The pundits talked, and I typed. Below are some of what I’ve been hearing on the pundit cable news channels, including one particularly great prospect for Hillary … Gary Berntsen, an expert on the CIA, special operations and and Agfghanistan, Pakistan and the AfPak strategy was on Parker Spitzer Thursday night (Berntsen is a good, longtime friend of Larry Johnson‘s) … and DO NOT MISS the appearance of climate change skeptic Bjorn Lomborg who has a gift for explaining the science so we can all understand it.
Here you go! The following are some great, time-sensitive water cooler topics you can share with your buddies. As I listened to the TV today, I typed, and here’s what I heard:
- John Thune is a GOP name we hear a lot. Sounds like some of the top-tier GOPers are looking at him.
- Sarah Palin / it doesn’t look like she’s going to run in 2012 because of these “clues”: One of her personal top aides has left her to work for a member of Congress + there’s talk about creating a second season of Palin’s popular Discovery Channel show.
- No, no, no. Hillary won’t run in 2012. If Hillary goes anywhere, she’ll go to Defense when Gates leaves. (IMAGINE THAT. HILLARY AS DEFSEC. Talk about breaking a big thick glass ceiling. And, if she runs in 2016, she’ll have 4 years heading the Dept of Defense under her belt. I like it. She already enjoys a LOT of respect throughout the military community because they find that she knows her stuff, and is a smart, rational advocate.)
- GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney will be a magnet for Wall Street money. (Referring to Romney, the pundit noted that the establishment candidate, i.e. the one who lost last time, often wins the nomination.)
- Appointing an ambassador to Damascus is a “complete capitulation” by the Obama administration since, in the last five years, Syria has not changed its behavior in any meaningful way – John Bolton says.
Via CNN: “Climate change skeptic Bjorn Lomborg (featured in the documentary film “Cool It”) says we’re so panicked about climate change we can’t think straight (click here to watch that video).”
Gary Berntsen appeared on Thursday’s Parker/Spitzer/ Since Larry Johnson is likely to write up this story, I[‘m just going to post the transcript, which is a great read:
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PARKER: Well, Eliot, you’re re not the only person for him it’s not clear. I think a lot of people are confused about why we’re still there nine years later. Al Qaeda has moved on and dispersed to other countries. But let’s hope by the end of next year, we have a different story to tell.
SPITZER: I hope.
PARKER: In the meantime, one of the smart people we talked about what’s going on in Afghanistan is Gary Berntsen, a former CIA officer who has spent a lot of time on the ground in Afghanistan and the region. Bernstein more than 21 years of experience and is an expert on counterterrorism and insurgency and he was, in fact, in Tora Bora in December 2001 when Osama bin Laden escaped capture.
So, we talked to him about that and about the ongoing search for bin Laden. Take a look.
GARY BERNTSEN, FORMER CIA OFFICER: He’s a problem. He’s still out there. We still have to do our best to capture him.
The problem is that Pakistan, you know, the state, Pakistan has got 175 million people, over 20 militant groups, over 900,000 people that have cycled through the terrorist training camps or less 20 years. There’s infrastructure that he can hide within. There are tribal groups that because of Pashtunwali, the honor code, that will hide him.
If he is still actually even in that area and hasn’t moved on to Yemen, it’s a problem for us and it’s something that we’re going to continue to work at and eventually we’ll have success on this — eventually. But I know it’s disappointing. It’s almost 10 years.
PARKER: Almost 10 years. But what exactly will be the benefit of catching bin Laden and killing him?
BERNTSEN: Oh, you know, it will be symbolic at that point. You know, Al Qaeda has morphed over the years. And what al Qaeda does now in a place like Pakistan is it’s a — it’s almost like a coordinating body among the militant organizations. It provides training to them. It will send operatives in with militants to teach them how to create IEDs.
PARKER: And by killing him, do we defeat the idea or at least degrade it?
BERNTSEN: Well, you know, anyone who can execute an operation that kills 3,000 Americans has got to be captured and is going to have to be tried and executed. And at — you know, at a principle, you know, and because we owe them and we owe those that lost their lives.
