FAREED ZAKARIA GPS
Aired November 16, 2008 – 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I’m Fareed Zakaria.
Before we get started, the big question swirling around Washington this week is what President-Elect Obama’s priorities should be. Should he try to put through a series of his major policy proposals? Or should he be cautious in the face of a potential trillion-dollar deficit?
I say, go big.
In 1992, there was a similar debate within the Clinton administration between the savers and the spenders. But the conditions that worried many back then don’t quite apply.
Bob Rubin himself explained on this program that when Clinton opted for real spending restraint in ’92-’93, the major reason was interest rates were high, and Rubin that by showing fiscal discipline the administration would help bring down interest rates, and this would help the economy grow.
Today, interest rates are already low, and they might even go lower. Plus, every rich country in the world is going to have large deficits for many years to come. If everyone’s doing it, the U.S. will not be punished by the bond market.
The real reason to go for a big package is that the economy needs it and the society needs it. Over the last 20 years, we’ve let our infrastructure crumble, with congested airports, slow broadband, failing bridges, inadequate schools. Science research, technology research is lagging far behind. We have an energy policy that is mired in the past.
And only large-scale investments will set up the foundations for long-term rises in productivity and economic growth. And that is something that the bond market will love.
Now, on today’s show, we’ve put together a few debates on some of the most pressing international problems that the new president will face – Russia, Afghanistan, and then a Nobel Prize winner’s view on Iran.
Stay with us.
ZAKARIA: Even before all the votes were counted in last week’s presidential election, Russia was grabbing the world’s attention.
In his annual state of the union speech, President Dmitry Medvedev threatened to station missiles near the Russian border with Poland, and blamed the United States for the global financial crisis.
So, are the Russians trying to restart the Cold War? Or are they trying to just get the attention of President-Elect Barack Obama?
Joining me to discuss this are two people who know a great deal about Russia.
Nicholas Burns, who had a long career in government service, from undersecretary of state to NATO ambassador, to the National Security Council. He has advised three presidents. He has advised three presidents on all sorts of things. He currently teaches at Harvard University.
And also, Stephen Cohen, a scholar of Russia, who has also advised presidents – the first George Bush, Bill Clinton. He’s a professor of Russian Studies at New York University.
Welcome to you both.
Steve, it is striking how Russia has reemerged as a problem, a rival, a power center – in just the last couple of years, maybe even, really, in the last six months. There have been problems internal – democratic problems.
But what do you think has happened? Is it just the fact that they now have oil revenues and are reasonably stable, and they’ve decided to throw their weight around?
STEPHEN COHEN, PROFESSOR OF RUSSIAN STUDIES, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: I have a different view. I think – and this is very much a minority view, there are a few of us in the United States who hold this view – that, in effect, we’ve been in a Cold War relationship with Russia for a very long time now, at least a decade, that the problem goes back to the Clinton administration. And what we’ve witnessed since August is the very dangerous unfolding of this new Cold War relationship.
Remember, or rethink, that the war in Georgia, which is usually presented as a Russian-Georgian war, was, in fact, a proxy Russian-
American war. It was seen like that in Russia. It was seen like that in Georgia. It was seen as that in Ossetia, where the war actually began.
The second playing out, of course, occurred just last week, when President Medvedev said – and I think this has been misinterpreted in the United States. People saw it as a threat to Obama, or a test of Obama.
But he said – and don’t forget, he said it conditionally – if – “yesli” in Russian – “if you go ahead building the radar in the Czech Republic, and you put the missile sites in Poland, to counter that, we will put short-range missiles in Kaliningrad,” which is wedged between Lithuania and Poland. Now, people said that was belligerent on their part. I would ask, why would they do that? And the answer clearly is, since they warned of doing it two or three years, is that they see a perceived threat.
ZAKARIA: Nick, the argument I think Steve is making is one you’ve probably heard before, which is that it was the United States’ decision to expand NATO – humiliating Russia, kind of consolidating the gains of the Cold War, U.N., the National Security Council during NATO expansion.
Looking back, do you think you could have done it differently?
NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: I don’t think we were wrong to push NATO expansion. In fact, I think – I don’t quite agree with the conventional wisdom that you just articulated.
I actually think, if you look at President Clinton’s record, he brought Russia into the G-8. He argued with the IMF and the U.S. Congress for a multi-billion-dollar rescue package for Russia between ’93 and ’96. President Bush had a very serious relationship with President Putin, and argued for Russia to come into the WTO.
