A Conversation with Carl M. Levin

Friday, October 21, 2011

Senator Carl M. Levin discusses the challenges facing the United States in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as a range of other national security concerns.

JIM SCIUTTO: Good morning. Nice to see everyone here today. Welcome to today's Council on Foreign Relations meeting.

I'll begin with the familiar warning to turn off your cell phones, as I just remember to do myself, and also a reminder that this is an on-the-record briefing.

SENATOR CARL LEVIN (D-MI): Now you tell -- (off mic). (Laughter.)

SCIUTTO: An honor for me in particular to be introducing Senator Carl Levin, senior senator from the great state of Michigan, chairman of the Armed Services Committee; one of the foremost voices in the Senate on foreign affairs, and one of the voices in my 10 years overseas for ABC that I listened to most intently. He knows his stuff well. Today talking about Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Senator Levin was in Afghanistan and Pakistan just in August. In any other year, that would give us enough to talk about, but in this year just there are headlines every 24 hours, right?

So I've asked for the privilege of asking about the events in the last 24 hours in Libya as well. And I'm sure you might have some questions along the lines of this chapter and further chapters to come in that country.

But a privilege for me to be here and to introduce the senator. He's going to make a few brief remarks, and then we'll go right into questions. (Applause.)

SENATOR CARL LEVIN (D-MI): That's my staff down here, by the way. (Laughter.)

Good morning, everybody. Thanks for inviting me back to the Council on Foreign Relations. Your work makes a significant contribution to our national discourse on the most pressing foreign policy issues of our day. And I'm always glad to join with you in discussing those issues.

If I kind of nod off either during my own speech or during questions, don't take it personally. The Senate was in till about, I don't know, 1 or 1:30 last night. And there are some reporters here who usually cover the Senate and I'm -- I have a question for you: Where were you at 1:30 last night? (Laughter.)

Last October, I came here to discuss President Obama's decision to begin reducing U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan. That decision of the president was under attack in various quarters. I felt that the reduction of our forces, which was supposed to begin last July and did begin last July, was vitally important because it would provide a strong incentive for the Afghans to take responsibility for their own security, which in turn is essential to the success of our mission, and that mission is to help build a stable Afghanistan able and willing to fight off attempts by the Taliban to retake control.

Two months ago, as Jim said, I made my sixth trip to Afghanistan. Afghan, U.S. and other coalition forces are making significant military progress. Security is improving in the south, and our military commanders are increasingly focused on the east, where the insurgent threat remains resilient, particularly the threat from the Haqqani network operating out of safe havens in Pakistan.

The capabilities of the Afghan national security forces are growing both in quantity and in quality. Afghans' army and police are almost 50,000 men stronger than when we met here last year. Afghan forces are conducting a greater proportion of the missions and are increasingly in the lead. Just this week The New York Times reported that Afghan troops led a lengthy, intense operation to clear insurgents from a key supply route in Kunar province. We're succeeding in training the Afghan army and other security forces to a higher level of effectiveness, and the Afghan local police program has shown initial success. In that program, our special operations forces live with and train Afghan -- local Afghans -- and that's important -- that are selected by the village elders. Their goal is to defend their own villages against the insurgents.

Finally, transition of security responsibility is moving forward as Afghan forces have assumed the security lead in seven areas around Afghanistan. Afghan leaders continue to show that they understand the urgency of preparing for Afghan security forces taking the lead on security throughout Afghanistan in 2014, a date set by Presidents Obama and Karzai, a date endorsed by the international coalition.

I've long believed that the Taliban's worst nightmare is an Afghanistan secured by strong and effective Afghan forces that have the support of the Afghan people. That nightmare is becoming the Taliban's reality. This transition to Afghan control does not mean that the United States will abandon Afghanistan. The strategic partnership agreement that is being negotiated between the United States and Afghanistan will play an important role in demonstrating to the Afghan people and the neighbors of Afghanistan that the United States intends to remain engaged in Afghanistan and the region.

Now, of course, significant challenges remain and, if they're not effectively addressed, could undermine security gains achieved at a great cost. First, the government of Afghanistan needs to increase its legitimacy with the Afghan people and needs to improve governance; deliver services; end corruption; improve inclusiveness, transparency and adherence to the rule of law. But we also should not ignore the fact that there's been some progress even in some of those areas. For instance, more than 2 million Afghan girls are in school today, compared to almost none in 2001. Infant mortality has fallen rapidly, and access to health care has expanded.

Now, surely there is a long way to go. We should acknowledge that while we can cajole, encourage and pressure the Afghan government to provide good governance, we cannot guarantee that.

Only the Afghans can do that. Hopefully the lessons of the Arab Spring have reached Afghanistan. Leaders who fail to deliver accountable and transparent government lose their legitimacy, and they are more and more finding that their political survival is at risk.

But even if the Karzai government has the will to improve governance, it cannot succeed without security. The greatest threat to security in Afghanistan, and the focus of my remarks this morning, is the threat posed by the safe havens that harbor insurgents across the border in Pakistan. The Haqqani Network in North Waziristan in particular has used its sanctuary in Pakistan to launch deadly attacks on Afghan, U.S. and other coalition forces in Afghanistan. Attacks by the operatives of the Haqqani Network included the attack on the hotel Inter-Continental in Kabul in June that killed 21 people, the massive truck bomb in Wardak province that injured several dozen U.S. soldiers, and the attack just last month on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

The threat emanating from these safe havens is not new. We have known about it for years, and we've repeatedly pressed the Pakistanis to act. I have seen personally how Pakistan's government has stalled and dissembled on this issue. I have repeatedly personally urged President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani and General Kayani, the Pakistan Army chief of staff, in meetings both here and -- both here in Washington and in Islamabad to act to eliminate these terrorist sanctuaries.

