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The Afghan-American Future

With Afghan President Hamid Karzai in D.C., a U.S. defense analyst says America’s strategy is doomed to fail. We hear the debate.

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hold opening discussions to repair relations in Washington, May 11, 2010. (AP)

Afghan President Hamid Karzai was in the Oval Office this morning on his “make nice” tour of Washington. 

Feathers have been ruffled, and much more, with U.S. complaints of corruption, ineptitude, and a stolen election. 

The apparent mission this week: to try to get back on the same page, strategically, as U.S. forces prepare for a big offensive against the Taliban in Kandahar. 

My guest today has studied Afghanistan for decades. And he says we’re living in la-la land — that the Afghanistan strategy isn’t working, and won’t. 

This Hour, On Point: myth and reality in year nine of the Afghan war.


Karen DeYoung, senior diplomatic reporter for The Washington Post. Read her article today on the conflict between American counterinsurgency strategy and Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s views.

Thomas H. Johnson, director of the Program for Culture & Conflict Studies at the Naval Postgraduate School. For two decades, he has conducted research and written on Afghanistan and South Asia.

Stephen Biddle, senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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  • Ellen Dibble

    Two quotes from All Things Considered yesterday, Senator John Kerry talking with Robert Siegel:
    “Senator Kerry: I don’t believe that a central government run from Kabul is in the Afghan tradition, nor do I accept the notion that people aren’t up to doing what they’ve done for hundreds of years without us. I’m convinced that if one empowers people locally to be able to resist against this intimidation campaign and terror campaign, and if they have the prospect of jobs and better life and some security, they’ll take care of themselves.
    “But I think the long-term tradition of Afghanistan is not to have some kind of central government with a Kabul-recognized seat of power. And I don’t see that as the solution for Afghanistan at all.”

    (So Kerry isn’t looking to a centralized Afghan government evolving? Does Karzai know this?)

    Quote on Afghan/Iran friendship:
    Robert Siegel: … “inviting Iran’s president, Ahmadinejad, to Kabul, things that have given rise to real doubts about his dependability.

    “Sen. KERRY: Well, you know, first of all, I disagree. Inviting Ahmadinejad to Afghanistan, he’s your near neightbor your immediate neighbor with an impact on what happens in Afghanistan. And the fact is that we had a partnership with Iran when we went into Afghanistan in the beginning.

    “You know, the Iranians were very helpful to us in helping to remove the Taliban and the Taliban are not friends of the Iranians. So the Iranians actually have an interest with respect to the outcome there. And I think it makes sense for him to talk to his neighbor. It’d make a lot of sense for us, frankly, to be able to talk to the Iranians more directly.”

    So it seems to me, Ellen, that Ahmadinejad (on Charlie Rose) made quite an issue of American forces threatening Iran both from the west (Iraq) and the east (Afghanistan), and I had thought Saddam Hussein was MUCH more of a threat. So here I present Senator Kerry’s take on that. I approve.

  • Ann

    Some individuals in Afghanistan are GETTING RICH thanks to American spending while young people living in South Providence, RI, are suffering DRIVE-BY SHOOTINGS due to the UNMOVING POVERTY in so much of the United States??!!!

  • kadessh, ibraahiym

    The problem of governing a country other than our own has never been adequately solved and cannot be solved diplomatically or militarily. Unfortuate as it may seem, Afganistan will likely be Obama’s Vietnam and the downfall of his presidency.

  • Khalil

    I agree with your guest that we are wasting our time, money and precious lives for nation building elsewhere when we are economically so weak. Our priority need to take care of our local problems and then worry about other countries.

  • Jayanta Choudhury

    The main question is where do the insurgents get their gun and where do they get the money to buy those guns. These are poor rural people who cultivate poppy instead of food grains out of poverty. How could they get access to AK47s and rocket launchers and IEDs?

  • BHA

    The ‘surge’ worked in Iraq because:
    1) al Sadr, the major single ‘insurgent’ leader with a huge number of followers, declared a cease fire.
    2) The local leaders decided al qaeda was not a good thing for them and fought against them

  • Kelsey Stavseth

    If we took the money we spend on the military and turn it into aid for the Afghans it would certianly make a greater difference. Think of how many schools we could build, how many people we could feed, how many wounds we could treat. We need to change the minds and hearts of the people. Compassoin and understanding is the only way to win the war on terror, not strength of force.

  • Richard

    Could your guest, Thomas Johnson, please comment on the role of opium in the present US strategy, and on opium’s place in the future economy of Afghanistan. Thank you.