So, I don’t see that the United States, over the course of the last two administrations, has pushed Russia into a corner. I think that’s an excuse for the hard-line people running the Kremlin today.
But I think the more interesting question is, why did Russia change? And why, as of February 2007 at the Verkunde Conference, did President Putin begin this barrage of criticism – most of it entirely objectionable – of the United States and of our Western allies?
COHEN: Well, the question is why?
I mean, when Putin came to power in 2000, and Bush looked into his soul, there was a presumption that this would be a partnership. And the Russians acted on it. Remember what they did after 9/11. They helped the United States in Afghanistan more than other – any NATO country, not other, but any NATO country.
But they expected something in return. They expected an equitable relationship.
ZAKARIA: What is it that – see, because the question is, what were they expecting …
COHEN: Well, there’s a different way – let’s put it in a different way.
ZAKARIA: To Nick’s point, we did give them a lot of aid. We got the IMF to give them a lot of aid. We expanded …
COHEN: We – well, you’re talking about the ’90s.
ZAKARIA: The ’90s. And so, what were they expecting … COHEN: Oh, I don’t agree with that. That wasn’t aid. That was interest-bearing loans that burdened them, and even worse than they had been.
I mean, we, for example, forgave the Communist era debt of Poland. We didn’t do that for Russia.
I don’t agree – I don’t – we shouldn’t go back and argue the Clinton administration. I believe that the Clinton administration was the original sin of Russian policy that began – I mean, let’s go as Nick suggested.
BURNS: And I disagree.
COHEN: You disagree. It’s fine.
But let’s go to the question he raises. It’s fundamental. What happened in 2001, 2002, 2003, that began to spoil the relationship?
Well, what happened was, is that Bush, after all Russia’s help in Afghanistan, announced that we were unilaterally leaving the ABM Treaty – the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Now remember, for Russia, this was the bedrock, and had been for decades, of their nuclear security.
And secondly, Bush announced that there was going to be another expansion of NATO. Russia had been led to believe that what Clinton did would be the end of it, and, in any event, that there would be no military bases in any further NATO countries.
All that turned out to be false.
BURNS: I’d just say, to defend President Bush – as well as President Clinton – President Bush created the NATO Russia Council in 2002, in response to a specific request from Putin. “We need a place to talk to you in NATO. Please give us a seat at the table.”
And we did. He …
ZAKARIA: But we did expand it further.
BURNS: Of course we did. And we were right to do that. And I think – I think recent events …
ZAKARIA: But you think – but you’re not willing to accept that this is pushing Russia into thinking that they’re being threatened by an ever-expanding military alliance that defeated them in the Cold War.
BURNS: I just wanted to complete the point, and I’ll get to yours.
And the point is that, we not only gave them a seat at the table on a weekly basis at NATO, we actually, then, negotiated another strategic arms accord to replace the treaty that had lapsed. And so, I don’t think it’s correct to say that somehow we pushed them into this.
Were we right to expand NATO?
I remember, I went to NATO as ambassador in 2001, and just before 9/11. And in the months preceding that, there was a very active debate in our country: Should we take Russia in as a member of NATO?
President Putin came to Brussels just after 9/11 to say, “We do not wish to become a member of NATO, but we want a partnership.”
And I think what President Chirac and Chancellor Schroeder and President Bush tried to do in those years was to say, “Can we create a relationship between Russia and NATO, and the E.U.? Can we integrate Russia into these Western institutions, realizing it does not wish to be a member, but should be a partner?”
So, listen. I’m not saying that the United States and Germany and France and Britain, over the course of the last 17 years, have been faultless, or perfect in our implementation of these policies. There are things we might do over.
But in the main, I don’t agree with the argument that somehow this is all our fault that Russia has turned in this nationalist and aggressive direction. I don’t see it that way.
ZAKARIA: Steve, talk to this issue of the rising nationalism in Russia. It’s a huge country. It’s a big culture.
You know as well as I do, this kind of thing can’t just be that, you know, we abrogated the ABM Treaty. It seems like a small – there’s something deeper going on in Russia.
COHEN: Well, all countries have nationalism. We call it patriotism. We’re all nationalistic. We’re all American patriots, we’re nationalists. We think we’re great. We think we’re the best. We think our perceptions should prevail.
In Russia, it has historically had a very virulent and nasty edge to it.
That came back, not as a result of American policy – only to the extent that we contributed to it in the 1990s – but in reaction to the great social pain – the unemployment, the impoverishment, the loss of lifestyle, the loss of profession, that came upon Russia in the 1990s. It was exacerbated, then, by the perception that an American and military power was moving toward Russia.
