MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, a special edition: AFGHANISTAN, THE FIGHT AHEAD. It is the longest war in U.S. history. One year from now troops are supposed to start coming home. After the president's dramatic firing of General Stanley McChrystal this week, what now? Should the strategy change? Will the withdrawal timetable hold? Is this mission impossible? And how will it all end? With us, Senator John McCain, ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, Republican of Arizona; Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of the Foreign Affairs Committee; journalist Sebastian Junger, author of the best-seller "War" about his experience living with U.S. troops in Afghanistan; Tom Ricks, author of the best-sellers "Fiasco" and "The Gamble" about the war in Iraq; author and combat veteran of Afghanistan Wes Moore; and retired Army General Barry McCaffrey.
More from TODAY.com
Get gift savvy: Use wrapping they'll love long after Christmas morning
- Amazing Spider-Dad is back! See what cheer he's spreading now
- Wrap up your holiday shopping with these 6 last-minute gift ideas
- Why you shouldn't give out goody bags while flying with a baby
- These 3 party snacks are doable and deluxe!
- Get gift savvy: Use wrapping they'll love long after Christmas morning
Plus, a look back in our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE, when President Truman clashed with his top general.
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
MR. GREGORY: Good morning.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: Three hundred and eleven soldiers have died this year in Afghanistan, the latest just yesterday by an improvised explosive device in the south of the country. For coalition forces, June is now by far the deadliest of any month since the war began in late 2001. At the G-8 summit in Toronto yesterday, President Obama; the new British prime
minister, David Cameron; and other world leaders agreed to set a timetable of five years for withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan. This as The New York Times reports this morning about growing concern inside Afghanistan over President Karzai's efforts to negotiate with the Taliban and bring members of the insurgency into a power sharing agreement with the Afghan government. Here with us live from Kabul this morning, our chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel.
Richard, I want to start with that story in The New York Times and this concern about efforts to reconcile the Taliban, America's enemy in Afghanistan, with the Afghan government. Will this be job one, do you think, for General Petraeus when he comes there?
MR. RICHARD ENGEL: I think it probably will be. There is a growing consensus on the ground that there is no military solution to this conflict. And we've heard General Petraeus say that time and time again about Iraq and also about this war here. And President Karzai has made
it very clear he wants a peace deal, and order--in order to do that he has been reaching out to the Pakistani government. Now, Afghans are very concerned that the United States will just sell the country to Pakistan and make a very significant deal with the Taliban and other insurgent groups that will leave other ethnic minority groups out in the cold. They don't want the Taliban to come back to power.
MR. GREGORY: Richard, you report on our soldiers on the front lines. You know the political and the military situation there. What's the impact of the firing of General McChrystal having on all of that?
MR. ENGEL: It was a shock to most of the troops, but now they have embraced it and they'd like to see changes. General Petraeus has a very good reputation, he's associated with success in Iraq, and they hope that will bring--that will come here as well. The number one concern that soldiers express to me is the rules of engagement. They feel that they
don't have the adequate tools to defend themselves, that under General McChrystal it became too difficult to fight back against the Taliban. That will be the number one concern that soldiers would have and the thing they would to change most under David Petraeus.
MR. GREGORY: Richard Engel in Kabul for us this morning, thank you very much.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: Joining us now, ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona.
Senator, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ): Thank you, David.
MR. GREGORY: So much to discuss, and I want to get to the strategy, the withdrawal timetable and all of it with you. But first I want to talk about General McChrystal. The president fired him this week, and he spoke to the nation about it. This is in part what he said.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system, and it erodes the trust that's necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.
MR. GREGORY: Did the president do the right thing?
SEN. McCAIN: Yes, he did, and he took the appropriate steps, in my view. I would like to say, in General McChrystal's behalf, that he played a key role in Iraq in the efforts against al-Qaeda. A lot of this is not known and will--may never be known. But General McChrystal did a great job there. The president took appropriate action, and we wish General McChrystal well in the future.
MR. GREGORY: Was this an important leadership moment for the commander in chief?
SEN. McCAIN: Yes. Yes, I think that the president realized that this was an important moment, and he made the right decision.
MR. GREGORY: What was...
SEN. McCAIN: Again, I...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
SEN. McCAIN: You know, your question's what were they thinking?
MR. GREGORY: Yeah. Well, that's exactly right. What was--and not only what was he thinking, was this foolishness? Was it naivety about the press? Or was there something real here, Senator, about frustration with the policy, frustration with the civilian side of the policy, frustration with how much progress he thought was being made vs. what was expected of him?
SEN. McCAIN: First of all, there's no excuse for it, OK? There's no excuse for it. But part of it, some of it was frustration. Part of it was a group of officers who find themselves with a night off which they did not expect, having been working 24/7 in Kabul. They went out in a
social environment. And I must tell you that as a young Navy pilot that on occasion at happy hour some things were said about our commanding officer that maybe we wouldn't want to be held responsible for. But that does not excuse anything. But it certainly maybe understands the--makes people understand the circumstances a little better. But, overall, you just, you just can't do those things, and we expect our officer corps to have the maturity to realize that.
MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about the fight ahead, then, and I want to get your assessment of how the war is going. And let me set this up a little bit. This is The Economist magazine on newsstands now, and here's the cover: "Losing Afghanistan." It says, "The war after McChrystal." The New York Times on Thursday reported the challenging environment that General Petraeus will go into: "At the moment, every aspect of the war in Afghanistan is going badly: the military's campaign in the strategic city of Kandahar has met with widespread resistance from the Afghan public; President Karzai is proving erratic and unpredictable; and the Taliban are resisting more tenaciously than ever." How's it going?
SEN. McCAIN: I think that that's a fairly accurate description of the situation in Afghanistan. I think that it's pretty obvious that the effort in Marjah did not achieve the elements of success certainly quickly enough. The offensive into Kandahar has been delayed--which, by
the way, argues against this setting a date certain for beginning the withdrawal. A lot of the behavior that Karzai is displaying, a lot of the things that are going on right now are a direct result of the president's commitment to beginning withdrawal--whatever not turn "out the lights" means. That's an indecipherable statement. Rahm Emanuel on your program last, last Sunday reiterated the commitment to leaving middle of 2011. The president's spokesperson said, "It's etched in stone, and he has the chisel." So people in the region, they can't leave.
They have to adjust and they have to accommodate. And Karzai is doing some of the things he's doing because he's not confident that we're going to stay. The troops on the ground are, are in some ways confused about what the long-term strategy would be. And I guess the best example I can tell you is a high-ranking Taliban prisoner said, "You've got the watches, and we've got the time." And that's what is, is pervading this entire environment, the fact that they think we're--that we're going to leave. And if they believe that, then they are going to act very differently.
MR. GREGORY: But, Senator, we have been there 104 months. This is a longer war--longest war in U.S. history, longer than Vietnam. We've shown a lot of staying power here without a lot of results. And my question is whether, you know, perception outpaces reality. Is it that
you've got a central government in Afghanistan, led by Hamid Karzai, who basically is making, you know, side deals here with the Pakistanis and is trying to cut us out because he just doesn't think that, ultimately, we can succeed because he can look at the history of his own country and see for centuries they have repelled foreign invaders and, and foreign interference.
SEN. McCAIN: Well, first of all, it is the longest war, and the loss of any life is tragic. We've lost--just went over, tragically, the thousand mark. We lost 58,000 in the war in Vietnam. I think that perspective is important. Second of all, Karzai is acting like he is, as I said, because
he is beginning to accommodate for a situation where he finds himself with Americans withdrawing. Third of all, we need a better team and coordination between the military and civilian side. We all know that. But I am also convinced that David Petraeus, who is one of the greatest outstanding leaders in American history, I think, can bring this to a successful conclusion. But we have to convince the enemy that we are going to do what's necessary to succeed, and that's why we were able to succeed in Iraq.
MR. GREGORY: I have a question that keeps nagging me about the enemy, about the Taliban.
SEN. McCAIN: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: The United States is engaged in working with the Afghan central government to recruit Afghan soldiers. Why do we have to recruit Afghan soldiers? Who's training the Taliban? Nobody has to recruit them. They're out there fighting for, you know, what they see as a future. Which is, by the way, is a dark, terrorist, annihilist future. Nevertheless, they don't have to be recruited, and yet we're in this position where we're trying to recruit Afghan soldiers.
SEN. McCAIN: You know, that's a very good question. And it's clear that the Taliban is a very extremist and very fanatical element, and I think this is true with all insurgencies. But I think you also find that the majority of the people in Afghanistan do not want the return of the
Taliban. They're afraid, though, that when the United States leaves that there will be assassination squads going around and taking care of those who cooperated with the government and the Americans. Look, Karzai is not doing the things we want him to do. I don't think there's any doubt about that in many respects. Maliki was not doing the things we wanted...
MR. GREGORY: In Iraq.
SEN. McCAIN: ...us to do. He was perceived as very weak. The level of sectarian violence in Iraq makes what's going on in Afghanistan pale in comparison, and I'm not saying it's not going to be long and hard and tough, and I'm not saying that it's going to be easy. And I--but I am
convinced of one thing, you--fundamental of warfare, you tell the enemy when you're leaving, that--then they will wait. And Ho Chi Minh certainly is an authentication of that, of that course of action.
MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about this issue of a withdrawal deadline because you're very concerned about it. And let me take everybody through it. Back in December of 2009 this is what the president told the
(Videotape, December 1, 2009)
PRES. OBAMA: I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.
MR. GREGORY: So they're surging up now, so a year from now they begin to come home.
They won't even be at full fighting force until the fall, so they'll be fighting at full strength for less than a year. Now, Vice President Biden, interviewed by Jonathan Alter, as you well know, in the book, "The Promise," said to Alter this. "In July of 2011 you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out. `Bet on it,' Biden said as he wheeled to leave the room, late for lunch with the president. He turned at the door and said once more, `Bet. On. It.'" Seems pretty clear. Yet, yet, Senator, General Petraeus testifying just about 10 days ago on Capitol Hill, seemed to be more skeptical about that. Here's what he said.
(Videotape, June 16, 2010)
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: Keep in mind that July 2011, in the first place, is based on projections made all the way back last fall during the decision-making process, and so again I think--I--we would not make too much out of that.
MR. GREGORY: "Would not make too much out of" it. Do you think July 2011 as the beginning of a transition could move? Could that timetable move?
SEN. McCAIN: Look, I, I'm against a timetable. In wars, you declare when you're leaving after you've succeeded. And, by the way, no military adviser recommended to the president that he set a date of the middle of 2011. So it was purely a political decision, not one based on facts on the ground, not based on military strategy or anything. Now...