SPITZER: You said he’s hiding. Is he hiding or is he being protected? And the difference is not one without significance in my view. If he’s being protected perhaps by forces within the Pakistani government, the ISI — whomever it may be — that creates an entirely different set of issues for us, both with respect to Pakistan and Afghanistan. So, which do you think it is?
BERNTSEN: Clearly, there’s a sort of gray area in there. And, you know, do they really want him? Did they want him in the beginning? Why haven’t they captured Mullah Omar and turned him over to us, the Pakistanis? This is something that they should do immediately. And that would help us and provide great assistance to us in terms of the fight in Afghanistan where Americans are dying.
SPITZER: And this, of course, goes to the very heart of the problem I think so many people have with our policies in Afghanistan and consequently in Pakistan. We don’t know who our partners are. We know who they pretend to be.
But the Pakistani government, Karzai over in Afghanistan, there is such doubt about whether we can rely upon them the moment we either withdraw troops or start giving them hard, cold cash. What are they? Are they partners? And if they aren’t, is there a future there?
BERNTSEN: Look, part of the problem is with the creation of Pakistan, you know, almost immediately, they were conducting insurgency inside of Kashmir. And ISI was created and the individuals that managed that, you know, that organization was born running insurgencies and doing, you know — and conducting violent types of operations.
And they’ve continued throughout their history. They had a love affair with Kashmir militancy which then blended over into working with the Afghans and the Taliban when control was lost essentially in Afghanistan by — you know, this is President Rabbani period of time.
So Americans have misjudged the Pakistanis, at a time we were helping them fight, you know, the Soviets, they were siphoning off large amounts of that aid and using it to train Kashmiris to kill Indians. So, they’re not reliable partners completely. They’ve gotten a little bit better. You have to continue to maintain pressure on the Pakistanis, but the problem with Pakistan is the 90 nuclear weapons.
BERNTSEN: And, you know, the one thing we don’t want to have happen is a collapse of a failed state and loss of control of that arsenal.
PARKER: And —
SPITZER: Can we go back to — go ahead.
PARKER: Well, I was going to ask your view of our place in Afghanistan and our progress to this point. Of course, one of the main arguments is we don’t want the Taliban to regain strength and thus create a safe haven for al Qaeda. Is the Taliban getting stronger?
BERNTSEN: I think that the report the Obama administration put out, accurate in the sense that we’ve made some gains. You know, I’ve been in Afghanistan constantly over the years. I had a son that just finished a year in combat there, with the 82nd Airborne. And from discussions with him, too, I can see where there’s been improvement, certain areas where there hasn’t been.
You know, most Americans didn’t understand how heavy this lift was going to be. You know, where Saddam Hussein had trained a generation of teachers, engineers, people like that to help him seize control of the Middle East, he was — you know, a power hungry man; Afghanistan has had a complete collapse of civil society.
Afghans, you know, there was a recent survey done in Afghanistan among 1,000 young men from the age of 18 to 20 or 29 or 30 or so, and 90 percent of them never heard of 9/11. They don’t know why we’re there.
PARKER: And that’s stunning.
BERNTSEN: They believe, 40 percent of them think America is out to destroy Islam and another 70 percent think that we don’t respect Islam. We have failed in the public policy war there.
PARKER: Well, how do we turn that around? How do you —
BERNTSEN: The State Department has got to do that.
Part of the problem in America is everybody wants to throw everything on the U.S. military. This is State’s responsibility, selling America there.
SPITZER: Well, here’s what I don’t understand. There’s been really an effort at nation-building.
SPITZER: And even though we don’t want to call it that, that’s what we’re doing in Afghanistan. Yet, we haven’t even begun, it seems to me, as you just said, to persuade the public in Afghanistan that we are there and we are their partners and if we don’t cross that emotional divide, we will never succeed.
BERNTSEN: The most — that’s the most fundamental piece of this that we’ve missed. And that’s what — this polling — this poll was taken in November 2010.