Now, typical of these experiences was the Pakistani response during my August visit, when I again raised the issue of safe havens in Pakistan. When we asked why the Pakistani military had not gone into North Waziristan to eliminate these safe havens, we heard the same excuses that we've heard before, about how the Pakistani army was already over-committed elsewhere.

I then pressed Prime Minister Gillani to explain why, if Pakistan, for whatever reason, can't or won't clear out these save havens, why is it that senior Pakistan officials have not at least publicly condemned the deadly cross-border attacks by the Haqqanis. Prime Minister Gillani initially said, in response to that question, that his government had publicly condemned these cross-border attacks, but he backed down when I asked him to provide examples of these public statements. I said, send me the clippings. He then said, well, they're lower-level officials who make those statements.

Now, what has been apparent for years is that Pakistan military intelligence -- the ISI -- maintains ties with the Haqqani Network and provides support to this group, even as these extremists engage in cross-border attacks against our forces. U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter recently said, in connection with the attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul, that there was evidence linking the Haqqani Network to the Pakistani government. And of course, Admiral Mullen's testimony last month before my Armed Services Committee that the Haqqani Network acts as a, quote, "veritable arm" of the Pakistani ISI was a sharp public declaration by our top military officer, who is known as a friend of Pakistan.

We owe it to our military, the men and women who put on the uniform of the United States, that when we send them into harm's way that we challenge Pakistan over its support for the extremist groups that are attacking our troops and Afghan troops and civilians from their own Pakistan territory. It is simply unacceptable for the United States to spend its blood and treasure so that Afghanistan does not once again become a breeding ground for militant extremists while Pakistan at the same time protects terrorists who cross the border to attack us.

Pakistan cannot evade its responsibility for its role in allowing and supporting these attacks. At the least, Pakistan needs to condemn the attacks of the Haqqanis in Afghanistan, and Pakistani officials need to end their denials of the plain truth. Lieutenant General Pasha, the head of the ISI, called Admiral Mullen's testimony baseless. He denied that the Haqqani network was even in Pakistan, and he claimed that Pakistan had not provided the Haqqanis, quote, "a penny or provided even a single bullet." President Zardari wrote movingly in a recent op-ed about the losses that Pakistan has suffered from extremist groups bent on terrorizing the Pakistani people, but he failed to mention, much less condemn, the attacks that Haqqani and Taliban extremists based in Pakistan are conducting against our forces in Afghanistan.

So what actions are open to us to correct the situation? If Pakistan will not take on the threat posed by the Haqqanis and other extremist groups based in Pakistan who attack our forces and Afghanistan, then we should be prepared to take steps to defend our troops. It is consistent with established principles of international law for the United States to defend itself and to defend Afghanistan against cross-border attacks by insurgents based in Pakistan and to respond to those attacks.

The recent report that a Haqqani coordinator named Jalil was killed in a drone strike in the North Waziristan town of Miran Shah, the headquarters of the Haqqanis in an area that was heretofore off- limits, if true, is an example of the kind of action that is overdue. We have the right to target not only forces and artillery attacking our forces in Afghanistan from across the border in Pakistan, but to target the people controlling those forces as well. As Secretary Panetta has said, the message that the Pakistanis need to know is that we're going to do everything that we can to defend our forces. And when we do that, I predict that he will have strong support and bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress.

We should inform Pakistan that it should not expect to normalize its relationship with the United States so long as it provides safe haven for violent extremist groups or uses terrorists as proxies against other countries. We may not be able to persuade Pakistan that its activities are counterproductive for its own security and stability and for the security and stability of the region, but we must let them know clearly, as Secretary Clinton did yesterday, that this is a show-stopper to a normal relationship with the United States.

There's also evidence that the Pakistanis have interfered with attempts to achieve political reconciliation in Afghanistan, obstructing peace talks unless they can exercise control over the Taliban groups involved and control over the substance of the talks. And we should be clear with the Pakistanis that obstruction of reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan is also an impediment to improved relations with us.

Also, it's long past due for the United States to call the Haqqani network for what it is and add this extremist group to the State Department's foreign terrorist organization list.

The Haqqanis should be listed alongside the Pakistan Taliban, Lashkar- e-Taiba and al-Qaida as foreign terrorist organizations. Keeping the Haqqanis off that list has not encouraged that group to join a reconciliation process, nor has it prevented the Pakistani ISI from continuing its support for the Haqqanis. Designating the Haqqanis as a foreign terrorist organization would send another message to Pakistan: that we will respond to its support for this -- of this extremist organization.

Nobody wants the U.S.-Pakistan relationship to return to the early 1990s, when the U.S. disengaged from Pakistan. Nowhere are the effects of that disengagement felt more strongly than in our bilateral military-to-military relations. A whole generation of mid-level Pakistani officers had no contact with their U.S. counterparts through such programs as the International Military Education and Training program. The absence of these connections has contributed to anti- Americanism among those now senior Pakistani officers.

But Admiral Mullen was right to say that a flawed relationship with Pakistan is better than none at all. We do need to stay engaged with Pakistan. We do need to try to act together when our interests align. We should attempt to understand Pakistan's motivations and concerns even when we disagree with them. And we should seek to build a bilateral relationship based on our shared interests in promoting democratic values, security and stability in Pakistan, and throughout the region.

