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Women, War and Peace: Lessons from Afghanistan

Speaker: Ryan Crocker, Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan
Presider: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Deputy Director, Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations
December 17, 2012
Council on Foreign Relations

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GAYLE LEMMON: (In progress) -- and slightly relieved, but I knew he would be there. If he can make it to Kabul after retirement, he can make it to us on a rainy day. (Laughs.)

So I am delighted that Ambassador Crocker is here. He is a man who needs very little introduction, but I will say that everybody I talk to -- whether on the west coast of the U.S., in Afghanistan or in New York -- had a different story about how they knew Ambassador Crocker, whether they used to run with him or in Beirut or whether they used to work with him as a -- begging and pleading to get information in Afghanistan.

So the breadth that you bring, I think, will be terrific to have after a conversation that has really ranged from how do we get more women into peacekeeping to why are we where we are, where this is still seen, to some extent, as an asterisk risk rather than a central nervous system issue. So with that, I very much look forward to your -- (inaudible).

RYAN CROCKER: Let's see, am I -- yes. Well, thank you very much, Gayle. And this lateness was not arbitrary on my part. The instrument landing system at LaGuardia failed. (Laughter.) So they're about to backed up for days. We actually did better in Afghanistan. (Laughter.) But then, most of the pilots were women.

I know you will have covered a lot of this, and I am -- I apologize for being redundant and also not hearing what I'm sure was a highly informative discussion. I'd like to start with the issue of women in the military. I've seen a great deal of who they are and what they do since I went into Afghanistan right after the fall of the Taliban to reopen our embassy.

And as many of you know, and you may have already discussed, since conventional ground combat roles were closed to women, they figured out pretty early on that the way you get into the fight is you join the military police because that's not considered combat even though it involves escort duty for convoys, some of the most dangerous work in the world. And I remember going up to Baghram, January 2002. And there was a young woman sitting on a -- the gun mount of an up-armored humvee behind a 50-caliber machine gun. You know, don't tell me that isn't combat. (Laughter.)

But we have seen progress. Again, some of you represent that progress. Women in the Air Force -- I wasn't kidding about the percentage of women pilots. It seems like half my C-130 rides had women either left or right seat doing multiple missions -- sorry, multiple tours. The MPs are historic for their bravery and have taken a lot of losses. Blackhawk helicopters, classified as transport rather than combat -- well, they don't mount door guns just because it looks pretty. And of course, we have lost women flying Blackhawks.

Combat pilots in the Navy and in the Air Force, even women in the special forces, which surprises a few people. I'll come back to that later because it went public in a tragic kind of way. The fact is, in the nonconventional wars that I've been part of in Iraq and in Afghanistan, there just -- there really isn't a meaningful distinction between who is and who isn't a combatant. Certainly, the civilians at my embassy in Kabul felt very much combatants, as we were attacked twice during the period I was there.

In Kandahar, a Provincial Reconstruction Team location was attacked and taken under siege for some number of hours. I went down the next day just to thank everybody for their resolve and their courage. PRT was co-located with an army contingent. And I had the honor to pin combat infantry badges on two women, neither of whom were infantrymen because they can't be -- except they are. (Laughter.)

You know, when the -- when the crunch comes, whoever has a weapon -- and they're trained in the use of it just as any man -- is going to move to the sound of the guns. Here's my view. And again, I apologize if you've covered it. It's just based on a lot of experience.

You know, we preach to others abroad, particularly in the Third World, that you cannot really develop fully as a nation unless you use both halves of your population. We're not doing that in the military. And I believe that women should have the opportunity to choose any military occupational specialty that a man can -- MOS for an acronym. They have proved themselves over this decade-plus of war, sometimes with their lives. They have the courage, they have the capability of any man I've met.

