Malou Innocent, Foreign Policy Analyst at the Cato Institute and author of the article “Are Our Goals in Afghanistan ‘Fairly Modest’?”, discusses the Center for a New American Security‘s (unofficial) motto on nation building: “never say die!”, military pundits who cherry pick the convenient aspects of COIN doctrine, why the U.S. can’t seem to tell the difference between insurgents and terrorists, the fallacy of Afghanistan as a “safe haven” for the 9/11 terrorists (who moved freely in the U.S. and Germany), baiting Afghan War opponents as misogynists and why the antiwar movement is MIA while think tanks unite around an unending interventionist policy.
MP3 here. (20:24) Transcript below.
Malou Innocent is a Foreign Policy Analyst at the Cato Institute. She is a member of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, and her primary research interests include Middle East and Persian Gulf security issues and U.S. foreign policy toward Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China. She has appeared as a guest analyst on CNN, BBC News, Fox News Channel, Al Jazeera, Voice of America, CNBC Asia, and Reuters.
Innocent has published reviews and articles on national security and international affairs in journals such as Survival, Congressional Quarterly, and Harvard International Review. She has also written for Foreign Policy, Wall Street Journal Asia, Christian Science Monitor, Armed Forces Journal, the Guardian, Huffington Post, the Washington Times, and other outlets both in the United States and overseas. She earned dual Bachelor of Arts degrees in Mass Communications and Political Science from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Master of Arts degree in International Relations from the University of Chicago.
Transcript – Scott Horton interviews Malou Innocent, August 3, 2010
Scott Horton: All right, y’all, welcome back to the show. It’s Antiwar Radio. Our next guest is Malou Innocent. She is a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute, Cato.org, of course. Welcome back to the show. How are you doing?
Malou Innocent: I thank you so much for having me. I’m happy to be on.
Horton: Well I really appreciate you joining us today. So, let’s talk about Barack Obama and Afghan war policy. I guess everybody knows that on the ground, it’s just madness and people dying everywhere and it’s a losing battle, but in Washington D.C. nobody really knows what the hell is going on. It’s like we’re a bunch of Kremlinologists out here trying to figure out, you know, who’s got sway and whether it’s going to be COIN or the Biden Doctrine, or whether we’re going to split this group of Taliban from that one, or what kind of madness. What do you think is going on?
Innocent: Right, I would agree overall. I think there’s a huge disconnect between what the American public thinks and what the D.C. Washington bubble really thinks. There’s a lot of tweaking on the margins, like let’s sort of reach out to this level of insurgent group, let’s try and talk to this tribe or this village, let’s, you know, flood the area with a bunch of U.S. troops, and that’s sort of the milieu that we see in Washington D.C.
But overall, I mean, support for the war in Afghanistan has sunk to all-time lows. It’s been plummeting as a result of the increasing U.S. death toll. Also the fact that the Taliban are winning major amounts of territory in the southern and eastern provinces. So there’s a huge disconnect between what the Washington policy establishment thinks and what really many Americans feel is essentially an unwinnable quagmire.
Horton: Well, I don’t know. Kelley Vlahos talked about how she went to this meeting of the Center for a New American Security, whatever, the Democrats’ PNAC, and how they’re basically over it and they realize what failures they all are, Nagl and Tom Ricks, their PR guy, and all those guys, and they’re basically just trying to figure out, you know, how to exit out of their bogus COIN strategy without admitting defeat. Do you think they realize that they’re beaten?
Innocent: You know, it’s interesting. I saw a recent article [requires subscription] from John Nagl. He was saying essentially, you know, victory is still achievable. And you sort of think back to the ’05, ’06, and the Iraq war debate, where there are still these sort of war dead-enders who promote war no matter what the situation on the ground really is all about, because they care about protecting either their own reputation or they benefit from perpetual war.
And I think in the case of the CNAS guys. It’s that, as you mentioned, they sort of propose this COIN doctrine, this population-centered counterinsurgency approach, which essentially is large-scale nation building and social engineering. And for them, their reputations are on the line. They’ve written a lot about the doctrine. And I really do think that they firmly believe that it can work, that only if we send in hundreds of thousands more troops, as long as we commit to it for a multi-decade mission, they really do believe that we can change Afghanistan. It’s almost a delusion for these people.