See, I think that President-Elect Obama is going to have to have, privately – they probably won’t do it publicly – a debate about NATO expansion.
Now, it’s not fair to ask Nick …
ZAKARIA: What’s the point of debating history? COHEN: Well, because Ukraine is on the agenda. And meanwhile …
BURNS: And Georgia.
COHEN: And Georgia. Meanwhile, it’s not going to happen. I think the message has got out that that would be reckless beyond reckless. But the rhetoric is going to continue. And the Russians are going to react to the rhetoric.
In this debate, to be fair to Nick, it’s not fair to ask him now to rethink a policy in which he played a central role. It’s just not fair.
However, what we need to have a discussion is, did NATO enhance anybody’s security? I don’t think it did. I don’t think Lithuania or …
ZAKARIA: Even Poland? Even …
COHEN: Any of them. And let me tell you why. Because, in any normal world, those small countries on Russia’s border – and if you resent Big Russia, blame God. He made it big. He gave it the oil.
What those countries should be doing is not capitulating, but negotiating their separate peaces with Russia. Instead, they poke Russia in the nose, as Saakashvili did in Georgia, and think they can run behind NATO or America’s back.
There is no diplomacy going on there. And that’s partly the fault of NATO expansion.
ZAKARIA: All right. We will come back to discuss what a President Obama should do about Russia.
ZAKARIA: We’re back with former Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, and Steve Cohen, scholar of Russian history.
Nick, going forward, what should President Obama do about Russia?
There are these two countries that are on the agenda, Georgia and Ukraine. We have promised them a Membership Action Plan in NATO, which is a complicated diplomatic idea. But basically, we promised them some kind of path to NATO – not a complete guarantee, but certainly a suggestion, encouragement that they’ll become NATO members.
Isn’t this a problem? I mean, this seems to be a guarantee that is very, very difficult to uphold, that NATO is a military alliance promising to defend countries.
Can we defend Georgia against a Russian attack? Should we make that guarantee? BURNS: I think, frankly, if Georgia wants to apply for NATO membership, the United States should support the prospect of Georgia becoming a candidate member. It’s not going to qualify for membership for a long, long time, because of the border disputes with South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
If Ukraine wants to become a member, I do think it’s in the American national interest to support that. Now, that will be a very difficult problem with the Russians, but I don’t see how you can consign the fate of several hundred East Europeans back to where we were before 1989 and ’90.
ZAKARIA: Now, of course, you know that this is not – European countries do not feel that way. But this would be a tough fight in Europe. The Germans certainly do not seem to favor …
BURNS: You have a division of opinion. If you talk to the Poles, or Lithuanians, Hungarians and the Balts, they would very strongly support this.
The problem in NATO – and the problem for President Obama going to that 60th anniversary NATO summit in April – is Europe is badly divided between East and West.
But you asked a really good question. So, how do you choose, and what compromises do you make?
What I would do with the Russians, with Medvedev and Putin, is to say to them, there is a natural place where we should be cooperating –
strategic arms reductions, conventional forces in Europe, loose nukes. And, let’s look at the issue of missile defense.
COHEN: I mean, the problem is, the Russians don’t trust us anymore. We’ve broken so many promises to them. And it’s not just Putin and Medvedev, it’s the Russian policy class. They see us as aggressive.
I’ve been in Moscow within the last three or four years listening to debates, where intelligence officers close to the military and what used to be called the KGB, literally have accused Putin of appeasing America – appeasing him.
And one of them even joked, when he went to Munich to give that speech, “Well, he should go to Munich. That’s where he belongs.”
Putin and Medvedev …
ZAKARIA: Meaning the Munich analogy of appeasement.
COHEN: The Munich – yes.
I mean, forgive me, Nick. But all of these things that Nick said we’ve given Russia over the years are said to be, where I grew up down in Kentucky, worth about as much as hot spit. They’re nothing. You get to sit at the table with a bunch of NATO people, while NATO moves toward you. It’s not about humiliation. I think this psychological factor is not as important. Let’s do some counterfactual reasoning.
We wake up tomorrow morning. There are large Russian military bases in Canada. There are large Russian military bases in Mexico. The Russians are building a radar that could neutralize and track our long-range missiles. That’s what the Czech radar, the one in the Czech Republic will be able to do, according to physicists at MIT.
The Russians don’t believe this is about Iran. And why would they believe that?
So, we wake up. We look to Canada. We look to Mexico. And what do we do? One, an American president would be impeached if he didn’t respond. There would be hysteria in this country.