MR. GREGORY: All--Senator, is that fair? All of his military advisers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Petraeus, General McChrystal, they all signed onto the idea...
SEN. McCAIN: They signed onto it...
MR. GREGORY: ...of July. 2011. Well, isn't it their obligation to
SEN. McCAIN: It's not their idea.
MR. GREGORY: ...that this is wrong?
SEN. McCAIN: In my view it is.
MR. GREGORY: Well, they didn't do that, though.
SEN. McCAIN: In my view it is. They didn't.
MR. GREGORY: So they were for it.
SEN. McCAIN: They didn't do it. They didn't do it, and they should have because they know better. But the point is that General Petraeus is put in an almost untenable position here. If he says it's "conditions-based," which it should be that, then he is not going directly against the president. But if he says directly what the president said and what you just quoted Vice President Biden say, then obviously he is supporting a strategy that he feels that we all know
can't win. So what, what do we need? We need the president just to come out and say, "Look, this is condition-based and condition-based only. We will leave tomorrow if the conditions are--allow for it. But we're not going to set an arbitrary date for withdrawal." That's all he has to say because, believe me, the Taliban are not able to parse difference
comments by different people the way that you just described different commentaries.
MR. GREGORY: But...
SEN. McCAIN: They need to have a clear signal that we are staying.
MR. GREGORY: Senator, you have said before that 18 months was an appropriate time horizon to, to realistically assess how we're doing in the war...
SEN. McCAIN: Absolutely.
MR. GREGORY: ...and perhaps change the strategy.
SEN. McCAIN: But December...
MR. GREGORY: So at what point should we look at what's happening and say, "This isn't working"?
SEN. McCAIN: There's going to be a review in December.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
SEN. McCAIN: I think there should be constant reviews. And that review, by the way, will show that we have not seen the pace of success. And, by the way, we have not seen our allies contribute the 10,000 troops that were part of this overall strategy of 40,000 troops that would be engaged in this surge. But I am for constant review. That's different from
saying, "We will begin a withdrawal," OK?
MR. GREGORY: But we...
SEN. McCAIN: We may need more troops. We may need more as we did...
MR. GREGORY: But did we do that in Iraq? Didn't we set a timetable...
SEN. McCAIN: After.
MR. GREGORY: ...after we surged up...
SEN. McCAIN: After we succeeded, after we were succeeding, yes indeed. And we should.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think we'll be more--do we think we need more troops in Afghanistan?
SEN. McCAIN: I don't know. But I, I think that there--it's clearly there's a shortfall from the 10,000 we expected to get from our allies. And, again, I know that we can succeed and we can withdraw. But to--again, you cannot sound an uncertain trumpet. No one follows an
MR. GREGORY: But, Senator, to challenge that I spoke to White House officials this week who said, "Wait a minute, the withdrawal timetable means a beginning of a process." And by the way, there will still be more forces fighting in Afghanistan properly resourced, even when the
transition begins than there ever were in the history of this conflict starting in 2001. Isn't that important?
SEN. McCAIN: Well then, let's have the president of the United States stand up and say, "It's conditions-based. We will not withdraw a single troop unless we think it's necessary to do so, and we may even add troops if we think it's necessary to do so." Let's hear that. That sends a message to our friends and enemies alike, and I guarantee you it would have a significant impact on our enemies and friends alike.
MR. GREGORY: Do you get troubled when people come up to you, and I talk to people as well, who say, "You know, what is it exactly we are fighting for? It just doesn't seem clear. This is like Vietnam. I don't know what the endgame is here." Do we have a clear achievable objective in Afghanistan?
SEN. McCAIN: Oh, I think clearly the goal is that Afghanistan does not return to a base for attacks on the United States and our allies. Clearly, that is a strategy which means you have governmental control, you have the support of the people, you have a relatively stable
environment, realizing it'll be long and hard and difficult. And also look at the consequences of failure in Iraq and the consequences in the region. They are significant.
MR. GREGORY: What are the consequences of success? Tom Friedman wrote in his column this week something very poignant, and I'll put it up on the screen. "What do we win if we win? At least in Iraq, if we eventually produce a decent democratizing government, we will, at
enormous cost, have changed the politics in a great Arab capital in the heart of the Arab Muslim world. That can have wide resonance. Change Afghanistan at enormous cost and you've changed Afghanistan-period. Afghanistan does not resonate."
SEN. McCAIN: Well, I have the greatest respect for Tom Ridge, I think both books...
MR. GREGORY: Tom Friedman.
SEN. McCAIN: Excuse me, I'm sorry, Tom Ricks I have the greatest respect for.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
SEN. McCAIN: Mr. Friedman was wrong about Iraq. He said we couldn't succeed in Iraq. He said we'd fail, we had to withdraw. Enough said.
MR. GREGORY: The question still stands, though. What do you win if you win? How does it resonate?
SEN. McCAIN: What you win, what you win is stability in the region, you win a reduction in the threat of radical Islamic extremism, you win the elimination of a goal for attacks on the United States of America. Clearly, Taliban and al-Qaeda would be working together if we were able
to succeed. And you don't send a message of an American defeat, which would reverberate throughout the region and the world. And, again, I am confident with the right kind of military and civilian team in Kabul that we can succeed, and it's going to be long and it's hard and it's tough. But...