And again, let's face it: We have come a great distance in this country, but we don't have full racial equality, and we don't have full gender equality. Simply a hard fact. The military, of course, kind of led society in racial integration. To me, there is something of an irony in that they're kind of lagging in gender integration. And I believe that, you know, if all MOSs were open to women -- obviously, women would have to qualify, as do men -- it would not only enhance the effectiveness of our fighting force, it would also reflect back on our own society to its advantage.

Let me say a word, again, about what you may have already covered. Our women troopers play an invaluable role not only in combat, but their ability to interact with indigenous female populations in the way that a uniformed male trooper never really can. In fact, you know, kind of don't want them to try. It's simply a fact that -- I saw it in Iraq; I saw it in Afghanistan -- women in these traditional societies relate far better to other women, even if they are carrying a weapon and wearing a uniform. We -- it's not -- in addition to their role in peacemaking out of the barrel of a gun, it's this liaison role that I think can be so critically important.

They learn more because they're in touch with that half of the population that is, well, literally walled off from male combatants or, indeed, male diplomats. I think they develop a sense of society -- of what works and what doesn't, and enables us to see tripwires before we trip over them. That's peacemaking.

I mentioned the presence of women on our special forces team. Tragically, that came to light when a young lieutenant was killed with 24 of her male comrades when their CH-47 was shot down in Afghanistan last fall. She was there as an operator with all the requisite skills, but her main role was when compounds were entered and if it were necessary for there to be engagement with women in a compound, that's what she did. Could be highly risky, because women are combatants on the other side too. But if they were to be moved, if they were to be questioned, that was her mission. And of course, she gave her life for it.

I think the same logic applies to peacekeeping as it does to peacemaking, and I'm looking at peacemaking. It's more broadly defined, but in the interests of time, kept it pretty narrow. Peacemaking for me is out of the barrel of a gun. It's combat. The U.N. did that at one point and got out of the habit.

Peacekeepers have a responsibility by definition for an entire population, both halves. And I think the same dynamics that apply in peacemaking certainly apply in peacekeeping. The female half of a population that is benefitting, if that's the right word, from a peacekeeping force is going to relate more easily to other women.

As you know, there are two types of peacekeeping, and I'm delighted that we have a dean here from DPKO. There is the blue-helmeted not only U.N.-mandated but U.N. forces, which are deployed in conflict zones throughout the world and in which the United States does not participate. We do participate in observer missions but not in peacekeeping missions for reasons of policy that Mr. Kavinsky (sp) is far more knowledgeable than I. And I don't -- I don't argue for changing that policy, because it touches on the issue of having U.S. forces under foreign command. And oh, boy. (Laughter.)

But what it has led to is a certain disinterest, if you will, or sporadic engagement. The Pentagon, I think, still has a quite small office involved with U.N. peacekeeping affairs that basically looks after our observer missions, as it should. But we really don't have, unless I've missed it along the way, a systematic mechanism for engagement. Perhaps in New York, but I haven't seen it in the field where peacekeeping forces sometimes, you know, do their own thing. And if there's a motivated political officer at the embassy, he or she might get involved. But given the number of U.N. peacekeepers that -- would you have an estimate just off the top of your head?

LEMMON: The number of peacekeepers?

CROCKER: Yeah, currently deployed.

LEMMON: No.

CROCKER: It's --

LEMMON: I don't want to give a wrong --

CROCKER: It is -- it's in the tens of thousands. I mean, it's --

LEMMON: Yeah, yeah, yeah, definitely, yeah. I -- yeah.

CROCKER: You know, it deserves more of our attention, including on the gender issue. You know, there are some contributors who do deploy women in peacekeeping roles. As far as I know, the UNSYG does not have a restriction on that. They leave it up to the national contributor what their gender participation is. But the overwhelming majority of peacekeepers are, of course, male and again, trying to do the right thing in some very highly charged environments, in cases, for example, where horrific numbers of women have suffered sexual abuse and rape and aren't likely to get too friendly with a male peacekeeper of any nationality.

So internationally, there needs to be more, I think, female involvement by a long shot, you know, tailored and modulated depending on the circumstances, than there is. We could influence that.

