Lou Dobbs Tonight: Jeremy Scahill vs Max Boot on Afghanistan
From Lou Dobbs Tonight, the Face Off Segment with The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill, the Council on Foreign Relations’ neoconservative Max Boot and the World Policy Institute’s Patrica DeGennaro. The topic was our troop levels in Afghanistan. Scahill did a great job when he was allowed to talk, which Dobbs made sure to keep to a minimum.
DOBBS: President Obama today congratulated Afghanistan's President Karzai on his election victory. The president, President Obama, is still weighing his choices for forces in Afghanistan. The strategy for those forces. That is the subject of our face-off debate.
Joining me now is Jeremy Scahill. He's journalist and fellow at the Nation Institute. Good to have you with us. Patricia Degennaro, senior fellow at the World Policy Institute. Good to have you with us. Max Boot, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Thank you for being with us. Good to see you again.
Let's turn to, first, what happened here? Last week, there was going to be a delay as we had a -- all of that nasty fraud in the election. There had to be a runoff on the 7th of November. Suddenly, now, in the 2nd of November, the president sort of blesses Karzai and says we're done just because his opponent withdrew.
MAX BOOT: I think Abdullah Abdullah realized he would lose the runoff election, just as he had lost the initial election. And the reality is, there was fraud. There was a lot of fraud. Hamid Karzai's still the most popular politician in Afghanistan. He still has a lot of legitimacy, especially amongst the Pashtuns where the insurgency is based. And I think we've been focusing too much on the election because the people I spoke to in Afghanistan when I was just there were more concerned about what their government is delivering for them, rather than how it was selected. I think there's still a good opportunity to work with Hamid Karzai, work with the governors, to increase the kind of governing capacity that Afghanistan has to defeat the Taliban --
DOBBS: You're not saying corruption be damned, give the people what they want and they'll be fine?
BOOT: No, corruption is a huge problem, but it's not just corruption in the polling place, it's corruption in day to day governments and we have to work on that and the best way to work on that as I discovered myself in districts in central and southern Afghanistan is to send more American troops, to send more civilian workers, to send more diplomats, so they can work -- be mentoring very closely with Afghan officials and improving and raising their level of governance.
DOBBS: Today the president said at least this is resolved in response to both my point, and that of Max, at least it was determined in accordance with Afghan law which is very important. You don't feel that was the right tone.
JEREMY SCAHILL: I think it was unfortunate that President Obama used the term re-elected to describe Hamid Karzai. The fact of the matter is the Karzai government is filled with drug warlords, war criminals, thugs that have murdered people in mosques in Afghanistan. We're spending $5.5 billion a month. U.S. troop casualties and deaths are going up. Afghan civilians are being killed at record numbers. The whole country is a complete mess right now. The fact of the matter is the United States occupation is the single greatest recruitment tool for the insurgency in Afghanistan including the Taliban.
DOBBS: Trisha, you worked with President Karzai.
PATRICIA DEGENNARO: Yes.
DOBBS: You say the election puts any U.S. policy that's taken, any direction taken by this president, in a very difficult position. What do you mean?
DEGENNARO: I think it's taken away the legitimacy of the government. The Afghans, my colleagues there, and within the country that I've worked with through U.S. aid and through UNDP and other areas, the Asia Foundation, have told me basically that they thought this would be the outcome. So they were just going to sit back because the Americans had already decided. That in itself gives it illegitimacy. If the Afghans are not deciding who their leaders are, who their government is, then what faith do they have in the process at all? And to couple that, to have us -- or have the international community, including the U.N., say that fraud really doesn't matter, nor did the corruption, also puts us in a very precarious position, saying we're also illegitimate.
DOBBS: There's a perception issue I think everyone's aware of in terms of other nation's views about our policy there, and NATO's, of course. But the real issue here is how much -- how many more lives are lost there, how much more money can be spent there, because now after more than eight years there the poppy crop is every bit as vigorous and substantial as it ever was. That's hard for Americans to tolerate and certainly for this government to explain. More than 900 of our troops have been killed there now.
