In September 2001 Congress authorized military action against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, and there was good reason to believe those behind the 9/11 attacks were operating from areas within Afghanistan. In the last 10 years 1500 American lives have been lost there. We’ve spent over a half a trillion dollars. Many say the death of Osama bin Laden is one of a number of factors that should prompt a thorough reassessment of our military objectives in Afghanistan and elsewhere in world in the war. Diane and guests discuss U.S. military objectives against the al-Qaida terrorist threat.


  • Peter Feaver Professor of political science, director,Triangle Institute for Security Studies, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University
  • Jonathan Landay Senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers.
  • John Feffer Co-director, Foreign Policy in Focus, Institute for Policy Studies

Related Video

PBS’s Frontline explored the U.S. military and NATO’s mission in Afghanistan with a focus on its “kill/capture” missions:

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.


  • 10:06:54

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Ten years ago, we went to war in Afghanistan to find the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. But, now, with the death of bin Laden, our military mission there and even elsewhere around the world may need to be redefined. Joining me to talk about military objectives in Afghanistan and the scope of our efforts to counter the al-Qaida terrorist threat, Jonathan Landay, he's senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, John Feffer of the Institute for Policy Studies and, joining us from a studio at Duke University, Peter Feaver. He's professor of political science and director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies.

  • 10:08:05

    MS. DIANE REHMThroughout the hour, I'll look forward to hearing your questions, comments. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.

  • 10:08:29

    PROF. PETER FEAVERGood morning.

  • 10:08:29

    MR. JONATHAN LANDAYGood morning.

  • 10:08:30

    MR. JOHN FEFFERGood morning.

  • 10:08:31

    REHMAnd, Jonathan Landay, if I could start with you, first tell us where we are learning what we have learned after bin Laden's death. What about this so-called trove of information that the CIA is apparently going through?

  • 10:08:55

    LANDAYWell, American officials are claiming that -- this to be the trove that was taken out of the compound in Abbottabad by these SEALs, an unparalleled scoop for the intelligence community, at least as far as terrorism is concerned in al-Qaida. There's enough material that's come off hard drives, apparently, and off thumb drives, et cetera, documents that could fill a library, literally, is what we're understanding. There are -- have been some leaks as to the contents, also, some -- a few, at least one briefing.

  • 10:09:36

    LANDAYAnd what we've come to understand, at least from the initial review of this trove, is that this was a man who is very much still in charge and directing al-Qaida's operations, apparently very focused still on the United States, apparently determined to stage some kind of 10th anniversary spectacular of the 9/11, and not the person that was cast as being kind of irrelevant to al-Qaida, at least, by people in the former administration, but indeed very much involved in continuing to target the United States and other Western countries.

  • 10:10:15

    REHMJonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers. Turning to you, Peter Feaver, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said earlier that the death of Osama bin Laden could be a game changer. How do you see it?

  • 10:10:35

    FEAVERWell, it could be a game changer in one of two directions. On the ground in Afghanistan, it could provide us with the opportunity to deal a mortal blow to al-Qaida and to, at the same time, degrade the Taliban to a point where they would no longer be able to threaten the regime in Kabul. This is if we followed up on all of these leads and on the momentum that they generated with very vigorous military action over the next several years coupled with the very innovative diplomatic line of negotiations.

  • 10:11:15

    FEAVERBut, paradoxically, it could also be a game changer back here in Washington, D.C., in the opposite direction. There could be a groundswell, and there will be a groundswell of public support for leaving Afghanistan sooner rather than later, faster rather than slower. And that could have the opposite effect. It could have us -- have the effect of spiking the ball on the five-yard line before we had substantially defeated al-Qaida and degraded the Taliban.

  • 10:11:48

    REHMPeter Feaver at Duke University. Turning to you, John Feffer, you, I gather, believe that the death of bin Laden really signals a moment for us to pull out.

  • 10:12:05

    FEFFERAbsolutely. I mean, I agree with Peter that it is a game changer, but for different reasons. We already see that a vast majority of Americans want to see a more rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan. We see a majority of Afghanis, according to recent polls, who support in the withdrawal of U.S. troops. This is an opportunity to translate the successes we've had on the intelligence front into political gains, negotiations with the Taliban -- this, again, is something that Afghanis support -- translating that into effective negotiations that allow us finally to bring home troops.

