Following the news that President Obama has rejected all four of the proposed policies on Afghanistan from his military consultants, Seymour Hersh joi
November 12, 2009

Following the news that President Obama has rejected all four of the proposed policies on Afghanistan from his military consultants, Seymour Hersh joined Rachel to discuss his latest article at The New Yorker, Defending the Arsenal.

MADDOW: Tonight's breaking news, "The Associated Press" reporting that President Obama has rejected all of the options given to him on the way forward in the war in Afghanistan. Any decision he makes about Afghanistan will, of course, have to take into account our friend-nemy across the border in Pakistan. And as Seymour Hersh details in this week's "New Yorker" magazine, U.S. dealings with Pakistan specifically on issues of fighting the Taliban and keeping that country's nuclear arsenal out of the hands of militants, they're going from complicated to full-on Gordian Knot territory.

Joining us now is Seymour Hersh, staff writer for "The New Yorker" magazine.

Mr. Hersh, thanks very much for coming on the show tonight.


MADDOW: Before we talk Pakistan, I do need to ask your reaction to this breaking news from "The Washington Post" and "The A.P." tonight that the U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, now says, "Don't send more troops because of Afghan corruption," and the president, tonight, reportedly rejecting all of the options that have presented to him for sending more troops.

HERSH: Look. It could be huge. Of course, it's very early, but it could be huge, simply that the president is finally saying, "I'm taking control."

The one thing that mystified a lot of people, a lot of my friends on the inside was this decision to let General McChrystal write a report. We always compare Mr. Obama that to President Lincoln. But Lincoln did not let George McClellan write a report on how to win a war against the South.

There's no general in history that will write come back, given that assignment and say we can't win. This is basically a war at best that's going to be a stalemate-a 10-year stalemate, you know, x thousands and x the money, et cetera.

And so, Obama is just putting his foot down, and that's great. He's saying-he's making a political gamble in a sense. I-it's a little too early to say, but he's-he's grabbing it. He's grabbing it, and he hasn't been grabbing it until now.

MADDOW: On the issue of Karl Eikenberry's cables back to Washington from the embassy in Kabul. We heard the Anne Gearan, "The A.P." reporter, tonight, say that that decision seemed to her to be out of the blue, totally unexpected.

What do you know about Karl Eikenberry and how surprised are you by that decision?

HERSH: Oh, this is trouble in River City. This is big news, because Eikenberry-I'll tell you, the top of the Army, General George Casey, the chief of staff, they've been very unhappy with the McChrystal appointment and the way things have been going. And part of it has to do with the fact that a lot of people in the army see a West Point cabal. There's always this notion of a West Point mafia.

Eikenberry was a couple of years ahead, '73, class of '73. McChrystal, his deputy, Rodriguez, Petraeus, Odierno-they're all either '74 or '75, they've all been together, and causing a lot of trauma inside the Army, which very resentful. The man that was kicked out, General McKiernan, was a William & Mary, not a West Pointer. This is one of the sub-rows of stories as I've been talking to people for the last eight, nine months about, obviously, not only Pakistan but Afghanistan.

This is-for Eikenberry to split, I did know that this summer, inside the embassy and inside the committee, there were a lot of-there was a lot of concerns about the stability, the actual, literally, the mental stability of Karzai. And I think Eikenberry probably knows more than most people.

This also might explain why Dick Hobert(ph), the special adviser and consultant, has had so much trouble with him. There is a lot of deep-seated problems with Karzai. And Eikenberry is simply, I think, reflecting a huge split because he's now splitting from the McChrystal - the counterinsurgency wing that's been dominated by Petraeus, if my guess on this, my heuristic guess on this, is right.

MADDOW: We've got looming over both the worry about increasing the size of America's military footprint in Afghanistan and also the worry about U.S. troops pulling out of Afghanistan, the stability of Pakistan.

And you write in "The New Yorker" this week that American and Pakistani officials have an understanding that in the event of crisis, Americans would be allowed to provide some added security for Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

Pakistani officials denying that, of course, on the record. How much access do you think the U.S. would have to Pakistan's nukes in a crisis?

HERSH: Well, we've had a lot more than we've talked about. It's been an ongoing process. You noticed that the Pentagon isn't saying much because Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chief, who I find to be a very straight arrow, has been on the record publicly for months, seen twice in May, talked openly about how much we're doing to help the Pakistan with nuclear security. It's a huge issue for us.

The problem - the reason you write a story like this - theoretically, why would you want to write a story about the fact that we're getting some access in a very sensitive area?

We're worried about terrorists or jihadists or, you know, Taliban

I'm not sure who does the what there - getting access to some warhead or a loose nuke, if you will. That's always been the Islamic bomber nightmare.

But the truth is, the reason you do this story is because when you get deeper and when you go to Pakistan and you start talking to people involved, you find out as far as they are concerned, "Oh, you Americans. We just have to make you happy. We tell you what you want and tell you what we think you want to know."

They take these agreements far less seriously than we do. And the fact of the matter is that we really don't know what we need to know. It's great that we get more access and we have gotten more access. But that doesn't mean in any way we can feel secure about what's going on there.

It's their weapons systems. They say they're in control. We dream and talk about taking them out but that's not going to be possible. There's 80 or 100 of them.

And so we're just pretending. We're telling each other, well, we've got more access. I think it's a serious issue that's very much going to stay unresolved for a long time.

MADDOW: And in your interview with former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, he says that Pakistan has constructed a huge tunnel system to make it impossible for anyone, including us, to monitor the transportation and storage of all of Pakistan's nukes.

Are they doing that, specifically to keep that information from us because they think we'll tell India about their arsenal?

HERSH: Well, that's always the rational fear of - the Pakistanis feel we love India more than we love them. And the INDIANS, of course - I was also in Delhi on this story - they feel the same thing. Why do we love Pakistan more than they?

And so you always have that problem. In fairness of Musharraf, I brought that issue up of tunnels, because naturally, as a former president, he was reluctant. Musharraf had been very helpful after 9/11 about the nuclear arms.

This is when Secretary Powell was in the government, Secretary of State, and his department Rich Armitage. There was a great deal of information passed in that was reassuring up to a point.

We've always had our nose into it, clearly, not as much as the Indians. But I do bring up the tunnels for two reasons. Somebody - actually, a nuclear physicist, a Pakistani, said to me, "One reason we have these tunnels is obviously for security, to make sure they can't be hit by an Indian bomb."

But he also said that keeps Big Uncle - that's us - with great sarcasm. Keeps Big Uncle, our satellites, from getting a look-see at what we're doing. We don't like Big Uncle watching over us all the time.

So one of the reasons the tunnels were built and constructed, we move - the Pakistanis move their warheads around and their triggers around and their delivery systems around, some of them underground, is to keep it from us, of course.

MADDOW: Documenting the allusion of our influence in the most frightening, possible terms. Seymour Hersh, staff writer for "The New Yorker" magazine. His article, "Defending the Arsenal," in this week's "New Yorker." It's a page-turner and a must-read. Mr. Hersh, it's great to have you on the show. Thank you for your time tonight.

HERSH: Thank you.

Can you help us out?

For 18 years we have been exposing Washington lies and untangling media deceit, but now Facebook is drowning us in an ocean of right wing lies. Please give a one-time or recurring donation, or buy a year's subscription for an ad-free experience. Thank you.


We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.