't have terrorist attacks emanating from Afghanistan. In others, you will have a semblance of stability and calm that would make American departure from Afghanistan look less problematic than it actually may end up being.

AMANPOUR: OK, so that's the aim. Is that what you think will actually happen?

NASR: I think it's a very risky strategy, largely because we would be withdrawing troops from Kandahar and Helmand in this coming year. There is no truce with the Taliban, which means they will be back. There is relations with Pakistanis collapsing. There's no reason to think that violence in Afghanistan is actually going to recede or that the Afghan security forces would be actually capable of dealing with it.

So, we are leaving in a condition where violence is still there. It's uncontained and it's likely to search. And we are hoping against hope that things don't fall apart as soon as we leave.

AMANPOUR: David Sanger, let me turn to you, because you've written, frankly, the inside story of this, which is presumably going to come out in your book. But a staggering front-page article in "The New York Times" this Sunday where you talk about the surge that President Obama ordered back at the end of 2009. And you say, based on your interviews, that he basically ordered this surge and ordered a firm pullout date, win or lose in Afghanistan. Am I reading you correctly?

DAVID SANGER, REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Absolutely, Christiane. You know, "Afghan good enough" meant that the United States has been at this war for nearly a decade at the time that President Obama came in. He said at the time when he was campaigning that he thought this was the good war and that Iraq was the dumb war.

But he was not willing to commit unlimited resources to it. And even though there's a remarkable moment in that review in 2009 when the general sent in a plan for a counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan. It wasn't "Afghan good enough." It was literally rewiring the country. And that plan, they sent off to the Office of Management and Budget. And the president said, will somebody please price this for me? Tell me what this would cost? And they came back and they said, well, it'd be about a trillion dollars over 10 years, sir. And that's about what insuring every uninsured American would cost you over the same period of time for health care.

And that pretty well decided it.

AMANPOUR: But David, what you're basically saying then - and I'll ask Vali to weigh in - that this surge was ordered with the very clear knowledge by the president of the United States that win or lose, they were coming out.

SANGER: That's right. And you'll remember at the time, Christiane, he said that starting in about 18 months, he would begin to pull out those troops. He didn't say at what pace. And there's a moment that I described in "Confront and Conceal" at which one of his aides goes to him and says, you know, Mr. President, the generals only agreed to this because they believe that when the time actually came, they can get some more time from you. And he looked at them and he said, you know, he said, they're not getting any more time. And in fact, they didn't.

AMANPOUR: Well, I can only - I can only imagine what these service men and women think about this. What their families think about this.

Vali, as a policy maker, is this conscionable that you send troops into an area that you know, win or lose, they're going to come out?

NASR: Well, there were those in that debate that actually believe that for the very reason that the president would change his mind on the surge that he should not have put the troops in in the first place. It was very clear that the counterinsurgency strategy, the way it was developed in Iraq, would require time. It would require commitment of resources. Some generals spoke of at least a decade before you could completely flush out the insurgency.

You notice much of this was known when the troop commitment was made. And I think in the decision to pull the troops out very quickly after they were committed in some ways undermined the entire process of arriving at the decision in the first place. And I think it left a very bad taste in the mouth of many countries in the region who are waiting to see a very clear direction and commitment from the United States toward Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: Let's be frightfully practical right now. David, you also write that President Obama concluded that the Pentagon had not internalized. That the goal was not to defeat the Taliban.

SANGER: That's right. There were sort of three goals, Christiane, that the administration determined made sense to the United States. One was to degrade and ultimately defeat al Qaeda. Because it was al Qaeda that had attacked the United States but not the Taliban. The Taliban didn't have the reach to get to the United States.

The second big goal, the classified goal, was to assure the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Because in the end, it was Pakistan with its 100-plus nuclear weapons and volatility that posed a much greater strategic threat to the United States than anything that could have happened in Afghanistan.