  • 10:12:47

    FEFFERThe Obama administration is proposing, really, only 10,000 troops possibly by the end of this year. That's not nearly what we need to send as a signal, not only to us here in the United States because of the cost of this war, but to our allies and to people around the world who are expecting the United States to transform its military and foreign policy at this point.

  • 10:13:09

    REHMWhere do you get your figures about Afghan people? I know here in the United States, we've had a USA Today/Gallup poll showing six in 10 Americans thinks it's time for us to get out. Where do your numbers come from in regard to Afghan people?

  • 10:13:31

    FEFFERThat's from Washington Post, December 2010 poll. My guess is that more recent polls would show similar, perhaps even larger, numbers of Afghanis supporting withdraw. I have to, you know, clarify that -- of course, that, you know, many Afghans do see a role for the United States. They see some element of stability coming from U.S. soldiers. On the other hand, it's a love-hate relationship. They want to have control over their country. They're upset about the civilian casualties that have taken place during this war, so they would like to see a more rapid withdrawal.

  • 10:14:07

    REHMJohn Feffer, he is co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to Peter Feaver, what's your view? Do the Afghan people want us to leave as much as they want us to say? Or would they rather see us go?

  • 10:14:46

    FEAVERI think that there is a war-weariness, both among the Afghan people and among the American people and, of course, also among our NATO allies. So they haven't been mentioned yet, but they're even more eager, I think, to break for the exits. So I agree with John, that if you did a poll, you would probably get a strong endorsement of a reduced U.S. military posture, whether you did that poll in the United States, whether you did that in Europe. Even if you did it in Afghanistan -- I'm a little more skeptical about polling in Afghanistan. I think that the methods of polling are trickier to do in Afghanistan for a variety of reasons, but we -- that's a technical issue we could get into later.

  • 10:15:32

    FEAVERThe broader issue is the war-weariness. And public support at home here in the United States is eroding. But when was the last time that you heard President Obama make a full-throated appeal to the American public to shore up public support for the war in the Afghanistan? I haven't checked, but my guess is it would be during the campaign. He's given several, that is when he was running for president and saying that the Afghanistan war was the good war, Iraq was the bad war. Since then, he's given far fewer speeches on Afghanistan and almost none on Iraq. And the speeches he has given have not really been aimed at moving the American public to support and to bolster their support. It's been a much more equivocal position that he's taking.

  • 10:16:25

    REHMJonathan Landay, how do you think our military objectives in Afghanistan have changed over these 10 years?

  • 10:16:34

    LANDAYDiane, if there is a push here in the United States to use the death of Osama bin Laden as a means of, you know, pushing the administration to get out of Afghanistan prematurely, it's the administration's own fault and it's the Bush administration's own fault. And that's because the narrative that both administrations have sold to the American people regarding the justification for keeping -- 100,000 now -- American troops in Afghanistan basically went by the wayside in, roughly, 2004, 2005. The war in Afghanistan has not been about al-Qaida since that time. Since that time, the war in Afghanistan has been about basically preventing a regional catastrophe.

  • 10:17:15

    LANDAYAnd when I say a regional catastrophe, what's essentially happened is the threat from al-Qaida has been replaced by a much more vigorous Taliban and other groups who are being backed by neighboring Pakistan. In response to that -- and Pakistan is doing that because they have a goal, and that goal is to reduce the influence in Afghanistan of their chief rival, India. In response to that, you had minority -- the minorities in Afghanistan look upon that as being a threat to them. And so they have been looking at India, they have been looking at Iran, they have been looking at other regional neighbors who had backed them in the civil war that the United States interrupted in 2001.

  • 10:18:00

    LANDAYAnd there is a ferment going on, an ethnic ferment going on. People are positioning themselves for American withdrawal, and it would essentially be a return to the ethnic civil war that the United States disrupted in 2001.

  • 10:18:15

    REHMDo you agree with that, John Feffer?

  • 10:18:17

    FEFFERWell, I agree that, you know, we're talking about a couple hundred al-Qaida operatives. Al-Qaida reached its kind of international peak of influence in 2003. It's not what we're fighting about at the moment.

