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Analyzing Afghanistan; Global Competitiveness Report

Aired September 13, 2009 - 13:00   ET


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

This week, we take a close look at the situation in Afghanistan and what are the options for the United States and NATO forces there.

First, my own thoughts. Look, I think the international community cannot and should not abandon Afghanistan because things have suddenly gotten tough over the last few months. It's worth noting that, even now, violence in Afghanistan is not even a tenth as bad as it was in Iraq in 2006. And the notion that Afghans view American troops as occupation forces is belied by repeated polls in which they keep saying that they support the American presence by large margins. Notice that all four presidential candidates in this election publicly endorse the American presence.

And, finally, a withdrawal from Afghanistan - a precipitous running away because things are getting tough would almost certainly strengthen al Qaeda forces, the hardline Taliban forces. We now know that al Qaeda is becoming active in the north as well as the south. A withdrawal would also take the pressure off the Pakistani military, which would figure that with America gone, now its only leverage against its Afghan neighbor would be to renew its alliance with the Taliban and with militias.

But the Obama administration also needs to get real about Afghanistan. The mission there seems to have expanded from counter insurgency to full-blown nation building, with everyone involved - civilians and soldiers - asking for more resources and more troops. Now, there's nothing wrong with helping Afghans develop their country and building schools, but if the goal becomes to give Afghanistan a strong functioning central government with a solid economy, this is a goal that cannot be met within any reasonable timeframe.

Afghanistan is one of the ten poorest countries in the world. It has a centuries-long tradition of weak central government. Illiteracy rates are somewhere around 70 percent. The focus has to shift from nation building to deal making - deal making with all kinds of tribal leaders - and, yes, even the Taliban - to buy stability.

A few years from now, Afghanistan will likely be poor, corrupt, and dysfunctional. But if we can make the right deals with the right people, it will be reasonably stable and inhospitable to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. That would be success.

Anyway, let's get started. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAKARIA: CNN's Correspondent Michael Ware has just spent a week in the dangerous Afghan city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. He grew a beard, wore Afghan dress, spent time with local warlords, went on night patrols with the Afghan police, all in an effort to get a real sense of how strong the Taliban is and how successful the military mission over there.

Michael, let's start with the heart of this - your assessment. How is it going?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very, very badly, Fareed. This is a mission by - politically and militarily in crisis. Politically, this nation is in limbo. They don't even have finalized results to the outcome of last month's presidential election because the result counting has been bogged down in a storm of substantive corruption allegations. That alone, no matter who is the winner, is going to strip the next administration of the legitimacy the American mission here was so desperately hoping the election would deliver.

Militarily, the entire war plan is up in the air and under review, and for good reason. On the ground, there's simply not enough US or coalition, NATO troops, Afghan troops, Afghan police to put a significant dent in the Taliban war machine. Even what we dub as "Obama's War," this massive offensive in Helmand, is doing very little to the Taliban infrastructure. The Americans and the British there combined moving into Helmand are simply taking a small bite of what is really a very big apple down there in the south, and in no way is it affecting the Taliban's command and control system or its border (ph) bases or supply systems.

So this really is a mission in crisis - Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Michael, you were in Iraq around the time of the surge. Make some comparisons, what - what is the Afghan army strike you like compared with the Iraqi army in 2006, 2007?

WARE: Well, there's absolutely no comparison. As floored or as challenged as the Iraqi army might be, it is light years ahead of the Afghan National Army. The Afghan National Army is many, many, many years away from being able to stand up on its own two feet, even if America stayed in the country to underride it is we're seeing in Iraq. That's simply not going to happen any time soon.