BERNTSEN: You know, in the first three or four years that we lost, when we went into Iraq, we did lose those first few years. We didn’t have programs we were providing literacy training. We didn’t help women and development. We missed the first couple of years because we got stuck in Iraq —
SPITZER: Here’s what I don’t get, the president says over and over again we’re not involved in nation-building. Of course, you can’t use those words. People will say, no, we don’t want to go there. But you’re saying we can’t win unless we get involved in nation-building.
We’re not putting enough resources in to succeed at nation- building but we’re also not withdrawing the resources because we’re not involved in nation-building. So, we seem to be stuck in a netherworld, neither success nor failure. It’s going to go on for another four years.
Does this make sense to you?
BERNTSEN: Well, you know, we can’t flee Afghanistan because the Taliban would return and al Qaeda would return with them. They have a symbiotic relationship.
We’re going to have to do it but it is nation-building that no one wants to talk about. We’re going to have to help them with the development issues that are critical. And by doing so, then simultaneously, draw down traditional troops, you know, U.S. military, and have a larger sort SOCOM, special operations community, footprint there.
SPITZER: What is wrong with the strategy that goes almost immediately just to counter terrorism? You specialty and says, look, we will use Special Ops, all the high tech stuff. Go right out al Qaeda and do it in a surgical way rather than the nation-building.
(CROSSTALK) BERNTSEN: But it’s not just about al Qaeda. Look, you got on the other side of the border in Pakistan, you got, you know, Lashkar- e-Taiba, you got Lashar-e-Jhangvi. You’ve got the Tariki Taliban Pakistan.
SPITZER: But they’re in Pakistan.
BERNTSEN: But they all cross over and they’re all fighting on the ground. We’re fighting against not just the Taliban inside of Afghanistan, but multiple number of groups.
PARKER: They come in and they participate and then they go back home and take a little nap.
SPITZER: But if the Pakistani government won’t help us eradicate those forces, then will nation-building in Afghanistan get us there?
BERNTSEN: We have to do both. And, sadly, the late Richard Holbrooke understood this. This is the guy the first guy that came in and said, we need an Af-Pak solution.
Really, what we need is an Af/Pak/India solution. I would take one country further because the entire Indo-Pak problem sort of, you know, shadows over this and it increases Pakistani paranoia when they see Indian involvement in Afghanistan. This is part of this. This is all part of this, too.
SPITZER: But, Gary, our concerns about al Qaeda coming back into Afghanistan, legitimate as they are, how do we fight this battle against al Qaeda when they are in Yemen and in northern Africa and other places, and they can keep popping up and keep re-inventing themselves? I don’t know how many hundreds of second in commands we’ve killed and yet they keep reproducing.
BERNTSEN: Americans failed to recognize that CIA and the clandestine service is a very, very small organization. The D.O. should probably be double the size, the director of operations. Now, it’s called the National Clandestine Service.
You know, you probably have, you know, one-fifth or one-tenth the number of CIA officers compared to the FBI officers that are — you know, that are covering the United States. It’s a very small organization. We need to invest in intelligence and in diplomacy.
We need to do those sorts of things because the entire burden cannot always fall on the military. They catch a lot of heat unnecessarily and they’re asked to do more than they should be doing.
SPITZER: OK. If you could in one sentence say what our policy should be for clarity because it’s one of these things, nobody quite —
BERNTSEN: We need — we need to create an Afghanistan that — or assist Afghanistan to get to the point where they can help defend themselves. We can have a significant drawdown of forces by 2014. I’m glad the administration has moved from 2011 back to 2014. That is possibly achievable.
And recognize that we need to have much, much lower number of troops on the ground. We cannot afford this. If you look at the economy in the United States, can we afford what we’re spending in Afghanistan? No, we cannot over the long haul. We have to reduce that.
So — and we’ve already spent enough in blood and, you know, blood and treasure in Afghanistan. We need to be thinking about the fastest way to put this thing together, a secure way, so that we can exit that theater and leave it where it has a modicum of stability. We’re not here to build Jeffersonian democracy.
PARKER: All right. Gary Berntsen, thank you so much for being with us.
BERNTSEN: A pleasure.
PARKER: We’ll be right back.
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