But that takes me to the second type of peacekeeping missions, because we can really only influence others if we lead by example. And the second category of peacekeeping missions are -- they're special missions worked out with like-minded allies, generally under a U.N. imprimatur. Examples would be Bosnia, Kosovo, still in the Sinai after all these years. However -- and there, of course, we do participate. We're often, you know, the backbone, if not the entirety, of the effort. These peacekeeping forces, U.S. peacekeeping forces, are combat units, again with a very small percentage of women in kind of noncombatant, administrative jobs. So, you know, point B takes me back to point A; we've got to take the step of opening the combat arms MOSs to women because, you know, if we're going to have credibility with the U.N. and the international community on this issue, I think we've got to show, you know, that we're walking the walk, or marching the march, quite literally.

And indeed, if a move to full equality throughout the U.S. military is too big a lump for a single swallow, putting more women into combat units designated for peacekeeping missions may be one way of taking a bite that is digestible for the system and for the leadership.

There are a few of us in this room old enough to remember when the received wisdom was that the American people would never accept a female service member coming home in a coffin. Well, the American people do accept it, with the same emotions and reactions that, as far as I've been able to notice, as they do with servicemen coming home in coffins. You know, that was a little fiction I think we created so we wouldn't have to grapple with the issue. Well, it's shown to be not the case. So leading by example.

I'd also like to say a word about the role of female civilians in war and peace, in peacemaking and in peacekeeping, which can be as or more important than the role of military forces of either gender. As some of you in this room know because you've done it -- Pat -- foreign affairs agencies, like the State Department or the CIA, have no restrictions on the assignment of women in conflict areas. We saw that, tragically, again, like the presence of women in special forces came to light, only through a tragedy, in 2010 in Afghanistan with the suicide attack on the CIA's host base, killing a number of agency officers, including the chief of base, who was a woman.

There is probably, then and now, nowhere more dangerous in Afghanistan than our civilian bases in the eastern area. A number of women serve in them. Also, on the State side, I will immodestly note that Secretary Clinton, in May 2010, created the Ryan C. Crocker Award for Outstanding Achievement in Expeditionary Diplomacy. I just thought I'd drop that. (Laughter.) The first recipient of that award was a PRT -- Provincial Reconstruction Team -- team leader who spent 18 months in eastern Afghanistan, was a fluent Pashto speaker, who first negotiated among tribal leaders to deploy a surge brigade into the area, would not have gone too happily had she not been able to work out those understandings. And then she used her language and area of familiarity to work on some political deals and settlements among tribes themselves and between tribes and the government in Kabul.

And this illustrates another point: There has also been received wisdom out there that, well, you can't send women to conservative Muslim countries because they will never be accepted. Well, that's crap. I call it the "third sex" rule. Muslim men, however conservative, relate to Western women in a very different way than they would to their own. And I've spent my entire career in Muslim countries and never found a job a woman couldn't do, however hard. You know, we have women leading PRTs. Our consul general in Herat is a woman. Our deputy ambassador in Kabul is a woman.

And this really is, I think, a critical development in peacekeeping and peacemaking because they also work, as you know -- and you may have discussed this -- with Afghan women individually and collectively to expand their organizational capacity and their political and economic weight in Afghan society. Some of you know the redoubtable Sima Samar, the head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, has done a lot to keep the issue of human rights and peaceful settlement of conflict as a front-burner issue. And she's there because however much a pain he may find her on occasion, President Karzai knows that, as the old adage goes, sometimes the best man for a job is a woman. And that certainly is the case with Sima Samar.

They have had a significant impact, I think, on the foundation for sustainable peace. As you all know, Afghan women have made enormous strides since the fall of the Taliban. Constitutionally mandated, 25 percent of the parliament, as they are in Iraq -- in fact, they're over 25 percent because they've won elections that they have contested against men. You know, when I got to Kabul in New Year's 2002, there were 900,000 kids in school, about none of them girls.