I think the Russians have reacted rather moderately up until now. Now, they’re not moderate anymore. They’ve been pushed too far.
And Medvedev said something very, very important. He said it to a bunch of Westerners at this so-called Valdai Conference they have once a year.
He said, “Understand. We have made our choice. We’re not backing down anymore. We’re not leaving the Caucasus.”
One other point and I’ll stop. Nick says that he thinks that Ukraine in NATO would enhance our security. I find this – forgive me – bizarre beyond belief.
First of all, in every poll, 65 percent of Ukrainians don’t want to be in NATO. But the United States should impose NATO?
ZAKARIA: No. Nick is not …
BURNS: I didn’t suggest that …
ZAKARIA: No, Nick is not saying that …
COHEN: Well, but Yushchenko doesn’t represent anybody at the moment.
Secondly, Ukraine is a profoundly divided country – linguistically, politically, culturally. If we try to push Ukraine or tug Ukraine into NATO, you will have two Ukraines very quickly – two. One, it going with Lithuania and Poland, the other to Russia.
Whose security does that enhance? A divided, partitioned country in the center of Europe, on the border of a nuclear country? It’s not.
If there is a solution – and this has become a bad word, but it shouldn’t. And it’s late in the game. I think the clock is ticking. We don’t have much time.
I think the solution is, privately, at least, that the president of the United States says to the Russians, “OK. No NATO bases there. No NATO membership in Georgia, or anyplace else on Russia’s borders. But in return, we want Finland guarantees for their political sovereignty.”
In other words, they can elect any crackpot, any pro-American president they want. You can’t do anything about it. But in return, we’re not going to arm them, we’re not going to give them military bases.
Otherwise, we’re headed for a Cold War, and more dangerous than the last, because, I repeat, it’s on Russia’s border.
BURNS: And I think part of the problem here, Steve, is that, you know, we’re dealing with a group of Russian leaders who came out of the Soviet Union, out of the KGB, out of the Red Army, and out of the Soviet Foreign Ministry.
And so, therefore – and it’s important to appreciate this about the modern Russian leadership – they see international politics as a zero sum game. That’s not the deal that President Clinton and, I think, President Bush offered them.
Example, the Balkans, where we invited them in to the peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Kosovo …
COHEN: You mean, before we bombed Serbia or after, against their protests?
BURNS: After. And as you …
COHEN: Well, it was a little late in the game, wasn’t it, after we bombed them?
BURNS: And as you know, they came in, and they were with us in Kosovo and Bosnia.
COHEN: What’s the difference between Kosovo and Ossetia?
BURNS: And so – and so, I think you’ve got to account for part of the problem. Rather than just blame the United States, look at the current world view of the Russian leadership.
I was amazed by Medvedev’s speech – hours after Obama stood at Grant Park in Chicago, just a couple of hours later – the first international leader to speak out was completely disconsonant with the rest of the world. He was so clumsy and, I thought, self-defeating in the way he threw down the gauntlet to the new American president, when he should be welcoming the chance, perhaps even to redefine the relationship with Russia.
COHEN: The main thing, the main thing – you may be right. But a diplomat – and you’re a professional diplomat, and I presume a very, very good one, given the career you’ve had – is supposed to be able to understand the perceptions of the other side.
Their perception is we threw down the gauntlet. BURNS: Well, being a good diplomat is not …
COHEN: And by the way, the train on those missiles has left the station. We’re building, we’re dropping cement there. How much time …
BURNS: Steve, a good …
COHEN: … would they have before they protest?
BURNS: … a good diplomat doesn’t need to blame his own country, when his own country is not at fault.
COHEN: I’m not blaming my country.
BURNS: The problem here is the Russian …
COHEN: I’m blaming the political elite …
BURNS: … Federation …
COHEN: … of the country.
BURNS: … and the attitudes of the Russian Federation.
Now, I do think this is complicated for President-Elect Obama. And I think one of the challenges – we’re going to have to make some choices here. We can’t get everything we want on the agenda with Russia. And we’re going to have to offer something to them that’s appealing to them.
I think it’s back in the old agenda that they will understand from the Cold War. They’re interested in strategic arms assurance and reductions. They’re interested in the conventional forces in Europe treaty …
ZAKARIA: But those are all things that …
BURNS: … that didn’t work.
ZAKARIA: … that are win-win. In other words, it’s in their interest to do these things.
BURNS: Yes. And we should …
ZAKARIA: But then, you want them to …
BURNS: And that helps to prepare the ground for …
ZAKARIA: But then you want their cooperation on Iran, on North Korea and other things. And my question to you is, what are you willing to give them to get that?
