RM: "'Troops, troops, troops' is not going to fix it."
Roland Martin's weekend special this week was "What They Didn't Say in the Debate" and in one segment, Michael (and Fran Townsend) discussed the Iran/Iraq situation as well as Afghanistan and how we need to proceed there. A lot of terrific points were made in this segment... and this stuff definitely should have been addressed in the debate and in the post-debate discussion. Kudos to Roland Martin for finally giving the people who know what they are talking about on these subjects time enough to actually explain what we-the-people need to know.
ROLAND MARTIN: During the debate John McCain said the lesson of Iraq is very clear: you can't have a failed strategy that will then cause you to nearly lose a conflict. Okay, that was clear?
Now, Barack Obama said the lesson of Iraq is we have to use our military wisely and we didn't use it wisely in Iraq. What they didn't say is when will our troops come home. With me for a reality check is CNN Correspondent Michael Ware, who is based in Baghdad, and has covered the entire course of the war. Also, Francis Townsend, who was President Bush's Homeland Security Advisor and is now a CNN national security contributor.
And Francis, I want to start with you.
FRANCIS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Sure.
MARTIN: Lot of conversation about Afghanistan. What we need to do: more troops, more troops. How do we accomplish that when we have so many troops in Iraq. Something has to give on that issue.
TOWNSEND: Sure, Roland, but we already have some troops drawing down and President Bush has talked about that. And so you can begin to see and we have already begun to build up troops in Afghanistan.
What I thought was most interesting and most important about the discussion about Afghanistan is, you can't solve it just if you are looking at Afghanistan. You've got to deal with the tribal areas, you've got to deal with Pakistan. This is a region that is very closely integrated and you've got to deal with it as a single problem set. And that's what they talked about.
MARTIN: Now, Michael, we kept hearing the talking about, again, the troops. McCain saying I've been there and you should have been at the hearings.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN BAGHDAD CORRESPONDENT: (SIGH)
MARTIN: I take it you weren't quite impressed by their conversation.
WARE: Yes, when he says he's been to Waziristan, I'm not sure it's the same part that I've been to, but anyway.
I mean, in all of this, Fran is right. Afghanistan can't be looked at in isolation. But there's two things: 'troops, troops, troops' is not going to fix it. I mean, if you have ever been in that terrain, that border swallows infantry divisions whole.
And correct me if I'm wrong, I think the Russians in the '80s tried to flood it with troops and we saw how that ended up. You want to tackle the problem of Afghanistan, of a resurgent Taliban and nesting Al Qaeda? There is one thing that I've yet to hear the candidates talk about that strikes right at the heart of this: the ISI, the Pakistani Intelligence Agency that was part of creating the Taliban and continues, within rogue elements or hard line elements of that intelligence service -- though an ally, technically, of Washington -- they're supporting the Taliban and al Qaeda.
MARTIN: I also have to confront the reality, and we talked about it before Michael, in terms of - even with the surge, we focus on the military aspect. But look, we paid a lot of folks off to put their weapons down. Let's be just honest. And McCain even mentioned, he did not vote to support the building of Afghanistan after the Russians left. This is not a military issue, Fran, it is also a matter of humanitarian, building schools and businesses, besides just frankly, killing folks.
TOWNSEND: No, that is absolutely right Roland. And like Michael, I have been to Khost and I've been to Jalalabad. These are the cities in Afghanistan right on the border. And what you realize is, you do need people to come in. You need the NGOs to be secure and comfortable to come in to build health clinics, to build schools. We built roads. We need more. But you have to build an economy. It's not just holding and clearing. It is actually building and helping the Afghans. One of John McCain's right complaints about Afghanistan is the Karzai government has not been very effective in extending their rule outside Kabul. And that has to change.
MARTIN: Lots of conversation about Iran, but is Pakistan a more critical issue; making sure we are straight with that. They have nuclear weapons, al Qaeda, a new president. I mean, that is not a stable situation for the United States.
WARE: No it's not. And obviously, Pakistan, theoretically, should be a key U.S. ally. And certainly the civil government there in Islamabad, I firmly believe, as a newly democratic government, clearly does side with the U.S. It's interests much more closely align with Washington's. But as President Bush, himself, asked the Pakistani prime minister just a few months ago, who is controlling your intelligence service? This is in military and intelligence circles that dark nether world. The civilian government in Pakistan is very weak and the intelligence services and the military are very strong.
TOWNSEND: We have a lot of confidence in Kayani, who is the army chief of staff. Very impressive guy. He did control the intelligence service before his promotion. The problem is how deep does that control go? It's not -- you know, we do continue to have concerns, I think, the U.S. government intelligence services, about penetration of the ISI by extremists.
WARE: But what can you do? There is very little you can do.
MARTIN: Which, frankly, brings up this whole point that came out yesterday, though, that how do you take action if you have intelligence? The bottom line is -- at one point, they're saying, well, they are our partners and we're depending upon them. But they are kind of not our partners, we have concerns. So what do we do? Just sit here and do nothing?
TOWNSEND: Roland, one of the most stunning moments last night, to me, was when Barack Obama sounded like George Bush. Literally, Barack Obama said if we have intelligence against al Qaeda senior leadership, we're gonna will action it, militarily. The interesting thing is President Bush has been saying if we had information on where bin Laden is, no options are off the table. I thought it was stunning, there was this moment where all of a sudden Barack Obama sounded like George W. Bush.
MARTIN: But actually, though, remember though, when he initially said at the Democratic primary, Michael, he was criticized for it.
MARTIN: But then, later, people said well, actually it really wasn't a bad idea. It was sort of like a reverse. I mean, that was surprising as well. Because McCain also criticized that, but as you said, President Bush had done the same thing. Dealing with terrorism, I want to bring up the economy as well. No discussion about how terrorism, globally, could still impact the American economy.
TOWNSEND: Look at 9/11 and we weren't -- we had a budget surplus. We were not in conflicts in two places around the world. If you had a terrorist attack now with the fragility of our economy, imagine the recession. Imagine the size and impact on our economy and not a word when they are asked about the potential of a 9/11 here in this country. And the biggest issue before us today is the economy. Neither candidate makes the connection to the potential impact on our fragile economy, if there were a terrorist attack. Stunning.
WARE: Yeah, and as you well know, Fran. Al Qaeda and some of the other hard-line Islamic militant groups, you don't think they're paying attention to these things?
MARTIN: No, they weren't watching, no.
WARE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Blind as bats.
I mean, they are constantly seeking for, looking for the weak points. They are very savvy at staying on message, and getting, pardon the expression, as much bang for their buck. Don't forget terrorism is about capturing hearts and minds, instilling fear, and they have proven to be very adept at that. So, we have seen them do it before. Target something like the economy. So, yeah there is a vulnerability there and you do need to be aware of it.
MARTIN: Again, so much that they could have talked about, they didn't talk about and that's a shame. That's a shame.
MARTIN: Francis, Michael, I certainly appreciate it. Thanks a bunch.
Now that we have discussed some of the most important issues McCain and Obama didn't talk about in their debate. I have a question left: What are you prepared to do?