Today there are 8 million kids in school, 40 percent of them female. So this empowered female population who stand adamantly and vociferously against a return of the Taliban or any movement in Afghan politics or resort to political violence that would infringe on their security, their safety and their hard-won rights is a formidable force for peacekeeping in this volatile society.

And in this context, I would note the invaluable role of local and international nongovernmental organizations. They have done terrific work in both Iraq and in Afghanistan, empowering women, working on dispute resolution, avoidance of conflict, all of the things that go into peacekeeping, if not -- if not peacemaking.

And that leads me, really, to the final point. Ultimately, it is this generation of women and young people, those who've gotten their education largely in the post-Taliban era, the 20- and early-30-somethings of both genders, who may be the most important bulwark, along with newly empowered women, against a return of conflict or the Taliban.

But here's the price tag: This is only sustainable if we sustain our engagement, American engagement. And I hear all too often, you know, we're tired of this, it's cost too much, it's taken too long; you know, we got problems here, it's time to pull the forces and let the Afghans do the best they can. Well, we tried that once, of course, after the expulsion of the Soviets. It did not -- it did not work well. The Afghan civil war, which killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans at the hands of Afghans; the rise of the Taliban; the introduction of al-Qaida and 9/11.

I don't need to repeat the story of what happened to women under the Taliban. What is less known is that they didn't fare terribly well at the hands of the mujahedeen, either. There are a lot of reactionary forces out there that our presence, our influence, our engagement and our resources have done an enormous amount to keep at bay and to allow women the space to develop.

I have a -- I'm teaching up at Yale now, which -- I left at 5:30 this morning. Could've slept in. (Laughter.)

LEMMON: Next time we'll just send a car.

CROCKER: Yeah, would've been faster. One of my best students is a young Afghan woman from Kabul, of not one of the great or well-known families. She just met somebody who knew somebody who knew how smart she was, and had her take the SATs and shipped them off to some universities -- one of them was Yale. And Yale saw a good deal when it came their way. Hard to think of that happening under mujahedeen or Taliban rule or even the -- even the era that preceded that.

This young woman is in her junior year now. Her desire is to go on to law school. She goes back home every summer. She is active in several Afghan NGOs. She has no intention to remain in this country; she wants to take the skills she's absorbing and apply them back home.

That is truly noble. There are many others like her. But again, their chances are directly related to our resolve to not do what we did in the 1990-1991 period -- which is say, war's over, we're done -- because the very women and girls that we have encouraged to step forward, that we have helped organize, that we have gotten into schools as students and teachers, are going to be the ones who get it in the neck.

We have the structures in place, both bilaterally, through our strategic partnership agreement that carries on to 2024, and internationally, through the Chicago agreements to fund Afghan security forces into the out years, as well as the Tokyo ministerial from July that pledged the international community to something like $16 billion in economic support on terms of conditionality, again over the next three to four years.

So the architecture is there. What is critical is American will -- because again, let me tell you something learned through hard experience: If we don't lead, others are going to wander away too, and those pledges will vanish like smoke. Absolutely guarantee it.

So as the debate is waged now in Washington, what should our long-term posture be, military and civilian? I hope some of these concerns are taken into account -- again, particularly the role of women, the fact that they are an enormous force for stability and a better Afghan future; and the obverse: if we bail early, they are the ones who will pay the price. Our military presence will come down as it should; I hope that if the Afghans, in our current negotiations, do make requests for a post-2014 presence, that we very positively consider it. And I hope very, very much, as there is inevitably -- whatever happens -- increasing emphasis on the civilian role, that we not hack and slash the plans for a post-2014 civilian presence, as I am deeply afraid we are. Because if we're not there to engage, we have no influence. Our ability to deliver effective assistance, to work with our Afghan friends and allies will just take a nosedive.

So with that cheery note -- (laughter) -- I'd be happy to entertain any questions or comments.