However, we may soon see America drawing upon its lessons from Iraq. What we have here now in Afghanistan is a situation where we may look at the development of US-backed tribal militias who will go and fight the Taliban in the areas where America cannot fight. Now, militarily, these militias act as a force multiplier. They add to the - to the projection of power of the American forces, simply by weight of numbers. In terms of local knowledge, they are unparalleled and can do far more than any foreign troops, though also not only have much greater ability at attacking that Taliban war machine and starting to put some kind of a crimp in it, it will also be a form of confrontation between the United States and the Pakistani Intelligence Agency that allows the Afghan Taliban to take sanctuary in Pakistan - Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Michael, I agree with you. I think that is the key here, which is to replicate that element of the surge which was to draw - to divide the enemy, to draw some of these people into - in - to start fighting for the Americans. Why hasn't it happened? It is something I've asked senior officials and I get a variety of answers. Some of them blame the Afghans, they blame Karzai. They say he didn't want this (ph) started by going to Mullah Omar, which is a non-starter. Some blame the Americans. They say they're sitting there waiting for a strategic advantage. On the ground, what does it look like to you? Why aren't we making deals with locals?

WARE: That has been a spectacular failure here in Afghanistan, Fareed. I mean, over the past eight years America has proved particularly inept at addressing even just the tribal issue. Harnessing the power of the tribes or at least engaging in a significant way with them - yes, America has had its favorites in the beginning, either warlords or particular tribes who were attractive to it at the time of 9/11. However, the situation pre-9/11, pre-Afghan invasion has changed dramatically - without surprise - in these eight years, and America has been very slow to react to that situation.

I was at ISAF Headquarters just the other day, sitting down with some of the men addressing this issue, and I have to say there has been an awakening, and I think you'll find that some kind of tribal militia solution that may include some of the old warlords in the Soviet era who defeated the Russia - the Soviet army here in the '80s may become a part of the solution that General McChrystal offers to President Obama. Certainly, we have a senior Afghan government official, an official at cabinet level, who's confirmed to us that the program has already began with pilot programs already underway with tribes in the south - Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Is there - is there a danger here that - that these tribes will use us for their own purposes? What's the downside of this strategy?

WARE: What? You mean the tribes haven't been using the Americans since day one to settle old scores, to mark rival as - rivals as enemies, or to have those who are not in, you know, the chosen five's (ph) favor left out and ignored by the American attention? That's not a new thing. Of course, that's inherent in this solution. If that was - were to emerge. But that's inherent anyway.

What I think is the greater problem is that, tactically, in the short term, significant engagement of the tribes and the old veterans of the Soviet war, if they can be turned against the Taliban would be stunningly successful. However, there will be a high price to pay going forward in the second and third tier effects (ph), and that's what needs to be addressed. How do you manage these guys so they don't get out of control? How do you accept responsibility? How is there any kind of accountability? How do you sell it to the Afghan people, to the international community? And eventually ordinary Afghans themselves, let alone the - the foreigners here, want to see a new state emerge, and how would the reestablishment of tribal forces or warlord forces affect that in the long term? So it's certainly not an easy fit, but it may be the only one or an important part of the only solution that may present itself to President Obama, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: You were talking about the - the Afghan army and the Iraqi army. I just want to ask you one supplementary on that, which is American commanders do tell me...

WARE: I'll take the supplementary.

ZAKARIA: American commanders do tell me that while the afghan army is much less disciplined than the Iraqi army, they're real fighters, that they are courageous and - and they will - they will charge up the hill in the way that a lot of the Iraqi forces would not. Is that your experience?

WARE: Well, I - I mean, I'll caveat by my answer before I go on by saying I had seen incredible bravery from Iraqi soldiers, but by and large you could argue that, yes, that's true. I mean, these Afghans, when they decide to fight, they fight. And it's on their home turf. That's an important thing, too. So these Afghans can be fierce. I mean, it's renowned as the - the famed graveyard of empires, this nation. And the current generations are, you know, are proving that to be true, be they on the Taliban side or on the government side.

