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Issues '08: The Wars
A US soldier of Duke Task Force patrols outside his base in Asad Abad at a Forward Operating Base near Pakistani border in Kunar province eastern Afghanistan, Monday, Oct 27, 2008.(AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

A U.S. soldier patrols outside a Forward Operating Base near the Pakistani border in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan, on Monday, Oct. 27, 2008. (AP)

War — in Iraq and Afghanistan — was supposed to be the defining issue of the 2008 campaign. Instead, Americans are riveted by Wall Street’s meltdown and global financial collapse. The economy ate the wars.

But the wars go on. Just today, news of fierce Iraqi turf battles. The White House maybe ready to talk with the Taliban. Spillover American strikes into Syria and Pakistan. High costs. No resolution.

John McCain and Barack Obama talk different games on the wars. Either would be seriously challenged by them.

This hour, On Point: With one week to Election Day, a basic, brutal issue: the wars.

Guests:

From Washington, we’re joined by Tom Bowman, Pentagon reporter for National Public Radio. He recently reported on the U.S. search for a new strategy in Afghanistan.

Joining us in our studio is Joseph Nye, professor of international relations at Harvard University. He served as Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Clinton. He is the author of several books, including “Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics” (2004) and, most recently, “The Powers to Lead.”

And from McClean, Virginia, we’re joined by Robert Kagan, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, columnist for The Washington Post, and contributor to The Weekly Standard. He is an informal adviser to John McCain, and he served in the State Department under President Reagan. His new book is “The Return of History and the End of Dreams.”

More links:

Barack Obama’s campaign website spells out his positions on Iraq and defense; John McCain’s website explains his positions on Iraq and national security.

For differing views on the candidates’ foreign policy positions, see David Sanger’s recent New York Times article “Rivals Split on U.S. Power, But Ideas Defy Labels,” Nicholas Lemann’s New Yorker feature “World’s Apart,” and Robert Kaiser’s Washington Post article, “Iraq Aside, Nominees Have Like Views on Use of Force.”

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  • Scott

    Love the show, Tom, but I’m perpetually frustrated by the same-old reliance on one guest who supports the GOP status-quo and one guest who supports the Democrat status quo.

    Try mixing in someone from antiwar.com, or the Future of Freedom Foundation.

    America could use the voices of people who don’t just cheerlead for the Surge, or lament the resurgant Taliban, but indeed can argue cogently that the USA shouldn’t have military intervention into every freaking corner of the world as its sole foreign/energy policy.

    THAT would stimulate a true debate.

    Thanks!

  • Michael

    Iraq is over. The SOFA has clauses in it that has us out of the cities and towns by next summer and completely out of there by the end of 2011. And the Bush Administration has agreed to those terms.

    At best, we’ll probably see an extension of the UN mandate until the next administration takes up the issue, and I don’t see the Iraqis budging much on the terms of withdrawal or jurisdiction.

    Someone needs to articulate, exactly, how our extended presence there benefits the United States. Considering the circumstances that got us there, it has never been in our interest.

    The Iraqis don’t seem to want us there anymore. And when one considers the SOFA, McCain’s idea of “victory” is totally out of touch when one takes into account the terms of the SOFA. Additionally, he sounds like someone who is stuck at the tactical level in his thinking. I have never heard him speak coherently from a strategic angle. I think he’d run our military into the ground just to get a win.

  • http://tombstone001.blogspot.com MOHAMMED N. RAZAVI

    As I wrote many years ago, and from someone who has a Kurdish grandmother and has lived for a time in the Pakistani NWFP, here is the bottom line: we can not bring a fair and working democracy in Iraq, wishful thinking notwithstanding, and we can not suppress the insurgency in Afghanistan. Being broke as we are, we need to get out while we can. Poverty and illiteracy and corruption are the two main reasons for the problems and way beyond our control.

    MOHAMMED N. RAZAVI, DALEVILLE, AL 36322

  • jeff

    Read the history: you can not win in Afghanistan, no one from Alexander the Great to the Russians have been able to do it.

    The same is true for Iraq. Historically it has a nightmare for any country who tried. The Turks occupied the territory (Iraq became a country after WWI) but they were brutal.

  • Richard Simone

    More often than not Tom I find your programs useful. However, in the present case, and many others of late, you rely way too much on people whose views are pretty much the same old stuff prepackaged for deliver to the public is the same old mental boxes.

    You talk about wars and operations and tactics but you never question the assumptions that underlie our actions in the world. Why don’t you get an arms dealer on your show who could talk about America,s vested interest in conflict?(We are the world’s largest arms dealer.), Why don’t you get some people on who can help Americans understand what the Pentagon and CIA do with all the money they get? (Our military/intel budget is bigger than the rest of the world’s combined.)

    And how about something on Oil and empire? And ,oh yea, what have we done lately to help resolve the Palestine question? Before we go around “righting” the world by our lights don’t you think it’s important that the voting public understand more fully
    the “unexamined” assumptions that power those lights.

    Finally, I suggest that when you do get around to looking at us more objectively that you get on more foreign guests, especially English and French ones. Having done the empire thing, they are in a much better position to see us as we are in contrast to us taking a wishful look at ourselves.