LEMMON: First of all, thank you, and I think it's Wajma (sp) you're talking about? So, the young woman he's talking about was my translator four years ago when I was doing dressmaker book research. And in fact, we would talk about inhabiting that third gender, because the only reason why I had to hire her was because there were certain families where we must have a female translator. And I met her through about three different people, and spent days with her, and talked to her all the time. And she is just one example of what will happen if suffocated opportunity returns, right?

I mean, these are who you're talking about in terms of future leaders, and I think, all too often, the victim narrative we were talking about earlier tends to trump the fact that this is your talent, and in an economy and in a political situation where you need all the talent you can get, you're depriving people of it.

CROCKER: Yeah, that -- Gayle, that is just so right. A number of you have been in Afghanistan. Afghan women are extraordinary. I guess it was seven years ago that then-Secretary Rice established the Women of Courage award. An Afghan woman has won it every single year. We did a reception in which all seven materialized. You know, some of them just getting in their own car and driving up from Kandahar. What the heck? So, you know, the courage, the commitment, the determination is there.

I did an undergrad lecture class in the fall on Afghanistan, and I asked Wajma (sp) to address the last session, to -- you know, which was, what's next, next steps, you know, and to address, from an Afghan woman's perspective, what she would like to see from the U.S., and her answer was, just give us the tools. Don't do it for us, show us how to get it done, and by God, we will get her done.

LEMMON: But that brings me to my question -- then we'll open it up -- which is, we talk about -- a lot about the importance of Afghan women, and yet, the sort of most live example of women at the negotiating table in Afghanistan is one where it remains very much a struggle for women to be considered at the big kids' table, right? Because they tend to be on the outside looking in -- and I know Ambassador Steiner and others have been actively working on this. And I wonder, A, what you think it will take for them to win the battle -- to actually be at the table, and B, I will ask you a question about how important you think Secretary Clinton's leadership has been on this and whether you think that whomever is the next secretary will be as committed.

CROCKER: Well, let me start with the second. Secretary Clinton has been phenomenal. We are seeing, as -- again, some of you know very well -- kind of an uneven pattern here. Women are severely underrepresented in the security ministries, but increasingly well-represented in the foreign ministry, where, again, I think some enlightened leadership there -- individuals -- minister -- the deputy minister, who spent years abroad and understand the value to Afghanistan, of using all your assets -- I think, in diplomatic negotiations -- because most of these are fairly young women -- as they gain in seniority, you will see them when the foreign ministry is involved. You know, other ministries, health, education, not too bad, but underrepresentation just about everywhere else. And as I said, severe underrepresentation in the security forces.

And, you know, that was a conversation I had with the defense minister, who was sacked about two weeks later, for unrelated reasons, I hope. You know, that -- you know, watch out. I mean, we -- OK, we got your message about American troopers injuring Afghan homes. We got that. But you could be creating your own problem by having exclusively male forces entering, you know, family compounds. Those families aren't going to like your forces much better than they liked ours. So, you know, you really better train up some women troopers who can do that kind of work.

You know, I think the minister's heart was in the right place, but, of course, he's no longer minister, and I'm not sure of the views of the current minister. Well, let's just leave it at that, because this whole thing's on the record, right? Is that -- (laughter).

LEMMON: Ambassador Steiner.

QUESTIONER: Yes, thank you very much. Appreciate your comments. And I totally agree with you that Afghan women are amazing and brave and very, very talented. And I share the concern that Gayle expressed that it's awfully hard to get them at the right tables, including an influential role in the High Peace Council, which they don't have. And even the numbers aren't good there, but numbers aren't everything. Sometimes numbers don't give you the best women leaders.

I also have a concern about what's going on here in what little debate we have about Afghanistan, because it used to be, shortly after the Taliban period, that we could talk to Americans, and maybe they didn't like our military involvement there, but we'd say, what about the women; you have to support the women, and they would agree, because they saw the awful things that the Taliban did like at that soccer stadium.