  • 10:18:28

    REHMJohn Feffer of the Institute for Policy Studies. Your email, your phone calls, your tweets when we come back.

  • 10:20:03

    REHMAnd we're back talking about U.S. military objectives after the death of Osama bin Laden. Here's an email from Tommy in Raleigh, N.C., which may represent the thinking of an awful lot of people in this country. Tommy says, "President Obama has won the war on terror by killing bin Laden. Now, it's time for him to keep his original promise and immediately bring all the troops home. Obama was an anti-war candidate. If he now fails to keep the promise, many of us who unfailingly supported him will begin to doubt him, and many of us will diminish our support. Ending the wars and immediately bringing home all the troops will end unemployment and fix the economy, and it's time." What do you think of that, John Feffer?

  • 10:21:11

    FEFFERAbsolutely. I mean, we're talking about a war that costs us $10 billion a month approximately, enormous outlay. But I would remind the listener that President Obama was an anti-war candidate with respect to Iraq. He was very clear that he wanted to transfer, you know, the soldiers from Iraq to Afghanistan. So we have to recognize that. However, at this point in time, I think he can translate, you know, his -- the rhetoric that he had, the insights he had with respect to Iraq, to Afghanistan, and bring those troops home.

  • 10:21:49

    FEFFERWe have -- we spent approximately $3 trillion over the last decade on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And what else has happened over the last 10 years? We've seen China rise from what was a competitive economy to -- according to the IMF's prediction last year -- last month, rather -- China will surpass U.S. economy in 2016. So that, ultimately, is the result of the last 10 years of the war on terror. And unless President Obama does something about that -- in other words, reinvest the money that we've wasted on the economy into a resurgence of the U.S. economy -- then he is going to fail at the promises he made to the American people, and he won't see a positive legacy.

  • 10:22:42

    REHMPeter Feaver, I realize that the Triangle Institute for Security Studies at Duke University doesn't necessarily look at economics. But would you agree that bringing all those troops home would fix the U.S. economy?

  • 10:23:07

    FEAVERNo, it won't. It might reduce some defense outlays temporarily, but it wouldn't -- the deeper economic challenges we face are tied to things like entitlement reform, health care reform, and the war in Afghanistan is not the main driver in that at all. But the -- I do agree with the caller, that President Obama is likely to face increased pressure on his left flank to do precisely what Tommy, the emailer, said, which is bring all of the troops home. The problem with that is that it pretends that the problems in Afghanistan-Pakistan region will go away if we're not paying attention to them.

  • 10:24:03

    FEAVERAs Jonathan outlined before the break, the situation in Afghanistan is about a lot more than al-Qaida. And those problems will remain, whether we pay attention to them or not. I was watching...

  • 10:24:15

    REHMJonathan -- go ahead.

  • 10:24:16

    FEAVERI was watching "Charlie Wilson's War," curiously enough, when the news about the bin Laden attack came down last -- 10 days ago. And that movie bears re-watching. I hope people will watch it again. And the ending of it is quite poignant because they're celebrating Charlie Wilson's contribution to the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. And at the end of that, of course, the U.S. just walked away from Afghanistan, pretending that we didn't have any national security interest remaining now that the Soviet Union have been defeated. And, of course, within a decade, we learned that we were very wrong about that. And I think we may be facing a similar situation right now.

  • 10:25:02

    REHMJonathan Landay, what's the current relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaida? How relevant is al-Qaida today?

  • 10:25:14

    LANDAYThat's a subject that a lot of experts have been debating for some time. My own view -- and this is based on my travels in Afghanistan, particularly a trip I took. I spent three months there last year, at the end of last year in the north -- and that is that al-Qaida really hasn't been very relevant to the Taliban for a very long time. The Taliban has essentially become much more powerful than it ever was before. Before 9/11, it was reliant on bin Laden for much of its money. It doesn't need bin Laden for its money anymore. It doesn't need al-Qaida to direct its fighters anymore. It needs inspiration.

  • 10:25:55

    REHMWhere is its money coming from?

  • 10:25:57

    LANDAYThere's a variety of places. For the most part, it's coming from donations from the Arab world, but there's a great deal that's also coming from drugs. There's a great deal that comes from smuggling networks back and forth across the Afghan-Pakistan border.

