A panel of top political commentators joins Diane to talk about some of the head spinning events of this last year and to get their perspectives on the challenges ahead.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called for the U.S. to speed up the withdrawal of combat troops from his country. That demand came after 16 Afghan villagers were murdered in the middle of the night – allegedly by a U.S. staff sergeant identified Friday as Robert Bales. The slayings have severely strained U.S. – Afghan relations and further eroded Americans’ support for the war. One survey taken after the atrocity showed half of Americans want President Obama to expedite troop withdrawal. Whether that would – or even could – happen is an open question. Diane and her guests discuss the future of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.
- Ambassador James Dobbins Director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, and former special envoy to Afghanistan.
- Yochi Dreazen Senior national security correspondent, National Journal magazine.
- Phyllis Bennis Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies; co-author of "Ending the U.S. War in Afghanistan: A Primer."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Public anger over Quran burning in Afghanistan seem to be diminishing. Then a U.S. soldier allegedly went on a killing spree in an Afghan village. Sixteen people died against this back draft. President Karzai called for the U.S. to move up the date for handing over security functions to the Afghan army. We talk about the case against the suspect in the slayings and the Obama administration's options as discontent over the war grows.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio, Yochi Dreazen of National Journal magazine, Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies and Amb. James Dobbins, former special envoy to Afghanistan. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENGood morning.
MS. PHYLLIS BENNISGood morning, Diane.
REHMAnd, Yochi Dreazen, I'll start with you. Tell us what we know about Sgt. Bales.
DREAZENWe know, as of now, that he has seemed normal in both his military life and his personal life. He had done four tours, but virtually everyone you meet who's been in the military as long as he has, has done four. In many cases, people have done five. So there was -- it was a heavy amount deployment but not unusual. His marital life, despite the early leaks that he was having troubles and might be getting divorced, appear solid.
DREAZENA key detail is that his wife and her parents are funding his defense, which is not typically as you'd imagine a sign of someone who is preparing to divorce him. There was not much in his service record, if anything, to suggest he was anything other than a skilled and well-liked NCO. And there have been people -- non-commissioned officer -- excuse me. There have been people who served with him coming forward publicly to say that he was very good at his job, that he was very brave.
DREAZENSo the mystery, in some ways, is deepening, not just the mystery of why any U.S. soldier might snap and do this but why this one in particular, who seems to have been pretty well-balanced professionally and personally, would've done so.
REHMWhat about combat-related injuries?
DREAZENYou know, there, too, he had a traumatic brain injury, which is often linked to post-traumatic stress disorder. But, tragically, so have tens of other -- tens of thousands of other troops. So what was very interesting to me was that the Pentagon was leaking a lot before his name came out. For a week, they leaked out that he had been perhaps drinking, that he was perhaps someone who's getting divorced, that he was someone who had TBI and suggesting that was unhinged.
DREAZENNow that his name is out, we're discovering that a lot of those things don't necessarily hold true. I think what they were trying to do was shape a narrative so that he could be more easily dismissed as just a rogue soldier who went crazy and not someone who might be indicative of a more systemic problem.
REHMPhyllis Bennis, is there any indication that he did not act alone?
BENNISNo serious indication. There were reports from Afghans on the ground, talking to an Afghan parliamentary investigation team, that said -- some said they just didn't see how he could have done it all alone. Others said they saw more. It doesn't seem that that has held up. I think the terror of people seeing the results of something like this has made it very difficult to know exactly what people saw.
BENNISI think that it didn't help that the military so quickly announced, we know it was one man, before it was really possible to have known anything. So I think there's, as a result, some residual uncertainty about that.
REHMYochi, what was his job on that base where you had been?
DREAZENYeah. I mean, when the news that this came in Panjwai, which is this totally obscure, dusty village, hit, it hit hard for me personally 'cause I'd spent about 10 days there embedded at that exact base. And two things worth mentioning, this base was tiny. It was basically a mud brick house with mud brick walls, so base overstates it, I mean, we are talking about a rented farm house.
REHMHow many people would've been there?
DREAZENForty or 50 Americans, probably equal number of Afghans. So when people were hearing about this, wondering how could he leave a base? It's not a base. And it's basically right on the outskirts of this teeny town linked to another teeny town. So walking out of it and getting to these houses would've taken minutes. It's very, very easy. And it's in an area that had been very bad, is now quiet. His role, he was not Special Forces. His role was not the same with the Special Forces who were operating on that base.
DREAZENHe was basically providing security for this little farmhouse. He would've been someone who might be helping with supplies. He was not someone who was doing night raids. He was not someone who was kicking down doors. He was not someone who was involved particularly even in the training of Afghans. His role was very, very limited.