It's about harnessing that - that energy, that fervor, that fanaticism, that nationalism. And that's what America has failed to do. Well, America's rivals in the region - particularly Iran and Pakistan - are old hands and so adept at playing the tribal game here or at playing within the Afghan culture and extracting sometimes the best and sometimes the worst of it. America has failed to even be in the game, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Michael, I know you had a near-miss with an IED, with an improvised explosive device. First of all, did you have any - are there any lasting effects? You can obviously hear me, but what does it feel like?

WARE: It wasn't my first IED, but it - it did - it did distinguish itself. I mean, I was particularly exposed in this case. I was in the back of an Afghan police gun truck rather than encased in the armor of an American humvee or - even better - a - an American Bradley fighting vehicle. So it was a very raw experience and - and watching the tape, again, of that incident had - what struck me is how quickly it all happened.

I mean, this is such a cliche from someone who comes out of an event like this, but in my recollection everything transpired much more slowly. And, yes, that sort of thing does rattle you in body and does leave a - a mark upon you in spirit. But we're all fine, thank goodness, both the cameraman, Samad Gusiri (ph) who was with me and the Afghan police who were in that truck. Unfortunately, precisely a week later, just a couple of days ago, we received a call one evening here in Kabul from the same police unit, and one week later, on the same road, same patrol, they were hit again. Unfortunately, this time it shredded the legs of two of the Afghan police and blinded one of the injured men.

ZAKARIA: Do you feel that going around on these patrols you are - you feel more insecure in Afghanistan than you did in Iraq?

WARE: Not - not necessarily so, no, because you choose who you go with. Now, the particular police commander whose men we're with on that patrol, I've known him for eight years, and that man has been a police commander in the birthplace of the Taliban, killing Talibs since December 2001. He's survived and outlasted successive police chiefs and governors, and he's on the frontline and he's still standing. And there's a reason for that. So you choose who you go with very, very carefully.

But, you know, there - there's risk inherent with all of this. I mean, there was risk when I'm imbedded with US Forces, be it the battle of Fallujah, be it the invasion of Iraq, be it the battle of Tal Afar, be it the battle of Samarra. There's inherent risk when I'm with Afghan forces over here or coalition troops. I mean, there's inherent risk when you're operating independently, as we do. Unfortunately, just part of the business, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Well, keep choosing wisely, Michael, and stay safe. And thank you very much.

WARE: Insha'Allah, as they say, mate. Insha'Allah.

ZAKARIA: Thank you, Michael. Appreciate it.



ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, AFGHAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's because of the failures of Mr. Karzai's leadership that we are in this situation, but more troops would not be a substitute for the failure of a national leadership.




ZAKARIA: Dr. Abdullah Abdullah is the former foreign minister of Afghanistan and of course came in second in the presidential elections. He joins me now from Kabul. Welcome, Dr. Abdullah.

May I ask you, do you believe that the election results were fair enough, that it is clear that Hamid Karzai got a majority of votes? In other words, even if there was fraud, the margin of victory is such that in all likelihood Karzai did, in fact, come in first?

ABDULLAH: I tried, and the people supported my efforts to bring change in this country, and finally the results have been stolen by Mr. Karzai and his team. So this is not acceptable. In the outcome - provisional outcome which has been announced so far, hundreds of thousands of fraudulent vote has been included, so that shows - that being counted, it shows that President Karzai is in the lead for about 50 percent. Those fraudulent vote taken out, which should be taken out, he will have quite a different number, much below 50 percent, and it - there will be a runoff (ph).

ZAKARIA: Do you believe that Karzai has the legitimacy to be president, given the - the nature of this election? Whatever the outcome, do you think his credibility is now fatally compromised?

ABDULLAH: I think absolutely. He has done a great disservice to the people of Afghanistan by ruining this opportunity. Today, we are hoping that the United States' engagement and support will redouble in order to stabilize Afghanistan so one day the United States, their forces can go back and - and - But, at the same time, we are faced with this dilemma. They say that the elections was an opportunity. It was stolen. So, what is it that they are supporting here? He's ruining that opportunity for Afghanistan, for the peace in this region and for the world peace.

