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President Obama is expected to outline his strategy for a draw-down of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in a speech to the nation tomorrow evening. We look at diplomatic rhetoric on both sides and the prospects for stability as the U.S. phases out its military involvement on the ground.
- Ray Rivera New York Times Reporter
- Scott Worden Senior Rule of Law Adviser, Rule of Law Center of Innovation, U.S. Institute of Peace
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, chasing the fountain of youth and a few gold medals, too, we learn about the Senior Games. But first, tomorrow marks another turning point in American involvement in Afghanistan with President Obama set to announce his plans for reducing U.S. troops there. On the eve of that decision, the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan leveled sharp criticism at Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the weekend after Karzai compared American troops to occupiers.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAt home, Congress, the American people and even military strategists are divided over what our role should be and how quickly we should pull out. On the other side, the Afghan people are no less divided about the American presence. What does this diplomatic rhetoric tell us and what are the prospects for a stable Afghanistan as the U.S. draws down its troops there?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us by telephone from Kabul, Afghanistan, is Ray Rivera, foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is based in Kabul. Ray Rivera, thank you for joining us.
MR. RAY RIVERAOh, thank you for having me.
NNAMDIRay, President Karzai has been a difficult partner for many years now but why is he stepping up his criticism of the NATO-led coalition now? He said last week that coalition forces were in Afghanistan for their own purposes and threatened to denounce them as occupiers if they don't stop attacks on Afghan homes.
RIVERAIt's difficult to say why now. He has done this sporadically over the years as you know. One of his underlying motives is likely that he wants to show himself as a sovereign leader. The most common criticism among Afghan people or people with sympathies toward the Taliban is that he's a puppet leader who does what the U.S. tells him.
RIVERAAnd so when he does this, he's very much trying to play to his base to -- in particular, his southern Pashtun base where most of the insurgency also comes from, in trying to show that he is a distinct and separate leader who has his own will. So that has something to do with it.
NNAMDIAlso joining us by telephone is Scott Worden, Senior Rule of Law Advisor with the Rule of Law Center of Innovation at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Scott Worden, thank you for joining us.
MR. SCOTT WORDENThanks for having me.
NNAMDIScott Worden, in response to what President Karzai said, the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, in a report -- I'm reading in The New York Times by Ray Rivera, who is on the phone with us. The outgoing Ambassador, Mr. Eikenberry said, and quoting here, that "mothers and fathers of fallen soldiers, spouses of soldiers who have lost arms and legs, children of those who lost their lives in your country, they ask themselves about the meaning of their loved one's sacrifice. When I hear some of your leaders call us occupiers, I cannot look these mourning parents, mourning spouses and children in the eye and give them a comforting reply."
NNAMDIIf Mr. Karzai is not politically posturing, Scott Worden, is it that he believes that we look at the deaths of Afghans and don't realize their sacrifices?
WORDENWell, I think that there is a diplomatic competition that's going on here. As was mentioned earlier, you know, President Karzai has a constituency that is upset with the degree of foreign involvement in the country and does feel that this impinges upon Afghan sovereignty. And, you know, in the past, Karzai's made milder comments and he hasn't gotten any pushback publicly from the diplomatic community.
WORDENI think his comments went -- Karzai's comments went further this most recent time. And with Eikenberry on his way out as Ambassador, you know, he's kind of responding collectively for a whole series of comments, criticisms that Karzai's delivered at the West, which don't recognize the sacrifice that has been paid in terms of money and lives by U.S. force and our allies.
WORDENSo I think that this has been building for a while and this is Ambassador Eikenberry, on behalf of the larger diplomatic community, pushing back and saying, hey, there's a line here. And if you want continued support from the domestic public in the U.S. and as well Europe, you're going to have to tone down your rhetoric and show a little bit more appreciation.
NNAMDIScott Worden, could he also have been speaking for the U.S. government and signaling a tougher line with Karzai?
WORDENWell, I don't know that it was really signaling a tougher line, but there are several key issues in play now and leading up to a scheduled conference and bond at the end of the year. The U.S. is currently negotiating with the Afghan government a long term strategic partnership agreement, which would call for increased -- or not increased, but sustained international aid after the 2014 drawdown date that's been announced and also could have agreements on military cooperation after that.
WORDENSo, you know, with that in the background, I think that there's been a perception that the Afghan government thinks the International Community, the U.S. in particular wants this agreement more than Afghanistan does. And, you know, many of you inside Afghanistan and outside, the situation could be reversed. In fact Afghanistan needs this long term commitment from the International Community to sustain itself. And so I think that that's kind of the context in which you're seeing this public battle of words basically saying, look, let's be clear that we both need each other in this agreement, but that one side isn't getting a much better deal than the other.