  • Ellen Dibble

    It seems to me bin Laden prior to 9/11 was gathering support for attacking the USA based on America’s interventions in Israel.
    Now he has the added advantage of gathering support for attacking the USA based on America’s interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Certain Muslims think the USA is meddling and oppositional. We have defined ourselves as The Enemy.
    But the Pakistani situation Biddle explains — we need to prevent Afghanistan becoming a base for destabilizing Pakistan — I definitely see that. But we have to find a better way — of stabilizing Pakistan. Something less round-about.
    The guns, I believe, of the Taliban, are from the United States, back when we were trying to develop a force to counter the Soviet Union. We armed this force.

  • Jayanta Choudhury

    @Ellen Dibble, correct me, are making technological progress or what? If the guns of 80s in the hands of poorly trained insurgents can work against US Army equipped with guns developed in 2010 cannot sustain then it puts a question mark on the prospect of technology. Is it event possible to fire those guns that were supplied to the Afghans in 80s?

  • Paul Meade

    “Who ignores history is doomed to repeat it”

    Your guests are dancing all around this and not recognizing this major fact. How many nations and empires have been involved in this region and failed?

    Time to wake up!

  • Janet

    JFK supported a coup in South Vietnam against Diem due to his inability to “turn around” the war and uncontrolled corruption. The obama doctrine is failing in Afghanistan due to the exact same reasons that JFK failed. “Our guy” in Afghanistan is a corrupt and inept failure. JFK’s “guy” in South Vietnam as a corrupt and inept failure. It’s time to declare victory and leave.

  • nj

    Another tidbit:

    “US troops executing prisoners in Afghanistan, journalist says

    The journalist who helped break the story that detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were being tortured by their US jailers told an audience at a journalism conference last month that American soldiers are now executing prisoners in Afghanistan.

    New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh also revealed that the Bush Administration had developed advanced plans for a military strike on Iran.

    At the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Geneva, Hersh criticized President Barack Obama, and alleged that US forces are engaged in “battlefield executions.”

    “I’ll tell you right now, one of the great tragedies of my country is that Mr. Obama is looking the other way, because equally horrible things are happening to prisoners, to those we capture in Afghanistan,” Hersh said. “They’re being executed on the battlefield. It’s unbelievable stuff going on there that doesn’t necessarily get reported. Things don’t change.:


    U.S. interventionism continues apace under Obomber. The so-called “progressives” who eviscerated Bush over Iraq now remain mostly silent while Obomber wastes lives and billion$ chasing a few hundred presumed terrorists around the AfPak countryside.

    Drone attacks kill civilians, battlefield executions, many decades of interventions, overthrowing governments, corporate exploitation…

    Just remember, they hate us for our freedoms.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Jayanta, I’m sure you have a point. But bear in mind the “home advantage.” The best technology doesn’t always win.
    However, two huge streams of hard-to-track international trade can take place in mountainous regions like Afghanistan: illegal drugs, and weaponry. I’m sure paramilitary groups around the globe try to make profit and “friends” (connections) by selling/sending weapons to people looking for them. If someone told me, Jayanta, that they knew where that weaponry came from, I would be very suspicious. North Korea needs money desperately. Weaponry seems to be their only product. But do I blame them? Actually, I see countries on all sides of Afghanistan, countries much closer to them than North Korea, with more ties to pan-Islamic ideology than to the United States. If I were trying to feed my family, and I had extra weapons, I’d sell them.
    Do you want to say who arms the Taliban? Do you know?

  • Tm MArtin


    Spending an hour trying to decide what is the best way to make a country look and act like us is another case of the Ugly American.
    You needed to probe for REAL policy goals from these ‘expert’ guests.
    Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline??
    Amount of cash generated from Opium which didn’t exist under Taliban – remember Ollie North??
    Establishing and maintaining a presence and building bases and launch points to position against Russia and China?
    India’s strategic goals and its relationship to Pakistan.
    Israel’s interest in US fronting lives and money for it’s protection?
    The game being played and lies supporting it have nothing to do with Al-Qaeda’s limited presence or protecting Afghan people.
    Reminds me a a bumper sticker circualted during Bush years:
    Nice move George, we’re making enemies faster than we can kill them!
    We’re wasting young lives and money for goals that we’re apparently too ignorant to understand and you get to assist in the spin game.
    You and your producers are either complicit or dupes!

  • Gary

    A religious zealot incites followers to fly planes into buildings in New York.