MR. GREGORY: Do we stick it out at any cost?
SEN. McCAIN: ...you know--and I sound, I sound a little tough to you. But I just talked...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
SEN. McCAIN: ...on the phone to a young man named Todd Nicely, quadruple amputee. I met him at Walter Reed, and he's now at Bethesda. I'm, I'm not prepared to say that--to these young men and women who are putting their lives and their families on the line that we are going to leave it at a date certain, which means we are pursuing a strategy that I think is
doomed to failure. We owe it to their families.
MR. GREGORY: So how long is too long? Do we stick into it forever?
SEN. McCAIN: It's, it's gauge--no, no. It's, it's again, like other counterinsurgencies, and this is a counterinsurgency based on the same principles but very different conditions than we had in Iraq. And that means that gradually we will clear, hold, make the people that support
the government and against the Taliban, which they already are, an Afghan army--and, by the way, they are very excellent fighters that is functioning, and the corruption is a huge problem. You and I could spend the rest of the program going over a list of the problems.
MR. GREGORY: Sure.
SEN. McCAIN: Number one being the corruption situation in Afghanistan. But we can succeed there, and it is in our vital national interest to do so. And the consequences of failure are catastrophic in my view.
MR. GREGORY: Before I let you go, I want to get you on...
SEN. McCAIN: Sure.
MR. GREGORY: ...another piece of news, and that is tomorrow Elena Kagan begins her hearings to be the next Supreme Court justice. Back in 2008, you laid out a standard for evaluating such nominees, and, and you explained why you supported President Clinton's nominees to the High Court. Let me play that for you.
(Videotape, May 6, 2008)
SEN. McCAIN: ...for the simple reason, the simple reason that the nominees were qualified. And it would have been petty and partisan and disingenuous to insist otherwise. It's part of the discipline of democracy to respect the roles and responsibilities of each branch of
government, and above all, to respect the verdicts of elections and judgment of the people.
MR. GREGORY: Based on that standard...
SEN. McCAIN: Eloquent.
MR. GREGORY: Right, right. Based on that standard, will you support the nomination of Elena Kagan?
SEN. McCAIN: I want to look at--watch the hearings. The hearings, I think, are always very important. But I'll tell you one thing I'm disturbed about was her obvious steadfast and even zealous opposition to military recruiters, to the presence of military on the campus of the
most prestigious university, in, in the view of many, in America. That's disturbing to me.
MR. GREGORY: Is that disqualifying?
SEN. McCAIN: I--we--as I say, I want to watch the hearings and let the process go forward. But it is very disturbing.
MR. GREGORY: Is immigration reform in a comprehensive way possible this year or in this term?
SEN. McCAIN: Not until we get the borders secure. By the way, on that issue, why is it that Phoenix, Arizona, is the number two kidnapping capital of the world? Does that mean our border's safe? Of course not. Why is it that the police chief in Nogales reported that his police
officers are being told they're going to be murdered by the drug cartels on the other side of the border? The, the rise of violence and the influence of the drug cartels and the human smugglers have made our government put up signs in the southern part of the state of Arizona
warning them that they are in a drug smuggling and human smuggling area of this country. That's not, that's not how America should...
MR. GREGORY: Do you agree with the governor of Arizona who says that most people who come across the border illegally are actually drug mules?
SEN. McCAIN: No. I think that there's a large number and I think she's right in that the drug cartels movement has dramatically increased and the violence. Twenty-three thousand people, Mexicans, have been killed in the last three years in Mexico.
MR. GREGORY: Do those kinds of comments make the debate harder, make it, you know, a hotter debate?
SEN. McCAIN: I, I think the governor of Arizona has done a good job in this whole debate. She--I may not agree with one sentence that she uses, but she's standing up for Arizona. And, and I think that the people in my state deserve a better environment of security than the one they're getting from the federal government now, and a federal responsibility.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Senator McCain, thank you, as always. Appreciate it.
SEN. McCAIN: Thanks for always for having me on, David.
MR. GREGORY: All right.
Coming up next, our special edition on Afghanistan continues: THE FIGHT AHEAD. What have we achieved? What are we on a path to achieve in Afghanistan? Is it mission impossible or is it victory? Our roundtable weighs in: Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee and author Sebastian Junger, Tom Ricks, combat veteran Wes Moore, and retired Army General Barry McCaffrey. Plus, a look back in our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE when another president clashed with his top general 59 years ago, only on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. GREGORY: Coming up, our special edition devoted to the war in Afghanistan continues. After almost nine years in the fight, what is the way forward? Is there an exit strategy? The discussion continues after this brief commercial break.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: We're back to continue our special edition AFGHANISTAN: THE FIGHT AHEAD. And joining us now, author of the new book "War," Sebastian Junger; author and retired U.S. Army Captain Wes Moore; senior fellow for the Center for A New American Security, Tom Ricks; Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of the Foreign Affairs Committee;
and retired general and NBC military analyst Barry McCaffrey.
Welcome to all of you.
REP. BARBARA LEE (D-CA): Thank you. Good to be here.
MR. GREGORY: This is, this is so important at a time when I think America is so grateful, and thankful for our fighting men and women in Afghanistan and the incredible sacrifices that, that they offer day in and day out. The debate about the war still matters, and maybe too few
Americans are really engaged in it, and that's why we wanted to dedicate the time here.