  • 10:26:12

    REHMSo are you saying that the death of bin Laden is likely to weaken that relationship even further?

  • 10:26:20

    LANDAYIt depends. You know, his number two -- let's not forget about Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has very, very close ties with the extremist groups, the Afghan extremist groups who are fighting, very close ties with the Haqqanis, very close ties with the Quetta Shura. But these groups don't really need him anymore. These groups have their own field commanders, their own weapons supplies, and al-Qaida has, as I said, become more of an inspiration. You have a new generation of Taliban commanders, young men who have grown up inculcated in the madrasahs in Pakistan with the al-Qaida mentality of global jihad.

  • 10:27:01

    LANDAYIt's not the Taliban of before, which was essentially a nationalist movement. Now, you have a Taliban that is looking not just to retake Afghanistan, but looking beyond Afghanistan.

  • 10:27:13

    REHMBut, John Feffer, hasn't there been some talk that the death of bin Laden could encourage the Taliban to want to negotiate?

  • 10:27:25

    FEFFERAbsolutely. And, in fact, that has been an argument the Obama administration has made sotto voce, occasionally. The challenge is, of course, that the Taliban is not particularly interested in negotiating if the U.S. troops remain there and if we continue to, you know, take out their leaders with aerial strikes.

  • 10:27:42

    REHMWhat do you think would happen if the U.S. pulled out en masse now?

  • 10:27:48

    FEFFERMm hmm. Well, first of all, we have heard a lot of reports, of course, of the incompetence of the Afghan police, of the security forces. I think, in part, that's a function of their being under the shadow of the U.S., being connected to the U.S., losing their legitimacy because of the U.S. And, of course, if we were to move out, there's no guarantee that they would step up to the plate and suddenly become a potent force. But I do think that, in combination with vigorous negotiations with the Taliban, a Taliban that's interested in negotiating would create a kind of stability in Afghanistan today.

  • 10:28:29

    REHMJonathan Landay.

  • 10:28:30

    LANDAYI would disagree emphatically. I think Afghanistan would become essentially what -- Somalia on steroids, where you would have a reversion to this awful ethnic war that the United States interrupted in 2001. The army would fall apart as the Pashtuns, who are the largest ethnic group, would gravitate towards the Taliban. You would have the Tajiks, the ethnic minorities who make up about 60 percent of Afghanistan -- the Tajiks, the Hazaras, the Uzbeks and others -- reforging the Northern Alliance.

  • 10:29:05

    LANDAYYou would have Pakistan, a nuclear power, backing the Pashtun side. You would have India, a nuclear power, backing the minority side. And, essentially, what you would have -- the danger is a proxy Indo-Pak war -- Pakistani war over Afghanistan that could very well bring India and Pakistan into conflict for a fifth time. And they have nuclear weapons.

  • 10:29:27

    REHMPeter Feaver, how do you see it?

  • 10:29:31

    FEAVERI'm afraid Jonathan is right, that the risks of a premature and hasty withdrawal would be great, and I think he summarized them well. The alternative that critics or people who want a hasty withdrawal -- the alternative that they paint is a caricature. They'll say, well, you want us to be there for decades, at trillion dollars a decade indefinitely. And, of course, that's not what the Petraeus strategy calls for. It's not even what the Obama strategy, the one that he endorsed in 2009, calls for. He calls for a slower phased withdrawal leading to a real transition to Afghani leadership by the end of 2014. It's -- it would be more measured. I think it would have a better shot at mitigating the risks that Jonathan has outlined.

  • 10:30:28

    REHMBut, you know, what's frustrating, we went into Afghanistan to find bin Laden and to disrupt the ability of al-Qaida operatives to train and plot against us from over there. Have we accomplished that, John Feffer?

  • 10:30:52

    FEFFERNo. Well, of course, you know, al-Qaida quickly decamped Pakistan, and that became the base of their operations. One thing that has happened, of course, and this is even before the Arab spring, is the marginalization of al-Qaida. Very few -- I mean, of course, there are elements in the Taliban. There are elements around the world that embrace the notion of a global caliphate, but that is really on the margins of the Muslim world. And the Arab spring really brought to the foreground the notion that the vast majority of the people in the Muslim world and the Arab world reject the -- al-Qaida's -- not only its notion of the global caliphate.