BURNS: On Iran, I think it’s in their interest, I think it’s in their long-term interest, to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons-capable country. They live a lot closer to Iran than we do. I do think that …
ZAKARIA: They’re much less concerned about it than we are, for a whole variety of reasons.
BURNS: I think, strategically, their interests are not dissimilar to ours. Tactically, they have tried to make life difficult for us in the short term.
But I would look towards the missile defense issue as a way to try to bring them back into this, and to see the creation of a missile defense capability as in a joint Russian-American interest – not over the heads of the Poles and the Czechs, but with them.
Somewhere in there, related to the issue to Iran, is probably the first deal that the U.S. and Russia might be able to think about.
ZAKARIA: Steve, you have the last word.
COHEN: Well, I’m not happy about Nick’s remark that Americans shouldn’t be critical of their own country. My own view is, is that the highest form of patriotism, particularly in foreign policy, is when you think your country is pursuing a reckless and dangerous foreign policy. Leave that aside.
You know, President-Elect Obama could do something. He could say, “You know, I think I’m going to suspend NATO suspension – expansion – while we evaluate the results thus far.” And let it die there, and begin to talk with Russia, because NATO expansion is the problem at the moment. It stops, and everything else becomes possible.
ZAKARIA: All right. And one thing I think is that President Obama should have this kind of debate, and about this issue and every other issue, before he makes any …
COHEN: Will he?
ZAKARIA: … big decisions.
COHEN: Will he, Fareed?
ZAKARIA: Thank you. We will be back.
ZAKARIA: How to proceed with the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan is one of the biggest issues facing President-Elect Obama and his team. And he’s got to figure out exactly what to do with Afghanistan, in particular, because this is, in a sense, his war – the war that he thinks is under-resourced, and the one he wants to spend time on – what he has called the central front in the war on terror.
We’re going to talk about this with David Kilcullen, who is a former officer in the Australian Army, who has become one of the world’s leading experts on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. He is a close advisor to General David Petraeus and Condoleezza Rice. He was centrally involved in planning the surge.
Barnett Rubin is the director of studies at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation. He has written extensively about Afghanistan for decades. And he has also written a great deal about how to prevent international conflicts earlier on.
Gentlemen, so, the one thing the two candidates agreed on was that we should send more troops into Afghanistan – 20,000 more, 30,000 more. Is that a good idea, Dave?
DAVID KILCULLEN, FORMER AUSTRALIAN ARMY OFFICER, SPECIAL ADVISOR FOR COUNTERINSURGENCY TO THE U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I think it depends very much on what you want those troops to do.
And I would say that, just sending more troops – without fundamentally thinking about how are we going to secure the Afghan people, how are we going to secure territory, what are those troops going to do on the ground – could actually be counterproductive.
We don’t want to un-bog ourselves from Iraq just so we can go re- bog ourselves in Afghanistan.
ZAKARIA: So, let’s think about that. The surge worked, because we sent more troops into Iraq, we secured areas and made the population feel like they were safer. We took on certain Sunni militias, but then bought off a large number of other ones.
Go to Afghanistan. Can the same model work? You go into certain areas, stabilize the area, provide security for the locals, buy off some of the Taliban and try to really focus your military wrath on the irreconcilables.
KILCULLEN: I would shy away from using the term “surge” with regard to Afghanistan, because I think it will look very different on the ground from how it did in Iraq. But I think some of the principles still apply.
The first one would be population security. You have to make people feel safe before they’re willing to think about alternatives to arming themselves and fighting.
We have not really done that effectively in Afghanistan today, largely because of lack of force numbers, but also because of a tendency to focus on fighting the enemy, rather than protecting the population. So, that’s the first thing.
The second thing, then, is co-opting everybody who’s possibly co-
optable. And I’ve had Afghan tribal leaders tell me that 90 percent of the people who call themselves Taliban are actually tribal fighters who are motivated by local interests, or by desire for monetary gain, or by a desire for revenge because of something that we’ve done, rather than because they support the political agenda of the Taliban.
ZAKARIA: This is a big deal. So, I mean, you’re saying, 90 percent of the people we are fighting in Afghanistan are not jihadi terrorists who have a deep desire ideologically to kill Americans, but are fighting us because we are in their valley.
KILCULLEN: Right. I mean, let me give you an example of that.
In the middle of 2006, a special forces patrol was ambushed in Uruzgan. And a number of Americans and Afghans were pinned down in their valley for about six hours.
