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Paul Jay in this third part of our interview with Lawrence Korb, former Assistant Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan, talks about Barack Obama’s foreign policy in Afghanistan. “The surge has taken on an almost mystical quality,” says Korb, adding that, “Afghanistan has been going on autopilot since the United States decided to go to Iraq.” When asked what will be achieved by Obama increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan, Korb says it will provide “security, and will also lessen the [United States] reliance on air power.” He also says an added number of troops in Afghanistan will lessen collateral damage, such as the bombing of villages and weddings.

Story Transcript

Obama and the Middle East Pt.3

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to the next segment of our interview with Larry Korb. Larry’s a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, was an assistant defense secretary during the Reagan administration. Thanks, Larry. So we’re going to talk about Afghanistan. So Barack Obama has talked a lot about moving several thousands, 20,000, 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan. There’s been talks of surge there. He had a plan to try to negotiate a peace agreement between Pakistan and India over Kashmir that would allow Pakistan to move troops back up into the tribal areas. The attacks in Mumbai seem to have probably put an end to that scheme. What do you think of Obama’s plans for Afghanistan?

LAWRENCE KORB, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, I think he’s right that we need to put more emphasis on it and less on Iraq, that you need to send more troops. That’s necessary, but it’s not sufficient. And, again, I think we have to be careful. The surge has taken on an almost mystical quality, and people look at the surge in Iraq and say, “Gee, look at what that achieved.” I mean, it was much more complex than just adding more troops, and I think that’s the key thing. Add more troops, it’ll do two things. One, it’ll help you get security. And it will also lessen the reliance on air power, because what happens is if you use air power ’cause you don’t have enough troops, then you have collateral damage.

JAY: Yeah, bombed weddings and villages.

KORB: And you need to have an election in Afghanistan. You need to lean on the Karzai government and get away from the corruption. You need to coordinate all of the not only government agencies providing aid but the non-governmental organizations. I mean, basically, Afghanistan has been running on autopilot since we decided to go to Iraq. And so you need to get much more engaged. And remember that he has been talking about this, well, over almost two years now. This was before. It’s only been in the last six months that the military and others seem to have woken up to the problem.

JAY: I interviewed Susan Rice during the primary campaign, and we talked a lot about Afghanistan. And she talked about the need to increase the troop levels, the need to get more military cooperation in Pakistan. And I had to actually kind of push her to say, “But what about reconstruction?” Now, I was in Afghanistan. I made a film there in 2002. And people were so open to real reconstruction. There was a window there where the place could have been transformed. And most US money went into military operations. I think the road between Kandahar and Kabul got built, but there wasn’t much else. And now, in fact, most of the foreign troops now are seen as occupiers. The same people who were willing to participate in reconstruction are joining the fight against foreign occupation. And I haven’t heard in Obama’s language a new vision for Afghanistan except a discussion of a military one. But most of the analysts we’re talking about that know the region say there’s no real military solution here.

KORB: Well, and again, I think he’s talked about putting some more troops in will help, for the reasons I mentioned. But you’ve got to be much more. I suspect there’s going to be much more money for reconstruction in Afghanistan. I mean, he’s talked about increasing the foreign aid budget, the foreign assistance budget, by $50 billion. Some of that is obviously going to go to Afghanistan. And he recognizes that there’s not a military solution to the problem. Now, the real problem is the one you pointed out: have we waited too long? And that’s not his fault; that’s, you know, former president Bush’s fault that you waited too long. And can it be fixed? Has opinion turned so much that we’re no longer seen as liberators, we’re seen as occupiers? Some of the military commanders I spoke to said, you know, we missed the golden moment. We had the support of the Afghan people, we had the Taliban on the run, and we didn’t follow up. So I think, basically, two things. One, he’s going to put much more emphasis on it, and in every aspect. And then the other is: recognize that if it doesn’t work, that you have to be like the president I worked for, President Reagan, in Lebanon. At some point you have to recognize what you need to do to do the best for the situation.

JAY: Which means what?

KORB: Well, basically, I mean, it would—.

JAY: It means “get out.”

KORB: But, I mean, it’s not just “get out,” if you will; it’s how do you deal with the whole situation. You’ve got to work on that as a whole region. You can’t solve Afghanistan without dealing with Pakistan.