ZAKARIA: You know, Dr. Abdullah, there is a debate going on in the United States because it appears that General McChrystal is likely to ask for more troops. Do you believe that General McChrystal should be given more troops in order to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan or are there already too many foreign troops in Afghanistan?

ABDULLAH: No, I would say that, yes, more troops are needed, and I hope that he gets that, General McChrystal. But, at the same time, my point is that eight years down the road, we should have been in a situation - or we could have been in a situation that we would have needed lesser troops, and one day no troops at all. And it's because of the failures of Mr. Karzai's leadership that we are at this situation, but more troops will not be a substitute for the failure of a national leadership, which is - which is currently the case. Hopefully elections in - the process will help us to get out of this dilemma.

ZAKARIA: So you don't worry about the - the fear that some people have that it will look like an American occupation? You were campaigning around the country - you did not find that the average Afghan saw American troops as an occupation force? Would that be accurate?

ABDULLAH: The only thing that we are - the people of Afghanistan witnessed is more troops, more troops and no improvement in the situation. Of course that will look like - like an occupation with no end in sight. That's not the situation that the people of Afghanistan will accept.

But my wish, my hope is that with this opportunity of more troops and more resources and - and - and a stronger commitment by the current administration in the United States, coupled with a legitimate government which deals with the issues of corruption, issues of governance, injustices and security and political situation as a whole and rule of law, we will have an opportunity which - which Afghanistan stands on its own feet day by day rather than getting deeper into chaos, which is the current situation. ZAKARIA: President Karzai has - has proposed that he would even talk to Mullah Omar as a way of bringing some Taliban factions into the fold. Would you go as far? You - you talk about trying to reach out to the people, the - the pashtuns. Would you go so far as to negotiate with Mullah Omar?

ABDULLAH: I think let him talk to Mullah Omar. Let them be in one room and see what happens. But my point is that...

ZAKARIA: Wait, what do you mean by that? What do you mean by that?

ABDULLAH: ... this is just like daydreaming.

ZAKARIA: What - what do you mean by that? It's a - it's - it's a fantasy?

ABDULLAH: I - I mean - I mean - I mean that it's - it's - it's like a fantasy, and both of them have done more or less equal damage to the process and to the opportunity for Afghanistan, and they could be partners. But as far as the people of Afghanistan is concerned, reaching out to the people, what is the problem today? The main problem today in Afghanistan is that there is a growing gap between the people and the government and, as a result of that, Mullah Omar is getting stronger, insurgency is getting stronger and the people are disenfranchised.

So, to reach out to the people, to deliver, to bring hope to the people is something that will isolate those forces which want to fight up to the end. And there are thousands of people under the name of Taliban which have joined the ranks of Taliban not because they are ideologically the same - the same brand or they want to destroy Afghanistan, to reverse the process, but because of corruption, because of injustices, because of no future.

ZAKARIA: Dr. Abdullah, you've been very kind to spend some time with us. Thank you very much.

ABDULLAH: You're welcome. Thank you.



ZAKARIA: We'll get back to Afghanistan in just a moment. But now our "What in the World" segment, and here's what got my attention this week: a report, a dry report on global competitiveness that's put out by the World Economic Forum. They're the ones who gather world leaders and CEOs, most famously in Davos, Switzerland every winter to try to solve the world's problems.

But this is an exhaustive of study put together by academics and businesspeople under the auspices of the web (ph). And this year's report says the US can no longer claim to be the world's most competitive economy. That honor now goes to Switzerland.

To reach this conclusion, the forum looked at more than 100 factors related to the economies of more than 130 nations. Everything from tax rates to how many consumers are connected to the internet to quality of education. The two key factors that the United States scored worst on were government deficit and government debt. Of the 133 countries in the survey, the United States ranked 122 on deficit and 114 on debt. The countries that did worst were economies like Burundi, Guyana and Sri Lanka.