But in continuing to find ways to improve a, quote, "flawed relationship," we must also speak clearly. Pakistan's foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, recently said that if the United States persists in allegations about the ISI-Haqqani connection, the United States, in her words, quote, "will lose an ally." Our response should be that if the only option that Pakistan presents us is a choice between losing an ally and continuing to lose our troops, then we will choose the former.

Again, my thanks for the invitation, and I'd be happy to try to answer your questions. Thank you. (Applause.)

SCIUTTO: Thanks very much. We'll start with -- we'll start sitting, more comfortable.

So much to talk about on Pakistan and Afghanistan. Almost just to get it out of the way because of the events in the last 24 hours in Libya, if you'll let me take that short diversion before we go back to the Af-Pak region. To a early and vocal opponent of the Iraq invasion, already people are making comparisons to what happened in Libya to what happened in Iraq -- a trillion dollars, 4,000 American lives, eight-year occupation; a few weeks, joint NATO air operation, cooperation with the rebels on the ground, you remove a dictator.

Is that a fair comparison to make? And is this a policy template for the U.S., something that, you know, it's already reviving the debate of should we get involved in Syria? Which -- and we know the reasons why that would be more difficult and possibly too difficult.

But first question, is this a new policy template we can apply to other countries? Could Syria be a country like that?

LEVIN: I think it is a template, and because it is, it doesn't easily fit Syria. I wish it did because Syria has a dictator as Libya did.

But the reason that I think it is a template, in your word, is that, number one, it was a(n) operation which had international support both in the Arab world, by the Arab League; it had support in the United Nations.

Secondly, it was not led by us, but we made a significant contribution to its success.

Third, it showed that NATO can still be effective, and I think that's very important. NATO is really the one alliance in the world that has some worldwide impact and can have impact in other places other than its own area.

So I think that there's some real important strengths from -- lessons to be learned. I give our president a lot of credit for the thoughtfulness with which he approached this issue, insisting that there be leaders that are -- that others take the lead, and that it have international support. And the reasons for its success you can attribute to that, plus this extraordinary way in which modern technology was used by the people, first and foremost, in Libya with social networking; but secondly, by the technology that was used militarily to have real impact militarily without putting boots on the ground, which is something we need to avoid if we can.

So all of those factors, all of those aspects were really important, I believe. And in Syria, you do not have international support for action, and you surely don't have support in the Arab world for action. And those are important factors, I believe, that led to the -- or contributed, at least, to the success of Libya.

SCIUTTO: Just one other point that struck me as you watched those videos of Gadhafi and his sons killed, and new evidence this morning that he was alive when he was taken. You see the man begging for his life. We don't know how it happened. The government claims that he was shot in the crossfire; seems difficult to -- difficult to believe. To watch that happen, what does this say about this -- the rebels -- well, they're no longer rebels -- but the NTC's ability to run a -- to run a government fairly and justly, if the immediate reaction -- and this was, you know, in effect, a U.S.-NATO -- under the umbrella of NATO protection -- summary executions of the leaders and his sons, no -- extrajudicial, for sure.

LEVIN: Well, first of all, I'm not sure it was a summary execution. I don't know enough. I haven't been briefed. I doubt that our briefers know enough as to what happened precisely. I don't know that he wasn't caught in a crossfire. I read the same reports; saw the same ones you did. We'll know more about that, perhaps, as the days move on.

But we don't know an awful lot about who they are, and they're not gelled. And I don't know that they're -- it's clear yet what direction they're going to take. And of course, there's some risks that they'll move in a -- in the wrong direction. But there's a lot of evidence that there will be at least the potential here of a government that will respect the rule of law, that will honor the -- at least to a far greater extent, clearly, than their predecessor, the human rights of their people.

And all we can do is do everything we can to contribute to the right direction, and with allies -- and this is really important here -- with the international community that was so important in its support of this effort, that we put as much -- we lean in the -- on the new government so that they do move in the right direction.

SCIUTTO: OK. Pakistan: Admiral Mullen got some grief for his comments. Some said he went too far to call the Haqqani Network a veritable arm of the ISI. Your comments seem to support that. Do you believe, because it -- you know, it's a sin of omission versus commission. You know, are they actively supporting, or just looking the other way and not doing enough? But you believe that they are actively supporting?

LEVIN: They are -- there is active support, as well as allowing a safe haven to exist. There's clearly intelligence report -- support, and other direct support. And I -- my opening statement that morning that Admiral Mullen appeared in front of us was very, very similar to what he was saying. And I've been saying it, actually, for some time, and so have others in our government.

It wasn't that what he said was so new; it was just -- it was a little bit sharper than what he had previously said. And it clearly was covered very, very well. And I think he said -- he said exactly what he meant to say. And I think the slight move away from that that we saw from the White House spokesman is not nearly as important or as significant as what he said.

SCIUTTO: In the -- in my own experience there -- you see Secretary Clinton on the ground in Pakistan right now, her message today -- and I'm going to misquote her metaphor, but something about, you know, the snake in the backyard doesn't only -- you know, doesn't only bite your neighbor. Anyway, the point being that these groups are going to -- they're going to threaten you; they're going to threaten the Pakistani government.