JAY: Well, the question is: will you deal with Afghanistan from the point of view of how do you enhance the life of the Afghan people to the point that they don’t want to fight [inaudible]? When I was in Afghanistan, most people I talked to despise the Taliban. I even met people that were willing to live with the bombing of Kabul if it meant getting rid of the Taliban. As we said, this is reversed now. But the economy’s now the biggest narco-culture in the world. It’s, I think, 65, 70 percent of the GDP of Afghanistan now is drugs. The corruption is profound from every level of state. Most of the young boys, if they grow up to look for a job, they have to become hired guns—either hired guns with a warlord or you become a hired gun with the Taliban. The solution actually seems to be not so difficult if the objective is the wellbeing of Afghans. If the objective’s geopolitical, we just want to make sure we have a pro-American government here. It probably won’t work in the long run, but that’s seen—. What I’m getting at here is I haven’t heard from Obama an articulation of a real vision for this place that’s any different than “let’s beef up the troops.”

KORB: Again, you’re beefing up the troops for an end, which is to improve the wellbeing of the Afghan people so that if you improve their wellbeing, then they can deal with these other problems that you’re talking about. And the fact of the matter is you’re never going to improve their wellbeing unless you provide security. In one way, in dealing with the security situation, gets you involved with Pakistan, because as long as the Taliban and al-Qaeda can go into Pakistan, you can’t provide the security, ’cause they can keep [inaudible]

JAY: Much the same issues in the tribal areas in Pakistan. If you don’t deal with the poverty of the tribal areas of Pakistan, everyone’s telling us that there’s no military solution in the tribal areas either.

KORB: I agree. And that’s why, I mean, one of the first pieces of legislation is going to be the Biden-Lugar bill—now Vice President Biden and former head of the Foreign Relations Committee Lugar. And the other thing that he’s going to do, he’s appointing a high-level envoy, which I understand is going to be Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, to deal with that whole area. And let me say, this is a man who went into the Balkans when everybody was saying pretty much the same things, and got an arrangement, which is taking time to implement, but the Balkans are moving in the right direction.

JAY: Now, there was a week during the campaign where we heard Barack Obama talk about a Marshall Plan. He used it two or three times within a few days, but I have to say, I think he stopped using it. So two things: Is there any seriousness about a Marshall Plan level of economic development in the region? And, two, is it even possible, given the economic meltdown?

KORB: Well, I think it’s possible for two reasons. One, not only did he mention that, but he also talked about a $50 billion increase in foreign aid, which obviously will help. And while you have, you know, this economic situation, you’re talking about a $1.2 trillion deficit. We’re talking, you know, 30, 40, 50 billion dollars. I mean, if you look at the Marshall Plan and you put it in today’s dollars, it’s about $50 billion. It was 13 or something like that back then. So, in the overall economic situation, I don’t think you’re going to say, “Oh, gee, we can’t do that, because we have these other, you know, economic problems.” The key is him selling it to the American people, who are very suspicious of foreign aid. They think it’s all wasted, and they think people should solve their own problems, and they’re going to say, you know, I mean, even after we went into Iraq, people were saying, “We’re opening fire stations in Baghdad and we’re closing them in New York City.” I mean, so it’s not just what you do; it’s how you do it. And remember, like, President Truman [inaudible] Marshall Plan, that was not supported by the American people—very low support, you know, initially, when he worked with the Republicans. And I think you will find, you know, President Obama able to work with the other party to get this situation under control.

JAY: Well, I think that so much comes back to what’s your real, fundamental objective. And in the next segment of our interview, let’s remind ourselves of Eisenhower’s quote—I know you’re a fan of Eisenhower—about the military-industrial complex and whether Obama can take on some of the assumptions that have been driven by the military-industrial complex that seem to have been doing—it’s been very good for the industrial-military complex the last eight years. I’m not so sure it’s been so good for the world. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Larry Korb.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Lawrence J. Korb is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Senior Adviser to the Center for Defense Information. He served as the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Manpower, Reserve Affairs, Installations and Logistics) under President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1985. In that position, he administered about seventy percent of the Defense budget.