The reason they were pinned down was because locals from three different villages within a few kilometers of the ambush site ran home, got their rifles and came back, and joined in the fight.
And after the fight, our guys said to them, “You know, we thought you didn’t support the Taliban.”
And they said, “We don’t.”
And they said, “Well, why were you fighting us?”
And they said, “Well, you have to understand how, A, how boring it is to be a teenager in a valley in Afghanistan. This is the most exciting thing that’s happened in our valley for decades. And if we’re going to wait this fight out and sit on the sidelines, that would be dishonorable.”
But if you’re going to join in, you’re not going to join in on the side of the foreigner. You’re going to join in on the side of the Afghan.
And so, these are what I call accidental guerillas. They’re people who are fighting us, not because they hate the West, but because we just turned up in their valley with a brigade, and the extremists come to them and say, “Whose side are you on?”
And they choose their own people rather than the infidel foreigner. And I think that’s a perfectly understandable reaction by Afghans, but it’s one that we have to figure out a way to break.
How do you get in there and provide security to the population, co-opt those who can be co-opted, and, frankly, kill or capture those who prove themselves to be irreconcilable, which is a very small number?
ZAKARIA: Barney, this problem of provoking Afghan nationalism sounds like it’s a pretty serious one, and Afghanistan is a prickly country. It has a suspicion of foreigners, and so, it’s probably easy to play into it.
BARNETT RUBIN, DIRECTOR OF STUDIES, CENTER ON INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: Well, first of all, it’s not necessarily nationalism, because, as David said, it’s because you come into their valley. People didn’t start fighting in Helmand because troops went into Kabul. They started fighting when you come actually into their area.
Second is, actually, in my experience, I don’t think Afghans are xenophobic or hate foreigners. They just are very sensitive about being invaded …
… and being forced to change their society and culture at the point of the gun. Though they are actually, also, very willing to change it in adaptation to new circumstances, as long as they’re in control.
But if I could just go a little further than David did. It’s not only that 90 percent of the people against whom the U.S. and NATO are fighting can think of what they are doing as being defensive, not offensive, or as being opportunistic.
It’s even true that most of the political leadership of the Taliban is not jihadi in the sense that al Qaeda is. That is, they were not involved in the attack on the United States. I think there may be some misperceptions here, thinking that the Taliban and al Qaeda plotted together to attack the United States.
All the evidence that I know of indicates that the leadership of al Qaeda hid their intentions from the Taliban, and the Taliban paid the consequences, but because of their views on Islamic solidarity, and so on, would not hand over the leadership of al Qaeda, certainly in the timeframe that we were demanding.
But now, they certainly are committed to fighting to expel an offensive foreign presence from their country. But they’re not committed to waging international terrorist attacks against the United States, or anyone else.
ZAKARIA: But, I mean, again, this is startling. So, in a sense, if we were to leave, they wouldn’t bother us.
RUBIN: The Taliban would not bother us – here. There are two problems.
One is that, if you leave and there’s still a security vacuum of sorts, then al Qaeda can move into it again, as we see they have done down in the Federally Administered Tribal agencies in Pakistan.
The second thing is that there are all kinds of risks in the region, because you have several nuclear powers, aspiring nuclear powers, many different conflicts.
And it’s very important for stability of that very strategic region, and avoiding other potential conflicts, to try to work with people there to build a more stable architecture. But that takes a lot longer than dealing with an immediate terrorist threat.
ZAKARIA: But how would you deal with this, you know, the situation …
KILCULLEN: I want to defer to Barney and give him the opportunity to interrupt me if he wants to, because this is something we talk about frequently.
But there are essentially three things strategically that we’re trying to do in Afghanistan.
The first one is what I would call counter-sanctuary. What we’re trying to do is prevent another 9/11 attack happening from the Afghan- Pakistan border area. And as Barney often says, you know, it takes about six to nine months to prepare an attack like 9/11.
So, your solution to that kind of sanctuary problem can’t be to build an Afghan state, because that takes a generation. So, you need something that delivers the counter-sanctuary result that you need within a six- to nine-month timeframe.
Ultimately, you also need to help the Afghans stand up a viable Afghan state and a strong civil society, but that’s a generational project.
And so, it’s a counter-sanctuary problem, it’s a nation-building problem. And the bridge between the two – or what should be the bridge –
is your counterinsurgency strategy, where you essentially help the Afghan state build and develop, and help Afghan society recover from a generation of war, while keeping the insurgents sort of off their back and allowing them breathing space to do that.