BOOT: Well, Lou, I mean, you could talk about the fact --
DOBBS: Well, I'm going to, but just if you will, and then I want to hear your view. Give than backdrop what is the proper course for the president? He says in the next few weeks he's going to make a decision on strategy. What should his decision be?
BOOT: I think his decision should be to back General McChrystal who is a terrific general who has a great team with him, and has done a very careful study of the situation, concluded that he needs about 40,000 more troops to turn the situation around. Now Lou, you were talking about all the problems that still exist in Afghanistan. Of course, they're very real. I think it's inaccurate to say we've been fighting the war for eight years because it's been chronically under- resourced for eight years --
DOBBS: But Max, I --
BOOT: -- in a lot of areas where I've visited --
DOBBS: I take your point, Max. Here's my point, if I may. We have been in Afghanistan for eight years. The most powerful --
BOOT: In a very limited way. In a very limited way.
DOBBS: Well, to the point that more than 900 of our troops have died.
BOOT: That's true.
DOBBS: More than 4500 of our troops wounded.
BOOT: We've never made the kind of commitment we made in Iraq.
DOBBS: But what I would argue, that a general staff who spend the lives of 4,500 casualties, plus more than 900 dead, that's a striking --
BOOT: Well, the problem --
DOBBS: -- the measure of --
BOOT: The problem is, Lou, people who don't want to send more troops are basically in favor of the strategy you're talk about, which is muddling through --
DOBBS: I'm not talk about a strategy --
BOOT: No, the people who oppose sending more troops basically say they want to keep our commitment roughly where it is, which puts Americans lives into danger without giving them a chance to win. If you send more troops -- then you give them a chance to win.
SCAHILL: First of all, let's remember, there are 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan right now and 74,000 mercenaries and other private contractors. The United States is the second biggest force in Afghanistan. We've hired and outsourced this war to essentially a corporate army.
DOBBS: Let's give those numbers one more time.
SCAHILL: 68,000 troops, U.S. troops in Afghanistan right now. 74,000 individuals employed by for-profit corporations making a killing off this war.
DOBBS: What should be the president's decision?
SCAHILL: I think the United States --
SCAHILL: I think the United States is creating a national security problem for itself by keeping the occupation going in Afghanistan. I think the United States should pull all of its military forces out of Iraq and cancel the plans -- excuse me, and Afghanistan, and cancel its plans to build a colonial fortress in Islamabad Pakistan which the Obama administration has asked for almost $1 billion to build.
BOOT: You know, we tried pulling out of Afghanistan once before. It didn't work out so well on 9/11.
SCAHILL: When did the United States pull out of --
BOOT: We made a commitment to overthrowing the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, then we wrote off Afghanistan and said what happened there didn't matter. I think in 2001 we discovered it does matter.
SCAHILL: You think drug dealers and war criminals being on the payroll in Afghanistan --
BOOT: What I feel comfortable with -- what I feel comfortable with is making a larger commitment to win the war and to prevent the Taliban from taking --
SCAHILL: How can we win the war? We're losing our own security by keeping --
BOOT: What I'm in favor of --
DEGENNARO: Gentlemen -- actually, I think --
DOBBS: -- to talk --
DEGENNARO: I think the bottom line here is we continue to focus on a war-type strategy. And with all due respect to General McChrystal, he did his job very well, and that is what he was asked to do and he should be highly, highly respected for that. But the U.S. and -- continues to focus on the war-type strategy, without looking at what the civilian capacity should be. You were speaking about 78,000 people. With all due respect, I don't think at all the resources are unlimited there. I think the management lacks, the strategy lacks --
DOBBS: So what should we do? Jeremy says withdraw. Max says meet McChrystal's number.
DEGENNARO: We have the perfect opportunity to hold a loya jirga in the area and use our power for something good and something for the Afghan people and something that's legitimate.
DOBBS: More troops?
DEGENNARO: No, not more troops. We're almost up to the number of troops --
DOBBS: Fewer troops --
DEGENNARO: -- that the soviets had, 155,000 at that time, and we should start to scale down and build up our civilian capacity efficiently.
DOBBS: Patricia, thank you very much. Max, thank you very much. Jeremy, thank you.
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