Third goal, keep Kabul from falling. That's of course the capital. That does not necessarily mean that other parts of the country, other parts of Afghanistan, might not fall into Taliban control. And I think Vali would probably agree that it seems fairly likely that a few years from now, we will see some parts of the country that are significantly under Taliban control. We may or may not admit it, but are likely to be that way because that's what the Taliban have always been.

AMANPOUR: So, keep Kabul under control. That is one town in this massive country after right now 11 years of war. Vali, obviously expectations have been systematically lowered under the Obama administration.

NASR: Well, one reason to actually send troops in was really to put pressure on Pakistan and the Taliban to change strategy and agree to negotiate and agree to cooperate with the United States. But the decision to remove those troops very quickly, remove that kind of pressure on the Taliban. And remove it on Pakistan as well.

And if the goal from the very beginning was only to hold onto Kabul and let the south ultimately go to the Taliban and the Pakistan, we could have done that from the very beginning without going through this whole exercise.

AMANPOUR: So, let me now ask you about Pakistan, because I think both yourself, David Sanger, the president, everybody talks about Pakistan being the most important alliance, the most important target there.

So, explain to me then why is this level of poison exists between the United States and Pakistan right now? Even over something, one would think, as diplomatically palatable over an apology for accidentally killing 24 Pakistani soldiers? And that has brought America's ability to import goods into Afghanistan to a grinding halt.

Now, that might get worked out, but nonetheless up until this moment, how is it that diplomats have not been able to at least apologize, to put that vital relationship back on track?

NASR: Well, I think it's a failure on our side. That's not to say that the Pakistanis have not been engaged in malfeasance. But nothing in our policy the first two years of the administration suggests that we view Pakistan as a strategic priority the way now we're talking about it. Not our level of aid compared to what we gave Afghanistan. Not our level of engagement. Pakistan was essentially a stepping stone to securing Afghanistan.

Now that we claim that Pakistan is our strategic priority, we cannot help - we cannot secure Pakistan's nuclear weapons or protect it from terrorism without Pakistan's own cooperation. So this idea of somehow we're going to at the same time put pressure on Pakistan and break the relationship.

And yet be able to achieve our strategic objectives there does not quite add up. I think there is a disconnect between the way we are handling Pakistan very narrowly over al Qaeda issues and the broader objectives that we proclaim in Afghanistan. And I think that the fact that the supply routes have been closed and that this NATO summit is now being focused on this singular issue really speaks to that.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you both, because obviously if the U.S. and NATO forces are bolting for the exit, then obviously there has to be some kind of envisioned security insurance program. That presumably is the Afghanistan national security forces. But even those now we hear are going to be dramatically reduced between 2015 and 2017.

And let me just say - for instance, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said, a lot is going to be dependent on the funds that are going to be put on the table. U.S. senator Carl Levin has said it may be penny wise, but it would be pound-foolish to put at risk the hard-fought gains that we have achieved.

So again the question: is this too not going to be conditions based?

SANGER: Christiane, to some degree, this is going to be economics based. The effort has been to train up a little over 350,000 Afghan security forces. That's the army and the police. In some places, that has worked out well. In other places it has not.

What it's been every place is very, very expensive. And there's a moment I mention in "Confront and Conceal" where the president makes the point during a national security meeting that the cost of training the troops is the single biggest - the Afghan troops - is the single biggest line-item in the Pentagon's budget. Larger than the new joint-strike force fighter, which is this enormously expensive new fighter jet.

So, what the U.S. wants to do is bring this cost from $8 billion, $6 billion a year down to just $2 billion a year. But to do that means reducing the size of the Afghan force.

AMANPOUR: Clearly, that is what is being said, to reduce the money.

But Vali, finally to you. If that happens, if the Afghan force gets reduced by 100,000, what hope of security is there after NATO pulls out?

NASR: Very little because this is a very indisciplined force as it is. It's not large enough. It cannot secure the country. People in the region are looking already at what happened in Iraq where we went down to zero literally. And they think that if that's the path that Afghanistan is going to go, they may just as well wait until we're completely out and then they can resume taking over the country.

