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Session III of a Council On Foreign Relations Symposium on Afghanistan, Pakistan and U.S. National Security

Speaker: Joseph Lieberman, Senator, (ID-CT)
Presider: Evan Thomas, Editor-At-Large, Newsweek
April 21, 2009, Washington DC
Council on Foreign Relations

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This session was part of the CFR Symposium on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and U.S. National Security, which took place on April 21, 2009, in Washington, DC.

 

EVAN THOMAS:  Good afternoon.  I'm Evan Thomas, and welcome to the fourth and last session here on Afghanistan and Pakistan; to remind you again to please turn off your cell phones, all the way off, any of your BlackBerrys, all that.  This session is on the record.

And now I would like to introduce Senator Lieberman, who needs no introduction.

Senator Lieberman.

SENATOR JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (ID-CT):  Thank you.  Excuse me.

Well, whenever that happens to me -- I thank you, Evan -- I remember three or four years ago being at a gathering where Henry Kissinger was the main speaker, and he was introduced in just this way:  "If there was ever anybody who does not need an introduction, it is Henry Kissinger.  I give you Henry Kissinger."  And Kissinger got up and said, "You know, I suppose it's true.  I don't need an introduction.  But I like a good introduction."  (Laughter.)

Okay.  It's really an honor to be here at the Council to exercise my membership, which I don't get a chance to do too often, and to engage in this discussion, a very important and timely one.  As I presume most of you know, the Council was founded nearly 90 years ago, in 1921, by a group of far-sighted leaders who recognized that the era in which America could remain safely disengaged from the rest of the world, protected by two great oceans, was over.

This was by no means a popular position to take in the 1920s.  On the contrary, after the bloodshed of the First World War, many Americans wanted nothing more than to withdraw behind our borders and pull up the drawbridge, putting in place protectionist economic policies, restrictions on immigration, and above all, avoiding any further entanglements abroad.

The founders of the Council stood athwart this isolationist tide and instead set out to build a new internationalist American consensus on foreign policy.  In doing so, they welcomed, invited Democrats and Republicans alike to join their ranks.

Today, preserving and extending that bipartisan commitment to internationalism here in Washington and throughout our country remains a vitally important and often challenging task, and it is especially relevant as we consider, as you have all morning, the future of our engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Since his inauguration three months ago, President Barack Obama has significantly expanded America's commitment to the security and stability of South Asia.  After years of underresourcing, President Obama has ordered the deployment of over 20,000 additional American troops to Afghanistan along with a dramatic increase in the number of civilian experts on the ground.

He has also backed substantially greater aid to the region and he has appointed one of our most accomplished and effective diplomats, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who you heard this morning, as special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  I support strongly all of these steps.

There were some who warned that the American people, tired of the war in Iraq and worried about our problems here at home, would not support such an ambitious international commitment.  But instead of encountering resistance, the president's new strategy has been greeted with broad support from Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as from our allies abroad.

Part of the reason for this, I think, is that although the American people are understandably focused on the extraordinary economic crisis we face her at home, they also understand the importance of Afghanistan and, by extension, Pakistan and know that we cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past and turn our back on this region, as we did after the Soviet withdrawal.

I think they understand and know that, just as we were attacked from Afghanistan on 9/11/01, there is a high danger that we will again be attacked from there if we fail in the current effort.  As President Obama himself rightly put it last year, and I quote, "As 9/11 showed us, the security of Afghanistan and America is shared," end of quote.

At the same time, reflecting from the vantage point of somebody on Capitol Hill, I think it's important to understand that the bipartisan consensus that now exists around our war effort in South Asia will undoubtedly be tested in the months ahead.  As additional troops are deployed to Afghanistan, American casualties will rise, and things are likely to get worse there before they get better.  Our commanders on the ground have requested additional forces beyond those authorized by the president, and these reinforcements are very likely to be needed next year.

Despite these challenges, I feel strongly that a long-term commitment to Afghanistan and Pakistan is politically sustainable here at home so long as the president and all of us who support his policies in South Asia continue to make the case to the American people about why these policies are so vital to our security here at home and our values around the world.

The other key to the domestic political sustainability of our policy in Afghanistan is, of course, that it succeed.  The president has outlined a smart strategy -- I believe it's the right strategy -- and begun to provide necessary resources.  But now we've all got to work together to make it work.

Unfortunately, in this regard, our war effort continues to be hobbled by organizational incoherence.  In Afghanistan today, we have a fragmented military command structure under NATO, an even more Balkanized civilian effort, and no unified leadership between the two.

This is no way to run a counterinsurgency, because in a counterinsurgency, success depends upon bringing together all the elements of national power in a joint campaign plan.  The current organizational incoherence doesn't do that, and it also raises the risk that even as we devote greater resources to this war effort, they will be spent ineffectively and wastefully.