REHMAmb. Dobbins, one of the issues about which President Karzai has been very upset has been these night raids. How do you think that this incident could affect the future of U.S. engagement in Afghanistan?
AMB. JAMES DOBBINSWell, I think it adds to the difficulty the U.S. on getting Afghan ascent to night raids and what are sometimes called counterterrorism operations in the country. It makes the administration's current strategy of gradually turning responsibilities over to the Afghans more difficult. It makes the alternative strategy that Vice President Biden and others have put forward to move immediately to a counterterrorism-focused strategy even more difficult. So while it makes the administration's path, as I've said, steeper, it makes the alterative that others have offered even less plausible.
REHMWith the growing dissatisfaction on the part of both those in Afghanistan and people here in this country with the current strategy, how do you see it, Phyllis?
BENNISWell, I think, Diane, before we even look at what the immediate impact might be or the medium-term impact on U.S. policy and the possibility of a quicker withdrawal as a result of this action and others that are coming to light. I think it's very important that we keep in mind what this means for the people of Afghanistan. We're hearing a lot about questions of PTSD -- post traumatic stress disorder -- TBI -- traumatic brain injury -- for U.S. soldiers.
BENNISAnd it's very good that there has been more attention being paid now and an important mention in The New York Times this morning from a psychiatrist former general who is an adviser to the Joint Chiefs saying that the Army is going to claim this was a rogue individual. He was not -- this is broader problem. But we're not hearing about what happens to Afghans.
BENNISIn 2009, the Afghanistan ministry of health determined that up to 66 percent of the population, two thirds of the entire population of 30 million Afghans, is suffering from stress-related mental disorders, many of them PTSD. They're the real victims here of these night raids. And we're talking about a country where there are 42 psychiatrists and psychologists in the entire country.
BENNISSo no one is getting sufficient treatment. No one here is even talking about the impact in the long term aside from those people, those children and others killed and injured grievously in these attacks in the night raids and the drone attacks. We're not hearing about the impact on an entire society that has lived for 30 years of war and is now been living for so many years under constant threat of their door being broken down, kicked in, being shot in their homes.
DOBBINSI think that's all true, and I think it is a tragedy. I wish were seeing more new stories about the life history of some of the 16 people who were murdered, rather than just the individual who seems to have been guilty for it. At the same, I think it's also important to note that the general health of Afghans since 2001 has gone up dramatically, although I think the mental health and the trauma of 30 years of war is probably true. But longevity in the country is up as the result of more access to some basic health care since 2001.
BENNISCould I just...
REHMWhat happens -- go ahead, Phyllis.
BENNISI just wanted to comment on one point of that, which -- that's true. But I also think we have to keep in mind what the U.S. has failed to do despite our claims that we're there to support and help and protect the people of Afghanistan. Afghanistan remains in exactly the same position now as it was under the Taliban in terms of maternal mortality. It's the second worst place in the world, the second worst country in the world, for a woman to give birth and think she's going to survive.
BENNISAnd it's still the worst place in the world for a child to be born and survive according to UNICEF. So we have to be very careful here before we sort of claim credit about all the good we're doing for the people of Afghanistan.
DREAZENAnd just a quick point back. I agree that sort of not paying enough attention to the Afghan side is tragic if it happens. It is worth knowing, though, that for all the flaws at the U.S. mission, for all the things going wrong with the war, the most recent U.N. report about Afghan casualties was that between 67 and 75 percent of Afghan civilian deaths were caused by the Taliban, not by the U.S.
DREAZENSo when there's -- the trauma there, which is severe, it isn't just a fear of Americans kicking down doors, of drones hitting targets, which is also more of an issue in Pakistan, it's at least as much, if not more, an issue being blown up by the Taliban, being assassinated by the Taliban. The bulk of the casualties, they are not caused by the U.S. or NATO.
REHMYochi, what does the research tell us about the psychological effects of repeated deployments in war zones?
DREAZENThere are two things that I think are really interesting and frankly both heart-breaking. The first is that the type of suffering you have doesn't go away. So if you have something horrible that happened to your first deployment -- let's say you see a friend of yours killed next to you. You're on a foot patrol, an IED goes off, and suddenly somebody you know is literally just dust. That doesn't go away. Every subsequent deployment, it gets worse and worse and worse.
DREAZENSo when we have someone who's done two, three, four, five, if at any point in that process they've suffered a trauma, and most have, just one builds on the other and the other. The other thing that's coming up, which I think is linked to both PTSD and suicide 'cause, as you know the suicide rate for the military is skyrocketing, is the use of prescription drugs by the troops, both deployed and when they get back. When they are deployed, there's not one paying much attention to how many they're taking.
DREAZENI've been to bases where guys were taking three or four or five or six Xanax, eight or nine or 10 Ambien. I mean, the stress was so high, they would need these to go to sleep. They would need these to get through the day. Then you come back, you're addicted to these higher levels of drugs. Suddenly, you're off of them, and there's a strong correlation between that and the suicide rate.
REHMYochi Dreazen, National Journal magazine. We'll take just a short break here. I do invite your calls, comments, questions. Stay with us.
REHMAnd if you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Here in the studio, Amb. James Dobbins. He is director of International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation. He's former special envoy to Afghanistan. Yochi Dreazen is senior national security correspondent at National Journal magazine. Phyllis Bennis is director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-author of "Ending the U.S. War in Afghanistan: A Primer."
REHMAmb. Dobbins, during the break, you were talking about the comparison or contrast to what troops went through during Vietnam. Spell that out for us.
DOBBINSWell, I think in Vietnam, we had more and worse incidents than this. In there, we had a situation in which you had young, inexperienced soldiers who were mostly single, who were under comparatively loose discipline, and who had a lot of access to drugs and alcohol. In Afghanistan, by contrast, you have older soldiers, much more experienced soldiers. Most of them are married. They're under much tighter discipline, and they have virtually no access to alcohol and drugs only on prescription.
DOBBINSI think the differences in Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of -- because they're experienced. They've been on repeated deployments. And individuals may crack, but you don't have the breakdown of discipline you had in Vietnam. I'm not sure you'd want to go back to a situation in which you send people only one deployment and then have to recruit new people for the next deployment. That would probably be an even worse situation. The best situation is not to use your forces at all, in which case they're not subject to these kinds of pressures, but I'm not sure that's an option that's available.
REHMOf course, people make the comparison, Yochi, to what happened in Afghanistan to My Lai. There's also the question that you raised, the high rate of suicide, how that compares or contrasts to Vietnam.
DREAZENIf I could take the second part first, I mean, the heartbreaking aspect is Vietnam. Obviously, the overall number of American deaths was many, many, many times...
DREAZEN...than in Afghanistan. The number of Vietnamese deaths would also, many, many times the number of the deaths in Afghanistan so tragic, in both directions. But the suicide rate, although high for returning veterans of Vietnam, is much higher today. The milestone that was passed that the whole military personnel that looked at this issue, which is significant, that they still point to, is that, for the first time, the suicide rate in the military is higher than the civilian world for the same age group.
DREAZENAnd that was a milestone that, when it happened, 2008, 2009, I mean, that really sent a blow to the military because before that, even as the rate was rising, you'd have not a comforting thought, but at least the military was able to say to itself and to the public, it's bad for us, but it's bad in the civilian world. So it's not our deployment. It's not our policies. Now, it's higher than that, so it's a harder argument to make.
REHMSo as Amb. Dobbins talks about one deployment to Vietnam versus multiple deployments to Afghanistan, how do you see that entering the discussion about the ability to withstand that pressure on the part of these young men and women?
DREAZENI mean, I thought his point on sort of the difference is systematically was fascinating and spot-on. Without question, no matter how this case goes, the story, that line is going to come up again and again in part because the defense lawyers have signaled that this will be the central part of their defense, is going to be precisely that question, what does repeated tours, what does PTSD, what does that do to a person? I mean, their defense -- so far, they're not questioning at all that he was responsible for these deaths.
DREAZENThey're arguing that there were factors that led him to commit those, the killings. I mean, that question, the one you just asked, that'll be key to their defense.
REHMHere's an email. "The U.S. government is also guilty in this incident. You cannot keep sending people into combat for years on end and not expect a tragedy. These wars must end now. The army should be ashamed of itself for bad-mouthing this soldier to absolve itself." Phyllis Bennis.
BENNISI think that the soldiers can be both victims and war criminals simultaneously. That's a horrifying reality, but it is a reality. I think the fact that there is a systemic problem here is very real and needs to be taken as seriously. The responsibility for these actions do not rest solely with this soldier. They go right up the chain of command.
BENNISThe investigations of the base in Washington State where he was stationed, which has the reputation for being the most troubled base on any U.S. base in the country, the highest rates of suicide among the highest rates of assaults on domestic violence, assaults on spouses, criminal behavior off the base, et cetera, it's one of the worst, but that's a relative issue. The problem we face is that, I think, it's the nature of these wars. We're sending young people to be trained to fight in a country about which they know virtually nothing.
BENNISThey don't speak the language. They don't know the culture. They are trained with a kind of demonization, and we're seeing this in Iraq, in Afghanistan. When we talk about Iran, we hear the same thing. We heard that in his own emails, Bill -- sorry, Robert Bales, the accused killer here, spoke when he was in Iraq in 2009. He said, "Giving money to hajji instead of bullets just don't seem right." Hajji is a derogative racist term, which actually means someone who has made the Hajj pilgrimage.
BENNISIt's a Muslim term, but it's a derogatory racist term used widely in the military to speak of the people who live in these countries. And when we send young people to war, we have to demonize the enemy to make them willing to attack them. I think that that has to be taken very, very seriously. So when we say that the highest ranks of the military and political echelon is responsible here, I don't think it means that the soldier is not also responsible.
BENNISThis was the lesson of Nuremberg, following orders -- even snapping is not enough of a defense against this kind of atrocity, but there are others above him.
REHMAnd here is yet another email, "Is it possible that this soldier thought, however wrongly, that he would help end the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan?" Yochi.
DREAZENI think that's a stretch, frankly. More likely is that if he is guilty -- and, again, they're not disputing that he committed the killings, that he just snapped. The idea that he had so much forethought as a -- on this grand political strategy as a -- almost like a chess master, I find very hard to believe.
DREAZENOne point that Phyllis made that I think is worth coming back to, the initial statements from the Pentagon about this said again and again, this is not the chain of command, and it's not clear at all that this is not the chain of command, not that there was a captain, who said, go into that village and kill...
REHMGo do this.
DREAZEN...but a question about oversight, both in Afghanistan and in Homs. I mean, this base -- not only is this the base, that as Phyllis points out correctly, has very high rates of suicide, very high rates of domestic violence, but one of the previous most bloody and sort of high-profile crimes in Afghanistan was this kill team, this group of soldiers, five, six, seven, not just one or two, who would kill Afghan civilians, plant weapons at their bodies, in some cases, take body parts as souvenirs.
DREAZENThey're from the same base and the same brigade that this soldier was from as well. So, again, it's not, I think, the issue of someone saying directly go kill these people. But if you have a brigade, which is 3,500 people with now two mass violence incidents and no officers have been held responsible, I think that is a real serious question.
DOBBINSWell, I think there are several issues here. One is the question of whether he's guilty of a crime, and that really revolves around assuming they admit that he committed the acts on whether or not he can be judged criminally insane, which is to say he doesn't know the difference between right and wrong. The second is whether there are extenuating circumstances that explain his snapping, which don't justify or absolve him of guilt, but which may reduce -- result in a reduced sentence.
DOBBINSI do think we have to recall that for every soldier who has engaged in atrocity of this sort, there's 500,000 who haven't and don't. So I think it's important not to generalize from this event. Now, we're told that the suicide rate in the Armed Forces has now reached the suicide rate in the country as a whole.
DOBBINSI'm surprised that it hadn't reached that a long time ago, given the stress they're under. And I'd have to say that there are some credit to the system, the military system, which has insulated them from even higher rates of depression than suicide, which would -- one would think naturally associated with repeated deployments of the sort.
BENNISI think it's important, again, that we come back to this question. We've heard from several of us in this room -- and it's been in all the articles and all the coverage -- that the guy snapped. That's the term of art. He snapped. He lost it. And, again, we're looking at a situation in which we never hear that term, Diane, when we are talking about an attack by an Afghan, by a militant, by an Iraqi, by al-Qaida, for that matter.
BENNISWe never acknowledge the notion that somebody could snap and see that their child was killed by a drone and they hold somebody responsible, so they go and they plant an IED, which costs only about $30 -- it's not that hard to do -- to try and take out somebody who might have been responsible for that. I'm not saying that it's not an accurate description. I think people do snap under pressure.
BENNISBut I think the fact that we only acknowledge that when we're talking about trained soldiers and we don't acknowledge it when we're talking about a civilian population that has exactly zero control of their own lives speaks to a real problem in how we understand our own presence in Afghanistan.
DREAZENOn that point, I do have to disagree. I mean, I've been in Afghanistan repeatedly when there have been incidents of Afghans turning their guns -- Afghan troops -- on Americans with them. And the explanation almost always is that these guys snapped in part because the U.S. doesn't want to admit that there could be systemic Taliban infiltration.
DREAZENSo, for instance, the worst of these kind of attacks -- which, by the way, have been rising rapidly -- was when an Afghan officer killed eight American soldiers or eight American Air Force personnel, one American contractor in Kabul walked into the room they were sitting in, shot all of them. The question everyone outside said was, clearly, this guy was a Taliban sympathizer. Clearly, he was somebody who shared their ideology.
DREAZENThe official military report, whether one believes it or not, was he snapped, that he was somebody who was under deep marital stress, deep financial stress. So the argument about him was basically the argument here -- that something in his head just snapped. It wasn't the war. It wasn't ideology. It was that he lost it.
REHMI want to turn this discussion in some way to the -- what may be the discussion going on inside the White House, inside the Pentagon. Is there going to be realistic discussion as to whether this incident and many others would indicate it's time to speed up getting out? Amb. Dobbins.
DOBBINSWell, it's been a debate within the administration on that virtually from the beginning of the administration, and there are clear lines that have been drawn between different factions, different agencies, different elements within the White House. And these incidents certainly will give new life to that debate and new weight to those who are arguing for a more rapid withdrawal.
DOBBINSAs I noted earlier, however, these events also underscore the difficulty of the alternative that they are offering, which is not to simply abandon Afghanistan, but rather retreat to precisely the kind of operations that the space was conducting.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Yochi.
DREAZENI think he's exactly right that there is this debate. It has been going for a long time. My sense over the past few months is that this plan, the withdrawal timetable, if Obama is re-elected, will accelerate very rapidly. Right now, the idea is that, by this fall, the last of the surge troops -- the roughly 30,000 troops that he sent after a long, laborious, painful debate -- will be back.
DREAZENBut there have been a lot of uncertainty about how many of the remaining 68,000 troops will leave between this fall and end of 2014. My strong, strong sense is that the number is going to rise rapidly. One thing that's worth pointing out, though, Karzai often uses very colorful language that back here we sort of think, this guy snapped and lost it.
DREAZENAfter this, you refer to the U.S. as a demon. So, you know, you can't get, in some ways, a harsher denunciation than calling us demons. But he then backs down almost every time. So, first, he said, we want this to end immediately, the U.S. to go back to its bases. Today and yesterday, his spokesman said, well, what he actually means is negotiations over some number of months.
DREAZENHe had said that private security contractors of the type that were so controversial in Iraq had to end within X number of days. Just recently, they've extended it by another three months. So what happens often is he says something. He gets a lot of attention partly 'cause he calls us, again, things like demons. Then he backs down. And months pass and sort of goes back a little bit to the status quo.
BENNISI think there's no question that President Karzai is under extraordinary public pressure to distance himself from the U.S. The reality is he's completely dependent on the U.S., and he will do whatever the U.S. tells him to do because he doesn't have the indigenous support to remain in power and be able to function even with the level of incompetence and corruption that has characterized his regime from the beginning.
BENNISBut I think that, right now, in the midst of this election cycle, the question about how the White House is going to take up that issue, it's helped, to a certain degree, by having these attacks from Karzai because they can sort of act as if they're standing above that in a certain way in these debates. It's not going to be determined by what President Karzai says.
BENNISI do think, though, that there is a serious problem here that because we're in this election cycle, the fear in the Obama re-election committee, even more than in the White House or the Pentagon at the strategic level, is the fear of appearing weak relative to the rhetorical claims of Republicans that we're the ones who -- you can really depend on.
BENNISThe reality is Americans are far beyond that. The last poll was 60 percent -- there was an earlier one that's at 64 percent -- say not only should we get out now, but that this war was never worth fighting. Now, when we look at that in the context of Afghanistan, that's huge that people are recognizing that. When we began this war in Afghanistan, 88 percent of the population said it was a good thing.
BENNISThe fact that, now, 60 to 64 percent are saying it's not a good thing, we should end it, speaks to the question of casualties, the question of recognition that this war has not made us safer and has done nothing to help the people of Afghanistan.
DOBBINSWell, I think it's certainly true that Afghan and American public opinion are drifting apart in fairly serious ways, and that's putting pressure on both administrations, Karzai much more visibly than Obama, who's tried to maintain a steady course. I think Yochi is right, that you're likely to see accelerated withdrawals next year. I think the thing to watch for, actually, is whether the administration announces further withdrawals before the election, maybe even before the NATO summit in Chicago.
REHMDo you believe that's likely?
DOBBINSI think it's actively debated. I think there are those who would like to do so, who see some political advantage in doing so, and probably some policy advantage in doing so. So I wouldn't exclude it. Certainly, the -- you're going to see timetables for turning responsibilities over to the Afghans accelerated and for the U.S. and NATO troops to step back even if they don't actually leave the country.
REHMAmb. James Dobbins. He's former special envoy to Afghanistan. Short break now. When we come back, your calls, your comments. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMWelcome back. And here's an email from Jonathan here in D.C. He says, "From a U.S. perspective, what do we gain by remaining longer in Afghanistan when all signs point to civil war once we leave? What does Obama gain keeping troops in Afghanistan when a majority of Democrats and about 40 percent of Republicans favor a faster exit? Is Obama risking a Vietnam-type blowback in public sentiment?" Yochi.
DREAZENI think the question is a great, particularly for somebody who lives in D.C. and may follow this more closely than a lot of us who don't. One of the more interesting polls wasn't simply that, as Phyllis pointed out before the break, there's a big percentage of the overall country who think the war is not worth fighting, that the war is mistake. But you're now seeing polls that show roughly 50-50 actually. Not 40-60, but roughly 50-50 among Republicans about this war, which is a huge change from even a few months ago.
DREAZENYou're hearing the Republican presidential candidates waffle a bit on their support for the war, on their argument that Obama is weak, that he's considering withdrawal because he's weak. So the normal conventional wisdom about Democrats being weak on defense, Republicans being red-blooded fight to the end, on this one, it's falling apart, I think, because the war is so unpopular and because it's not going particularly well.
REHMWell, what about the candidates themselves, Yochi?
DREAZENYou know, the candidates, both Romney and Santorum, Romney has said this before. Earlier in the election, he said, if they're not willing to fight for themselves, we shouldn't stay there to fight for them. Then he backtracked after he was accused of being weak. But now you're hearing something very similar from Rick Santorum. It's not a rock-solid state till the end. We'll stay there till we raise the flag of victory anymore. It's much more nuanced and, frankly, coming a lot closer to what Obama himself is saying publicly.
DOBBINSWell, I'd like to answer the first part of the question because I think one has to hope that Obama won't make decisions regarding U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan purely on the basis of domestic politics or indeed on domestic public opinion, although one would be naive not to think that that'll have some influence. And so the question is, what do we gain if we remain there longer? I think we went in in order to deny Afghanistan not just as a sanctuary for the Taliban but as an act of ally -- a sanctuary for al-Qaida.
DOBBINSAnd not just as a sanctuary but as an active ally. All the reports indicate that the Taliban continue to be allied with al-Qaida. The U.S. is engaged in a negotiation with the Taliban to try to persuade them to break that link. They haven't agreed to do so yet. If they don't and if they succeed in resuming control of Afghanistan, it will, again, not just be a sanctuary but a state that's actively allied with a terrorist organization focused on attacks on the United States. So it's a question of risks and cost.
DOBBINSThere are costs to stay there. There are risks if we don't. It's perfectly rational to say the costs are too high. I'll accept the risk. What's not rational is to argue that there are no risks or, on the other side, to argue that there are no costs.
REHMBut hasn't the -- hasn't al-Qaida been diminished severely, Yochi?
DREAZENBy all accounts, it's been virtually eliminated from Afghanistan. I take the point and I agree with it that saying there's no risk is as naive, as was very well put, as saying that there is no cost. After the bin Laden raid -- and this still sticks with me -- one of the sort of press conference calls that was right in the sort of flush of having finally killed this fugitive we've been looking for for so long, Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, said that not only was there no al-Qaida threat in Afghanistan now, but there hadn't been one for the last eight years.
DREAZENSo the obvious question that I had that others on the call had was, well, if that's been your justification for the war since you took office, why are we still there? I mean, I think it is worth pointing out that Afghanistan and Pakistan, this is sort of the intellectual birthplace of al-Qaida. Bin Laden, it turned out, was living right over the border. We believe that other senior al-Qaida leaders are right over the border. That said, Yemen, Somalia -- this group is not done.
DREAZENI mean, they're not going to stay in a place where they're being hammered by us in Afghanistan by 100,000 troops, hammered by us in Pakistan by drones virtually every day. They're moving to other countries. And the question is, if we're so tight up here, if we're so invested in people and material and money, can we become agile enough to go there?
REHMAll right. To Newport News, Va., good morning, John.
JOHNYes, good morning, Diane. And how are you?
JOHNWell, my comment is -- and I'm an ex-Army medic. And one of your panelists was saying that we have the advantage of our soldiers being well-disciplined, and they're over there where they can't hold -- get access to any drugs or alcohol. I would like to also bring up the fact that we are well-disciplined, but we are not -- the comparison would be bad, but I've got to say -- Doberman Pinschers nor German Shepherds. And just because there's no alcohol there, it doesn't mean that we are alcohol-free soldiers.
JOHNAnd being (unintelligible) is that we carry a lot of stress with us. We carry a lot of (word?) situations that torment us. Just because we cannot express it does not mean that we don't have it. And just because we're not doing it there, it doesn't mean that we won't do it when we come back. And I'm trying to get at is that you can't simplify the complexity of what soldiers go through. We have parents. We have brothers and sisters. And we have children and grandparents.
JOHNSo we go through a lot. And sometimes that's undermined. And yesterday, we had some generals that were kind of critical in the way they would say, oh, we have all these numbers and statistics saying that we screened them well and we put them to all these test. And we could send them back and know that, you know, they should be fine. And in other words, they have to be fine 'cause our tests say they are fine.
JOHNAnd if they're not, then there's something wrong with them, in other words. And I think that's unfair. And I think that the generals should see this more in a soldier's -- foot soldier's point of view.
REHMAll right, John. Thanks for your call. Thank you for doing your part in this effort. Amb. Dobbins.
DOBBINSWell, I think that was well said.
BENNISI think that what John raised was a very important point, and I think it speaks directly to the question of the cost of this war. It's true there are risks if we pull out. But let's look at the actual cost we're paying right now, and one of them is what's happening to a whole generation of young soldiers, who were coming back with terrible injuries, with terrible mental, as well as physical, disorders that is both a social reality for their families looking towards a lifetime of dealing with some of these injuries and the cost in our country.
BENNISIt costs $1 million a year to keep one young soldier in Afghanistan because of the cost of getting fuel, et cetera, into the country -- not because they're so well paid. The lowest-ranking soldiers even qualify for food stamps. But when we look at that, we -- if we brought home one young soldier, that we could hire that person and 19 more at middle-class, $50,000-a-year good green jobs, using new technologies, rebuilding the economy of this country, that would make us far safer when we talk about this.
BENNISSo I think we need to be very broad in how we look at what the costs are. The costs include the price we're paying for a generation of young people coming back.
DREAZENI thought the caller was both -- what he said was both intellectually fascinating and, frankly, very poignant. I mean, he is, of course, right that these are professional soldiers. This is not a conscript army. So these are people who do deployment and do come home, and they carry with them whatever they've seen or done. And the divorce rate in the military is skyrocketing. The use of alcohol is skyrocketing. So, you know, it goes back to the point Amb. Dobbins made earlier.
DREAZENThis isn't Vietnam where people went once, and that was pretty much it. They came back, and it was over. They were younger. They weren't married. They didn't have these personal relationships. These soldiers, whenever they come back, something has changed in them. And something has changed in their family. And the two things don't often link back up.
REHMAll right. To Cleveland, Ohio, good morning, John. Thanks for joining us.
JOHNOh, good morning. It's nice to hear you again. Hey, you know, I'll tell you one thing. I'm a war son from World War II. My father died of a war-related injury, and he had a head injury. And I can tell you that living with -- as a child, living with somebody with a head injury from World War II, anything -- a door shutting -- would, you know, get him off his chair and kind of angry sometime, different things. You drop something on the ground, that was a lot of noise, and that's a concern.
JOHNThe one concern that was even worse was the fact that he had to fight to try to get disability, and he -- for years, and it really destroyed a lot of our family. It wrecked it, and it caused a lot of problems. As for the individual who did this atrocity there, you know, if he had a head injury, somebody dropped the ball. That's just what it -- somebody in a senior command level dropped the ball and shouldn't have gave this person another tour.
DREAZENI mean, this was, I think, a second very poignant call. I mean, this one, in some ways, even more heartbreaking to hear about what it did to this one family. You'll -- Phyllis had pointed out earlier about this one base, Lewis-McChord, in Washington State.
DREAZENBefore all this happened, there was a burbling scandal about the medical center there, the Madigan Center, that was sending back potentially hundreds of troops who actually had diagnosed PTSD fairly severe, were clearing them to go back and sending them falsely and improperly. So from that base, in particular -- we keep coming back to it -- but there's a real question of whether him or many people like him should ever have been sent.
REHMTisha in Towson, Md., wants to comment. Good morning. You're on the air.
TISHAGood morning. Thank you for your show, Diane. I just -- I wanted to make comment. I'm perplexed about why some people keep getting deployed over and over again when I understand there is something like 1.5 million people on full military pay, which is -- I thought was quite substantial, averaging something like $100,000 a year with a compensation. I mean, in this area, the housing allowance alone is a big amount of money for the average person, and we have a lot of poverty here.
TISHAThe military people that I see seem very well off, and I see a lot of binge drinking with them. This is one of the BRAC areas, the bay tree location areas. I'm very surprised of the behavior that I'm seeing from these folks and a bit dismayed that we're spending so very much money. Another thing, I just read "We Meant Well" by Peter Van Buren, and I'd recommend anybody to read that because I really feel like our community is so poor right now that we need help here. We need money here.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Phyllis.
BENNISI think this caller raises a very important point, which is the priority given to military spending in our overall budget. We have spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan $1.3 trillion. That's such a huge number. It's not -- I don't think I can even conceptualize. It's like saying a gazillion dollars or something. It's so much money that has so distorted our economy. It's affected the issue of jobs, of health care, of education, of all the social crises that we're facing in our country.
BENNISThe question of why there are so many redeployments has everything to do with the fact that, aside from fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as drone wars in places like Yemen and Somalia, we have almost 1,000 -- well, it's now less because of Iraq, but it's about 900 foreign military bases around the world. Some of them very small, but some of them in Europe, in Japan are huge, multi-thousands of people that are based abroad for a kind of empire of bases that our country believes somehow is necessary for our security.
REHMBut at the same time, it does seem as though you have a very small number of individuals who have returned deployments to Afghanistan.
DREAZENI'll put it slightly differently. You have a very, very small percentage of this country who are in the military, know anyone in the military, with themselves at any military experience. This is not Vietnam or World War II where everyone knew someone who served. You know, you're talking about 1 percent maybe who are in the military, so if you live in a big city, you may never -- other than in the airport when they're flying back in uniform -- may never meet anybody who serves in the military.
DREAZENOne point the caller made that I would just slightly take issue with -- it is true that military pay has risen very sharply since the war started. It's also true that they get housing allowances, but it is not true that these people awash in money. If you're at the Pentagon, you'll meet a lot of people, even a fairly senior, who can't afford to live anywhere near D.C.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's another perspective, a posting on Facebook, "This man is a murderer, plain and simple. He should be tried under the UCMJ by court marshal and summarily executed." That was what we kept hearing initially that he could be subject to execution. How likely is that in this case, Yochi?
DREAZENThat they will seek the death penalty, 100 percent, that they will get a conviction much lower, that it will happen lower still. The previous two cases that in some ways were very vaguely similar -- Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood killed a lot of American soldiers. They've sought the death penalty. That case is nowhere near finished. It's nowhere near an execution date. There was a solider in Kuwait, right before the invasion, who rolled a grenade and shot up a tent and killed two American officers.
DREAZENHe was convicted, given the death penalty sentence for execution. But it's been pushed back, pushed back, pushed back, pushed back. So when you might actually have a conviction, when you might actually have -- if you have an execution, it could be many, many years off.
DOBBINSI don't think the military has executed anybody in decades. I think there's absolutely zero percent chance that this person will be executed. There's a substantial chance he may not even be found guilty on the grounds of temporary insanity, which will probably be his plea. If he is found guilty, there are obviously some extenuating circumstances, and I would guess he will get a sentence that will infuriate the Afghans.
BENNISI think that's absolutely right. I think that Yochi's point was using examples where U.S. service people where or others were charged with killing U.S. soldiers. There had -- what we're seeing in these wars is exactly the opposite. That those who are killing civilians in Iraq, in Afghanistan, are routinely either the charges are dropped, they're convicted as we saw in the last of the killing team -- the ring leader, the acknowledged ring leader, was finally charged on very minor charges, was convicted of something -- sentenced to two months in jail.
BENNISAnd then that was suspended. He served not a day. So I think that what we're looking at is an incredible disparity of justice, which is not surprising in a military justice system, I suppose, that -- depending on who the victim is determines whether it's taken seriously or not.
DREAZENThat's a very good point that I should have made, and I'm glad Phyllis did. And if you look the biggest single cause of -- the biggest single incident in which Iraqis or Afghans was killed, it was Haditha in Iraq. There, you -- it was slightly different from the sense that they had come under attack, the Marine unit which carried it out. But you still had roughly 24 Iraqi civilians who were killed. And Phyllis is right. The sentences there were very, very minimal.
DREAZENOne other point, whatever they sentence here and, you know, Amb. Dobbins makes the point he may be acquitted, he may get a light sentence, he probably won't be executed, it's going to take years. The war in Afghanistan will be over. We'll be out of the country. This case will still be going.
REHMAnd is it your best judgment, Yochi, that not only this incident but others like it is going to hasten U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan?
DREAZENI do, but with a slight caveat. I think it was coming much faster than been publicly said even before this.
REHMEven before this?
DREAZENEven before this. I mean, the White House, when you talk to people in the administration, you don't hear the support for this policy you did even a year ago. They feel like it's not going well, and the political costs are too high.
REHMYochi Dreazen of National Journal, Amb. James Dobbins of the RAND Corporation and Phyllis Bennis -- she is with the Institute for Policy Studies -- thank you all.
BENNISThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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