Congresswoman Lee, the most important aspect, I think, of this interview that I just did with Senator McCain is about when the troops come home. A year from now they're supposed to start coming out. Now, the president was asked about that July 11 timetable, and this is what he said about it this week.
PRES. OBAMA: We did not say that starting July 2011 suddenly there would be no troops from the United States or allied countries in Afghanistan. We didn't say we'd be switching off the lights and closing the door behind us. What we said is we'd begin a transition phase in which the Afghan government is taking on more and more responsibility.
MR. GREGORY: Now, you heard Senator McCain say that's too opaque, that's too vague. The president ought to really level with the country and say, "We don't know how it's going to go. We may need more troops." Where do you come down?
REP. LEE: Thank you, David. Nearly a decade ago, the American people were told that we were going into Afghanistan to capture Osama bin Laden and to stop al-Qaeda. At this point, we have to look at what has happened during that last 10 years. Has our goal and mission been accomplished? The reason I could not support giving then President Bush and any subsequent president a blank check to wage endless war was precisely because of what has happened. The American people, had they known that this would be the longest war in history, I think there would have been much more debate and discussion in Congress. And there may
have been a three-hour discussion before this authorization was granted. I think we need an exit strategy, we need a plan, we need a, a way to begin to redeploy our young men and women out of harm's way, and we need to look at how to move forward.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think the president's backtracking when you hear him say, "Hey, we never said we were just going to turn the lights out and leave"?
REP. LEE: I think the public expects a review in December. The public respects us to begin to end this in July of next year. I, for one, do not believe that we should have even gone there. Again, we have to remember why we went to Afghanistan.
MR. GREGORY: But, but my question, Congresswoman, do you believe the president was backtracking in those remarks? A lot of people on the left were concerned about it.
REP. LEE: I hope the president is not backtracking. I believe that the longer we stay in Iraq--excuse me, in Afghanistan, we're going to hear generals say, and come to us, say--and say, "It may not be working. We need more money, more time, more troops." Or, if there's progress being made, we're going to hear the generals saying, "We need more money, more troops, and a longer time frame." So I believe that we need to stick with what the president initially said, and that is to begin to end this next July.
MR. GREGORY: General McCaffrey, Joe Klein is--for Time magazine, in his new piece--who's covered the strategy, covered the war extensively, wrote this this week: "Obama is going to have to be less coy with the public about what is really going to happen in July 2011, even if that risks alienated his party's vestigial anti-war base. He is going to have to make it clear that `significant' troop withdrawals--a word bandied around in recent weeks--are not in the cards unless the situation on the ground changes dramatically, for good or for ill."
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY (Ret.): Sure. Look, this is a political dilemma, not a military one. There's 7,000 killed and wounded, $5.4 billion a month, the American people don't support the war. We have a goofy, incompetent Afghan government. We're trying to build an Afghan security force and get it largely done in a very short period of time. None of this is going to work the way we're going about it. So, again, back to, I think, the congresswoman's remarks, you either got to pull out in, in a stated time frame with huge negative consequences, potentially, to Pakistan, the Afghans themselves, U.S. foreign policy; or you, you
announce that we're in there until we have achieved a stable political system in Afghanistan.
MR. GREGORY: Wes Moore, what is the argument to be made in support of the president sticking--as they are doing. I've spoken to White House officials, military officials; they're sticking to this July 2011 time frame. They emphasize this is not a, you know, a time when everybody comes out, it's the beginning of a process and there will still be significant numbers of U.S. troops on the ground there.
MR. WES MOORE: Well, I think it's important to understand that we are going on close to 10 years. But this war has not been a priority for close to 10 years. I mean, in the time when I was over there, we had around--a little over 19,000 troops on the ground to cover a land mass
that is 50 percent larger than Iraq. So this was never a large priority on the side. And I think the problem is when you have second-tier priorities, you get second-tier results. There, there is no one who wants us to redeploy more than me. For every day for the past 10 years I
have either been in harm's way or had friends who have been in harm's way. So I want--no one more than me wants this to end. But we also understand the consequences and ramifications for having a pre-emptive pullout without any type of understanding or real comprehension of the conditions on the ground as well.
MR. GREGORY: Do you agree with what Senator McCain said, which is maybe the president needs to say, "Look, we're properly resourcing the war. I can't tell you how it ends by that point. We may need more troops if we're going to get this done right. We're in--we're in for 10 years almost, nine years. We got to do it right."
MR. MOORE: Well, I think the indication that we have right now is that the system that we have in place and the systems that we put in place over the past few years are actually starting to show some results. We have a 30 percent increase in Afghan security force participation. We now are finally seeing complete integration between the civilian side and
military side. These are important developments if we're going to see that type of progress in Afghanistan. But I do think that the crucial thing to remember throughout all this is that the decisions on the ground and the conditions on the ground need to be the thing to help guide the policy.
MR. GREGORY: I'm not sure we're having complete integration between the civilian and the military side in terms of what's happening on the ground there. But we're going to return to that in just a minute.
MR. MOORE: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: Sebastian, weigh in on that.