ZAKARIA: But, you know …
KILCULLEN: So, it’s less about defeating the Taliban in the next year or two than about preventing another 9/11, which we’re actually doing pretty well, and just helping the Afghans get stood up.
ZAKARIA: We’ve got to take a break. We will be right back.
ZAKARIA: And we’re back with Barnett Rubin and David Kilcullen to talk about Afghanistan.
Should the United States come to terms with the existing society, make deals with whatever tribal leaders it wants? Or should it try to create a stable Afghan state, which means, you know, radically reconstruct the society?
Afghanistan has not had a stable, centralized state forever. And so, that’s a fairly large and ambitious project. And it’s also at odds with the short-term project of just, you know, paying off whatever tribal leader, however retrograde he may be.
So, what should we do?
RUBIN: I think it’s not which, but it’s how you try to pursue different goals in different timeframes. I would also say that the stabilization agenda – well, we have really set the bar too high for what that actually amounts to.
I was involved in some of these initial discussions when they called on some outsiders. I wasn’t in the government in 2001.
And I think that what a number of us were saying is, help Afghanistan set up a basic state and security structure, not an ideal democracy with an effectively functioning centralized bureaucracy, and all those other things which, if they ever happen, would take much longer.
ZAKARIA: But if you’re advising President-Elect Obama, he’s got to decide, really, along one of these lines. Does he put a lot of money behind the idea of stabilization, modernization of Afghanistan, to create stability? Or does he buy off the locals, the way Petraeus did in Iraq?
RUBIN: I don’t think that it’s really one or the other. It’s a matter of how you do it.
Again, Petraeus didn’t buy off some traditional – he bought off tribes that had been clients of the Baath Party, that had joined the resistance in Iraq on a nationalist basis, and then decided that the Shia government that we helped put in power in Baghdad was a bigger threat to them than we were. So they took aid from us.
In the case of Afghanistan, one of the reasons the Taliban were able to come back so quickly is that there is a leadership vacuum, because the society has broken in many respects, especially in the tribal part of it, has broken down.
What we should do – and this is where – this is where the things you’ve been reading about recently in the paper, about opening of dialogue, discussion with the insurgents. That’s extremely important, because –
not just because, of course, it’s always important to make peace. Because the key element of that is seeing how much of the insurgency is willing to break with, and give some guarantees against, collaboration with al Qaeda – and, then join a political process in Afghanistan itself, which will then go on at its own speed, but which could then be supported.
ZAKARIA: David, you have the last word.
KILCULLEN: Well, I think it’s very important to address that question that you raised. Do we want a top-down, state-based approach, or a bottom-up, community-based approach?
And I would suggest that what the surge did in Iraq, which succeeded, was to actually do both of those, to achieve a measure of momentum using a bottom-up, community-based approach. But put in place appropriate safeguards to make sure that the fundamental structures of the state that we were putting in place weren’t threatened.
That’s what we – that’s the same decision we have to make in Afghanistan. We have to decide, is it bottom-up, community-based approach – which is where the Taliban are really gaining momentum now – or is it top-down, which is what we’ve done to-date?
I’d suggest, as Barney said, it’s both. But what you’ve got to do is make sure that the Afghan people at the grassroots level feel like their needs are being met, and feel a well-founded feeling of security, which will then enable them to sort of turn against the Taliban.
ZAKARIA: All right. We’ve solved Afghanistan.
Thank you, gentlemen. We will be back.
ZAKARIA: Many people would argue that the most difficult challenge facing the next president is how to handle Iran. The country’s influence has grown in the Middle East, from Lebanon to Iraq. Its bid for nuclear power worries its neighbors.
And yet, reports suggest that the Iranian people like America and the West, are increasingly modern and democratic.
So, what is going on?
To understand this country, we are going to talk with one of its most interesting citizens.
Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. She’s the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to win that honor. She has spent a lifetime fighting for women’s rights, clashing with her country’s fundamentalist Islamic leaders – even spending time in the notorious Evin prison.
Shirin Ebadi, welcome.
SHIRIN EBADI, AUTHOR AND NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER (voice of interpreter): I would also like to greet you and all of your audience. And I’m thankful for the opportunity to be on CNN.
ZAKARIA: Tell me, Ms. Ebadi, how did you react to the election in the United States? How do you think the forces of reform reacted to Obama’s election?
EBADI: I personally, and the rest of the people of Iran, are very glad that a person who has been elected to be the president of the United States doesn’t believe in war. Rather, he believes in establishing a dialogue and negotiating issues between the two countries.
ZAKARIA: There are people who say that the hardliners in Iran would have preferred if McCain won. Is that true?