The Obama administration seems to recognize these problems and has set on a course to solve them.  In Afghanistan, for instance, General McKiernan has instituted a series of reforms that have begun to bring a greater degree of coherence to our military command structure.

In addition, the British military has agreed to send an existing division headquarters to southern Afghanistan this fall to take charge of military operations in this critical part of the theater, and that represents a huge improvement over NATO's past practice of staffing its regional headquarters in Afghanistan with what I would have to call ad hoc pickup teams.

Still, much more sweeping changes are needed if we're going to be successful in Afghanistan, and they're needed soon.  Given the near doubling of American forces in Afghanistan this year, I think it's time to put in place a three-star corps headquarters in Kabul which would serve as operational command for the war effort.  This would replicate the successful command structure we've had in Iraq where, during the surge, General Odierno served as the three-star operational commander responsible for running the day-to-day counterinsurgency while General Petraeus served as the four-star strategic commander above him.

I think it's too much to ask General McKiernan to do both these jobs in Afghanistan, where today there is no operational headquarters to develop and coordinate the nationwide counterinsurgency plan that we need to defeat the terrorists.

As we expand our civilian footprint in Afghanistan, we've got to ensure that it's integrated at all levels with the military effort.  The bureaucratic walls that have grown up between the U.S. embassy and our military coalition there need to be torn down quickly.

It was just a few years ago that our American ambassador and the coalition military commander worked in adjoining offices in the same building, and their staffs had in place a single nationwide civil-military command campaign plan to defeat the insurgency.  The proximity of offices may seem like a minuscule matter, but it is not.  This needs to happen again with General McKiernan and our new ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry.

Finally, in terms of things that have to happen to strengthen the organizational effort, it's very important that we forge an interagency process here in Washington that reinforces the unity of effort in the field.

Two years ago, the Bush administration made the wise decision to establish the position of Iraq and Afghanistan war -- forgive me -- czar at the National Security Council.  That position now needs to be expanded to include Pakistan.  It is critical that, as General Petraeus manages our regional military strategy from CENTCOM and Ambassador Holbrooke manages our regional diplomatic strategy, we have a single high-ranking person at the NSC whose full-time job is managing the interagency process for these three fronts.

Let me now say a few words about the regional dimension of the challenge we face -- and bring in Pakistan more clearly here.  Some have suggested that progress in Pakistan is impossible as long as insurgent safe havens remain across the border in Pakistan and/or until we solve all the problems of governance in Pakistan.

Others have gone further, and question the strategic value of trying to succeed in Afghanistan at all, given that it is Pakistan, with its nuclear weapons, political instability, and al-Qaeda sanctuary that represent the greater threat -- represents the greater threat to the security of the region and to the security of the United States.

I respectfully disagree on both counts.  We cannot afford to fail in Pakistan or in Afghanistan.  But, these are two unique countries and they're two unique peoples -- they happen to exist side by side in one theater of conflict, and they interact with each other -- but the conflict in each country is different and must be understood and fought on its own terms.

In Pakistan we have a vital national interest in helping our moderate allies combat the extremist groups that pose the single greatest threat to their national security, not just in the tribal region -- from which attacks against Afghanistan and Pakistan are being launched, but throughout Pakistan.

This obviously requires a Pakistani leadership that will fight the militant groups throughout their national territory, but who also must be ready to break through the corruption and feudalism that has hobbled Pakistan's development for too long, and that is today creating a gap between the Pakistani people and their government that the extremists are now rushing in to exploit.

Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, on the other hand, will ultimately be won or lost among the Afghan people themselves at the local level, not across the border in Pakistan.  Although terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan unquestionably make our task in Afghanistan harder, we can go a long way toward hardening Afghanistan against these safe havens by providing enduring population security at the local level -- which is the aim of our current policy as enunciated by President Obama, and building up effective Afghan-led institutions.

Indeed, that is what we have done in Iraq, where militant infiltration from Syria and Iran is sharply down today not because of any political decisions made by the governments of Syria and Iran, but because of the progress made by our soldiers and our Iraqi allies on the ground inside Iraq which has made the country much less permeable to malign interference from outside.

I also believe that hardening Afghanistan may help us change the geopolitical dynamic in the region in ways that will help combat extremism in Pakistan as well.  Let me explain what I mean by this.  Until the late 1970s, Afghanistan was a poor, but largely safe and stable developing country with a government that carried out basic functions and was broadly viewed as legitimate by its people.

In addition, Pakistan had indigenous security institutions that were sufficiently strong to deter its neighbors from thinking that they, or their rivals, could take over the country.  As a result, Afghanistan was treated as a kind of buffer state by the region.  The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 clearly up-ended this equilibrium and ushered in a new unsettling regional dynamic in which neighboring states fought for control of Afghanistan by sponsoring indigenous proxies there.