MR. JUNGER: I've been reporting from Afghanistan since '96, for the first 10 years of that, from the perspective of the civilian population. It's of incredible concern to me. I mean, human--these are human rights watch figures. Since NATO has been there, 16,000 Afghan civilians have died in combat operations. It's a horrifying number. That ended a period of violence in Afghanistan under the Taliban where 400,000 Afghans were killed. So we really do need to assess the effect of pulling out on the Afghan people, first of all. It's--people back here don't realize that. I think that, you know, the left--and I'm, I'm left wing--when they talk about withdrawal, their concern is the humanitarian impacts of war. But they do not remember the '90s.
MR. GREGORY: And let's remember something. The news of the day today is that the ethnic minorities in Afghanistan are really worried that you've got a Pashtun leader in Hamid Karzai who's going to negotiate with the Taliban, bring them into the government, the same Taliban government that terrorized women, that terrorized the Hazaris and other ethnic minorities, Tajiks and others. There could be a civil war once we pull out.
Tom Ricks, with that as a potential backdrop, I also want you to address the news of this week, McChrystal out, Petraeus in. What does this week mean to where we are?
MR. TOM RICKS: Well, the first thing is you've got to have Pashtun participation in the government in Kabul. I lived in Afghanistan as a kid, and one thing that you take away from that is Afghanistan is only stable when Pashtuns are in Kabul as part of power.
What does it mean for McChrystal going to go? McChrystal had to go. It just is a matter of military discipline. You can't let a general get away with stuff you wouldn't let a captain get away with. What struck me this week was political Washington didn't really get it; military
Washington totally did. They knew that McChrystal was toast on Tuesday morning. So there's a feeling that Obama did exactly the right thing. But Obama's now got himself a new general, Petraeus, and there are big differences between Iraq and Afghanistan. And there's also big
differences between presidents. Obama has taken no strategic risk in Afghanistan or Iraq. He has held it at arm's length, almost like, "Hey, I inherited these two wars from my idiot predecessors. They're not my problem."
MR. GREGORY: Surging up 30,000 troops is no strategic risk?
MR. RICKS: No. You know, 30,000 troops is nothing in a country that size. A strategic risk would be the sort of things that Petraeus did in Afghanistan that I expect he might do with this president in Iraq. He's going to ask this president to double down in some form--cutting deals
with the Taliban; giving Karzai ultimatums, "Fella, either you do this or we withdraw support from you totally tomorrow morning. You want to end up hanging from your heels from a streetlight in Kabul, keep it up, Karzai." I think you're going to see a much tougher attitude taken towards the Afghan government. But I've yet to see in Obama a real willingness to take those sort of risks, do something like, say, get rid of the entire team in Afghanistan and put in a new set of American officials.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask a member of Congress here. Congresswoman Lee, I mean, your views about the future of the war are clear. You've made them clear here this morning. Nevertheless, the strategy's going to move on with you or without you at this point. My question is let's say we get farther along and General Petraeus says to, to President Obama, "Hey, look, you wanted me in there to clean this up? I need more time. I need more troops. In other words, I can't lose the troops that you want to pull out. We've got to apply more pressure." You think the president steps up, has the political capital to face down members of Congress like you, his liberal base, and say, "You got to stick with me here"?
REP. LEE: Quite frankly, there are many members of Congress now questioning this policy. This debate is just beginning. This is the debate that should have occurred nine years ago, David. This debate is just beginning. I think many of us, not only in the country, the
American people, but many of us recognize that our military occupation of Afghanistan really provides for a prime recruiting tool--as a prime recruiting tool for al-Qaeda. And when you look at what our primary mission is there--of course, that's our national security--we have to ask
the question: Does remaining in Afghanistan as occupiers in a Muslim country, does that create more terrorists? Does that create more danger for our country or less danger? And remember, again, our primary mission and goal is our own national security. So I question this policy. I think more members of Congress are beginning--and this is not just liberal and progressive members, these are many members who you never would have believed would have begun to question this. The American people are war weary. This is an endless war, and they want it to come to an end.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. JUNGER: Let me just jump in. I was in Kabul in '01 after Kabul fell, after the Taliban were toppled. I was getting hugged by Afghans because I was American, because they hated the Taliban so much. Ninety--I don't know who does these surveys, 90 percent of Afghans--after
9/11, in early '02, 90 percent of Afghans supported the U.S. military action that, that destroyed the Taliban. So you really--the word occupation really is not accurate.
GEN. McCAFFREY: You know, I've been in and out of there from...
REP. LEE: But...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
GEN. McCAFFREY: ...since the start of the war, and the--again, though, some of those polling numbers are suspect. But, essentially, the Taliban are Pashtun. The Pashtun are trying to regain control as a plurality but not majority of the country. At the end of the day, they're going to have to be part of the solution. But even among the Pashtun there is zero tolerance for return of a Taliban regime. So we shouldn't misunderstand that. These people were brutal, they're a threat, they're--and I think, at the end of the day, our consequences if we
withdraw, Sebastian's got it dead right, will be a catastrophe for the Afghan population. That's the dilemma he faces, Obama.
MR. RICKS: You know, Afghanistan's a very hard place. It's the hardest environment I've ever seen in the world. These are people who survive conditions that would kill any of us in a couple of days.
GEN. McCAFFREY: Right.
MR. RICKS: I remember reading an interview with an Afghan villager. The reporter said to him, "What did you think of the Taliban vs. what did you think of the police sent by Kabul?" He said, "Well, the Taliban were pretty mean to us; they were pretty rough. We didn't like them. But
when the police from Kabul came, the first thing they did was take our little boys and rape them." You've got to deal with this Afghan government. Our biggest single problem in Afghanistan is not the Taliban. They are a consequence of our problem. Our problem in
Afghanistan is the Kabul government.