In my own experience there, I call it, tongue in cheek, "the state of denial," the country, because from the top levels of government to taxi drivers, when you ask them questions about attacks of the Taliban, they'll say, well, it's not really the Taliban, it's probably the Americans, they want to justify -- I mean, a familiar conspiracy theory. But, you know, that denial seems to infiltrate very influential people there.

Do -- in your experience, do Pakistani officials, military leaders, get the threat that they can be in those cross-hairs and in fact are in the cross-hairs and it can threaten their power? Do they get that point?

LEVIN: Well, they clearly get the point that terrorists threaten them, because terrorists do threaten them. They've taken huge losses from terrorists, domestic, internal. So they don't need to be taught, I think, or they don't need to understand or accept the lesson about the toll that terrorism takes.

SCIUTTO: But I'm talking about existential threat to their power.

LEVIN: I think that terrorism can be an existential threat, as a matter of fact, to Pakistan. And what it produces and the reaction to it, if not strong, can also be an existential threat.

What they don't, I think, really accept, obviously, is that their condoning the use of their land as a safe haven for terrorism and the relationship -- that cozy relationship between at least part of their intelligence service and the Haqqani group and as well the Afghan Taliban that is mainly located down in Quetta -- that that represents a threat to their relationship with us.

I don't think they really fully understand that, and the denial which you refer to is the denial of what the facts are, both in terms of the relationship between the ISI and between the facts that the Haqqani are located, quite openly, in North Waziristan. I mean, for their top officials to say that they're not even here -- the Haqqanis are not even here in Pakistan is the -- (kind of the ?) epitome of denial.

So I don't -- what they've done is bought time. They've tried to buy peace. They've tried to take a group that could threaten them, which is the Haqqanis, which we -- have some real military capability, and buy them off by essentially saying, hey, we'll let you operate from here, we'll get you some support, if you focus on the folks across the border and leave us alone. That's what they've tried to do.

Will that end up biting them? It may or may not. I'm not sure it will. But it's biting us. And I think what will bite them would be the loss of a stronger relationship with the United States.

SCIUTTO: What would that look like? You mention that choice, that the U.S. -- if, given the choice between losing American soldiers in effect at the hands of Pakistanis and keeping an imperfect relationship, we choose the latter, what would our situation in that part of the world look like if we chose to end or significantly reduce the relationship? What does it look like? How do you do it? How do you withdraw from Afghanistan?

LEVIN: Well -- (inaudible) -- withdrawing from --

SCIUTTO: Well, drawdown.

LEVIN: The drawdown in Afghanistan is set for at least the next couple years. There is some strong opposition to it, particularly among some of the Republicans who thought it was a mistake to set these dates, which I think had to be set in order to focus the Afghan government on their responsibility and in order to promote the chances of success, because it's the taking of responsibility for their own security by an army in Afghanistan which is stronger, more effective and larger that is the best hope for defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But I don't know -- that's not your question.

(Cross talk.)

SCIUTTO: Without -- yeah. What does that -- what does it look like if we --

LEVIN: In Afghanistan?

SCIUTTO: In Afghanistan and Pakistan. What does U.S. policy in that crucial region look like without Pakistani help?

LEVIN: Much more difficult, obviously, without Pakistan help, but it's not impossible. It just will be more difficult. (It will be ?) a long-term relationship with Afghanistan, with a much smaller number of U.S. troops in support of a -- continuing support of an Afghan army that is stronger, better equipped, better trained, better led; hopefully, with a government that is moving in the right direction to govern properly, to end corruption.

As I said, that's nothing we can guarantee. Only they can do that themselves. But it's in their own self-interest, I think, as they look around the world that they respond to the needs of their people a lot more effectively than they have. That's a matter not just of the right thing to do, that's a matter of very clear self- interest on the part of any government, including the Afghan government.

And so the next major decision, I think, in terms of our presence will be, number one, that long-term strategic relationship, which is now being discussed and negotiated, and also the way in which the reduction of our troops will continue, at what pace between the end of next year, when all of our forces, all of the additional 33,000 forces, will have been removed, and the reduction of the -- further reductions of the 70,000 forces that would be left after the 33,000 surge forces are removed. That reduction -- not removal, but reduction of those -- that additional approximately 70,000 troops would take place between 2012 and 2014 when the turnover of responsibility for the security of the whole country would take place. But that doesn't mean that all of the 70,000 troops would be removed by any stretch of the imagination, and it also doesn't determine the pace of their removal during that period.

So those are issues which need to be resolved through negotiations and discussions. But it's really important, for a number of reasons, that it occur, that we tell the Afghan people, you've got an army you respect. That's perhaps the only group in the -- the only national entity that is respect. You've got an enemy you detest. In other words, the Taliban is detested by most of the Afghan people. Those two elements, an Afghan army that is -- got public support and an enemy which is hated, should be able to be enough, if that army is strong enough and well-led and equipped enough, to provide security. But again, it's going to be up to that government to take advantage of that security.

SCIUTTO: So I mean, you're saying that our Afghan military presence would become our foothold there as a bulwark against Pakistan if -- again, just -- if we make good on that threat? I'm just curious, is it an empty threat?

LEVIN: Against Pakistan?

SCIUTTO: Pakistan.

LEVIN: No, the --

SCIUTTO: We have to say that we would end the relationship knowing that security in Afghanistan -- extremely dependent there, you know, the forces there. If it -- if it becomes an active and unembarrassed support for those networks, as opposed to something that they kind of deny but let happen, but it becomes even more of a matter of policy for them, I -- you know, how messy does that look? I mean, is the U.S. really ready to follow through on that threat?