NNAMDIWe're talking about Afghanistan in advance of President Obama's speech that is expected tomorrow announcing the withdrawal of some U.S. troops from Afghanistan. And we're interested in hearing from you. You're turn, 800-433-8850. What would you like to hear President Obama say tomorrow? 800-433-8850 or you can go make that comment or ask that question at our website, kojoshow.org.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Scott Worden, Senior Rule of Law Advisor with the Rule of Law Center of Innovation at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He joins us by telephone from Washington, D.C. and Ray Rivera who is foreign correspondent with The New York Times. He joins us by telephone from Kabul, Afghanistan, where he is based. Ray Rivera, if Karzai is labeling the U.S. troops as occupiers, how does that either on the one hand reflect the way Afghans view American involvement there, and on the other hand, how does it affect the way Afghans view the American involvement there?
RIVERAWell, I didn't catch the first part of that, but to be clear, the -- I'll let you repeat the question here, but on that (unintelligible)
NNAMDIOh, allow me to repeat the question. I'm asking to what extent do President Karzai's statements reflect the view of Afghans about American involvement there. And as the second part of the question, to what extent is it to likely affect the view of Afghans about American involvement?
RIVERAYeah, well, on the first part, you know, him labeling Americans as occupiers, he has not actually done that. He -- what he said was if they do not stop bombing houses, they'll be labeled as occupiers.
RIVERAAnd then he went further to say history shows what -- what Afghans do to occupiers and trespassers. So they were very strong statements, but just short of calling the country occupiers -- or the foreign forces occupiers. But as for how it -- whether his statements were reflective of the population, I think they are very reflective of the feelings that Afghans have, in particular in rural areas. Perhaps not as much in the urban areas that have benefitted a good deal more from the foreign presence here, both in terms of money and security and lifestyle and in particular in Kabul.
RIVERABut outside there is a -- in particular in the south, there's still a great deal of resistance even among people who are not -- you know, just ordinary citizens, not members of the Taliban or anything like that, polled not too long ago in Paktika Province showed that, I think, a good two-thirds or more than two-thirds still sympathized with the insurgency.
RIVERAAnd as for how his comments affect the population, one could look back to several months ago after the French pastor in Florida, Terry Jones, burned the Quran. It went largely unnoticed here and without any impact until on a Thursday, President Karzai mentioned it in a speech. The next day -- well, condemned it in a speech. The next day, the (word?) in the mosques brought it up and that day there were riots. And for the next three days, there were riots leading to dozens of deaths. So what he says does have an impact on the population.
NNAMDIRay, President Obama is expected to propose a drawdown of 30,000 troops, basically reversing the surge. But that does not mean the U.S. is walking away. There will still be nearly 70,000 troops there. Do -- how do -- is the way that Afghans view that's still, in your view, divided along rural and urban lines?
RIVERAYeah, I think they are divided somewhat among rural and urban lines to some degree. And, you know, there's kind of this somewhat -- there's this split -- in both places, there's sort of a schism between what many Afghans feel in their heart versus what they know in their head. You know, they feel in their hearts that they would like to see the foreign forces go. And that if they were gone they could negotiate with the Taliban in their communities and say, look, you have no fight anymore. This is -- you're not -- there are no more infidels here. You are just killing Muslims now. And they feel -- many people feel that this is an argument they can make.
RIVERAOn the other hand, in their head they know they still need the money. They still want the money. You know, they have benefitted from security. So there is -- there are these -- you know, these mixed feelings, I think, more in the population centers probably than out in the rural areas.
NNAMDIScott Worden, is the prospect of an eventual U.S. pullout -- or I should say how is the prospect of an eventual U.S. pullout shaping the political situation in Afghanistan?
WORDENWell, I think it has a profound effect on the political situation. And, you know, more important than the number, which Obama will announce, is the pace of the withdrawal and what contingencies or what conditions that withdrawal is based on. And I think that's still very much an unknown factor. If the drawdown rate of forces is, let's say, too large or too quick than the concern is that it will, you know, show to the Taliban that they can actually win this thing. And there's no point in negotiating a political settlement because, you know, they just have to wait out the clock. And, you know, then once the foreign forces leave the battlefield they'll be able to be in a much stronger position.
WORDENIf you announce a drawdown or if you execute a drawdown that is too slow, then you do have this continued alienation of a portion of the Afghan population that resents foreign troops. You also obviously have a growing discontent in Congress and the U.S. public with the war and you can lose public support to sustain it. And so, you know, the task is really to hit that sweet spot. And if you do, you know, get a reasonable compromise between those two positions, then what people hope will happen is that the Taliban will say, okay, wait, this is going to be a long fight. The foreign forces are not going to cut and run. So we should get what we can now.
WORDENAnd similarly, you can have the Afghan forces themselves be trained and equipped over the next three years so that if there is a residual fighting force or if a political settlement isn't complete, they can credibly defend the country and the Afghan's interests on their own. So how the draw down works, in terms of timing and quantity, it will very much affect the progress of political talks and whether they go forward or not.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Lenny in Bluemont, Va. who, I think, will express a sentiment becoming increasingly popular in the United States, but I'll let Lenny speak for himself. Lenny, go ahead, please.