MR. GREGORY: And this gets to this overall point of whether this is mission impossible, Wes Moore. We have a counterinsurgency strategy which says, primarily, you don't just kill bad guys, you protect the good guys, you protect the population. Can you have a counterinsurgency strategy that works if you have a host government that believes: A,
corruption is better than a straight arrow, stealing elections is better than winning it the old-fashioned way, and that, "Hey, you know what? The U.S. is not really here for the long haul, so I'm going to make a bunch of side deals with the enemy of America, the Taliban, and the
Pakistanis, who in many ways, just want to play two sides against each other, make sure they protect themselves and their concerns about India.
MR. MOORE: Let me tell you, it's incredibly important to work on increased transparency with the Afghan government, but it's also important to recognize the limitations of the Afghan government. Now, this is a country that is very fragmented and is very tribal. And, you know, we--one of the things we did--I was with a team in Afghanistan, you go out and you give out gifts to people. And one of the things that we would, we would give out to some of the tribal leaders were cutout--were maps, which were cutouts of Afghanistan. And literally, the most popular question we got was, "What is this?" And we'd say, "It's your country." Their
understanding of Afghanistan as a whole is a very difficult one for Afghans to understand. So the importance of actually being--to be able to go into rural areas, being able to work with a tribal--you know, with the tribal chieftains becomes extraordinarily important as to how we
advance and understand the limitations for--of a national government, who, in many cases, particularly in people that--in places that I was, they don't even understand who President Karzai is, or who the national government or what their job is.
MR. GREGORY: The, the goals, though, Sebastian Junger, go back to something that President Obama said on this program last September. Goal number one, Congressman Lee just referred to it, stop al-Qaeda. Make sure that Afghanistan is not a place where al-Qaeda launches attacks against the United States from Afghanistan or to our European partners. And he continued. Let me show a portion of that.
(Videotape, September 20, 2009)
PRES. OBAMA: If supporting the Afghan national government and building capacity for their army and securing certain provinces advances that strategy, then we'll move forward. But if it doesn't, then I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in
Afghanistan or saving face or in some way, you know, sending a message that America is here for, for the duration.
MR. GREGORY: If we're really just fighting al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda's not there. The most dangerous aspect of al-Qaeda is the Haqqani network, which is supported in some fashion by Pakistan, operating in the tribal region on the border. And yet we hear about the enemy being the Taliban. Are we clear on who we're fighting?
REP. LEE: David, General...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah, yeah.
REP. LEE: ...Jones actually indicated that, I believe, less than 100 members of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. You look at Somalia, you look at Yemen, this is, this is a global operation. They're not going to deal with al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda's not in a cave in Afghanistan. We've got to remember that. And so, as we look at how we move forward, Congress, first of all, has to have this debate. Secondly, we do have to develop an exit strategy and a timeline and begin to bring our young men and women home.
MR. JUNGER: But let's remember some history here. Al-Qaeda was in Afghanistan when they attacked on 9/11. They're in Pakistan right now because we're in Afghanistan. And, if we pulled out, what they have is what they had before 9/11. They have--I mean, when they're in
Pakistan, they're in the tribal territories. It's not a--it's not an area that's connected very well to the rest of the world. In Afghanistan, they had an airport, they had an economy, and they had a failed state that had no extradition treaties with the rest of the world. So they can do what they want, and there is no way to get at them short of military force. So we pull out of--you're right, they're in Pakistan, but we pull out, they're going to be right back in Afghanistan. They have not attacked the West successfully since they had to vacate Afghanistan.
MR. GREGORY: Tom Ricks, go ahead.
MR. RICKS: I would agree with that. I think if you want an endless war, Congresswoman, leave Afghanistan right now, and you'll find us having to go after al-Qaeda again and again there for decades.
MR. GREGORY: But, Tom, the president has made it clear that we are not going to be in an endless war. He said to West Point, December 2009, we can't afford to have an open-ended commitment. I mean, it seems pretty clear, unless he's going to change his mind, which he might, that we're going to have to close the chapter on this and leave, which seems like
everybody on the ground gets it and is acting accordingly.
REP. LEE: David, our young men and women...
MR. GREGORY: Well, hold on, hold on.
MR. RICKS: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: I want to just let Tom respond to this.
MR. RICKS: Yeah. It reminds me of something Ryan Crocker, the ambassador in Iraq, used to say, "Just because you walk out of a movie doesn't mean it's over." Just because you walk out of Afghanistan doesn't mean it's over. We're all sick of the war in Afghanistan. Nobody's
sicker than the U.S. military. I actually think one reason McChrystal blew up on the launching pad was because he and his guys are tired. They've been doing this for years. The U.S. military is one percent of this country, and it's carrying 99 percent of the burden of the war. You got to figure out a way to deal with Afghanistan. Look, a schedule is not going to get you there. But even if you left tomorrow morning, Afghanistan would still be there, the problems would still be there, al-Qaeda would still be playing around in the region. You've got to have
some--fine, leave tomorrow morning, but you then have got to figure out what you're going to do the day after.