And I think, going forward, how they’re going to try and scale back that rhetoric after they’ve gone so far out on a limb, saying that we can essentially “remake entire societies,” as Nagl said, is really just a daunting task for them alone. I mean, I’m almost wondering if they’re able to have the absurd logic that we can re-create entire societies, maybe it won’t be too difficult for them to sort of back away from their position. I’m not sure.
Horton: Well, you know, I mean, it’s easy for Obama and the War Party – you’ve got John McCain and those guys in the Senate and whatever providing all the cover on the right for the decision to just go ahead and “forget that I ever said we’re going to start leaving in 2011,” and all that. But you have a real disconnect, I think, between we’re even going to pretend like we’re trying to wrap this thing up and the COIN doctrine – which after all mandates, doesn’t it, well I think you just said hundreds of thousands of troops, but doesn’t it also mandate decades and decades of occupation and nation building?
Innocent: Exactly. In fact, and this is sort of what I am really angry about when it comes to the COIN people, and these COINdinistas, as Vlahos refers to them all, is the fact that they really do cherry pick what part of the COIN doctrine they want to apply. In one respect they say, you know, we need to flood the country with hundreds of thousands of troops – which we don’t have, and we will never actually ever commit – but at the same time they sort of ignore the fact that, you know, it requires decades upon decades of doing so, and that it’s very difficult, and we don’t even know if that would even succeed if we were able to commit that much time and energy and resources to such a project.
Another issue they always forget, and something they always try to omit, is that we require, if we did sort of the counterinsurgency nation-building approach – it requires a legitimate host nation government. Of course we don’t have that with Hamid Karzai. Him and his cabinet of people really do profit at the expense of peace. They have a whole entire network of mafia drug lords that they use to consolidate their power in the south. They are considered widely illegitimate by the majority of Afghan people. And yet we’re relying on this government and pumping it with billions of dollars, and we’re essentially creating a puppet government that does not have the support of its people.
Horton: Well, now, the counterinsurgency doctrine, in terms of, you know, creating and installing governments, “government in a box,” like McChrystal called it in Marjah, that’s certainly proving to be a failure. But then the other half of that is sending the Delta Force out on night raids and targeted assassinations all the time, and I guess this supposedly is the other half of the argument inside the Democrat circles, right? This is the Vice President’s position, is, “Eh, forget government in a box. Let’s just do targeted killings all the time.”
And, it’s funny, because of course they’ve been doing this all along, but the funny part is the headline in the New York Times, “Targeted Killing is New U.S. Focus in Afghanistan,” which I guess, again, is back to the question, whether these people are admitting defeat for one strategy and shifting to another or not?
Innocent: Well, I mean, we’ve sort of been doing targeted killing. I think that it’s just been ramped up in the past year or so under Obama. But what matters is who we’re targeting. If we’re targeting members of the Taliban, it’s not exactly clear why we are, simply because the Taliban poses a threat to the incredibly illegitimate Afghan government. The Taliban movement does not pose an existential threat to the United States. I think we’ve sort of conflated over the years the al Qaeda threat and the Taliban threat, these sort of indigenous jihadi Pashtun guerilla movements in this region that do not post an existential threat to the United States.
And so I think overall we’ve sort of been getting confused with insurgents versus terrorists. There are certainly insurgents who don’t support the Afghan government, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they pose a threat to the United States.
Horton: Well, and even when it comes to the friends of bin Laden and Zawahiri, I like to refer people to the Bob Dreyfuss article that he wrote for I think it was Rolling Stone called “The Bogus War on Terror.” [Actual title is “The Phony War.” -Ed.] And it was about – it begins with numerous quotes, and I think that, you know, there’s a lot of other evidence of this same thing being true – but it begins with a bunch of quotes from the CIA guys talking about how, “Look, man, we went in there and we pointed our laser designators at the al Qaeda guys, and then the Air Force came by and blew them to bits. And if you wanted to do a body count, bring Q-tips,” they said. There were a couple of dozen who escaped. We’re talking about the “Arab Afghans,” so called, right, the terrorists as opposed to the insurgents. There were a couple of dozen who escaped into Pakistan.