Already you can see that the world is having some jitters about America's long-term fiscal health. This week, the dollar fell to yearly lows against many major currencies. Also this week, a UN panel endorsed proposals to replace the dollar as the world's reserve currency, something that would have a very significant negative effect for Americans.

Now, let's not exaggerate the dangers. The United States is still the second most competitive economy in the world. These lists are not hard and fast, and the dollar still towers above alternatives like the euro and the yen. But it's worth remembering that the vitality of America's economy is the fundamental basis of its power. Ultimately, America's world role depends less on what the Taliban do in the mountains of Afghanistan and more on what these researchers find when preparing next year's global competitiveness report.

Now, what can Americans do about all of this? Most of us of course have no control over the nation's debt or deficit, but the World Economic Forum report also gave bad marks on something you viewers in the United States can change. It said the American public doesn't save enough. So if you want to do your part to help America regain that top spot, go make a deposit.

We'll be right back.


ANDREW BACEVICH, AUTHOR, THE LIMITS OF POWER: I question the assumption that the fate of Afghanistan constitutes a vital national security interest of the United States. I would insist that our interests there are actually quite limited, and so long as we deny al Qaeda the ability to establish a substantial presence there, we don't much of care what happens in Afghanistan.



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CENTER: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Here are the top stories today.

White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs is defending the president's plan to overhaul the health care system. This morning on "STATE OF THE UNION," Gibbs said the reform plan will not affect people who already have insurance, and he said a government-run public option is one way to achieve reform, not the only way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As the president said, he prefer of prefers the public option. However he said what's most important is choice and competition.


WHITFIELD: A deadly weekend for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Four soldiers were killed in two separate roadside bombing attacks. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to approve sending thousands of additional forces to Afghanistan to deal with the growing threat of roadside bombs.

And the family of an Iraqi journalist jailed for throwing his shoes at former President George Bush is celebrating today ahead of his expected release. Muntadar Al Zeidi is scheduled to be released from prison tomorrow after serving a nine-month sentence for assault.

Al Zeidi threw his shoes, as you remember right there, at Bush as an act of protest over the Iraq war.

And tennis star Serena Williams is out of the U.S. open after a chair umpire called her for unsportsmanlike conduct. The pivotal call came on match point against unseated Kim Clisters after Williams screamed profanities at a line judge. Earlier in the semifinals Williams smashed a tennis racket after losing the first set.

And those are the headlines. Fareed Zakaria GPS will return after this.


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: There is a furious ongoing debate about Afghanistan that is taking place in think tanks in Washington and on op-ed pages everywhere I think it's an important debate. I hope a similar debate is taking place within the government.

But what we have done is try to bring you the leading participants of the debate here in the United States. Rory Stewart recently told the financial times this -- "You feel in Afghanistan that every part of you is being tested."

His understanding of the country is deep. He has, after all, walked across most of it. His many bona fides, his is currently director for the Core Center for human rights at Harvard.

One of Andrew's Bacevich's books, his most recent, is called "the limits of power the end of American exceptionalism." It's become an influential work read widely in political and scholarly circles. He retired from the U.S. army as a colonel and is now a professor of international relations at Boston University.

Masood Aziz is a former diplomat. He served as senior advisor of the Afghan embassy in Washington. He writes analysis on his native country, most recently on

And Bret Stevens is the foreign affairs columnists and deputy editorial editor of the "Wall Street Journal," he is also a frequent guest on this program. Welcome, gentlemen.

Bret, if you read the counterinsurgency manual that General Petraeus kind of rewrote, there is an awful lot about governance development, and it does strike me that there are -- to make too close a link between economic development and good governance and peace and stability and the lack of counterinsurgency seems to be historically fallacious, that there are a lot of poor, undeveloped countries in the world that don't have insurgencies, that are not on the brink of civil war.