But now it tends to be, yes, I'd like to support the women, but it's hopeless. Look what happened last week; look at the beheading; look at this and that. Remember the Time magazine cover too. We -- people here don't think there -- it's hopeful anymore.

How do you think we can best get the message across to our public and to our government, especially in the post-Hillary Clinton era, that these women are leaders and need our support and we have to stay involved?

CROCKER: I think the most effective way of delivering that message is to do as much as we can to get Afghan women to visit the U.S. and up on the Hill, in the administration, in front of public fora, because as you know, you know, there are, you know, hundreds, thousands of incredibly impressive Afghan women. Parliament is full of them. You know, highly articulate with incredible records behind the. No one can tell the story better than they can themselves.

And they certainly don't think it's hopeless and that it's all going down the drain and they're going to lose everything and it's time to emigrate. They're -- you know, they're digging in for the fight.

But I think far better than any American or Westerner, doing programs that -- almost reverse assistance missions when we can get Afghan women to talk about what their perspective is, what they've accomplished, how they accomplished it, where our assistance was important, where it wasn't, and a question I put to -- (inaudible) -- what do they need from us in the future to solidify and build on their gains and not see them eroded?

The High Peace Council -- well, the good news there is it's going nowhere fast. The other point is, things happen below the surface in all societies, including ours, goodness knows. The executive director of the High Peace Council is extremely close to Sima Samar. And they are kind of talking all the time. She is not formally a member of the HPC, but you know, in my experience, she knows everything that is going on because he makes sure she knows it.

One of the issues we faced because of the under-representation of women and a general opacity of the process was a deep suspicion on the part of women and minorities as what's going on. Is this going to be a sellout to the Taliban? Well, it's not. In fact, it's so much not a sell out that it's been very difficult to get Taliban officials to come out and play.

Pakistanis, of course, don't help in this. But even in cases where Taliban-types can move -- and this is what amplifies my fear is knowing what they're thinking, which is: Why reconcile in a way that gives legitimacy to the new Afghanistan when all we have to do is outlast the Americans and we can get it all back?

I -- you know, I was in some of those conversation at Afghan invitation with both the Taliban and with Hekmatyar's group. And while those individuals professed that was not their view, they said it was definitely the preponderant view in the Taliban leadership.

QUESTIONER: You mean -- (inaudible) -- by the way, right? Yeah, he's good.

CROCKER: He's excellent.

LEMMON: Micah (sp).

QUESTIONER: Thank you very much, and for making the rush from the airport to join us. There aren't many people -- you don't have many peers, given your impressive career and postings, but when you raise these issues among your male peers, do they get it? Well, first, do you raise it and is it discussed? Do they get it? Or if they don't get it, what myths and misperceptions do they hold?

CROCKER: You know, I -- (pause) -- I'm pausing on this one because it's a little tough sometime to suss out. I mean, no one is going to be dumb enough to say, oh, forget the women. That's not important. (Laughter.) But the extent to which you have the commitment, you know, to actually get things done, a little harder to gauge. Now, during my time, we were pretty successful at getting funding for programs that benefited women. You know, I worry about the future.

One of the reasons we were as successful at it is in part that absolute war weariness hadn't set in at the time these funds were appropriated several years ago, and Secretary Clinton's leadership. Now, I think you're going to see -- if Senator Kerry is the nominee, you know, I think you're going to see a continued very serious focus on women's issues from him. That's -- he and I have had that discussion. I think he is thoroughly committed to it. And he's been out in Afghanistan often enough to have a sense of the reality.

But that is against a backdrop of general exhaustion over the whole involvement in Afghanistan and an eroding budget climate. You know, the Democrats, of course, won a second term for the president, but now they're looking to midterms and, you know, worried about arguments that too much is being spent overseas and not enough at home, particularly as we face things like Sandy. So I think it's -- it's not only a constant struggle, it is an increasingly difficult struggle.

