Transcript from CNN, February 19, 2009.


ROBERTS: Joining us now from Washington to talk about the new strategy, former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, who is the new chairman of the Atlantic Council. Congratulations on your new position. It’s good to see you, sir.

CHUCK HAGEL, FMR. NEBRASKA SENATOR: John, thank you very much.

ROBERTS: President Obama sending 17,000 troops to Afghanistan and the General David McKiernan says he would like to have 10,000 more. What do you think of this initial surge? Is it too little, is it just right?

HAGEL: Well I think first we have to recognize where we are. We are now in our eighth year in Afghanistan and by any measurement, things have gotten worse over the last two years. With the additional 17,000 troop commitment, we’re going to have over 60,000 American troops in there, more than 30,000 NATO troops and we’ll have close to a 100,000 total troops in there by the end of the summer.

As you know, the president has asked for a review of our policies in Afghanistan going forward. I thought he said it exactly right yesterday, John. We’re not going to solve this problem. The bigger problem here, the regional problem of terrorism in that South Asia/Central Asia area with troops. The Russians found that out. The British found that out before the Russians did. But I think the appropriate approach here is caution, be careful. I think the president had no choice but to inject more fire power in there.

But we need to figure out what is the goal here? What is the objective? Because the future of Afghanistan is directly connected to the future of Pakistan with Iran on the other side and I think this is another reason why we have to engage Iran.

ROBERTS: So what do you make of this deal that the Pakistani government has been trying to cut with the Taliban in those federally administered tribal areas to allow them to practice Shariah law? Our understanding is that this agreement has not been finalize that the Taliban has not signed off on it and may not sign off on it. But just – I mean just as a symbol, what does that say?

HAGEL: Well, I don’t have all the details to start with and the facts. So I would give you my observation based on very limited knowledge of really what they’re doing.

First, the Pakistani government is in deep, deep trouble. They’re bankrupt. They have a huge agenda of problems. We know that area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, that area that the S.W.A.T., the northwest territories, the Fadir area has been ungovernable for centuries. There is going to have to be some accommodation made with the Taliban whether this approach is the right approach or not.

I don’t know. But we’re going to have to find some new ways to do this, John, because we’re going backward. We’re losing. Everybody is losing in that area. And the stability and the security and the future of the Pakistani government is at risk here, too.

ROBERTS: Yes, you sort of alluded to this a little bit, a couple of seconds ago. Afghanistan is known as the graveyard of empires. There is no outside force that has been able to tame Afghanistan. You look at Russia. You look at Britain, you know, throughout the ages. Is the U.S. destined to fail there as well or could our experience there actually be different?

HAGEL: Well, it could be different but I think we should not dismiss history. We should not dismiss the reality. For example, the Soviets had 160,000 troops in there at one time. You can’t lose the people, John. We learned that in Vietnam, throughout history. You have to have the people with you. And I fear that’s not the case in Afghanistan.

I don’t think it’s too late. But this is why a reappraisal of our policies in Afghanistan are very appropriate and very real. Everyone is looking at that reappraisal and the president is going to have to make, I think, some difficult decisions later on this summer on this.

ROBERTS: Former Senator Chuck Hagel now, the chairman of the Atlantic council, it’s great to catch up with you again. I hope that we can make this a regular occurrence.

HAGEL: Thanks, John.

ROBERTS: All right. Appreciate it. …

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