And if you set yourself up and say until Afghanistan is a solidly developing country we're not going to have an end to the insurgency, we may be waiting a long while.

BRET STEVENS, "WALL STREET JOURNAL: That's exactly the point. And Rory made a point in an article saying some of the counterinsurgency manual reads like a World Bank document. You can go too far in emphasizing the development, and you don't need to achieve of maximum objectives in terms of good governance, in terms of development, in order to deal with the kind of insurgency we have in Afghanistan.

So clearly there is a need, in my rue view, for more troops so that you can occupy more ground, provide more security not only in villages but major population areas, particularly like Kandahar.

But you also need to rethink counterinsurgency as it was practiced there. And you have an example of that in the surge in Iraq. I'm not the saying they're perfectly analogous. I'm simply saying that the military is capable of rethinking the way it deals with an insurgency situation.

But to say this is hopeless or to look to the 1860s and say the Brits failed, the Soviets failed, therefore it's the lesson of history that NATO will fail as well, I think is really kind of a counsel of despair.

Andy Bacevich, counsel of despair.


ZAKARIA: You've been arguing for disengagement for a while.

BACEVICH: Well, I mean, you are presiding over a very interesting debate about what we are able to accomplish in Afghanistan. That's an important to make.

But it seems to me there's another question, and the question is what do we need to accomplish in Afghanistan? I question the assumption that the fate of Afghanistan constitutes a vital national security interest of the United States.

I would insist that our interests there are actually quite limited, and so long as we deny Al Qaeda the ability to establish a substantial presence there, we don't much care what happens in Afghanistan.

And I would argue strongly that after eight years of a large-scale military presence, simply expanding on this project for another five or ten years with the hope that somehow Afghanistan is going to become a peaceful and democratic place is folly. We can't afford it. And, again, to emphasize, we don't need to undertake this project.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you, Andy. Most people would agree that there is some Al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the fact that they can roam freely between those two countries is a danger, that they do have the ambition to plan terrorist activities.

And most military commanders tell me that the presence in Afghanistan is vital to the intelligence that they have been receiving, which has allowed them to keep Al Qaeda on the defense to eliminate certain high-value targets, 14 of the top 20 Al Qaeda chieftains that they have identified have now been assassinated over the last few years.

If you were to withdraw and simply do all of this off the decks of carriers in the Persian Gulf, don't you lose that ability? Is there really an over the horizon option that would keep Al Qaeda on the run, that would keep the terrorist camps from not reconstituting?

BACEVICH: I think the option that deserves to be examined seriously is, yes, an over the horizon option, but an over the horizon option that is combined with the outsourcing option, that we both provide incentives to chieftains and warlords to keep Al Qaeda out while at the same time we maintain intensive surveillance over Afghanistan and, as needed, use punitive strikes to keep them on the run.

I can't sit here and guarantee that's an absolute failsafe strategy for success, but none of the advocates of counterinsurgency can guarantee success.

None of the advocates of counterinsurgency, it seems to me, are willing to acknowledge that the course of action they propose is probably a five to ten year commitment that will end up costing several hundred billion dollars that we, frankly, don't have.

So it seems to me that it makes all the sense in the world to seriously consider more cost-effective approaches.


STEVENS: I disagree with Andy on a number of fronts, but I think the most important point to make against him is this idea that Afghanistan simply doesn't matter to our national security interests. We've invested a great --

BACEVICH: I didn't say that. I didn't say that.

STEVENS: All right. Well, that it isn't vital. I don't want to put words in your mouth.

But let me just express my view. Afghanistan is vital to our national security interest. Staying there is vital. Not leaving in defeat is important.

We've invested a great deal of prestige there, but it's important also to think of Afghanistan the way jihadists and Mujahideen see it. In 1979 the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. In 1980, ten years later, they left in defeat. And two years later the Soviets collapsed.

In the minds of the Mujahideen, they were instruments for the destruction of one of the two hated super powers. This kind of -- you consider this a fantasy, and in fact in many respects it was.