I mean, we are not the only people who are listening to this debate. The Taliban are also listening. And there's that right now, very little incentive for them to take American presence in Afghanistan. The Afghan security forces that said there are seriously. And that really (INAUDIBLE) not very well for the future of Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: We have to leave it there. We will continue this discussion. Vali Nasr, David Sanger, thank you so much for joining me.

SANGER: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: So, while NATO members in Chicago wrestle with Afghanistan, the G-8 summit fared little better in solving the questions of Greece and the Euro. My next guest runs the European Commission and was there at Camp David. I will ask Jose Manuel Barroso if he says - sees any cause for optimism.

But first, it is an instant classic now. Those world leaders at the G-8 summit, including my next guest, transformed into cheering fans as Chelsea beat Byron Munich in Europe's champions league football final. They call soccer the beautiful game. If only some of that beauty could translate into a more perfect European union.

And we'll be right back.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back. As president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso is central to the critical developments regarding the future of Greece in the Eurozone and the European Union itself. He joined me earlier from the NATO summit in Chicago.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Barroso, thank you so much for joining me.


AMANPOUR: Let me ask you. There's a crisis, obviously, that you're dealing with. Is Greece going to be able to stay within the Eurozone? Within the euro?

BARROSO: We expect Greece to stay in the Eurozone. This is our firm commitment and, of course, it's important that now Greece respect its commitment. Just coming from the G8 summit in Camp David was a clear statement that all the members of G8, not only the European Union, believe that it is in our interest that Greece stays in the Eurozone and that Greece respects its commitments.

AMANPOUR: Except for Greece says, except for Alexis Tsipras, who may or may not win the elections next month, told us that he wants to destroy the memorandum. I want to play you what he told us this last week.


ALEXIS TSIPRAS, GREEK CANDIDATE FOR PRIME MINISTER: First of all, we will cancel all these austerity measures in memorandum. You know the memorandum.


TSIPRAS: We will cancel the memorandum and then we will go to renegotiate in the European level about a calmer way to go out, to [INAUDIBLE] this crisis. And we believe that this crisis is not a Greek crisis but a European crisis.


AMANPOUR: So Mr. Barroso, is there a way to renegotiate the memorandum?

BARROSO: Look, Greece has signed a memorandum. It was approved by the Greek government and by the Greek parliament. I don't make any comments about the individual statements of Greek leaders. And this memorandum was agreed not only by Greece, by the European Union, by the IMF. And so it's of course indispensable to respect the commitment.

Having said this, our program with Greece is not just about fiscal consolidation, what people sometimes call cuts. It's also about support for growth, for reform, technical assistance. And yes, we are ready to do our best to help the Greek people and certainly we will do it, but not putting in question the commitments that were taken by Greece through the proper institutions of Greece: the government, the parliament, and also the sixteen members of the Union.

AMANPOUR: Alright. Well, let me just push you, then. How are you going to force Greece, if they have an election, if Tsipras is the prime minister, if he doesn't want to respect the memorandum, how do you force Greece to do that?

BARROSO: First of all, I don't deliberate on speculations. One thing is clear. We respect the Greek democracy. At the same time we have to respect the sixteen other democracies that approved the program. So it's up to the Greeks to decide what they want to do and we will respect, of course, their decision. But the decision from the European point of view has to be in respect of commitments taken democratically by all the member states of the Eurozone.

AMANPOUR: Alright. Since you don't want to specifically talk about a specific politician, let me ask you in general. Would it be more dangerous to renegotiate the memorandum by Greece or to have Greece exit the euro, the Eurozone?

BARROSO: Look, I think it's simply not possible to put in the question the commitment that was taken. It would be, really, a blow, not only to Greek credibility but also to the European Union and its credibility. So what we can do and we should do, in fact, are already doing, is to help Greece to fulfill the conditions necessary.