    -Seek out Bin laden.
    -Threaten Iraq.
    -Threaten Iran.
    -Kill all Taliban.
    -Threaten Iraq.
    -Bomb Afghanistan.
    -Occupation of Afghanistan.
    -Bomb Iraq.
    -Seek out Saddam.
    -Threaten Iran.
    -Undeclared war on Iraq.
    -Kill all Palace guard and Iraqi Army.
    -Seize Iraqi oil fields and restore oil production.
    -Threaten Iran and Syria.
    -Occupation of Iraq.
    -Undeclared war on Afghanistan.
    -Have a surge.
    -Seize opium fields and restore opium production.
    -Begin nation building in Iraq.
    -Threaten Iran.
    -Set up puppet government in Iraq.
    -Have a surge.
    -Set up puppet government in Afghanistan.
    -Threaten Iran and Yemen.
    -Begin Nation building in Afghanistan.

    Why would the people of these nations be upset with the way we search for Bin Laden for inciting a group of Saudi terrorists? Could the methodology of our search for Saudi terrorists be in error in some way?

  • David

    The obama foreign policy seems to be failing. Last year they tried the “tough love” approach with Karzai and this year he is our best buddy. It’s difficult to tell our young men to die in a foreign land when they know it’s all going to be for not in the end.

  • Jayanta Choudhury

    @Ellen Dibble,
    Didn’t Hillary Clinton just a day ago mentioned the name of the country connected to the TimeSquare bombing plot? Who supplies arms to that country? Why blame the paramilitary groups and poor North Korea alone? Who would be willing to sell a product at a dirt cheap price? Obvious answer is the one who produces it most probably over produced it and has exhausted the legitimate buyers. Is it plausible that North Korea manufactures so much arms that it sells them to the Afghans. Most probably North Korean leader like Saddam wants to pose a fake threat to keep the hold on to the power. North Korea had some minor arms deal with the neighbor of Afghanistan but not so much as it has with China and USA. Would it really be possible to stop the weapons if they were shipped from US factories causing economic damages to US? Why even sell any weapons to any country other than use it for US defense?

  • Jayanta Choudhury

    @Tim Martin, You mentioned about India’s strategic goal but you did not mention about Pakistan’s strategic goal? Statistically India did not occupy any country since its independence in 1947. In 1971 it went to war with Pakistan and severed East Pakistan which is now Bangladesh but did not occupy it. On the other hand Pakistan occupied Afghanistan through their Taliban proxies.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I’d like to know the exact economics of the trans-Asian pipelines under consideration. It made so much sense as an hypothesis back about 2002 that I expected we would know exactly what companies, what senators and committees, what congressional laws, what other countries are competing for rights, all that. We know nothing.
    As to bases in the vicinity of Russia and China, that too makes a lot more sense as an hypothesis than al Kaida, and “a hundred or so” followers. When the government in — is it Tajikistan?, fell, the country where we have a base that we rent at huge cost — it seemed to me the entire Afghan strategy or goal was going to have to shift.
    As to Taliban weapons, I was not as serious as you think about North Korea. But I am old enough to remember that the United States used to supply weaponry to any country that helped oppose the USSR. The domino theory. Vietnam. Afghanistan. The Soviet Union was trying to “creep” their Iron Curtain south, and this country did arm the mullahs (I think that’s the term), and thus seeded the very groups that were left without American support when the Soviet Union collapsed. I believe it destabilized Pakistan as well, with armed fighters without a sponsor, without a unifying role (America?), and they felt abandoned, and “turned.” And Afghanistan could “turn” as a whole, and Pakistan has been abandoned by the USA too. We can’t exactly declare victory and leave a lot of problems. There was “blow-back.” People think we are stronger than we actually are.
    Someone posted, “remember, they hate us for our freedoms.”
    Geez, that’s a new one. I’d like to meet one like that. Let them try on my backpack of obligations.

  • Adrian

    The Taliban’s message is not resonating with the Afghan or Pakistani people. The most recent polls show a stark drop in support, 90% saying that they would rather have the current government over the Taliban, and only 6% saying they would rather have the Taliban. These polls also show a large majority of afghans support Karzai, although a larger percentage admits to corruption. A quick look into Afghanistan’s history shows that corruption is the normal, so I’m not sure if the afghan people see corruption as much of a deal breaker as we do.

    ABC Poll


    While the US is not popular in Pakistan, we are still significantly more popular than the Taliban.

  • Michael


    I must question this poll

    METHODOLOGY – This ABC News/BBC/ARD poll is based on in-person interviews with a
    random national sample of 1,534 Afghan adults from Dec. 11-23, 2009. The results have a 3-
    point error margin. Field work by ACSOR, the Afghan Center for Socio-Economic and Opinion
    Research in Kabul, a subsidiary of D3 Systems Inc. of Vienna, Va.
    Click here for details on the survey methodology, here for charts on the results, here for photos
    from the field and here a summary of all polls in ABC’s ongoing “Where Things Stand” series in
    Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Analysis by Gary Langer.