MR. GREGORY: I just want to focus on troops for a moment here. Our terrific foreign correspondent Richard Engel, who we heard from, has been--spent a lot of time with our troops of the 82nd Airborne, he was out with them recently, and did an incredible interview with a Sergeant Louis Loftus with the 82nd, who had lost a colleague, a fallen comrade, and he--Richard talked to him about that, and I wanted to show you a portion of that interview.
SGT. LOUIS LOFTUS: I'm kind of numb to it. Like to be honest, I just don't really feel much. I, I, I, I pray for his family, I pray for his soul that, you know. Yet, you see, I try not to think about it because when you think about it, then I get like this, and it's not--you know, I don't--yeah. So, yeah. You know, everyone deals with it their own way. I try to hide it. I try not to think about it because I got to stay 100 percent. You know, I got to, I got to keep a good example for the other soldiers. I'm sorry.
MR. GREGORY: And God bless our soldiers for, for doing that. But, Sebastian, how do they process this? You've been out there with them. The debate in Washington, nine years, almost. How are they doing?
MR. JUNGER: In the field? They don't process it. They process it as little as possible because that increases the risk to themselves. They process it later. There were guys who literally said, I--you know, I asked one guy, "Are you scared out here?" I mean, they--they're--my--the unit I was with was in 500 firefights during their deployment, right? "Are you scared out here?" And he said, "No, not at all. It's actually kind of strange." It came later after they came home. I think that's always been the case in war. It's not particular to this war; that's
what combat is.
MR. GREGORY: General, how does it--we just about--we have a little over a minute left. General, how--and then congressman, too, how does this end?
GEN. McCAFFREY: Well, first of all, you know, just to, to remind people, it's 46,000 killed and wounded in one of the smallest armies since 1939. I just gave an award to a dad whose son got the Silver Star. He wasn't there to receive it himself because he was back in Afghanistan on his sixth combat tour. So, at the end of the day--Tom Ricks' superb article this morning in The Washington Post captured a lot of this--our way out is build Afghan security forces. Lieutenant General Bill Caldwell is on the ground, Petraeus is going to go in, he's got to build the police force and an Afghan army that can maintain internal order. We don't have the political will to stay with this much longer.
REP. LEE: I'm the daughter of a military officer, and I know the sacrifices these families are making. Our troops have served brilliantly, they're brave, they've done everything we've asked them to do. Let's face it, Congress--if Congress allows it, we're going to have an endless war, so it's time to begin to look at an exit strategy, a timeline, and to begin to safely redeploy our young men and women out of Afghanistan and begin to look at how we ensure our national security.
MR. GREGORY: Twenty seconds, Tom. How does it end?
MR. RICKS: I don't think it does. I think we have landed in the middle of the Middle East, for better or worse, in a way that none of us expected us to. I think the war in Afghanistan was made much worse by the distracting war in Iraq, which never should have happened. But we are dealing with phenomena in the Middle East that's going to be crucial to this country as long as we're dependent on Middle East oil. So the best exit strategy I can think of is emphasize alternative fuels.
MR. MOORE: Hear, hear.
MR. JUNGER: Amen.
MR. GREGORY: We will--we'll leave it there. Thank you all very much. We're going to continue our discussion with author Sebastian Junger in our MEET THE PRESS Take Two Web extra. You can also read an excerpt from his gripping book called "War" and find updates from me throughout the week. It's all on our Web site, mtp.msnbc.com.
And up next, our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE. Nearly six decades ago, President Truman clashed with his top general, Douglas MacArthur, and the result caused a firestorm here in Washington. We'll be right back after this brief station break.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: And we are back with our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE. Fifty-nine years ago another decorated military general was relieved of his command after clashing with the president. General Douglas MacArthur, the commander of the United Nations forces in the Korean War believed the only path to victory there would be an all-out offensive against China, a view not shared by President Harry Truman. Still, MacArthur issued an unauthorized public statement threatening China and was fired for insubordination. But upon his return to the U.S.,
MacArthur was greeted as a national hero and congressional leaders received two million pieces of mail in support of him. A few days later, Republican Senator Everett Dirksen appeared right here on MEET THE PRESS and offered his take on the situation.
(Videotape, April 22, 1951)
MRS. MAY CRAIG: Senator, nobody's talking about anything but General MacArthur. Would you tell us very briefly how you stand on the dismissal of General MacArthur so we can follow that up?
SEN. EVERETT DIRKSEN (R-Il): Well, May, I can express it in just a sentence or two. First of all, I thought he made a deep and emphatic impression with a great and restrained speech. Secondly, I do not deny the right of the commander in chief to dismiss a subordinate, but I
thought it was probably the most inept piece of work that was ever done in history. And the demonstrations, of course, that we've had simply means that this man, who was the embodiment of the hopes of humble people, is certainly being taken into the bosom of America to show how they feel about him, and I feel the same way.
MR. GREGORY: Less than two weeks later, the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees began joint closed-door hearings on the dismissal of General MacArthur. He testified for three straight days, insisting he could have won the Korean conflict if he had been allowed to stick to his plan.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: A quick programming note here, Richard Engel will report on a father's quest to investigate a 2008 Taliban ambush that left nine U.S. soldiers dead, including his son, "A Father's Mission." That's tonight, Sunday, on "Dateline" at 7, 6 Central.
That is all for today. We'll be away next Sunday during NBC's coverage of the Wimbledon championship, but we will return the following week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.