LENNYYes, hello, Kojo. I just -- I guess, your question was, what would you like to hear Mr. Obama say?
LENNYAnd I'm one of many who did vote for him and have been very disappointed with his policies. I am horrified by the civilian loss of life in these countries where we have all these military expeditions and I would love to hear him say, which I know he won't, that they'll be an immediate withdraw within 90 days of all U.S. troops and contractors. To have Mr. Karzai comment that we are acting as occupiers is kind of laughable since his government is a puppet set up by our government.
LENNYHe's trying to placate his population when we do have these horrific incidents where civilians are slaughtered by our weaponry. As far as pulling out, when or if, either we're going to be there forever or someday we're going to pull out. And I think it doesn't make a difference whether you pulled out 10 years ago or 10 years from now. The political gravity of the situation here is going to basically restore whatever the people there want or what is tolerated by them.
NNAMDIRay Rivera, as has been said, all politics is local. Do you think the Karzai government is keenly aware that the sentiments expressed by Lenny are a growing sentiment in the United States and take that into their -- into account in their own political calculations?
RIVERAWell, you know, one might look at that and what he expresses in private conversations with western diplomats and in those situations, he doesn't have -- I mean, he's a smart guy. He knows when he says this stuff, it's going to be picked up by us. But occasionally -- and it's going to play back in the U.S. And every time we write one of these stories about some latest denunciation that he's made against coalition forces, the amount of web traffic we get and comments is really incredible.
RIVERAReally reflecting just, you know, what the American public, how these comments are shaping -- helping to shape opinion among the American public who -- I think who feel -- you know, I think we're kind of waiting for Ambassador Eikenberry to -- or somebody to finally speak out. And I think one of the things that Ambassador Eikenberry was doing -- I don’t think this was just a parting shot done on his part.
RIVERAI think he was really trying to send that message to Karzai that this is a delicate time to be talking this way. And whether that message comes across or not is hard to say. Occasionally, what'll happen is that Karzai will make some kind of comment like this and immediately his spokesman will say, oh, well, no, he didn't mean that, or we -- he'll try to refine the message. So he obviously is aware of it.
RIVERAWhy he keeps doing it is another issue.
NNAMDIAnd Scott Worden, here's how delicate the situation might be domestically. The Afghan government requested around $50 billion from the international community for development. The U.S. has allocated, oh, about $3 billion in the 2012 budget. What are the dangers, given the domestic politics of this, of the U.S. failing to provide what Afghanistan believes it needs to rebuild?
WORDENWell, I think that there's a significant risk that there will be a huge draw down in the amount of civilian aide that is available for Afghanistan. Possibly starting next year, but certainly as troops begin to leave and by the transition of security deadline of 2014. And I think that, you know, it's unfortunate that -- up to now or over the last several years, at least, there's an argument to be made that, in fact, too much aide was going to the Afghan government.
WORDENNot that they don't need an enormous amount of assistance, but that the capacity of the Afghan government to actually spend that wisely is limited. Because they don't have a good bureaucracy and because there's so many difficulties, security wise, with getting programs up and running, in many parts of the country, et cetera. So there's been a flood of money and it hasn't yielded the results the people hoped.
WORDENAnd, you know, the concern is that, with Karzai's statements plus the budget crisis that we're facing here in the U.S., we're going to go totally in the opposite direction. And it'll be said, okay, well, this money wasn't well spent and didn't yield results so let's not spend any at all. But that's not the right answer either, I don't think. Because, you know, Afghanistan, when you look at the basic development indicators, regardless of the insurgency or the security situation, you know, it's really at the bottom tier of development around the world.
WORDENAnd it does need assistance. And if there's going to be a sustained democratic government, if there's going to be an ability for Afghanistan to fight off future insurgencies, they have to have more development. And the only way that that's going to happen is if the international community supports it. So what's the right amount is a key question, but it can't be sustained at its current level. But it can't also be a knee jerk reaction to just pull it all away.
NNAMDIThat's all the time we have in this segment. Scott Worden, thank you for joining us.
WORDENThanks for having me.
NNAMDIScott Worden is senior rule of law advisor with the Rule of Law Center of Innovation at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Ray Rivera, thank you for joining us.
RIVERAThank you. And let me say hello to Scott, too. I didn't say that earlier. He helped me out in this story some months back on constitutional issues here in Afghanistan. So good to hear your voice again.
WORDENYeah, good to talk to you.
NNAMDI...and Scott says, keep your head low, Ray. Ray Rivera is foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He joined us by phone from Kabul, Afghanistan. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, chasing the fountain of youth and a few cool medals, too. We'll talk about the Senior Games. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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