In Pakistan, it was through this pattern of proxy warfare that linkages were forged between elements of the Pakistani security establishment -- namely, the ISI, and Pashtun extremist groups like the Haqqani Network and the Taliban.  And it is in part because of a fear that the United States will once again abandon Afghanistan, (and the) cycle of full-blown proxy -- that the cycle of full-blown proxy warfare will resume, that some in Pakistan have been reluctant to break with these groups and instead continue to maintain supportive ties with them as part of what they sometimes defend as a "hedging strategy."

In this context, I think our single best weapon to alter this calculation in Pakistan is to commit ourselves in Afghanistan -- unambiguously, and for the long term, to help Afghans get their country back on its feet and make clear that we will not permit a security and governance vacuum to emerge there again.  Conversely, the more we hedge our bets in Pakistan, the more the Pakistani -- excuse me, the more we hedge or bets in Afghanistan, the more the Pakistanis will hedge their bets too, in ways that will make our fight against extremism throughout the region much more difficult.

In Pakistan -- in Afghanistan, therefore, what is needed is patient, resource-intensive and system-wide support to build up Afghan governing institutions, both top-down and bottom-up.  What is needed is a redoubling of our support for proven Afghan success stories, such as the National Solidarity Program, which empowers Afghan communities at the village level by offering them grants to design and implement their own development projects.

What is needed is more direct investment in the Afghan people with a major scholarship program to bring thousands of Afghan students and professionals to the United States and other Coalition countries every year, much as we did with South Korea in the 1950s when that country was mired in its own problems and poverty.

And most important of all, I think what is needed is an immediate commitment to a significant expansion in the end-strength of the Afghan national security forces, in particular, the Afghan national army.  In September of last year the Bush administration agreed to double the Afghan army to 134,000 soldiers by 2011, a goal that the Obama administration has since reaffirmed.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, this is still too little and too late.  No less than a total Afghan security force of 425,000 is needed, including an Afghan national army that is at least 250,000 strong.  It's only when Afghan forces reach these numbers that the ratio of security personnel to population will achieve the level necessary for success in counterinsurgency.

I know that some have suggested that we should first wait to reach our goal of 134,000 in the Afghan army by 2011, and then reassess whether further growth is needed.  I believe that would be a grave mistake and a perpetuation of the Bush administration's incrementalist approach in Afghanistan.  Given the country's population, size, geography and security environment, it just seems self-evident to me that 134,000 strong army will be insufficient to the country's security needs.

There's simply nothing to be gained from postponing a recognition of that reality.  On the contrary, given how long it takes to recruit, train, equip and mentor Afghan forces, President Obama and our allies should commit now to significant expansion in those forces in order to begin reaping the benefit of a larger Afghan army.

To be clear, our core national interest in Afghanistan is to prevent the country from once again becoming a terrorist safe haven.  But, the only realistic way to prevent that from happening is through the emergence of a stable and legitimate political order in Afghanistan, backed by capable indigenous security forces.

That is our national goal in Afghanistan and it is consistent with our national values.  But, we cannot get from here to there without a significant and sustained American commitment.  Just as in Iraq, there is no shortcut to success, no clever middle way that allows us to achieve more by doing less, no strictly military solution to this problem.

History, and our own experience, tell us that Afghanistan is not doomed to be an ungovernable country and a graveyard of empires.  In the first place, most significantly, every public opinion poll I've seen of the Afghan people show that they want a functioning, uncorrupt government that provides basic services and keeps them safe; and they overwhelmingly reject the Taliban.  We have seen, in the years now that we've been there, how that when we work in partnership with the Afghans significant progress in possible.

I think, in this regard, it's very important that we acknowledge, and declare and repeat that although we face many problems in Afghanistan today, none of them are because of the good things we've already helped the Afghan people achieve since 2001; none are because we made it possible for five million Afghan children -- girls as well as boys, to go to school; or because child mortality has dropped 25 percent since we overthrew the Taliban; or because Afghan men and women have been able to vote in their country's first free and fair elections in history.

On the contrary, the reason we have not lost in Afghanistan, despite our many missteps, is because our country and our values still inspire hope of a better life among millions of ordinary Afghans, and because we have already delivered a lot of that to so many of them.

And the reason I am confident we can defeat the extremists in Afghanistan is because the extremists have not done that and the Afghan people know it.  Ultimately, the global war with Islamist extremists is not -- excuse me -- ultimately, the global war with Islamist extremists is an ideological war, not just a military conflict.

Military strength is a necessary, but by itself insufficient basis for victory -- as General Petraeus always reminds us.  We need to help the Afghan people establish security first, that is clear; but then it is just as critical to help them build a legitimate lasting political order that makes freedom and opportunity possible for them.  That to me is the real opportunity and object that is ours to seize -- to make Afghanistan into a quagmire, not for America, but for al Qaeda and its extremist allies.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

THOMAS:  Thank you, Senator.

My impression, when the Obama administration first announced its --

LIEBERMAN:  I'm not leaving.  I'm just getting my water.  (Laughter.)