  • 10:31:33

    FEFFERObviously, more unpopular was al-Qaida's targeting other Muslims, the declaration of those Muslims as infidels, and, therefore, it was possible to kill them. That whole al-Qaida project is completely discredited.

  • 10:31:52

    REHMJonathan Landay.

  • 10:31:54

    LANDAYYou have to remember that this is not the Arab world we're talking about. This is a country that has been basically at war for the last three or more decades, where this idea of jihad existed -- has existed in parallel with al-Qaida. It was the motivating factor for the war against the Soviets. You ask what happened. There were a number of strategic mistakes, blunders that were made by the previous administration, that this administration has tried to fix but is essentially making some of these very same.

  • 10:32:35

    REHMSuch as?

  • 10:32:36

    LANDAYWell, the first was allowing bin Laden to escape from Afghanistan by allowing Afghan warlords to guard the border. And he paid one of them off, and he escaped into Pakistan. I was there at Tora Bora. And, immediately, after that battle, I went into Pakistan to various madrassas in the northwest of Pakistan. And they were full of, not just his followers but filled with Taliban. For the first couple of years, the situation in Afghanistan was pretty quiescent, but that's because the administration, the Bush administration, what it did was when -- it invaded a second Muslim country.

  • 10:33:20

    LANDAYAnd as proxies for American troops in Afghanistan, they brought back the very warlords whose deprivations and corruption and violence had given rise to the Taliban in the first place in the early 1990s. And they went right back to doing exactly what they had done that gave rise to the Taliban.

  • 10:33:39

    REHMJonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now. Our first caller, Cathy, is in Austin, Texas. Good morning, Cathy. You're on the air.

  • 10:33:58

    CATHYYes. I'd like to ask you, Diane, if we pull out of Afghanistan, what happens to the women, specifically the female doctors and lawyers and teachers who, under the Taliban, were forced to beg on the streets just to feed their children and now are back in their hospitals, back in their law offices and teaching other young girls? What happens to them?

  • 10:34:22

    REHMGood question. Peter Feaver.

  • 10:34:26

    FEAVERI think this is one of the thorniest issues, and it's the one issue that could split the left flank of Obama's base of support. So, I think, the bulk of Obama's base is probably antiwar, and their support for Afghanistan during the 2008 campaign may have been a partisan tactic rather than full-throated sincere support of the war in Afghanistan. And now that -- they're eager to get out. But there's another part of that base that is as concerned as Cathy is about the women in Afghanistan.

  • 10:35:06

    FEAVERThey were the biggest losers of the last several decades, and they've gained the most over the last decade. And I think what would happen to them if the U.S. left precipitously and if the chaos that Jonathan predicts came about, would be tragic, and I think would be a political problem for this administration.

  • 10:35:28


  • 10:35:29

    LANDAYYou also have to ask about the consequences for ordinary Afghans. What would happen? There would be millions of Afghans who would pour back across the borders as refugees into Pakistan and Iran and Central Asia, and the destabilizing impact of those refugee flows would add to this tragedy, this disaster that would befall the region.

  • 10:35:51

    REHMBut especially on the women, John Feffer.

  • 10:35:54

    FEFFERWell, I think you're coming up with a false opposition between complete withdrawal and, therefore, chaos and the status quo as it is now. I think what we're looking for here is a solution that's a political solution, is a regional solution that brings in the countries surrounding Afghanistan that builds on the gains that have been made in Afghanistan today. And there is no denying that there have been gains for women and for ordinary Afghans. So this is the -- what we must focus on with economic support and diplomatic support, it's not complete withdrawal from Afghanistan. What we're talking about is reducing the military influence that we have there and translating it into political and economic influence.

  • 10:36:38

    REHMBut if the plan is only to reduce by 5,000 and then another 5,000, how is that likely to create the will to move forward politically, Jonathan?

  • 10:36:56

    LANDAYWhat -- we've been focused here on the military aspects of this. And what we haven't discussed is the fact that, for the last 10 years, there has been no parallel political plan developed, and that's because, at the moment and throughout this time, there has been nobody to talk to. There is nobody to negotiate at the moment. There will be nobody to negotiate with the moment until the Pakistanis, the security forces, decide that it's time for their Afghan proxies to start talking. And that's not going to happen as long as they think we're leaving.