LEVIN: Well, there's, I think, two different issues. One is what do we do about the Haqqanis. Do we -- how do we address the cross-border threat now militarily? That's, I think, part of your question. And there, we beginning to -- we began to use drones successfully against some Haqqani leaders in Miran Shah, appropriately if this report is accurate. And I've got to say that because I'm not allowed to confirm things which are still classified, but assuming the reports are accurate, it seems to me overdue and proper and can have a real effect.

Secondly, we have, as I mentioned, under international law the right to respond to attacks by artillery. We can and should and, I think, will. And if we listen to the report of what the secretary of state said yesterday in Pakistan, fairly soon you will see a more direct response or effective response, a stronger response to those attacks across the border against us. I mean, her words yesterday are pretty clear that the international effort to squeeze the Haqqani network on both sides of the border, quote, "will be more apparent in the days ahead."

And I think the fact that you have this high-level, quite extraordinary visit by our officials to Pakistan yesterday is the indicator of a clear statement of, first of all, hope to the Pakistanis that they will see that it is not acceptable for them to be the safe haven for the attacks on us, but secondly, I think it's a kind of a statement to them that we have the international right to respond to attacks from their country across the border and that we intend to do so, and that they shouldn't be surprised when those happen.

SCIUTTO: We won't tolerate the status quo.

OK, time to open it up to questions. Just a reminder, as you know well, wait for the microphone. And when you do -- before your question, just introduce yourself, name, affiliation. We should have, well, close to a half hour.

Who's standing in the far back?

QUESTIONER: Thank you very much. (Name inaudible) -- work for Voice of America -- (inaudible) -- service. We have nine hours of live broadcast to the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan -- (inaudible).

My question is, given the tension and distrust between Islamabad and Kabul, what the United States, Washington is expecting of Islamabad in clear terms is the withdrawal complete by 2014? Thank you.

SCIUTTO: So you're asking what is the U.S. expecting --

QUESTIONER: In clear terms, expecting the role of Islamabad, it is expecting when it would draw troops from Kabul -- Afghanistan.

LEVIN: What will be the role of Islamabad after the reduction of our --

QUESTIONER: What Washington -- what Washington is expecting of Islamabad given the tension and distrust between Islamabad and Kabul.

SCIUTTO: After U.S. troops are withdrawn --

LEVIN: Well, I think it's the same thing as we expect now; number one, that their country will not be used as a safe haven for attacks across the border; and number two, that they will not interfere with the efforts at reintegration of the Taliban, of discussions with the Afghan Taliban to end their attacks inside -- the Taliban attacks on troops and government and citizens inside Afghanistan, and hopefully, play a constructive role in those discussions.

They obviously have an interest. That's not at issue. Pakistan clearly has an interest in what goes on in Afghanistan because it's across their border; it can have an effect on them -- and from their view -- which I think is excessive -- but nonetheless, from their view, has a(n) impact in terms of the -- of their security vis a vis India. So they're going to play a role and should play a role in any peace discussions.

But the role we're not going to accept is a role that they have so far played of obstructing those discussions. And that obstruction can take many forms, but one of the forms that it has taken is not permitting Taliban living in Pakistan, but who are Afghanis, to go back to Afghanistan to participate in those discussions. They want to control the discussions, negotiations, and they're not going to be able to do that. Can they affect and influence them? Of course. But can they control them? They're not going to be able to control them. But they surely cannot be -- it's not acceptable that they frustrate their taking place.

And so -- but I don't see 2014 as being a point of change between our expectations of what we expect from Islamabad. I just don't see that. Things will change in 2014 in terms of the level of control -- of security control in Afghanistan and our becoming much less of a force security-wise in Afghanistan. It won't be the end of our presence. It will -- that will be negotiated in terms of a long-term strategic relationship. But it will be far reduced from the number of troops we have now and far reduced from that 70,000 level that we'll have at the end of next year.

SCIUTTO: How about you in the front row?

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Kate Phillips-Barrasso with the International Rescue Committee. I wanted to change tack a little and ask you about the subject that was probably keeping you on the Senate floor into the wee hours last night, which is our budget, our current budget situation.

Military leaders have increasingly spoken out in support of civilian agencies because they recognize the value of preventative action because it's far less expensive to engage around the world in civilian terms instead of military terms. But as we find ourselves as a -- as a result of the Budget Control Act under a security cap where international affairs budget is sort of pitted against the Department of Defense as we have decreasing resources to work with, I'm curious what your thoughts are, from your vantage point, on how we get the mix right between investments in international affairs spending, through civilian agencies and our military in times of decreasing resources.

LEVIN: Well, I have two thoughts: number one, to recognize the importance of those efforts that you referred to, they can't be shortchanged or given short shrift.

And I thought Secretary Gates, by the way, was spectacular in that area, recognizing the importance of those activities outside of the Defense Department in the international arena.

Secondly, this is all going to be determined by one word: revenues. And that's the battle that's, I know, being fought right now in that committee, is whether or not the Republicans are going to be able to move away from the rigid, ideologically driven position -- which is the tea party position, which is so far dominating the Republican Party in this era -- that there not be any additional revenues. In the absence of additional revenues, then those across- the-board cuts take place, including in areas of your major concern and the defense area. And that's going to be the -- that's the battleground.