THOMAS:  When the Obama administration first announced its plan for Afghanistan, it was reported as a compromise.  That if the alternatives were all in or all out on the extremes, President Obama basically looked for a middle course here and compromised.  Yes, it was doing something but not going in all the way.

I think I heard a bit of that in your speech, but we earlier heard today Colonel Nagl, who's an expert on this, say that as counterinsurgency people look at this, you'd need an awfully big force to be really effective.  I think the figure he used was 600,000.  It was a big number.

Do you think that President Obama is committed to doing what it takes to go the full measure -- both in terms of U.S. troops -- I heard you talk a lot about Afghan troops, but I'd like to hear you talk a little bit about U.S. troops -- on both those fronts to achieve the security force that presumably is needed?

LIEBERMAN: Well, obviously, I'd be in the realm of prophecy to say exactly what will happen in the future and not even a senator should venture there.

But I think what I saw very clearly in President Obama's announcement of the policy in Afghanistan was a commitment to Afghanistan in a much more fulsome way than had happened in the previous administration in a couple of regards.  One is the specific increase in American troop strength.  And let me note here that the president has either given -- he's given about two-thirds a little more than that of the troops that the commander on the ground, General McKiernan -- now backed by General Petraeus from Central Command -- have asked for.  And with regard to the remaining -- I guess it remains how you count -- 8,000 to 10,000, he has said that he would put that off until the fall.

So I think this was a recommitment and much more comprehensive than before -- both in terms of military commitment and in terms of a major increase in civilian effort there.

So no, I think there's --

THOMAS:  But is it enough?

LIEBERMAN:  Well, that'll be determined as we go along.  And I think that's what President Obama said -- that this is necessary now.  We'll see where we are in the fall.  I expect that there'll be a decision on the additional approximately 10,000 troops that General McKiernan has request -- request pending.  Probably doesn't need them until the beginning of next year and then we'll see how this goes.

I think President Obama is going in a measured way here.  But to me, his policy is a commitment to succeed in Afghanistan.  It's definitely not a kind of politically massaged halfway measure.

I think -- and I say this with respect -- I think when it came to Afghanistan, the previous administration was really following a more incrementalist approach.  I think the Obama administration is not following an incrementalist approach in Afghanistan, and maybe that is based on what we all learned from Iraq.

THOMAS:  Let me ask you -- this is bit of a theme all day long -- Afghanistan is a huge challenge, it's bad, but possibly Pakistan is worse.  That in the last few months, at least, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism there and its incursion on the Pakistan state make people nervous.

What happens if we're focused on Afghanistan -- even if it's all for a good reason -- and Pakistan is the one that really falls apart, that there really is an Islamic revolution, the government falls.  What do we do then?  Do the U.S. forces go in?  I mean, what happens then?

LIEBERMAN:  Well, let me just summarize what I tried to say in my remarks, which is that success in one of these two countries makes it easier to succeed in the other, but it's not necessary -- particularly with regard to Afghanistan.  We can succeed there within the country.  They represent different kinds of challenges; they have different histories.

Pakistan -- I mean, obviously, we're focused on Pakistan, because we don't want it to become a failed country again.  And the extent to which these are different challenges represented in both countries reminds us -- me anyway -- that we are involved in a global conflict with a particular politicized version of Islam -- Islamist extremism -- which is threatening both countries here.

The stakes are high in Pakistan, because they're a nuclear power.  They represent a critical role in that region and what's happening there is very alarming.

This is a bit different.  I would just tell you this anecdote.  One time I was there about a year-and-a-half ago before the last elections, and I visited with the leaders of all the political -- the large political parties in Pakistan.  And in each of the meetings I asked:  Tell me about your platform?  It's been a question that naive American senators ask, but I had a point to it.

And it seemed to me that none of them really had a platform, but that these were all basically personal dynasties, if you will -- sometimes family dynasties.  So the real dividing line was, in that case, am I for Musharraf or against Musharraf?

Well, you know, the Pakistani people have grown understandably fed up with all that.  And the real worry now is, of course, that the Islamist extremists will take advantage of that by presenting an alternative.  Now, I'm convinced this is not what the Pakistani people want.  As a matter of fact, whenever you hold an election -- including that election -- the Islamist extremists get less than 10 percent of the vote.  Their vote dropped in the last election from where it had been before.

And you've got to love a country -- and here I do speak as a lawyer -- where protests are led by lawyers appealing in the streets for the rule of law!  But this is fundamentally a country that's not stable now and we need to make it so -- help it be so.

THOMAS:  Do you think there is a threat that "Islamicists" are going to get control over Pakistan's nuclear weapons?

LIEBERMAN:  Ultimately, I don't.  But look, the consequences are so grave.  And also, just let's not even go to the nightmare extreme there.  They have a very good control system for their nuclear weapons -- a lot of it implemented with American assistance.