  • 10:37:30

    REHMJonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers. When we come back after a short break, we'll take more of your calls and comments. Stay with us.

  • 10:40:03

    REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about what's happening around the world in terms of U.S. military presence and whether the death of Osama bin Laden could lead to a rethinking. Here with me in the studio, Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers and John Feffer of the Institute for Policy Studies. On the line with us is Peter Feaver, he is professor of political science and director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies at Duke University.

  • 10:40:46

    REHMHere's an email from Neil in University Heights, Ohio. He says, "I really wonder about folks who think we can remove all the troops and structural support that we put into Afghanistan over the last 10 years any faster than the Obama administration is already doing. If anything, President Obama has proven he will do as he says through our withdrawal from Iraq. The American people I talk with want responsible action, not some idealist notions that have no basis in reality." John Feffer.

  • 10:41:34

    FEFFERWell, I think we have to look at what the American troops have accomplished over the last 10 years in Afghanistan. And although we can point to certain stability in the Karzai administration, we really haven't seen an overall stable country. We've seen American troops engaged in killing of civilians, just recently a killing of a policeman and an unarmed young girl. We've seen tremendous increases in anti-Americanism in the region. I think it's a legitimate question, to ask whether our U.S. troops right now are actually part of the problem or part of the solution. And I would argue that, at this point, they are really as much part of the problem as anything else.

  • 10:42:19

    REHMBut would you be in favor of a wholesale withdrawal all at once?

  • 10:42:27

    FEFFERI think that we have to -- it has to be a gradual withdrawal. I mean, there's no question that we can't pull out everybody at once. I mean, it's not just a practical situation. It's not politically viable here in Washington.

  • 10:42:38

    REHMAnd, militarily, it's not possible either.

  • 10:42:41

    FEFFERRight, right. But I do think we have to have a much more dramatic withdrawal than what the Obama administration has proposed. If you look at the British response, I think that's appropriate. I mean, Prime Minister Cameron said, hey, we've got to pull out the troops. This is a political moment for us. This is a golden opportunity. I think we have to listen to our allies on this issue, and we have to accelerate our timetable.

  • 10:43:07

    REHMAnd here's an email from Bill in Yarmouth Port, Mass., who says, "At what point would Peter Feaver feel it proper for us to bring our soldiers home? It sounds like he thinks we'll need to be on the ground forever."

  • 10:43:29

    FEAVERWell, I would not argue that. I think that you could probably withdraw some of the surge troops this year, not all of them, but some of the troops that were surged in over the last 18 months. Some of them could come home, and the numbers -- we've been talking about the same numbers, something like 5,000 to 10,000 this year, probably that could be done at acceptable risk. And it's certainly not the case that we have to stay until Afghanistan achieves the perfect democracy that we enjoy, say, in Cook County, Ill.

  • 10:44:06

    FEAVERI mean, there is -- whatever Afghanistan achieves, it's going to be less than that ideal. And we probably also don't need to stay and -- till they achieve a governance as robust as what we need to see in Iraq. I think the stakes in Iraq are a bit higher in terms of the nation -- kind of nation-building we need to leave behind. But what is being talked about in the wake of the bin Laden death is a pell-mell rapid retreat, bring all the troops home, come home as fast as possible. That would be very risky.

  • 10:44:44

    FEAVERIt -- here's my frustration with the argument. Those who say we can disengage from global challenges and reduce our risk, that's a fantasy. You can disengage, but you'll be increasing the risks to national security. If you want to make an argument, that it's worth increasing our risk to national security in order to focus on some other national priority, that's the argument to have. But don't pretend that you can leave and things will get better. The real world doesn't work that way.

  • 10:45:17

    REHMAll right. Let's take a call from Alexandria, Va. Good morning, Dave. You're on the air.

  • 10:45:26

    DAVEGood morning. First off, my bias is right up the front, guys. I'm a military officer, and I recently lost a friend in Afghanistan. So take that for what it's worth. I think we're really missing the lessons of the capture-kill of bin Laden. To me, what we should be thinking about is our ways of achieving our strategic objectives in Afghanistan and how that, to me, demonstrates that the idea of counterterrorism as opposed to counterinsurgency will allow us to achieve our desired objective strategically in Afghanistan.