So what will determine the level of support for the areas that you have major concern in -- and rightly so -- will be, more than anything else, not the relationship between funding -- between defense vis-a-vis the economic support, the State Department support and those other programs; it'll be whether or not the Republicans will come to see that you cannot do serious deficit reduction without additional revenues. You cannot do it, if it's serious. The only way you can do it is by decimating programs across the board in a mindless, irrational way, where the trigger is pulled and these automatic, across the cut -- board cuts, are then implemented, without any prioritization.

And just one other thought about that is that the -- well, I'll leave it at that. I'll leave it at that. My answers have been too long, so -- I look at my staff back there --

SCIUTTO: On this side, if I could -- sure. Mr. Scowcroft.

QUESTIONER: Brent Scowcroft.

LEVIN: Hey, Brent.

QUESTIONER: Thank you for that powerful and comprehensive statement. There's one element of the relationship with Pakistan which you alluded to, but I'd like a little more. And that is Pakistan's attitude toward the United States and feeling we abandoned them in the '90s. Unfortunately, that's not the first time they have felt abandoned by the United States. It's happened two or three times.

Now, we are right in their reliance on Haqqani, the LeT and so on, as irregular forces, and they've used them in Kashmir and against the Indians, so on. Now we're telling them: They're your enemy; they'll go after you sooner or later. And that's absolutely correct. But we're saying: Go after them now; and by the way, in two years we're out of there. And it seems to me, that is the background for this relationship. How do we convince the Pakistanis that this time we're not going to leave them?

LEVIN: That we're not going to leave the area and we're not going to --

QUESTIONER: We're not going to abandon Pakistan again.

LEVIN: First of all, we have, I think, made some serious mistakes relative to Pakistan. One of them was -- had to do with some planes which we sold to them; had their money, and didn't deliver the planes. I thought -- you know, and I don't know how -- I don't claim to have been particularly courageous at the time. I'd have to go back and look at my own votes in that -- in that era; but whether I met the test of courage or not isn't the point. We -- I thought it wasn't just mishandled, I thought it was just terribly wrong for us to be selling them something and then not delivering, while we're hanging onto their money. That's recently been corrected, but it took -- what, 15 years? And you know, Brent, more than probably most of us just exactly how many years and how that unfolded.

We're also -- we're not leaving the area. And your question I think contains both questions about are we leaving Afghanistan as well as abandoning Pakistan, and we're not going to do either. But the choice -- if Pakistan gives us that choice of losing an ally if we continue to speak the truth about the relationship of Pakistan and their ISI to the events across the border, if we continue to speak the truth -- what we consider to be the truth, and it is the truth -- that we could lose an ally.

We've got to protect our troops. If the price of that is making our relationship with Pakistan much more difficult, as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, I got to tell you I don't love that choice; it shouldn't be the choice. But if that is the choice, in their words, you could lose an ally if you continue to point out the relationship between ISI and Haqqani, we're going to choose our troops. We got to choose our troops, and they shouldn't expect us to do anything else.

So we're going to continue to try, where we can, where the interests are mutual, to work with the Pakistanis. And we're not leaving the area. And I don't know where they want us to or not, by the way. I don't know if they want us in Afghanistan or out of Afghanistan. I'm not sure. I think they're ambivalent on this subject. But whether they want us in our out, we're going to reduce our presence because that's the road to success to transfer that security responsibility to the Afghan army. But we're not leaving Afghanistan any more than we're going to abandon our efforts to have a decent relationship with Pakistan.

SCIUTTO: In the middle right here, yeah.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Avis Bohlen, retired State Department. Senator, are we going to really be able to compel Pakistan to change its behavior? It -- I think it can be argued that they -- however wrongheaded the Pakistani behavior is, that they -- many Pakistanis believe that backing the Haqqani is giving them a strategic presence in Afghanistan, the instrument to a long-term ability to play a role. And however wrongheaded this is, it's clearly a very strongly held belief among certain Pakistanis. And it's -- set against that, the threat of losing the United States as an ally will really -- will only strengthen the belief that it's important to do that. And that's a very powerful thing to try to overcome, however wrong they may be.

We can send drones against the Haqqani. I don't know what squeezing them means. Are we going to send troops into Waziristan? How are we going to make them change this view? It seems to me that the more we squeeze them, the more they believe that they have to have that strategic presence.

SCIUTTO: So how do you manage that balance? How do you -- how do you push a change in behavior?

LEVIN: Well, first of all, I happen to agree you can't force them to do anything. I think there has been too much U.S. arrogance over the ages about our trying to dominate or decide for people. They're going to act in their self-interest. We have to, number one, persuade them, hopefully, as to what their self-interest is. Hopefully, they'll see that part of their self-interest is having a normalized relationship with the United States. Hopefully, they'll see that that is in their self-interest.

And then we have to, though, also be clear and to be honest that we're going to act from our self-interest as well, and we're going to protect our troops. And under international law, we can do that. And I believe we should do that, by the way, as a matter of policy. And protecting our troops means that any idea that somehow or other because -- artillery being fired across the border is not going to be responded to is wrong. It is going to be responded to. We're not going to simply have our forces there, have artillery coming in from Pakistan and not respond.

The response can be done in a number of ways. I don't think people are talking about sending troops into Pakistan, but the use of drones have been -- have been effective, and there's also other counterartillery capability that we have, which is going to be used against that particular threat.

So I agree with the way you started, which is you can't force Pakistan. And the idea that we can do that and some of the rhetoric which implies that we can do that, I think, does play into the hands of those who are extremists. I think some of our rhetoric has been dominating rhetoric not just with Pakistan, in other parts of the world.