    It seems awful high for wartime, esp since it’s higher than U.S. support for the War, as well Civilians deaths by U.S. and Nato has gone up not down. If the Tailban controls much of the south and most of the country, and of course they can’t be very effective if a large proportions did not support them. Plus the amount of people poll is only 1,534 adults plus the fact that certain area where people polling would be in U.S. controlled areas, plus under the U.S. gun. Did these pollesters go into Taliban controlled areas to conduct this poll as well. If the answer is of course they be more pro Taliban cause there afraid of the Taliban. Wouldn’t the same be said about the U.S. and peoples fear under them. Note also the U.S. did not care to much what the President of Afgan did until of course he started complain about Civilian deaths. Can you name any of the afganstains that were killed by U.S. attacks? There background? Their families? and hopes? Hardly but most can if it’s was a Taliban attack.

    It’s seems more in line with the scope of propaganda being fed to the U.S. citizens to stay. Now corruption is the norm there in U.S. views so therefore okay, of course if there the U.S. puppets. I’m sure the media wouldn’t be dishonest in there polling or reporting right? Or how does this poll relate to Arab News Sources and polling as well?


  • Impeach Obama

    Obama and Kharzai have both talked about negotiating with the Taliban!! Both of these clowns need to be voted out of office, sooner rather than later.

  • cory

    Let’s leave Iraq and Afghanistan so quickly that the door is still swinging after we are gone. Let’s challenge our military to execute the swiftest bug-out in the history of the world. Let’s use the roughly 2 billion we spend there per month on problems at home.

    If either of these nations become problems for us in the future, we have certainly established that we can bowl them over quite easily.

    I don’t give a rip about Iraq or Afghanistan, considering the course of events here at home. It is time to let the capitalist empire slip away into history, and worry about the folks at home.

  • david

    Why do we Americans take up what has already been proven a lost cause and think we will beat the odds.
    We should have learned from Russia’s example of an attempt. We should have gone in 8 years ago and bombed the heck out of their interests and come home. Now we are stuck in this thankless place and will spend billions repairing the damage and the crap started in their backyard. Why don’t we send them the bill for the twin towers??

  • David

    Dear Tom,

    During the show, you kept on referring to the Afghanistan war as having gone on for nine years, as if more should have happened considering how long we’ve been there. However, things haven’t been going on for that long at all. We were involved for a couple of years during 2001 and 2002, took five years off during which we did nothing, then resumed our involvement during 2008 and 2009. We’ve only been involved for four years, and two of those years are so far in the past they might as well not count. So it really only *two* years we’ve been involved, so of course it seems like we’ve only just begun!


  • http://www.dobox.com/ Bruce

    The Taliban’s message is not resonating with the Afghan or Pakistani people. The most recent polls show a stark drop in support, 90% saying that they would rather have the current government over the Taliban, and only 6% saying they would rather have the Taliban. These polls also show a large majority of afghans support Karzai, although a larger percentage admits to corruption. A quick look into Afghanistan’s history shows that corruption is the normal, so I’m not sure if the afghan people see corruption as much of a deal breaker as we do.

    ABC Poll


    While the US is not popular in Pakistan, we are still significantly more popular than the Taliban.

  • Miriam

    We now have a better idea on why we keep paying “infidel tax” to Af-Pak region, Yemen, Somalis, etc. Reason is we are forced to buy peace for billions of dollars – peace not delivered yet, given bombers of X-mas, Times Square demanded payment to their masters who usually pretend to deliver security but seldom do but keep saying, “Dont abandon us! Continue paying us!!!”

    If anyone cares not to expose the Islam driven riots in India for Saddam’s hanging, Danish cartoons, Rev Falwell’s remarks, one is aiding and abetting such serial mass murders becoming complicit in those crimes. If a critical mass condemns the criminals, then there will be more peace and prosperity in this and other regions like EU/UK which from the lessons of Indians, could possibly have preempted Madrid/London bombings, prevented French/Belgian riots and threats to the airlines, to the civilized Dane and urbane Swede who could not even express their opinion; avoided all other serial atrocities by Najibullah Zazi, Nidal Malik Hasan, Shazad,…

  • aryan

    once n a movie an american soldier says to russian commander that these people (The Afghan) has a history that they neither accep any insurgent at any time in yhe history but today American itself sre doing the same. I am worry that what happend to American memory, when other peiple do sth that is not in favour of american then they started to teach them the history, but when it comes to itself, the american says all is well.
    Same will be happen to THE Liar americans that happend TO the Russian Beast
    Inshah Allah

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