But let's talk of the larger -- I mean, now we've got a large region, Swat, essentially being taken over by more extremist forces.  You know, I worry about the accommodation going on to this element.  I don't think in the long run it works for the current leadership of Pakistan, our allies, nor does it work for the people of Pakistan and it certainly doesn't work for us.

THOMAS:  But what should we do about that?

LIEBERMAN:  Well, this is -- this is why I'm glad that Holbrooke has been assigned this task.  This is not easy, because ultimately, it depends on judgments by the Pakistani leadership.  And I think we're trying to come to a point where we essentially -- it's another one of those more for more exchanges.  We will help you more -- including financially -- if you will do more to increase the capacity of your government to deliver for your people, to break continuing ties between ISI and the Taliban.

I mean, I will say that President Zardari has done some -- taken some steps that are -- some steps that are really quite encouraging in a progressive way.  And it's quite interesting that he's well regarded by the leadership of neighboring countries like Afghanistan and India.

But part of what's got to happen here is that -- and this is hard, because it's gone on now into seven decades -- the Pakistanis have to understand that their major enemy in the region is no longer India, but it's Islamist extremism.  And in fact, they have a common enemy in that with the Indians.  That's a tough sell.

THOMAS:  Let's take some questions from the audience.  Reminding you to please stand up and  state your name and go to the mike and hold the microphone.

Sir, let's get you up to the mike.

QUESTIONER:  Senator --

THOMAS:  Please identify yourself.

LIEBERMAN:  I think you're on.   Yeah.

QUESTIONER:  Am I on?  Thank you.

LIEBERMAN:  Or at least I can hear you.

(Cross talk.)

QUESTIONER:  -- affiliation.  As your Air, Land Forces Subcommittee explored the logistical vulnerability of expanded American forces which currently are heavily logistically supported in Afghanistan through the Pakistani vulnerable territory.

LIEBERMAN:  Right.  The Air Land Subcommittee has not specifically done that.  The Armed Services Committee, the larger committee, has done it and I've had conversations with various of our military commanders there in terms of -- you're talking about -- are you talking specifically about supplies from Pakistan into Afghanistan?

QUESTIONER:  Yes.

LIEBERMAN:  Yeah, well that's a concern.  That's part of why we're working so hard to develop supply routes from elsewhere in that case in Central Asia and having some success.  It's very important.  It's a tough area of the world to fight in because of the difficulty of getting supplies, including mostly non-lethal supplies to our troops there.  And of course that'll become more significant as the number of our troops goes up.  I would say to leave it at the level of generality and I think General Petraeus is making some significant progress in that regard.

THOMAS:  Sir, back there.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you Senator.  Gary Mitchell from the Mitchell Report.  We've heard on no less than two occasions today, including your speech, that we have the right strategy in Afghanistan; and second, that it is significantly underresourced; and third that we can and will be successful.  And the question that I still have is how one would state in a sentence or two what the strategy is, number one.

Number two, given that it is by all accords significantly underresourced, it leads me to the second and third part of the question which is what criteria, benchmarks, metrics et cetera do you think are the right ones for us to judge whether the strategy has been successful?  And the third component of that is what period of time are we probably talking about?  How long for the right strategy significantly underresourced?

THOMAS:  Got all that, Senator?  (Scattered laughter.)

LIEBERMAN:  Yeah.  No, I'll try.

Look, here's what I think briefly and then I'll get to the direct answer.  And President Obama said this.  We can't lose in Afghanistan, and I'll get to what that means in a minute because our interests are too vital there.  I think now as President Obama articulated we have the right strategy, which is both a military and civilian strategy.  There's going to be a very significant increase in civilian personnel from the U.S. and from some of our allies helping to bring this about.  So is it enough?  We don't know yet.

I know it's enough on the ground.  With security, I recommend a significant increase in the Afghan National Army because the Afghans are a proud people, they are willing to fight for their own independence.  Incidentally, the Afghan National Army is remarkably devoid of ethnic conflict and tensions.  I know that there are Pashtuns and Tajiks in Afghanistan but the conflicts between them are much less intense than we found in Iraq among Sunnis, Shi'a and Kurds.  And then the Afghan National Army is the model for this, really in a very encouraging way.

Also, just practicality, it costs a lot less to field a large Afghan National Army than it does to put a lot more Americans or NATO forces in there.

So what's our goal?  Our goal -- and it's too simplistic an answer but our goal is to enable the Afghan people to stand up a self-governing self-defending modernizing state.  A challenge in many ways, doesn't have the natural resources that Iraq for instance has, but does have this will, this history, quite a remarkable history.  I mean, sometimes I resent it when people say that not just Muslims but the Afghans are not capable of self government.  They're a remarkable people with great pride and our soldiers have wonderful interaction with them.

I forgot the last question but that had a short answer to it.  What was the third one?

QUESTIONER:  How long?