But Al Qaeda feeds on fantasy ideology which encourages it to undertake highly ambitious projects. One such ambitious project was 9/11, the idea that you can strike blows at a seeming giant like the United States and come away victorious.

And if we were to leave, you can be certain that this would provide a kind of ideological impetus to the movement that it largely lost after its de facto defeat in Iraq.

It would hugely inflate their sense of self-importance and even if their ideas are insane, it's those insane ideas that lead people to get in planes and throw themselves at buildings.

ZAKARIA: Andy Bacevich?

BACEVICH: This really is, I think, a fundamental point of disagreement. I agree emphatically that the aspirations of Al Qaeda are informed by a fantastic and unrealistic understanding of the course of modern history and of their own capacity.

I question whether or not their fantasies should somehow shape our understanding of our interests and our approach to national security. It seems to me that that causes us to play their game.

Now, Bret and I may have a different view of things like Iraq and whether or not that war was necessary, whether or not we can consider that war in any way to have been a success, but it just seems to me that their fantasies should not determine our policies.

ZAKARIA: We'll be back right after this.


RORY STEWART, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: If people were actually responsible and actually concerned about the interests of Afghans, I believe they would have been trying to articulate a more moderate, lighter presence in that country which could serve our national security interests in terms of counterterrorism and our humanitarian objectives for that country.

These attempts to oscillate between 100,000 troops on the one hand and zero on the other are going to do no good for us or the Afghans.


ZAKARIA: And we are back with our star-studded panel on Afghanistan.

Rory, let me start with you. You wrote a piece in the "London Review of Books" in which you made all kinds of analogies to 19th century Britain and things like that.

And I guess my question is, couldn't you have made a similar case about Iraq? There is a certain kind of world-weary pessimism that affects, I should say, your work.

And yet, you know, there have been many places that have historically been conflict ridden, that have historically had tribal structures, where you see peace, stability, progress.

I can think of the Balkans where everybody said these people will always kill each other and have killed each other for centuries. I think of Iraq, where many said you'll never be able to get any stability. So why is Afghanistan different?

STEWART: It's all about specificity, Fareed. The Bosnian example is a very good one, and we shouldn't get into a situation where we believe there's nothing that the international community can do anywhere in the world.

But Afghanistan is the limit case. It's the country of nearly 30 million people. It's the size of Texas. It's a very rural population. People are scattered in perhaps 20,000 villages across the country. So the analogies from Iraq or Bosnia simply don't work.

What happened in Iraq was a relatively credible government with a mass political base behind it working largely clearing Sunni groups out of Baghdad, found itself able to cut a deal which the United States was able to help largely because it's a quite limited area.

But Afghanistan has none of those political ingredients. It's far too spread out for the American Military to be able to do a clear-hold- build strategy.

So, what we need to get away from is an idea that there is some sort of general lessons from Germany or Japan or Bosnia or Iraq and just look at the details of Afghanistan.

And I think the strongest argument against the current policy in Afghanistan is based on that, it's based on an understanding of that country.

ZAKARIA: Masood, you have an understanding of Afghanistan. Do you think that it is too large, too decentralized to imagine any Iraq- style surge or stabilization working?

MASOOD AZIZ, FORMER AFGHAN DIPLOMAT: I respectfully disagree with that view. I think Afghanistan is a text book case of an under- resourced engagement that has been repeated at every turn, important critical turn in history, recently and remotely. Afghanistan has been under-resourced and this is exactly why we are where we are is because of that.

In 1989 when the Red Army withdrew out of Afghanistan the U.S. stopped their support and it created an environment where the Taliban rose to power, took over the country, and then 9/11 ensued and we had to go back. Resource it again and we did in 2001 and 2002. ZAKARIA: But Masood, what is the -- what is the specific response to the argument that this is a very decentralized country, never had a strong central state, always had tribal structures, very poor, large levels of illiteracy. This is all true, right?

