Published: May 13, 2011
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Bin Laden's death has reopened, for some people, the debate over the U.S. troop presence in nearby Afghanistan. And one of the most influential U.S. senators is expressing impatience. Senator Richard Lugar is the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, listened to by many Republicans, as well as by President Obama. Earlier this month, Lugar said it was exceedingly difficult to explain how keeping so many troops in Afghanistan was rational.
When we sat down yesterday, Lugar went further. The Indiana senator laid a scenario for departing Afghanistan, a scenario that policymakers often discuss privately, but rarely say this clearly in public. It could involve letting the Taliban take over part of the country.
Senator RICHARD LUGAR (Republican, Indiana): The president has still got to define: What is the definition of success in Afghanistan, and what is the plan to get to that point?
Now, he's not done that, and some have asked: Well, what would you say? And I say, well, without preempting the president's role, I would say stability in the various provinces. We might wish for an overall central government headed by President Karzai without corruption and with good vibes throughout the country. That is probably going to be unobtainable.
What is obtainable is stability in various sections of the country with people frequently have had long, historical roots in managing those affairs and who are able to defend themselves after we try to give some training to people.
INSKEEP: Which could even mean people that have been opposed to the United States, Taliban figures, running a portion of the country.
Mr. LUGAR: It could be.
INSKEEP: But if it's stable, that's OK in your mind.
Mr. LUGAR: It could be. Our preference would very clearly be people other than Taliban, but likewise, we have to recognize the Pashtuns in the south of the country stretch across the border into Pakistan. And so do the Taliban, and so do others, whether we like it or not.
INSKEEP: Let me try to sketch this out a little further, if I might, because I've heard some analysts talk along these lines: One possibility might be that the Taliban ends up in the control of the southern part of the country. Pakistan, which is very worried about who controls Afghanistan, might be fine with that, because they have links with the Taliban. Hamid Karzai, whoever else, might be controlling the northern part of the country. You're saying, as a result, that might be fine. That might suit U.S. national interests.
Mr. LUGAR: It might. But we can, I believe, have a fairly stable Afghanistan. And so I'm not an overall pessimist that all is lost. But by the time we get to July 1st or thereabouts when another big evaluation's going to occur, there's going to be a very big debate in this country about where we head. And the president will really have to begin to give a better definition.
He may have a different one than the one I suggested, but rather than being vague about it, I've at least filled in some of the blanks.
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that. The president, of course, has said that he wants to begin withdrawing troops in July.
Mr. LUGAR: Yes.
INSKEEP: That time is practically upon us, so that would seem to be the time that we have. But the administration has also spoken about keeping troops in Afghanistan for years. The date 2014 has been mentioned. Is that a suitable time frame, given that you feel that the commitment there is not rational?
Mr. LUGAR: It's a time for him that's fairly far away. Now, I understand when the president enunciated the new plan for Afghanistan, the political pressures on him were huge. I believe we're going to need more time. I'm not one suggesting that we leave Afghanistan now. But I think this dialogue that we're going to have with Congress and the president after July 1st really has to achieve some results in terms of our own expenditures on the country, our own budget. It's hard to have a front room conversation in which everything counts on the budget, but in the back room, we're busy discussing how to spend tens of billions of dollars in Afghanistan. It won't work, and it's got to come together in a similar conversation.
INSKEEP: John Bolton, former U.N. ambassador under President Bush, said in the Wall Street Journal the other day: Removing troops from Afghanistan will be seen in Islamabad as weakness, that it will be read very much the wrong way by the U.S. ally, Pakistan. Is that true?
Mr. LUGAR: Well, John Bolton may be correct to a certain extent that the Pakistanis have to take another look at this situation. How are we going to handle security here? We have counted upon the Americans to take care of a lot of problems for us. This is not good news for a government which already has great problems between the civilian government, the military and the ISI, the intelligence.
In the event we begin to remove troops, they will have to make some recalculations for their own security, and we're going to have to try to work with them carefully as to how they go about that, vis-a-vis India or vis-a-vis Afghanistan or China or Russia or other parties that are out there.
INSKEEP: You've got your name on a law which is described as the Kerry-Lugar bill, which commits billions of dollars in U.S. civilian aid to Pakistan.
Mr. LUGAR: Yes.
INSKEEP: Of course, since bin Laden was found in Pakistan, given where he was found, people have begun questioning that aid again. Do you regret supporting that bill at all?
Mr. LUGAR: No, because the Pakistanis always said: You folks are in and out of the place. You have no interest in us. And we said wrong. We're going to make a commitment for five years. The five years was the big figure, not the $7.5 billion, although that's a lot of money. However, life is never simple, and when we began to implement the first year of this, Pakistanis said, well, you're intruding on our sovereignty. Sometimes they said, well, we need really some big dams.
And we said, no, we want to deal with schoolchildren and want to deal with health, the strengthening of civil government. And they said well, that really is intrusion. You are really into our box now.
So, as a result, the truth of the matter is out of the 1.5 billion in the first year, only 179 million has actually been allocated to four projects. And even that is under some scrutiny as to how it is being spent, how efficient the funds may be.
Now, that's too bad, but it illustrates how tough this job is, even if you offer a very generous thought in terms of foreign assistance. Getting it done in Pakistan is no easy trick. However, there's still four more years to come into a new relationship with a very important country of 180 million people.
INSKEEP: Senator Lugar, thanks very much.
Mr. LUGAR: Thank you, sir.
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