Because the problem with Greece is not the question of the support that has been given. To give an idea, if you put together all the support, so in terms of grants and loans and also write-off of private debt, it corresponds roughly to 177 percent of the Greek GDP. To compare, the Marshall Plan was, on average, 2 percent of GDP of the countries that were receiving aid. So the problem is not the question of lack of support to Greece. The problem is a question of Greece implementing the necessary reforms so that it can come back to growth and to confidence. This is, indeed, the problem. And of course, it's up to our Greek friends to find the right way to implement the commitments taken.

AMANPOUR: And what do you say -- you said to me a moment ago that you're ready to help Greece. What plans do you have? What new ideas do you have about growth policies? About something that could stimulate some kind of growth?

BARROSO: Look, we aren't helping Greece, as I told you. On loans and grants, it's corresponding to 177 percent of their GDP. The question is of implementation in the ground and that's where we are finding some difficulties in terms of the implementation of the reforms that have been agreed. Also, in terms of administration capacity. That is why we are now providing technical assistance to Greece.


AMANPOUR: President Barroso was not able to stay long enough for me to ask him some key questions. For instance, fear of contagion and including whether the European Commission is developing contingency plans for a Greek exit from the euro. But he's made it clear in published reports that he is, indeed, making those plans. We hope to ask him again at some later time. We'll be right back.


AMANPOUR: And finally tonight. When NATO goes, as we've said, Afghanistan will largely be left to its own devices. So imagine a world where the next battlefield is in the classroom, precisely where it was back in 2001 before the U.S. first defeated the Taliban. Now that it's resurgent, Nick Paton Walsh gives us a chilling glimpse back to the future.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In parts of rural Afghanistan, the battlefield is everywhere, even in the schools. The next generation is hostage to a power struggle between the Taliban and the government. Recently, the Taliban demanded the closure of some schools in two eastern provinces. In Ghazni, it was in retaliation for a government ban on motorbikes often used by the insurgents. We recently filmed an Afghan soldier disciplining a villager for breaking this rule.

But in neighboring Wardak province, locals say the Taliban were more compromising. Our cameraman visited one school in which we won't identify people for their safety where the Taliban forced the school term to start late this year with one big condition. They had to have a Taliban minder oversee the syllabus, a schoolteacher says.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via translator): The Taliban are fine with us as long as we do what they want. They tell us what to teach and what not to. If we don't do what they say, they have a representative who comes checking things. They've increased the number of hours we teach religious subjects in a week and decreased other subjects, like English. If we didn't, they would threaten teachers and it's very much possible that they would close the school down.

WALSH (voice-over): A deputy education minister told CNN that in areas where the Taliban had more control, sometimes the government let them influence the subjects taught to keep the schools open and even checks students' attendance. He said this wasn't a deal, just flexibility that kept schools running.

Our cameraman met this man who said he was the Taliban's schools representative, one of many across Afghanistan, he said, implementing instructions from Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via translator): We do not allow schools to be open here at the beginning of the school year because we wanted them to change. Then we had a big meeting with the school officials and concluded with them to allow schools to start. But teaching should be according to our prinicples and Islamic principles. They accepted that. We only teach Islamic subjects, so even when a person becomes an engineer, he should have enough knowledge in Islam.

WALSH (on camera): Whatever exactly happened in Wardak is symptomatic of broader fears of the Taliban getting back under the skin of daily life in Afghanistan. The Taliban representative did oppose girls' education but the fact they let the school open at all, whereas before they've insisted on religious education, shows a curious kind of evolution in the Taliban. Sometimes, they choose moderation. They didn't want to shut the school entirely because that would be unpopular with locals. They just wanted to remind everybody who's in control of it.

WALSH (voice-over): How long this moderation lasts and how far it extends is uncertain, but what is clear is as NATO eyes the exit after a decade here, how far from its original promises so much of Afghanistan has fallen. Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Kabul.


AMANPOUR: And it was the Taliban preventing girls from ever attending school that enraged much of the world way before 9/11. That it is for our program tonight. Goodbye from New York.