Kerry: Afghan handoff may take 4-5 years

Interesting exchange with Senator Kerry, self-appointed expert on international affairs and grand strategy (he did serve in Vietnam)

Kerry: Afghan handoff may take 4-5 years
Senator says unpopular Taliban can’t retake country, calls Obama’s questioning of Gen. McChrystal ‘appropriate’

In the past year Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., has become a more prominent force in Washington. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry offers a critical voice at a time when the United States is engaged in two wars abroad while facing myriad challenges on the international front. The Vietnam War veteran, who was his party's presidential candidate in 2004, recently has warned that though the cost of failure in Afghanistan would be substantial, Afghans must do the heavy lifting. He is pushing an initiative on climate change, tying it directly to national security. Kerry discussed these and other issues Tuesday with USA TODAY's editorial board. The following Q&A is adapted from that session and edited for length and clarity.

Question: What's the best that you think we can achieve in Afghanistan?

Answer: The key to that is to know what is at stake, what your interests are, and to define a strategy around those interests that are achievable. If Afghanistan were not on the border of Pakistan, we wouldn't be there. Pakistan is the central issue, in my judgment, and Afghanistan is sort of the means to the achievement of our goals in Pakistan. The ostensible rationale for our being there today is we want to prevent Afghanistan from being a sanctuary for al-Qaeda to come back.

Q: How?

A: I don't believe the Taliban can take over Afghanistan again 85%-90% of the country do not want the Taliban to come back and govern. And the ethnic division of the country tells me that they can't come back. No one is talking about just walking away. But we have to find a strategy that is achievable to marginalize the Taliban and to maximize the ability of the Afghans themselves to begin to take over the security. It's fine to have some additional troops to go in for these limited purposes. But I'd be very careful about embracing a mission which is larger than we can afford or achieve.

Q: So, just to be clear, what does success look like and how long do you expect it will take?

A: Success is to turn over to the Afghans the ability to maintain their security, to stay engaged in the region and to continue development programs. But to do it at a pace that is primarily focused on a transition so that we can draw down our forces over a period of, say, four to five years.

By H. Darr Beiser/USA TODAY
Sen. John Kerry answers reader and board questions.

Q: We've all heard the expression "paralysis by analysis." Are we reaching the point where careful deliberation is turning into dangerous indecision?

A: No. There are many questions which there weren't answers to that have now been asked. The president wanted a number of different options. And that's important in this kind of consideration. When you commit young people to go out and fight and die for your country, that's the least you owe them. You're giving them a policy that's equal to the sacrifice you're asking them to make.

Q: You've said that Gen. Stanley McChrystal's plan reaches "too far, too fast." When the president's handpicked commander says, "Here's what I need to accomplish the mission," why doesn't he deserve the benefit of the doubt?

A: In most instances, they should. But this is a major strategic crossroads for the United States, for our allies, for the region. And there never was a strategy analysis. Someone very appropriately said that we haven't been fighting a war in Afghanistan for eight years. We've been fighting the same war, each year, for eight years. So this is the first time we've looked at the strategy. And it's entirely appropriate for the president to be taking this time to question a theater commander.

Q: But didn't the administration conduct a full strategy analysis back in March?

A: I don't think it was as full as this one, no. I think what it was was you've got a new administration, comes into office, gets a quick view, makes a commitment to proceed forward, which was the appropriate one. I think we needed to proceed forward. But I think you're getting a much, much more comprehensive understanding now.

Q: What has Gen. McChrystal told you about the situation in Afghanistan?

A: I met with him for a number of hours in Kabul and then I had a long telephone conversation with him. He acknowledged to me that he has serious concerns about the governance component. He has no control over that. But you've got to build and transfer after you've cleared and held. You can't hold forever. And that's not his job. That's the other two pieces of the stool of counterinsurgency. That's the governance and development part of it. The president's job is to put the whole stool together.

Q: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been described as tolerant of corruption, ineffective and a poor partner. What's your assessment?

A: He's achieved a great deal under difficult circumstances, but he's also turned his back on critical choices he has to make. Hopefully, this election provides him with a moment of renewal, to step up and address the critical concerns with respect to the governance of his country.

Q: Isn't the corruption and incompetence of the Karzai government the obstacle?

A: It's part of the obstacle. The obstacle is partly that we don't even have the civilian people in place to do this. We lack people with language skills. We lack people with the know-how to go into a village and do the civic reconstruction that's necessary. We don't have enough development personnel or projects on the ground. We don't have local leadership identified that we can work with in some of these provinces. I didn't say don't do it. I think it's achievable. But I said, "too far, too fast."

Q: Don't the difficulties in Afghanistan pale in comparison with Pakistan?

A: Pakistan is very important strategically for a lot of different reasons. First, it is today a democracy. It's on the border of Iran, on the border of Central Asian countries and Afghanistan. So if you have a stake in the successful repulsion of radical extreme religious ideology, this is a place where it's really critical. We should be investing more in Pakistan. We passed the Kerry-Lugar Act, which puts $1.5 billion a year into civilian aid. But think about it, we've put $243 billion into Afghanistan in the last eight years. I'd say we might've put 10% of that or so into Pakistan over that period of time.

Q: What do you think of the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a federal court in New York and to try others, such as those who attacked the USS Cole, in military tribunals?

A: We've supported the duality of that. We had a vote in the Senate, and many of us felt that we ought to maintain the discretion to choose who to apply what standard to. I know it's difficult for the families because it just opens up wounds. But there's something pretty significant in the United States of America trying people in open court at the locus of the crime. We're going to hold these people accountable, and we're going to do it according to the best tradition of American justice. To do that and carry it to a successful conclusion is a big statement about who we are.

Q: How confident are you that you'll get a climate change bill?

A: My anticipation is we're going to deal with this next spring, and I believe we can pass a major initiative that puts America in the leadership seat, that is good for our economy, that creates jobs and advances our long-term economic future, that makes us more energy-independent, and improves our environment. So it's win-win-win-win, and none of those wins gets measured in most analyses.

Q: We've talked about many challenges today, but in the current U.S. political system, do we have the ability to make the difficult, long-term choices that come with costs?

A: It takes leadership to change it. The president is offering leadership. But we're witnessing literally the most obstructionist Congress that I've seen in 26 years here. And the pressure that is put on our colleagues on the other side of the aisle not to work with us is just enormous. None of us has cornered the market on virtue, but we can have an honest debate and have a give-and-take. We don't have to lie about things and come up with phony studies that cloud the scene. But that's the nature of the battle, and we just have to keep plugging away.

(Photo by H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY.)
BadDay said:
Very interesting read.
You can bet he was spoon fed the answers to those questions. It is also telling to see how "old" that pice is and yet we still do not have a decision from the LEADER OF THE WORLD.
The discussion might just have well consisted of:

What is the future strategy for Afghanistan?

We're handing over to the Afghans and paying them to eliminate/neutralise the opposition.
pombsen-armchair-warrior said:
The discussion might just have well consisted of:

What is the future strategy for Afghanistan?

We're handing over to the Afghans and paying them to eliminate/neutralise the opposition and will bail out as soon as politically expedient 'ala 1975.
Fixed it for you. :D

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