You hold a PhD from Princeton, as does General David Petraeus. You're both West Point grads. How do you think he's going to fare in Afghanistan?
My own view is that Petraeus is widely viewed as the guy that transformed Iraq from being an abject failure into being a success story. My own sense is that his successes in Iraq have been greatly exaggerated, that the decline of violence, which is very real, is derived in part from a set of circumstances totally different from Afghanistan. The surge that Petraeus designed and implemented was intended to bring about reconciliation within the insurgency and has not done that. So, I don't quite have the same view of Petraeus that I think many other people do. I also want to emphasize that Afghanistan is not Iraq. I would caution against thinking that this general is going to wave his magic wand and be able to repeat his feats. I think Afghanistan is different politically, culturally, geographically, historically, and the problem is actually an even more difficult one than the one we faced in Iraq.
People in Washington must be thinking of some sort of exit strategy for Afghanistan. Do you have any hard-headed advice, or some general principles that should be followed in planning our way out of Afghanistan?
Well, my advice comes from the perspective that we really should not be there. I favor a course of action that will limit any further exposure that we have. I think that we should probably do two things: the first is to try as quickly as possible to create an Afghan security force that has some semblance of capability. That's already happening. The second thing, I think, is that we should invest in intelligence capabilities that will allow us to create a very comprehensive surveillance system in Afghanistan, to keep our eyes on radical jihadists. And as necessary, to use strike forces to keep them off-balance and to deny them the kind of time and space that would be required for them to mount another serious attack against us. When I say a strike capability, I mean aircraft, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, for the most part positioned outside of Afghanistan proper.
I get the sense these days that the war in Afghanistan is less about Afghanistan and more about Pakistan, a potentially radical enemy of the United States.
I think there's no question that Pakistan's importance to the United States is orders of magnitude greater than Afghanistan's importance to the United States. I think it's really inexplicable, in a way, that we are spending such enormous resources in trying to pacify Afghanistan and our attention to Pakistan, while considerable, is much smaller. Making things more difficult is that our actions in Pakistan since 2001 have served to destabilize Pakistan. It's very easy to make an argument that US troop presence and activities in Afghanistan have assisted Pakistan in any meaningful way. At best what we've done is to shove Taliban and al Qaeda forces across the border into Pakistan, where they are able to operate freely. So yes, we should be giving serious attention to Pakistan. Now, in doing so, we probably should begin with a realistic understanding of what the history of US-Pakistani relations have been. From the Pakistani point of view, which we cannot afford to ignore, it is one of the US embracing Pakistan as an important ally, when it's convenient for the United States to do so. And the US turning its back on Pakistan when it's convenient to do so. So the notion that somehow Pakistanis should take at face value our professions of undying friendship and support is, I think, inevitably going to lead to disappointment on our part. This is a very big country, and the notion that we can make the Pakistani people and government do our will is absurd.