AZIZ: It is true, but the question, you know, I don't quite understand. If you ask the Afghans, they know that this country had a government, had a central government; there was a governance that did exist. It wasn't -- the government never was strong, was not able to service all of this population but it's a fallacy to understand -- to believe that this country didn't have a strong government.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you, Rory, you are very involved in Afghanistan, you run a charitable foundation there. Don't you worry that the kind of counsel you're providing will cause a disengagement with Afghanistan?

There are many people on the ground there, Sarah Chayes (ph) who writes for -- who works for NPR, National Public Radio says, "Look, I'm around these people, they all hate the Taliban, they hate the prospect of the Taliban coming to power. If you leave -- if the international community leaves, they will be stuck with a miserable repressive tyrannical regime that they did not want and did not vote for."

STEWART: Fareed, one of the problems here that you can hear from this Sarah Chayes quote and from this whole studio debate is the number of different arguments that are being put forward. We've had arguments about development and state building. We now have people talking in the studio about the interests of China. We have people talking about American credibility. We have Sarah Chayes talking about Afghan views on the Taliban.

We need to be quite clear about why we're there. And this is important in order to have any kind of sustainable engagement. What worries me about this kind of debate -- this kind of black and white debate where on the one hand you have people saying we cannot afford to lose. Defeat is not an option, we just have to keep pumping in the money and resources indefinitely for some fear that somehow our credibility is affected or the region is affected on the one hand.

Or on the other hand, Andrew proposing that we withdraw over the horizon is that the actual answer, which is much more difficult to articulate is that what we need is a long enduring sustainable presence in that country, which would necessarily have to be a much lighter footprint.

The problem with this whole black and white debate is we're going to lurch, from engagement to isolation, from troop increases to withdrawal. Brett Stevens (ph) is going to support the idea of us increasing the troops and pretty soon come the midterm elections there's going to be a push in the other direction, we're all going to run out the door again, leaving us in the problem we've been in repeatedly.

If people were actually responsible and actually concerned about the interests of Afghans, I believe they would have been trying to articulate a more moderate, lighter presence in that country, which could serve our national security interests in terms of counterterrorism and our humanitarian objectives for that country. These attempts to oscillate between 100 troops and zero on the other are going to do no good for us and no good for the Afghans.

ZAKARIA: We have to end on that note.

Rory Stewart, Andrew Bacevich (ph), Brett Stevens and Masood thank you so much. We'll be right back.


ZAKARIA: Now our question of the week: we took a break from asking questions for a few weeks but here is this week's. I told you at the top of the show I don't think U.S. and NATO forces should withdraw from Afghanistan. Do you agree with me? Should we stay or should we go? Tell me the reasons behind your answer.

As always, I'd like to recommend things I've been reading. This week it's actually two magazine articles, not books. The first is from "Foreign Affairs," the magazine I used to be the managing editor of. It's by Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was of course Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, a frequent guest on this program. It's entitled "An Agenda for NATO." But it is not as boring as the title suggests.

Actually Brzezinski very intelligently lays out how NATO should continue its evolution from a 20th century organization whose primary purpose was to counter the Soviet Union during the Cold War, into something quite different that has relevance against the threats and struggles of the 21st century; really very intelligent.

The second article is from "The Atlantic." It's a piece written by a business executive David Goldhill (ph) who went on an obsessive quest for over a year to figure out what is ailing the American health care system. It's titled "How American Health Care Killed My Father" and as the title suggests Goldhill began his quest after his father was killed suddenly and senselessly by an infection he picked up at a hospital.

It's a great guide to everything that's wrong with health care today, who is to blame and who is not. It's the best article I have read on American health care. If you go to our Web site, you'll find links to both articles.

While you're there please try our weekly quiz, "THE FAREED CHALLENGE." It's a fun test of how closely you've been paying attention to the world.

Thanks to you for being part of this program. I'll see you all next week.