And that's why when the question about Libya was raised, it's so important that we act in a -- with the international community at our back and with us to avoid that use of the -- of the rhetoric of domination, which has too often characterized us, which is used by the terrorists, obviously, against us, saying America wants to take over Afghanistan, which we clearly don't want to do, but that's the rhetoric which is used against us.

So it's got to be their self-interest that we appeal to, and it's got to be our self-interest which we must pursue as well, and not act as though we somehow are "holier than thou." We're going to act in our self-interest, and we believe our self-interest is the interest also that people in this world support. That the values that is part of our self-interest, our values which move this world in the right direction, that has got to be at the core of our interest, is the values that we pursue, not just because we believe in them, but because they have a tremendous, powerful effect around the world.

SCIUTTO: Just as a brief follow-up, many of the things you said about Pakistan remind me of what was said about Saudi Arabia, its support for these groups. And that behavior didn't really change until 2004 when these attacks started to target the Saudi royal family, and then they really got serious about it.

I mean, when you speak of Pakistan, do they need that kind of -- I mean, they've certainly had many attacks, as we know, but do they need an attack that truly threatens them, that shows them, you know, we really have to take this seriously?

LEVIN: Attack from terrorists?

SCIUTTO: Yeah, from terrorists.

LEVIN: They've had it.

SCIUTTO: I know, but, you know, one that --

LEVIN: They've lost tens of thousands of people to terrorists. They lost a prime minister to terrorism. I mean, they've --

SCIUTTO: That truly threatens their power. You know, I'm just curious what breaks through that mentality.

LEVIN: What breaks through, I think, is for them to see what the terror can turn on them, and has, a different form of terror; and that even though at the moment, they have bought, they think, peace from the Haqqanis in terms of a threat to them, that is not necessarily lasting; and that the value of the relationship with the United States is a real value to them. And we've got to make it a real value to them where our interests are aligned.

SCIUTTO: Okay. How about here in the fourth row.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I am -- (name inaudible) -- with Japanese TV station, TV Asahi. So my question is about Futenma relocation issue. So next week the secretary planned to go to Japan and hold a meeting with her counterpart in Tokyo. So what do you expect the meeting about the progress of Futenma relocation issue?

Thank you.

LEVIN: Of what location?

QUESTIONER: Futenma relocation issue.

SCIUTTO: Military location?

LEVIN: Is it Marine location?

QUESTIONER: Futenma airbase, Futenma in Okinawa.

LEVIN: Futenma.

QUESTIONER: Futenma, yes.

LEVIN: Gotcha. Okinawa.

QUESTIONER: Okinawa, yeah.

SCIUTTO: Yes, military base --


LEVIN: Senator Webb and I recently went to Okinawa on this issue and went to Japan on the question of the -- our bases in Okinawa. It's a major problem. It's been festering for a long time. And that is that there's not just -- it's not the presence of American troops on Okinawa, because I think they're welcome; it's the fact that there's such -- there's an over-presence that's creating a real problem, because it's just too heavy a presence. Not militarily, it's not dominating anybody, just physically it has taken over huge chunks -- huge chunks of the island that are populated.

And we're welcome. The Okinawans like us. They want us there. But we have to find a new place to base our Marines. The current location is no longer workable. The alternative which has been focused on, which is up north, is -- is unreal. It's far too costly. It's not going to happen. We ought to be honest that it's not going to happen instead of pretending it's going to. We got to find a different path to relocate some of our Marines from that facility where they currently are.

There are suggestions that Senator Webb and Senator McCain and I, all three of us, have made to the Pentagon. I would hope that Secretary Panetta -- and I think you were referring to his visit to Japan -- will tell the Japanese we are very close allies, and whatever we're going to do we should -- we're going to do together. This is not going to be a unilateral shift by the United States of a plan which has been been agreed to.

We have an agreed plan; it's unworkable, just simply too expensive. And we ought to be honest with each other.

So this is for some reason difficult politically, and I'm not sure I understand why, either in Washington or in the Japanese -- or in Japan; I don't know why it's difficult politically to say, you know, we've got a plan. We agreed on a plan. Hey, it's not working; let's change the plan.

But there's a sensitivity. Who goes first? This is an ally. This isn't like a negotiation with the former Soviet Union; this is an ally facing a common problem where it's not such a problem. It's not like people were trying to get rid of the Marines; they're trying to solve the location problem of the Marines. So I consider this -- number one, we should deal with it frankly, together, not unilaterally, and be honest about the impossibility and impracticability -- if that's a word -- of our current plan.

SCIUTTO: Gentleman in front here.

QUESTIONER: Ed Rowny, your friendly arms controller. Senator, based on your long experience and six visits now, what do you see as a possibility or how do you see a possibility of persuading, as you put it, the Pakistanis to come along our way? Now in the -- when we were dealing with the Soviet Union in the arms control business, we knew we couldn't force them to do anything, but we found certain pressure points that we could apply. Now, what pressure points do we have to apply against Pakistan to come along, persuade them to come our way?

LEVIN: If they see the relationship between us and them as a plus, either economically or militarily, that relationship cannot be normal as long as their land is used as a base of attack against us and against the Afghans and the coalition. That's number one.

Number two, obviously there's a significant amount of economic and military support that we provide which is in jeopardy because of this threat from their territory against our troops, and it's already -- that economic and military support is already kind of on hold essentially, but there are different forms of it. And that's a complex issue, but in general that kind of financial support is on hold because it's -- you can't have a relationship where we're supporting a country that is actively, as well as passively -- both -- helping to kill our troops. Our troops are being killed by folks that have a safe haven in Pakistan, and where that government won't even speak out against that, much less take them on. And that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for us to have a -- to continue the economic and military financial support in a normal way. So that has been kind of put on hold by the administration and properly so.