  • Eric

    It seems curious that those (Kristol, Kagan, et. al.) who have been so clearly wrong on the war and many other issues continue to be given air time and credence on NPR, The NY Times, and other mainstream news outlets.

  • Marjorie Nye

    My observation of John McCain is that, because of his military heritage, he exhibits the same predilection for making war as the surgeon who’s axiom is “to cut is to heal.” He jokes about bombing Iran and has derided Obama’s suggestion of talking to our perceived enemies.

  • Tom Huckin

    In your introduction of Robert Kagan you make no mention of the fact that he is a neocon’s neocon and the co-founder of the Project for a New American Century, the outfit behind the Bush/Cheney administration’s disastrous foreign policy. Such an omission is irresponsible.

  • Maaza

    I think one should not emphasize only the negative just because the assumption of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein were flawed.

    On the positive side of the invasion of Iraq, I did have a co-worker (in-fact two) from a Kurdish background (he is now back in Iraq) who was delighted to have freedom at last because the US took action to remove Saddam Hussein. It was exciting to hear how Tom Ashbrook himself reported on the invasion interviewing a Pash-Murga and how exhilirating it was to hear all those stories of freedom from oppression and ethnic cleansing.

    I wish US would stand for truth and righteousness and never turn back from stopping genocide and depose dictatorial tyrants.

    I know that the US is not God’s kingdom, and neither the President of the United States the Messiah King who is to come for those who are waiting for him. The US Government is also not the “Police of the World”, but it still exerts an unmatched influence in the world politics, and my prayer is may it be used wisely and justly.

    “Righteousness exalts a Nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” says the Proverbs of the wisest man that ever lived. I pray that Americans would not think that they have gone beyond righteousness and exalt sin and self indulgence in the guise of freedom.

    May the knowledge of God cover the world as the waters cover the sea. May truth and righteousness shine in every home of this wonderful country.

    Maaza

  • Joe B.

    John McCain was one of the most vocal supporters of the invasion of Iraq. His judgement was terrible and now more than 4,100 Americans have died in Iraq and hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on the war. And the end result is that Al-Qaeda is just as strong and dangerous as ever.

  • http://www.ingofast.com Ingo Fast

    What’s interesting is that, on several occasions, proposals that Senator Obama has made during the campaign – a timetable for withdrawals of troops from Iraq, and attacking Taliban or Al Qaeda strongholds within Pakistan, for instance – have been followed by real action: Maliki’s own suggestion of a phased US withdrawal, and several US pointed incursions and attacks of terrorist camps in Pakistan so far. To which extent is “real-world” (Iraqi government and Bush administration) contradiction of his own proposals undermining Senator McCain’s judgment and wisdom?

  • PT

    Year after year, we listen to this incredible moron Robert Kagan, a total fool so stupid that he has learned NOTHING in 11 years. Since 1997, he and his brother Fat Fred and their father (a sign that insanity is heritable) signed various PNAC letters and statements calling for the invasion of Iraq, the existence of WMD and various other deranged lies. Yet, no one seems to remember how often this clueless idiot Robert Kagan has been wrong.

    Here’a a hint: When Robert Kagan opens his mouth, he is getting ready to either lie or say something terminally clueless. When he talks, it is always a lie or a clueless statement of incompetence.

    Why, why, why does this guy continue to get these national podia? What is the magic dust that allows him, year after year, access to national news programs to make his inane bleatings? Does no one remember anything this bozo says?

    Why do you continue to invite him? Why not invite someone who is occasionally right?

  • Robbins

    “Read the history: you can not win in Afghanistan, no one from Alexander the Great to the Russians have been able to do it. jeff

    Tiresome old argument and wrong.

    Everyone and his mother conquered Afghanistan.

    The Arabs did it easily. How do you think the Afghans became Muslims?

    Before them the Indians conquered it.

    Conquering and keeping it are two different things. There is nothing there worth keeping.

    The British were there for many decades.

    “The same is true for Iraq. Historically it has a nightmare for any country who tried. The Turks occupied the territory (Iraq became a country after WWI) but they were brutal. jeff

    More nonsense. The Persians conquered it, then the Arabs, the Turks, and the list goes on.

    Your argument is wishful thinking, Jeff.

  • jeff

    They all ruled with an iron fist. We can’t do that.
    More nonsense. The Persians conquered it, then the Arabs, the Turks, and the list goes on. History is full of nations conquered by other nations. My point is that we as westerners are doomed to fail.

    My argument is not wishful thinking. The British were glad to get out of Iraq it was a mess then and it’s going to be one for years to come. They also had no control of the country side. They also ruled with brute force.

    Robbins you use personal attacks on my statements because your arguments like that of the right is wrong. History has proven this time and time again. What do call what has happened in the last 8 years? How do you explain this mess?

    The Taliban and Al-Qaeda are stronger than ever, Pakistan is falling apart. Iran is now an emerging super power in the Middle East.

    Afghanistan is falling apart and we don’t stand a chance there, it’s a quagmire. Do you know anyone there?
    Well I do, and they had been working with trying to rebuild the country. They failed, they left the country because nothing can be done.

    The rights days are now numbered, you people screwed up, your ideology is faulty and nasty and hateful, in short dare I say un-American.

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