EBADI: I have to say, in general, that extremists – regardless of the countries that they’re in – think the same. So, this may be true about Iran, as well.
ZAKARIA: Many people in the United States feel that we should be doing more to talk with Iran. You know that Barack Obama has talked about this. There have been others in Washington.
But there is another school of thought that says, look. We may want to talk to Iran. The Iranian regime doesn’t really want to talk to us. They are not ready to make peace with America. They want this battle between themselves and America. It’s what feeds the hardliners and extremists in Iran.
Is that true?
EBADI: The best way to do this is to negotiate with Iran without preconditions. In this case, if the Iranian government accepts to negotiate with the American, and they can resolve their issues, well, that’s the best thing that can happen.
But if the Iranians don’t agree to have a dialogue without preconditions, then they can’t play the role of the victim, and the whole world will know their position.
ZAKARIA: Ms. Ebadi, how should we think about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? What kind of a man is he?
EBADI: It’s enough to listen to some of his speeches and watch some of his interviews. Then you will know how he thinks.
ZAKARIA: Do you think he is popular in Iran?
EBADI: If we compare the election results of Ahmadinejad with Khatami, you will see that Khatami got 22 million votes, whereas Ahmadinejad, in the second round of elections, received only 14 million votes. So, that shows that he is not as popular as Khatami was.
ZAKARIA: When you look at the issue of women’s rights, is there a way to reconcile it with the Islamic law that is practiced in Iran?
At the end of the day, there are certain points made in the Quran which relate to the treatment of women – the inheritance laws, their status in trials and such. How should that be – how do those two things be reconciled?
EBADI: Like any other religion, Islamic rules have had different interpretations. We believe in respecting women’s rights. And I think, with the correct interpretation of Islam, we can resolve the issues.
Other countries, such as Malaysia, Tunisia and Morocco, have had other interpretations of Islam, and they are enforcing.
Of course, I believe in separation of church and state, so that the politicians don’t abuse the religious beliefs of people.
But in a country like Iran, where theocracy has been elected to power, and people have elected a religious government, then we have to come up with the correct interpretation of Islam, so that we can enforce it in a way that it fits within the criteria of human rights. And I think that’s practical and can be done.
ZAKARIA: Some neoconservatives believe that, if Iran were to be democratic – genuinely democratic – if there were a regime change, then we would have a pro-American, friendly government, and we would have very few problems with them in terms of the funding of Hezbollah, the problems in Iraq, their nuclear program. Is that true, do you think, that if Iran had an internal change, it would also affect its external policy?
EBADI: I have to say that I agree with you. And I also believe that democracy comes from within.
And if Iran has a more advanced form of democracy, it will clearly impact both its internal and international issues.
ZAKARIA: If you were not a famous person and a Nobel Prize winner, and you were to say all the things you’re saying here, would you be put in jail when you went back to Tehran?
EBADI: As you know, a number of our journalists, a number of our students, and a number of the people who opposed the government are in prison now. So, yes, that danger exists.
ZAKARIA: Shirin Ebadi, we hope you keep working.
EBADI: Thank you very much.
ZAKARIA: A pleasure.
ZAKARIA: And now, our question of the week. Last week I asked you, what’s the first country Barack Obama should visit as president, and why? Your answers were literally all over the map.
Russia was the number one answer, many of you saying we needed to repair that relationship and do it quickly.
Iraq and Afghanistan were, understandably, also very high on the list. Some said Japan, to bring back lessons about their thriving auto industry. China, to make sure they kept buying our debt. Also Iran, Pakistan, India, Israel, the Palestinian Territories – all of which were interesting answers. Thank you.
For next week – as you know, I like to recommend a book every week. But this time, I want you to recommend one.
What book would you recommend that President-Elect Barack Obama read?
There’s no point recommending my book, “The Post-American World,” because he has actually already read it. Forgive me for that little self-promotion.
Now, my book recommendation for this week is the book Obama was said to be reading over the last two weeks. It’s a Pulitzer Prize winner, “Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001.”
Steve Coll, the author, is an extraordinary writer and journalist. And the book really explains how U.S. policies and actions going back decades helped give rise to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, and explains the many problems in Afghanistan today that go much deeper and are much more complex than anything you would really recognize.
It’s a great read and is really important to understanding how to approach this very complicated society.
Remember, you can always visit our Web site, cnn.com/gps, for highlights from this program. You can e-mail me at email@example.com. And you can always find our weekly podcast on the Web site.
Thanks for watching. Have a great week.