Q&A: Waiting on Bam's Afghan war plan
President Barack Obama on Thursday in Dover Air Force Base, Del., salutes the casket of a soldier killed in Afghanistan. (Photo: AP)
With the Afghan presidential runoff set for Nov. 7, pressure is building on President Barack Obama to announce his next move in Afghanistan.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. regional commander, has advised adding about 40,000 U.S. troops. Obama, however, reportedly is mulling a scaled-down deployment, described as “McChrystal Light.”
Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, a former official with the State and Defense departments and author of “Power Rules,” spoke with amNewYork about Afghanistan.
Why has Obama hesitated so long to disclose his Afghan strategy?
I don’t think he did it for political posturing. I think he delayed it because he hoped against hope that there was a good solution out there that he hadn’t thought of. And I think he finally realized that there are no good solutions, that he’s going to have to come up with some kind of middle way. And it is my hope that his middle way will not be mush, that it will have direction and purpose
What options does the U.S. have?
The option of continuing to believe that you can win victory in Afghanistan and, quote, defeat the Taliban, defeat al-Qaida. Those people live there and the only people who can deal with them – and I don’t think they can defeat them – are the Afghans themselves.
What course of action do you support?
I would be in favor of a troop surge for a limited period, to focus really on arming and training Afghans. Not just the Afghan army, which is a farce, but the tribal leaders and warlords.
Should U.S. troops be deployed to train or fight?
Mainly for training, but there’s immediate security problems in some places, and that has to be dealt with.
Is that a realistic scenario?
People say it can’t be done, and I say, “Who taught the Taliban how to fight?”
Will President Hamid Karzai be re-elected on Nov. 7?
People who know far more about the situation than I do all say Karzai will win the election. And even if you discount the cheating in this past election, he still beat Abdullah Abdullah by about 20 points.
How can we get the Afghan people to trust the Karzai regime?
We’ll try to pressure him for a unity government and, to some degree, I think we’ll succeed. But even with that, that government is just fundamentally corrupt and inefficient.
Is government reform possible?
We can go in there and jump up and down on Karzai’s desk all we want, but as long as corruption is so endemic, it won’t work. The leaders have to want to do it.
What would be considered a victory for the U.S.?
To keep Afghanistan from becoming a base of terrorist operations against us and our allies. Pakistan, India, Russia and Iran — they all share an interest in not seeing Afghanistan become a terrorist state.
And military action could accomplish this?
If we see that territory used for training grounds, we ought to hit them very hard and we can do it with drones and with missiles and with air attacks and we ought to do it in the hardest possible matter. Deterrents almost always work.
What hurdles does Obama’s face domestically?
The main challenge is to announce a policy that people will find compelling, realistic and commonsensical. Until he gets that right, he’ll be in a crisis over Afghanistan every three months. … People understand just how difficult it is. Americans are not going to say, Perform miracles.