  • 10:46:01

    DAVESo can we pull back some of our troops and reduce our footprint in Afghanistan while achieving our broader strategic objectives, which just sounds like -- from the panel, are more related to Afghanistan being sort of a middle ground between Pakistan and India and preventing a nuclear broader conflict there? Can we do that while doing what the president -- Vice President Biden talks about and was pushing for recently, where we shift more towards an air power and special operation centric-type campaign? We pull some of our troops back. We reduce all the cost and people and money and resources and still are able to achieve our strategic objectives. I wonder what the panel would say about that.

  • 10:46:46


  • 10:46:47

    LANDAYWell, actually, to a certain extent, that's being done, and that's been -- that approach has been going on steadily over the last several years as the drawdown takes place in Iraq and more and more Special Forces are sent -- have been sent to Afghanistan. The level of so-called kill-capture missions that are taking place that the Special Forces are launching every day has escalated hugely, but, meanwhile, so has the level of overall violence in Afghanistan. The Taliban is nowhere closer to being degraded to the point where it is prepared to come to the negotiating table, which is the objective, and then, yes.

  • 10:47:29

    LANDAYYou talk about the strategic goal. The stated strategic goal of the Obama administration and the Bush administration before, that is, denying al-Qaida the ability to return to Afghanistan where it can plot terrorist attacks on the United States, only that strategic goal went by the wayside in practical terms many years ago. It has become about the region, a region filled with angry young men, Islamic fundamentalism awash in conventional weapons, unemployment and nuclear weapons.

  • 10:48:02

    REHMAll right.

  • 10:48:02

    LANDAYAnd that's exactly what the problem is now.

  • 10:48:05

    REHMTo Port Richey, Fla. Good morning, David.

  • 10:48:10

    DAVIDHi. Good morning. Thanks. I wanted to challenge this notion that's being put forth, that our continued stay in Afghanistan is going to help in providing security. With the very words that one of your guests -- I forget his name -- is after 10 years, and God knows the cost, what would be told now is that the consequences and our security are jeopardized even more because of what was said about the situation with Pakistan and India, et cetera. So by your -- by the very words that your guest is saying, our stay there has increased our insecurity.

  • 10:48:55

    REHMPeter Feaver.

  • 10:48:57

    FEAVERWell, the logical fallacy in that question is the belief that if we hadn't done what we did over the last decade, that we would somehow be more secure. That is, if we had basically responded to the 9/11 attacks in the fashion that we responded in the '90s -- fired off some cruise missiles at camps that we thought bin Laden would be in, take out a couple milk factories around the globe and then return to business as usual -- that, I think, is pretty much what bin Laden might have expected that we would do. And we didn't do that. If we had done that -- so that's the alternative -- we would be in far worse shape in Afghanistan.

  • 10:49:42

    FEAVERThe al-Qaida threat would be much more lethal than it is, and the chaos in Afghanistan and in the broader region would be much worse. So we are in better shape now than we would have been if we hadn't taken the steps that we took over the last decade.

  • 10:49:59

    REHMJohn Feffer...

  • 10:50:00


  • 10:50:00 you agree?

  • 10:50:02

    FEFFERNo, I don't agree. I mean, I think one of the previous callers pointed out -- the fellow from the military -- a very important point, and that is that our counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan have largely failed. We've failed to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. We've seen the shifting, the moving of the goalpost, so that, now, you know, we're in there for much broader objectives. And, frankly, we can't sustain that. We can't sustain that economically, and we can't sustain that geopolitically. We're looking at a military budget that's -- a base budget of $553 billion at a time of tremendous budget pressures. We're going to have to see some major cuts in the military over the next five or six years.

  • 10:50:46

    FEFFERWe cannot maintain this kind of military presence overseas. The cuts are going to have to take place, and, frankly, they're going to take place in Afghanistan sooner than other places around the world.

  • 10:50:58

    REHMBut, Jonathan, I want to ask you about something the House Armed Services Committee is reviewing, the Defense Authorization bill. And as part of that, they're going to be deciding whether to grant whoever is in the White House the power to wage an unending war against people who may or may not become terrorists. Explain what's going on here.