You know, the point I make on the security side is, you know, we will wind up paying about $2 1/2 billion a year to support -- as our share of support for Afghan security forces totalling 230,000. That sounds like a lot of money until you consider that we're paying about $110 billion a year now. So this is pretty cheap insurance.

And I would argue, again -- and have argued and will argue, that support for Afghan women, for civil society, for social and economic development is also pretty cheap insurance to prevent a spirit of hopelessness from taking hold among the general population that makes it easy for the Taliban.

LEMMON: (Inaudible.)

QUESTIONER: Thank you very much. My question is a little bit linked to Mika's (ph) question. This morning we were discussing obstacles to the implementation of this women peace and security agenda. And there's an assumption at the U.N., and especially in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, that gender is mainly the responsibility of women. So we were trying to look into identifying a male gender champion who could help us push the agenda, and then we realized that at the U.N. also, power is really locked into the hands of a few powerful men, and that my experience is that men at the decision-making level have very few incentives to relinquish power and privileges. So I would like to have your view and maybe your advice where can we find some male gender champions who could maybe -- in addition to yourself, of course. But it's just a question we have to engage men more into that -- the conversation.

CROCKER: Are you talking about American and Western men or Afghan men, or both?

QUESTIONER: No, I'm talking mainly international men, at the international level, because it's always very difficult to move beyond the assumption that gender is about women, should be dealt by woman, and we need more international male character, I would say.

CROCKER: Well, I -- we've just discussed someone who I think is very much of that nature, and that's Senator Kerry. And I would hope those who care deeply about these issues -- you know, once the -- I assume it didn't happen today -- the nomination --

LEMMON: Not that we've seen --

CROCKER: Yeah, it -- probably be the end of the week would be my guess -- that people really concerned about these issues start engaging his staff -- I mean, Fatema Sumar, for example -- she gets it. And one of the reasons she is where she is as his foreign policy adviser is because he gets it. And it'd be worth having a conversation with, you know, other senior Hill staffers -- female Hill staffers on that.

I don't know if anyone in this room lately has talked to Samantha Power about this. I think that is a conversation very, very much worth having given her position and her pre-government background, because I find it kind of quiet over at the White House, to be honest. (Laughter.) And I -- you know, I very much regret the departure of Secretary Clinton. I understand why, and her accident last week, I think, underlines it. She's -- no one has worked harder, traveled more or worn herself out more than she has. So I know the baton has to pass, and I think -- my own sense, from the gender perspectives, is that it could not pass to a better individual than Senator Kerry, as a male -- a male figure.

But you know, let's see what the Obama -- the second Obama administration looks like, how many women are going to be in the Cabinet-level positions. I don't have the figures out of the election in front of me on percentage of women governors, senators and congressmen, but it's not good.

(Cross talk.)

CROCKER: Yeah, but that's kind of sad to say too.

LEMMON: It's interesting you say that. I was doing a Foreign Policy piece and had a senior State Department official tell me, of the White House that these guys just don't get it, that when they try to press these issues within the White House that they are running up against huge obstacles. So that has been echoed in almost every bit of reporting -- (inaudible).

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Two thoughts. One is on the, sort of, security in the transition plans. One of the things that Afghan women are telling us is that they -- none of the -- they feel as if there are no indicators about their security as part of the measure of how the transition is happening, how the security plans are happening. And they're already seeing violence against women going on.

So what -- you know, if we care about their security and we understand that how they fare is going to be a key indicator of how Afghanistan fares, how come that isn't a sort of a key priority?

The second is, you mentioned that -- you know, when Gayle asked you about women at the table and involved in negotiations, you said, you know, if they're in the diplomatic -- you know, in the ministry of foreign affairs or in these other ministries, as they effectively grow up in these ministries, we might see them. But we can't wait that long. The Afghan women's networks and others are out there, and frankly, if they were armed, we would be talking to them at the table and inviting them.