LIEBERMAN:  Oh, how long, I knew that was a short answer.  (Laughter.)  I can't answer that one.  I just met with some members of the German Bundesbank a couple of weeks ago, this was from the chancellor's party and they were telling me that the opposition party -- this will sound familiar -- is proposing legislation to set a deadline for the withdrawal of German troops from Afghanistan.  And of course, as we argued here, unless you decide that all hope is lost, I mean, therefore you've got to get out as quickly as you can, you can only withdraw as you're achieving success.  So it's hard to say.

THOMAS:  Sir.

QUESTIONER:  Can I ask a question on Israel for a minute or -- Daniel Littman.

THOMAS:  Daniel Littman, please stand up and give your name.

QUESTIONER:  George Washington University.  With the new government of Benjamin Netanyahu --

LIEBERMAN:  Yes.

QUESTIONER:  -- how confident are you in prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians with a more hard line government?

LIEBERMAN:  Yeah.  My own -- obviously my own feeling is -- and I understand the difference of positions for instance and the Israel Palestinian track between current Prime Minister Netanyahu and for instance the previous Foreign Minister Livni -- but in my opinion, the prospects for genuine peace between Israelis and Palestinians in the near term is very small because of the control that Hamas exercises over Gaza.  I think that all of us, and this includes the U.S. and I hope increasingly the Israeli government should do everything we can to strengthen the Palestinian authority government of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayad in Ramallah.  And there are some -- without taking too long, there are some significant signs of progress under that government, including in security areas.  My own hope is that Prime Minister Netanyahu finds it possible for instance to remove some of the checkpoints there and things of that kind.

But I was in the region in February very briefly.  What struck me, maybe not surprising is the broad concern in the region, not just in Israel about Iran.  And it makes me wonder and Senator Mitchell in some sense laid some groundwork for this in some statements he made in the region last week.  The things that are said in Israel and the Arab world of concern about Iran are remarkably similar.  I guess the question is whether out of that sometimes alliances are formed best by shared enemies rather than by shared anything else.  And I would like to think that with skillful diplomacy there may be some opportunity here to break through in the Arab/Israeli relations.

And I wouldn't hesitate as Senator Mitchell said last week to use the so-called Arab Peace Initiative, which the king of Saudi Arabia brought out several years ago, not that it would ever be accepted in entirety by the Israelis, but to me it represented a crossing of a bridge by the king and others in the sense that it envisioned a circumstance in which the Arab nations would recognize Israel and live side-by-side.

So we'll see what happens.

Yes?

QUESTIONER:  Hi, thanks.  Alex Thier from the U.S. Institute of Peace.

LIEBERMAN:  Yes.

QUESTIONER:  I applaud your I think recognition of the need for a long term vision and commitment to Afghanistan, and so I want to bring you back to the statement that you made about the coming domestic debate --

LIEBERMAN:  Right.

QUESTIONER:  -- over Afghanistan.  It seems like the great security challenges that we faced from Germany and Japan and Korea and Bosnia and so on always end up with same conclusion which is that we require a long term commitment of resources and security forces and so on to make these difficult situations come out right in the long term.

But that challenges the U.S. political dynamic --

LIEBERMAN:  Yes.

QUESTIONER:  -- of elections and so on that make it so that it's very difficult for people, maybe not you, but other people like you on the Hill to advocate for a decade long commitment.  So what do you think needs to be done?  How do we break that process so that we can not only domestically but also signal as you said to our allies in the region that we are in fact committed for the long term?

LIEBERMAN:  It's a very important question.  Look, one of the changes for the worst that has occurred in American politics over the last several years maybe last couple of decades has been the extent to which our debates and decisions about foreign policy have become partisan.  Obviously in our democracy, there's always been debate about foreign policy decisions.  Most cases earlier tended not to break as clearly on partisan lines.

Two or three years ago I read an article somebody did somewhere -- I've forgotten where and who, but, looking at public opinion during the Vietnam War it was quite stunning to me that, while it's true that more Democrats were actively against the war than Republicans, among the American people the opposition -- or, support of the war, was not as partisan as it was during the Iraq war.

And there's always the danger that the "out" party will seize on a foreign policy issue, regardless of the merits of it, to build their constituency for the next election.  And that's just not in the national interest.  We've got to find a way to come back to that.

With regard to Afghanistan, this is a very positive moment -- for me, almost a delicious moment (laughs), because, you know, Senator Obama, before becoming president, said he was opposed to what we were doing in Iraq, but said we're missing the real conflict, the important one, which is in Afghanistan.

To his credit, he's followed through on that, and kind of brought a lot of Democrats along with him.  And most Republicans, because of the position they took on Iraq, are taking -- not all, taking the consistent position on Afghanistan.  So, we have a splendid moment of bipartisan agreement.

And my concern, as I expressed in my remarks, is that if this gets more difficult for awhile -- and, particularly, as the casualties rise, as they inevitably will, as we have more Americans there -- will this bipartisan consensus hold?  Again, I'm not talking about -- anybody's got a right, of course, to oppose the policy in Afghanistan that I've supported, I'm talking about making it into a partisan issue.