  • 10:51:33

    LANDAYThey are putting in the Defense Authorization bill a restatement of the authorization for the use of military force that was originally granted to President Bush that he used as the basis for sending American troops into Afghanistan and then Iraq, but also basically stretched so that he used it for the terrorist surveillance program, various other questionable activities, like illegal detentions, perhaps, a black sites and what a lot of people believe was the use of torture on detainees. What they're trying to do is kind of institutionalize or at least legislate this now to prevent that kind of abuse. But if you look at the language, there's an awful lot of wiggle room in there.

  • 10:52:22

    REHMYeah, looks that way.

  • 10:52:23


  • 10:52:24

    REHMAnd, Peter Feaver, I wonder how easily the powers that the House Armed Services Committee wants to give to the president could be construed to, you know, justify U.S. involvement in any number of countries, including Yemen.

  • 10:52:46

    FEAVERWell, I'm a little bit mystified by the critique because, for the last decade, one of the standard critiques from the left has been that there hasn't been adequate congressional authority to do what the Bush and Obama administrations are trying to do. This bill or this amendment to the bill would provide that, would shore up the legal basis. The legal experts I have seen say all it would do is to provide the congressional ratification for what has been done. It wouldn't make possible new things that hadn't already been done. And in that regard, it strikes me as an appropriate use of constitutional authority by the Congress. I'm a little bit mystified as to why people would oppose Congress wielding their congressional -- I mean -- sorry -- their constitutional responsibility in this way.

  • 10:53:45

    REHMPeter Feaver of Duke University, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." How do you construe that language, John Feffer?

  • 10:53:54

    FEFFERWell, I consider it an attempt by Republican legislators to rename the global war on terror, which had been officially retired by the Obama administration in favor of overseas contingency operations and as a rationale for maintaining high levels of military spending at a time when there are calls for significant reductions, reductions beyond what Secretary Gates has offered. And I see it as a kind of a last-ditch effort. And I hope that our congress people and our electorate see it that way in our calls for substantial -- at least 10 percent -- reductions in military spending over the next several years.

  • 10:54:34

    REHMAnd, of course, so what about the commitment we've already made in Libya of -- what do we anticipate could happen there?

  • 10:54:45

    FEFFERRight. Well, here we have a situation where the Obama administration was reluctant to get involved. And when it got involved, it wanted to get out as quickly as possible, at least to pass over the responsibility to NATO. And it has not been a "cakewalk." It has been a very difficult situation. Any notion that we could take that as an example for U.S. military involvement elsewhere in the region, whether it's Yemen or Syria, will be a serious mistake. We're talking about an attempt to, as the Chinese say, kill the chicken to scare the monkey. And, right now, Qaddafi is an undead chicken. He's not been killed, and the monkeys are not scared. And so we have failed in that objective, and, I think, we should learn that lesson.

  • 10:55:28

    REHMLet me ask you all whether you expect some statement from President Obama in the near future to clarify what our international position is now and will be in the near future. Jonathan.

  • 10:55:48

    LANDAYWell, we know he's going to be making a speech, probably next week, in which he's going to try and follow up on the Cairo speech that he made several years ago, relationship with the Arab world post-Osama bin Laden. And we will have to wait and see what he has to say.

  • 10:56:01

    REHMAnd, Peter Feaver, what do you expect? Very briefly, please.

  • 10:56:06

    FEAVERWe're definitely getting a big speech. Whether there's an underlying coherent regional strategy that would guide that speech, I'm a little more skeptical. I know they're working on one, but they've kept -- if there's a coherent regional strategy, they've kept that secret and haven't leaked it yet.

  • 10:56:22

    REHMJohn Feffer.

  • 10:56:23

    FEFFERWell, I hope that he says that we -- the United States will reduce our emphasis on military tools to resolve problems around the world and put more emphasis on economic and diplomatic tools. We have a seriously underfunded State Department, and we have pressures to reduce our economic commitments overseas. But I hope the president will see this as a moment to really recast U.S. foreign policy in this light.

  • 10:56:46

    REHMJohn Feffer at the Institute for Policy Studies, Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers, Peter Feaver of Duke University, thank you all so much.

  • 10:57:00

    FEFFERThank you.

  • 10:57:00

    FEAVERThank you.

  • 10:57:01

    REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 10:57:05

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.

Topics + Tags


comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows