Today marks the eighth anniversary of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. While it was once deemed a war of necessity, many of the people who believed that have changed their tone. One was a central figure in 2001 when war was declared: Richard Haass was an adviser to former Secretary of State Colin Powell and is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the book "War of Necessity, War of Choice."
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JOHN HOCKENBERRY: We’re going to round out our discussion that we’ve been having all hour with Richard Haass, he’s the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, he’s author of the book war of necessity, war of choice and at the time of the invasion of Afghanistan he was an advisor to Collin Powell, who was then Secretary of State. Richard Hass, first of all, good morning. Do you remember as I do what George Bush was saying almost exactly 10 years ago today?
(AUDIO) PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: "At the same time, the oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America and her allies. As we strike military targets, we will also drop food, medicine and supplies to the starving and suffering men and women and children of Afghanistan.”
HOCKENBERRY: And the price was the Afghan war which turns eight years old today. Richard Haass, was the Afghan war at the time that the president spoke, eight years ago, a war of necessity?
RICHARD HAASS: It was a war of necessity John. The United States at the time was exercising its right of self-defense. The Taliban had harbored and facilitated the al-Qaida attack that was September 11th. Also, at the time, people may not remember this, but we were very worried about follow on attacks. There was no way of knowing then that September 11th was essentially a one-off. So we believed we had no choice but to act quickly to oust the Taliban once it was clear they were not going to meet U.S. demands.
HOCKENBERRY: In your view, when did that change this idea of Afghanistan as a war or necessity, to address a real threat to Americans?
RICHARD HAASS: I believe it morphed into what I would describe as a war of choice over the next few years. And it’s been a gradual process rather than, if you will, a switch. And something becomes a war of choice when your interests become less than vital, and when you have a range of policy options or alternatives to the use of military force. And by the time we had a friendly government in Afghanistan that was no longer working with the Taliban. I thought that essentially marked an important transition in that country’s situation. And we obviously have a full range of options. There’s the question of how many combat forces we have there and what they do, but there’s also everything else we might do from training to diplomacy to using dollars to affect the behavior of what Taliban are back inside the country. So the situation has changed fundamentally today as compared to eight years ago.
CELESTE HEADLEE: Richard, when this war initially began, we heard a lot about al-Qaida and the Taliban — the Taliban support for al-Qaida. Now when we talk about the war, the president says we will pursue the Taliban as far as we need to pursue. And there’s not a lot of mention about al-Qaida anymore. I’m wondering, does the Taliban still have those strong connections with al-Qaida? Is the Taliban still a clear and present danger to us here in the United States?
HAASS: That’s a great question because a lot of people Celeste, assume that there’s almost no difference between the Taliban and al-Qaida. And I simply don’t assume that. First of all, al-Qaida are essentially out of Afghanistan. They’ve set up shop in neighboring Pakistan, that’s also where a lot of the Taliban are. There are however Taliban back in Afghanistan. But it’s not clear to me that even if the Taliban were to say, regain a lot of control in Afghanistan, and that’s a big if, I don’t take it as axiomatic that they would re-establish the same relationship with the Taliban that they had eight or 10 years ago. Indeed, one of the options for American foreign policy is to try to drive something of a wedge between at least some of the Taliban and al-Qaida. And I wouldn’t rule that out.
HOCKENBERRY: Let’s take a look at one of the other premises of this war that I think the administration has talked a lot about, and that is denying a safe haven to al-Qaida, and groups like it, in Afghanistan. First of all, the safe haven premise would suggest that we would need to intervene in places like Congo and Somalia and Sudan — other places which could theoretically be a safe haven for groups like al-Qaida and that a doctrine of denying safe havens could be a pretty open-ended bargain.
HAASS: You’ve got it exactly right. There’s nothing special or unique about Afghan real estate when it comes to al-Qaida’s ability to operate. So unless the United States is essentially going to occupy a good chunk of the world, where governments are unable or unwilling to deny al-Qaida real estate. I simply don’t think that’s a serious approach to foreign policy. The other argument you hear is not simply that Afghanistan is central to al-Qaida which again, I don’t believe is true, but that it’s central to Pakistan. But there again I think there’s an open question. Because it’s not obvious to me that the Taliban or al-Qaida need a sanctuary in Afghanistan to threaten Pakistan, when they have essentially established a sanctuary within Pakistan itself. So I think the fundamental arguments that seem to be driving the Afghan debate are somewhat suspect.
HOCKENBERRY: The drawdown in Iraq is going to be coupled with apparently some sort of increase in Afghanistan. Is that to say then that the mission, if, as you say, the al-Qaida issue is relatively moot inside Afghanistan. Is that to say that all this is really about is face-saving — essentially the old Vietnam scenario, where we save face, we pull out, so it doesn’t look like we’re retreating.
HAASS: I think that’s too strong. There are interests in Afghanistan. I do think even if it’s not vital, the United States has a stake in say, not allowing al-Qaida to operate with impunity out of Afghanistan or anywhere else if we can prevent it. It’s possible that people based in Afghanistan could make the situation in Pakistan worse than it already is. We’ve got a human rights set of concerns to think about because if the Taliban were to come back completely in power it would obviously create an awful lot of misery. There is the prestige argument that you just alluded to. So I don’t think you could say that the United States has no interest in Afghanistan. It’s simply that I would suggest they don’t rise to the level of vital national interest. To put it another way, we’ve got to scale the level of our investment in the country in a way that’s commensurate with the level of our interest.
HOCKENBERRY: Alright, let’s do the math then, Richard Haass, president of the council on foreign relations. What is an intervention in Afghanistan that would be commensurate with the actual interest there? Is it the size of the DMZ between North and South Korea, or something smaller, like the troops in Okinawa?
HAASS: I would say it’s larger than both at the moment. But most of what I would have those troops doing is training both the central police and army forces of Afghanistan. But also I would expand dramatically the training of local forces. Afghanistan has a culture and a tradition of decentralization and whether you call the regional authorities or governors or war lords the fact is that Kabul has never really run their country. So one of the things it would look like is actually very similar to what we did with tribesmen in Iraq, is look for ways to train up local authorities, who could help keep the peace and keep groups like the Taliban, or certainly al-Qaida, at bay.
HOCKENBERRY: So finally, how many more years do we have in Afghanistan, do you think, based on the signals you’re getting from the Obama administration?
HAASS: I think we have quite a few years to come, but I don’t think that’s the issue. The real question is more how much it cost us, the casualty rates and so forth. So I believe the American people would support a long term investment in Afghanistan, so long as there was a ceiling on that investment, and it seems to, things seem to be improving. And if that’s the case, the Obama administration has quite a few years. You just mentioned places like the DMZ in Korea. History suggests the United States can stay in places for quite a long time. So long as casualties and costs are limited and things seem to be moving in the right direction.
HOCKENBERRY: Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of "War of Necessity, War of Choice?" and at the time of the invasion in Afghanistan, a former advisor to Collin Powell. Richard Hass, thanks so much for being with us.
HAASS: Thank you John.