But ultimately it's going to be, I think, their own self- interest, the perception as to whether or not they can distinguish between the terrorists who attack them, who they obviously go after, and the terrorists who attack their neighbors. And if they think they can be given a safe -- they can be safe from a threat from that kind of terrorist, I think they're wrong in terms of history. But they're going to have to make that judgement themselves.

SCIUTTO: I think we have time for two more questions, maybe just one more.


SCIUTTO: It'll have to one more then. So the gentleman in the second row here. And just before I let you speak, a reminder: Today's event has been on the record. And when you're finished, I'll have one announcement before we let everyone go.

QUESTIONER: Mike Costy (ph), recent retiree from -- (inaudible).

LEVIN: We miss you, we miss you.

QUESTIONER: Mr. Chairman, very nice -- very nice to see you again. This must be a sign of the times. All morning, not a single question on Iraq. And I think it's becoming more clear that the ultimate numbers that will remain next year will probably be diminished from the numbers that some had anticipated. Is there anything you can say -- tell us about how that negotiation is going now? There was a lot in the -- in the news about it in the course of the last couple of days, but it's sort of questionable. And then any best guess on when the defense authorization bill will be on the floor?

LEVIN: Believe it or not, the first question is easier than the second question. (Laughter.)

Amazing to be able to say that a question about Iraq is an easier question to handle than the question about the defense authorization bill. That's the situation in the U.S. Senate.

The -- in terms of Iraq, apparently the discussions continue. I think we should make it clear that there's a finite point where we've got to simply say OK, this ain't going to work, and we're going to pull our forces out, including the trainers that we're willing to keep there, providing we can protect them from being covered by Iraqi -- being prosecuted under Iraqi law. We're not going to let our troops be put into that situation. We never have. We're not going to do it. And so that's the sticking point, apparently.

But I don't think it's a good idea for us to be pleading with Iraq to ask us for troops to stay. We've kind of been in the position with -- it looks as though -- and we've made certain statements which suggest that we're hoping that they're going to be making this request, and we're hoping that certain elements of their political world will join in a governmental request. You know, will the -- some of the Shia groups join in a request for our troops? Politically, it's difficult for them to do so, and so forth. This ought to be in their interest and our interest, and we shouldn't be pleading with them to ask us. I just don't like to be in that position. I'm willing to respond to a request providing we're not in combat, providing we're there for training purposes for a limited number of troops. But we ought to give them the clear deadline on it and then say we got to plan, if that deadline doesn't meet, to remove even those troops.

I'm glad we're pulling out almost all of our troops, if not all. By the way, for those -- my Republican friends who criticize President Obama for setting deadlines in Afghanistan, which he was wise to do for the reasons I've mentioned, this deadline in Iraq was a President Bush deadline, just for the record. (Laughter.) I don't want to end on a partisan note, but it's not just Democratic presidents who set deadlines.

The second question on the defense authorization bill, the sticking point is that the -- there's language in that bill relative to the handling of detainees as to what -- whether their detention will be by the military or by civilian authorities. This is not a question of where they'll be tried, whether or not the federal courts are going to be available for the trial of terrorists. Last night we defeated an effort -- it was almost totally a partisan effort -- to deny prosecutors the use of federal courts for terrorists. And we defeated that effort. Two Republicans joined, I think, all but one or two Democrats to say that we ought to be able to use our federal courts as well as tribunals to try terrorists. But that is a -- that was resolved. That issue was resolved last night.

But the issue that's holding up the defense authorization bill is not a matter of whether federal courts will be available for the trial of terrorists. The issue that's holding up the authorization bill coming to the floor is who will detain and whether or not terrorists must be detained by the military or whether or not civilians can continue, as they have in the past, to detain terrorists and to interrogate terrorists.

And we worked out a compromise, which I won't go into because of time limits, which I felt was a very fair compromise, which has language in there the administration doesn't like, which says a certain narrow category of terrorists -- to wit, al-Qaida and people affiliated with al-Qaida -- must go through the military detention system. They don't like that. We wrote in a waiver so they can waive that.

But the administration is apparently not satisfied with that waiver and, I believe, has mischaracterized it. I know a reporter here in the room will not be embarrassed by my recognizing him -- wrote a story on -- I think today or last night where the administration has improperly, inaccurately characterized our bipartisan language on there -- in our bill, which contains that waiver for the president to avoid what he doesn't like. And that's the holdup because the majority leader has indicated to the White House he's going to try to get that language out of the bill before he calls up the bill.

So that's the dilemma we're now in.

And on that high note about road blocks and the U.S. Senate -- (laughter). You ought to have a question we can end on a positive note on. (Laughter.)

SCIUTTO: If only possible. Listen, we stay the course in Afghanistan; on Iraq, withdrawal; stark choice for the Pakistanis; policy template for removing nasty dictators -- so a lot to discuss in a short amount of time.

So thanks very much, Senator Levin -- (applause) -- in indulging my many questions.

Before I let you go, just a brief announcement: Pleased to announce upcoming event, next Wednesday, October 26th, a conversation with General James Amos, commandant, U.S. Marine Corps. More information on that and other events are in the back of today's program. Thanks very much for coming.

And thank you.

LEVIN: Thank you.






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