Incidentally, I don't know -- I might as well throw the burden back on all of you, as I said, the Council was formed in the early '20s to create a bipartisan center of advocacy, for a bipartisan internationalist American foreign and economic policy.  And the work that you do is probably as important today as it was then.

THOMAS:  Right back there.  (To next questioner.)

LIEBERMAN:  Incidentally, to say the obvious -- I didn't say it, it requires leaders who are willing to stand up and say what they think is right for the country, even when the public opinion polls begin to go in the wrong direction.  That's the test.

QUESTIONER:  Sam Speedy (sp).

Senator, given your comments on Afghanistan's limited natural resource profile, I'm just curious as to whether you feel the issue of opium cultivation needs to be parsed in any way, given that obviously it's detrimental to U.S. and other sovereign interests from a drug proliferation standpoint, but it does it a means of sustenance and income generation for farmers.

LIEBERMAN:  Yeah.  Well, it's so -- it's such a cancer there.  I mean, ultimately, this goes back I think to the central point, which is how important security is in the whole country.  Security is important for the development of the political independence of Afghanistan; it's also important for the economic growth of the country, and that's true with regard to the opium as well.

The reality, as you probably know, is that the Afghan farmers are actually making very little as part of the opium crops.  Mostly, it's being made by the middle men who are -- and those down the line, who are selling it, particularly into Europe; incidentally; selling it into Iran.  I think the administration is quite smart in trying to engage the Iranians in helping us in Afghanistan in this regard because they're -- they have a very significant drug problem which they don't talk about.  And I think once we create that security, we can break through.

We are viewing now, to some extent, certainly the leaders of the opium trade in Afghanistan as part of the enemy.  Which they are, because the -- not totally, but a significant amount of the funds that the Taliban fights with, or resources themselves with, are coming from the opium trade.  So, we're going after some of them.

But, there's some extraordinarily rich soil in Afghanistan.  I mean, they don't have oil but they do have some extraordinarily rich soil.  They have a history -- a strong agricultural history.  And, you know, I know we have plans -- which some of the increased numbers of American civilian personnel are going to work with them, to develop for grain crops, and I hope I'm right in saying that we will one day all be enjoying pomegranates from Afghanistan.

(Laughter.)

The last time I was there I had some Afghan pomegranates and they are just delicious.  (Laughs.)  And that's one of the ideas that they have for the --

Yes?

QUESTIONER:  Kori Schake, from the Hoover Institution.

European enthusiasm for our new administration translated into disappointingly little additional effort on their part.  Do you see -- are we missing any opportunities in talking to the European -- I guess, what I'm asking is, is Europe a winnable constituency for doing more in Afghanistan, and how would you persuade them?

LIEBERMAN:  Well, I hope so.  I mean, and I'd say this, that if anybody can make -- can persuade Europe it's President Obama.  And I mean that sincerely.  I mean, he's created a whole new relationship.

And so, people ask me what about -- how do you think, what do you think of his visit?  I'd say it was great.  I mean, in other words, they opened up; they're -- they have a lot of confidence in him.  But, they like what he's saying; he's rebuilding relationships.  But, they honestly did not come forth with very much.  And this is going to -- it's going to take some real leadership.

It's puzzled me always -- I know the Europeans say, and I've had conversations with European leaders on this, "Well, the Americans are supporting this so much more than we are because, after all, you in America got hit from Pakistan, essentially, on 9/11/01.  We did not."

On the other hand, you know, they have been victims of Islamist terrorism -- Madrid, London, it goes on and on, several places in Germany.  And there is, in Europe, a real concern about domestic Islamist extremism and terrorism, greater than here, in fact.  But, they don't seem to be willing to convert that to the significance of winning or losing in Afghanistan.

Now, I mean, I will say that you got to give credit to a kind of -- well, you give credit to the European leadership, because in almost every country, not every country, fortunately, but in almost every country of Europe, the European involvement, through NATO in Afghanistan, is not supported by a majority of the people, so that the leadership, in sticking with the program, deserves some credit.  But, I think they've got to be made to see the connection.

Look, part of this moment in European history is -- you have to view in the context of Europe too.  I just, you know, spent some time on the recess reading a wonderful historical novel by Michael Dobbs about Yalta.  And, you know, all that Europe went through for a very long time -- including the Cold War, now ended; the European Union, the reconciliation of age-old conflicts among European countries -- they want to enjoy peace.  But, unfortunately, history doesn't seem to give vacations to people or regions.  So, we have to try our best to bring them with us.

A final point:  This is a big test for NATO.  This is a historic, this is a unique -- first time we've operated, really operated outside of the European theater.  And we haven't made it work very well yet.  I mean, I compliment all of them who are there -- some of them are giving enormous service, but we haven't figured out how to fight as an alliance, outside of the theater.