So why can't we -- the paradigm shift that we want and should be happening is that we should be saying they are party to this conflict, they have serious commitments, they have -- as you said, they've got a lot to lose, they've got a lot to give. The only difference is they haven't been armed. Why can we not bring unarmed, committed peacemakers to the table directly, with their own government, which has not been particularly helpful to them, and with the Taliban as and when we talk to them? Because that's the shift that we have to make.

If we keep waiting and keeping them outside, we're going to -- the cycle is going to carry on. And I think that as the U.S. and as the international community, we can do that. We've got the National Action Plan; we've got Security Council resolutions. If we don't do it in Afghanistan, where are we going to do it?

CROCKER: Well, as a veteran of several international conferences in which we worked very hard to ensure that female representation, particularly from civil society, was significant, I've got to give you an impression. Part of the difficulty is the absence of, you know, a full unity of purpose -- you don't expect unity of organization -- in fact, there probably shouldn't be -- but unity of purpose among Afghan women's groups. You know the AWN is not universally popular among Afghan women. And we kind of ran into that in the run-up to Tokyo.

That's -- you know, that can't be used as as copout, but I think part of the effort that we all make -- and NGOs may be more effective at this than, say, USAID -- is, you know -- again, this is all new stuff. I mean, we've had our own problems in this country with unity of effort, and not just on gender equality issues. But, you know, work with them on broad goal-oriented operation to speak with one voice on key issues like security, where there should be no difference, you know, rather than spending time and giving, you know, some of the more reactionary types an excuse to say, well, they're all messed up and can't figure it out, don't know who their own leaders are.

So I think that's an important point as well, and I don't know if -- how much any of us are spending on the effort. You know, by definition I think at this point in Afghanistan, effective women leaders, because of the challenges they face, can also be quite polarizing. You know, Seema is. I mean, she revels in it. But she's also figured out, because of her vast experience, how to make these things work when the chips are really down -- although she gets hugely frustrated, as all of you who know her are aware.

You know, what I worry about in the security transition issue, which has to come -- I mean I think we're seeing the limits of Afghan tolerance for security in foreign hands, and that's why we did what we did on the MOUs in the spring on detentions and special operations, just pre-emptively say, it's yours -- it's the absence of gender focus on the part of the Afghan security establishment. And, you know, with 75 percent of the population now primarily under Afghan security protection, that gets pretty important. So I think we and they, you know, really need to bear down on this: far more females in the security forces and significantly more attention paid to the training of male troopers and officers, because the imperative has been to get them into the fight in a way they're not going to get their head shot off the first day that -- there hasn't, frankly, been, to my knowledge, much focus on this, particularly when you bear in mind that large-scale training of Afghan security forces did not begin until President Obama took office. So, you know, you're talking under four years.

But, you know, as we recede, you know, I'm pleased to see Asia Society polling that shows, you know, very significant support for the security forces. And since that's about a 60/40 sampling, I think, male to female, in the last June poll, if I've got that right, that 90 percent involves a lot of women.

But I worry what happens, you know, when we're not embedded, we, the coalition, embedded, you know, at the brigade and battalion level. You know, we may have some guys in uniform who don't get it either, but they at least know the consequences of not getting it.

You know, I -- a female officer years ago when there were some problems -- more -- far more problems now in the Army on sexual harassment and gender prejudice than is the case today, although it's not gone, said, look -- she was part of a task force that aimed at sort of re-educating the force, and this was back in the '90s. And she said, it's going to be the same as with racial integration decades earlier. You know, we're not telling you got to change the way you think, as much as we might like that. We're telling you you got to change the way you act. You know, you can hold whatever thought it is you want to hold. We can't get inside your brain. But we sure can get on you if you are acting improperly. And, you know, maybe that's the way it's got to start with training of Afghan security forces vis-a-vis adequate protections for Afghan females.

LEMMON: Well, I know we could stay here for lot longer, but I'm very conscious of your time and of the group's. I want to thank all of you for being here. Ambassador Crocker may stay for a couple more minutes if you have additional questions. And otherwise, I very much look forward to the conversation continuing. Thank you. (Applause.)


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