THOMAS:  Is that part of the problem -- they know we're going to try to consolidate command -- it's been very diffuse?  And one reason why they're not giving us more troops is they know that we want to just all bring it into U.S. command again?

LIEBERMAN:  I think that -- I think that's not the problem.  I think they're not giving us more troops because they -- look, historically, they've spent so much less on their military than we have in the last couple of decades.  Also, it's an unpopular thing to do.  So, I think that's why.

Now, I'm hopeful about the new secretary general of NATO.  I think that people understand this problem and that there will be some effort to make it better.  But, I think, again, President Obama has a real opportunity here.  At some point soon -- this was kind of a -- (laughs) -- forgive the analogy, this was a "first date," the president's trip to Europe.  And it went wonderfully well.

I mean, we've -- let's put it this way, a better word, it was a "reunion," an international reunion.  And we're rebuilding our -- the end point of this becomes much more acceptable to say in public if I describe it as a "reunion," as opposed to (laughter) a "date," but (laughs).

THOMAS:  Just have to smile -- (inaudible) --

LIEBERMAN:  Right.  (Laughs.)

But, at some point, you know, this has to turn into some tough calls, where we've got to really ask -- I suppose they can ask us too, to do some things that it's not natural for, not easy for us to do.  But, we've got to really ask them to join us more in Afghanistan.

QUESTIONER:  Nick Dowling, with IDS International.

Senator, we've talked about how Afghanistan may take a long time.  One of the struggles the U.S. government has been working with for some time, and we're still not there, arguably, is getting our institutions of power to work well together, and also balancing them.

The Department of Defense and the Army has taken a lot of steps, in terms of new doctrine and things of that nature, to change the way it fights.  State and USAID have also made changes.  But, I think most would argue that we're a long way from where we need to be, especially on the civilian capacity side, and also linking those two together.

Do you see a lot of support in Congress to really make these sorts of changes, not just in terms of some additional resources, but really looking to reinvent -- along the lines of some of the things the Project on National Security Reform said -- these agencies?  If you could comment on that.

LIEBERMAN:  The answer is, I'm not sure.  But, it's a really important thing to do and, again, advocacy groups can help focus the relevant committees, and the senators that play active roles in these areas, on this.

There certainly is support for increased civilian activity.  I think there's an openness to looking at some kinds of structural reorganizations within our government to meet the challenges, which are so different, that we're facing.

Now, I mean, I think what we learned in Iraq is that to -- well, I'll repeat it -- (laughs) -- Petraeus' rule number one:  a military strength is a necessary but insufficient basis for success in these counterinsurgencies.  It has to be much more than that.

Incidentally, in terms of the time we're in Afghanistan, that we need to be in Afghanistan -- I hesitate, for all the reasons I've said, to mention any time, but it turned out, in Iraq, that we were successful much more quickly than we thought we'd be.  Not successful enough to pull out.  But, we're at a point today that I think most people would not have guessed we'd be at a year and a half ago, and let us hope that the same is true in Afghanistan.

THOMAS:  Last question.

Sir?

QUESTIONER:  My name is Norman Wolfe (sp).  I'm an independent consultant.

Thirty years ago some of us thought we had, sort of, figured out how you counterinsurgency, including nation-building.  Yet, we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan a repeat of many of the mistakes that we made in Vietnam.  And I guess my question is, are there things that we can do now so that 30 years from now we can make new mistakes and not simply --

LIEBERMAN:  (Laughs.)

QUESTIONER:  -- keep repeating the past mistakes?

LIEBERMAN:  It's a great question.

Well, we learned, you know, (laughs) -- "too soon old and too late smart," but I think we've learned some things.  And, actually, some of the changes that Secretary Gates recommended -- and budget allocations reflect, the lessons that we've learned in Iraq, about counterinsurgency.  From the State Department's point of view, some of the things that Secretary Clinton has said clearly respond to that.  So, I think we're going to be doing better at that.

I think we need more people in the Army.  We need to increase the end strength.  We need to -- we obviously need more people in the Foreign Service.  I heard a quote recently -- I can't believe it's true, but you can take your choice -- that there are more people in military bands in the Pentagon than there are Foreign Service officers.

The one that really provokes outrage, however, is that there are more lawyers in the Pentagon -- (laughter) -- than there are Foreign Service officers.  (Laughs.)  And you can take your pick.  So, we need more Foreign Service officers.

Of course, talk about history, the question is, will we be ready for whatever conflict -- (laughs) -- we're facing 30 years from now?  Let us hope and pray that we're not facing anything as broad and brutal as what we're facing now from the Islamist extremists that are our central conflict, whether in terrorist groups like al-Qaeda or in the regime that currently rules Iran.

THOMAS:  Thank you, Senator Lieberman, and --

LIEBERMAN:  Thank you very much.

THOMAS:  -- (inaudible) --

(Applause.)

LIEBERMAN:  Thank you.  A great discussion.

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