And – there’s nothing magical about Pakistan or Afghanistan that makes them somehow, you know, great bases to wage terrorist attacks on the United States. The September 11th attack was coordinated in Europe by a bunch of grad students in Germany and who lived in the United States for extended periods of time. You know? They plotted, as James Bamford points out – they had their last big meeting down the road from National Security Agency headquarters in Maryland. It’s not Afghanistan that did September 11th! This is ridiculous!
Innocent: Absolutely. I mean, absolutely. That’s really the critical aspect of this whole safe haven myth argument that a lot of people have just sort of glommed onto. But you’re absolutely correct. I mean, 9/11 was plotted in Germany and especially in parts of Florida and Maryland. This is definitely – it’s sort of a movement that doesn’t require one single base or one single safe haven.
And yet this notion that we must rid Afghanistan of terrorists and make sure that al Qaeda never again comes to have a base in Afghanistan, well that’s simply a rationale for a prolonged U.S. mission, and as well as an open-ended justification to intervene nearly everywhere in the world.
And if we’re going to say that al Qaeda requires a base, then I mean that opens up the door to Somalia, to Yemen, to Pakistan, to everywhere.
And I think, overall – I mean the people who again sort of support that sort of mission, either 1) they have a doctrine that supports that mission, or 2) they profit at the expense of peace.
Horton: All right, well, we’re about to come up on a break here. Yep, there goes the music. So when we come back we’ll talk a little bit about some of the excuses, some more about some of the excuses, for staying in Afghanistan and what it might take to really get, you know, a change of consensus about policy, where it matters, you know, to people who actually have the influence to make a difference, with Malou Innocent from the Cato Institute, right after this, y’all.
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Horton: All right, y’all, welcome back to the show. It’s Antiwar Radio, Scott Horton. I’m talking with Malou Innocent. She writes at Cato At Liberty. She’s a foreign policy analyst there at the Cato Institute. It’s Cato At Liberty, with dashes in between the words there, dot org. And her most recent article there is called “Are Our Goals in Afghanistan ‘Fairly Modest’?” That’s actually a quote of Lord Obama, and it’s featured today, this article, you can find the link in the Viewpoint section today at Antiwar.com.
So now, well, we’re talking about some of the excuses for staying, in terms of, you know, protecting the world from Ayman al-Zawahiri forever and ever, and how if we accept that premise then we have to invade the whole rest of the world too, which sounds like it’s probably in the plan. They call it the Long War, after all.
Horton: But, well, you’re a woman and a libertarian, which means you by default must be a feminist, and so, what about allll of the arguments, and there are a lot of them, that for America to leave Afghanistan is to condemn the women there all basically to prison at best for the rest of their lives, and so we have to stay to help them and give them freedom.
Innocent: You know, it’s interesting. That’s a particularly pernicious argument that a lot of people use. It’s sort of like the question, “when did you stop beating your wife?” It’s sort of the notion that if you are against this war, then you must hate women, or you must therefore want to subjugate women and want to see oppression continue. That’s definitely not the case, and I think, number one, we have to start from the position that America cannot eradicate the world of evil. Number one, such a position would deplete our resources overnight. Number two, it’s blatantly hypocritical. I don’t see us wagging our sanctimonious finger at the Saudis, and yet the Saudis treat their women horribly.
And I think going forward, if you look at sort of the broader policy options that we have toward Egypt, toward China, toward our other allies, you’d have to begin sort of reshaping U.S. policy everywhere. And that’s the second issue.
A third issue is that I think a lot of the times those people at least who argue that we should stay in Afghanistan to alleviate oppression of Afghan women, they seem to confuse the Taliban’s gender system of oppression with indigenous cultural prohibitions that discriminate against women. I mean, overall Afghan society is extremely conservative, very traditional. And in fact a lot of the domestic abuses against women are attributed to not just the Taliban but also local family members, people in their local communities. So there’s a great deal of oppression that happens independent of the Taliban. We have to look at simply the community level aspects that also oppress women. And it’s not simply something that if the Taliban were sort of – if I had a magic wand and allowed them to simply disappear, that oppression all across the country would be alleviated.
And I think it’s very interesting, in fact, that we never see Karzai’s wife. No one ever sees her. And in fact if he was the sort of beacon of democracy and freedom that we make him out to be, his wife should be out there like Jackie O, promoting women’s right, but she doesn’t, simply because, again, the culture overall is very conservative. Women must sort of, you know, have more of a backdoor role, a behind-the-scenes role, in many respects, and even though they have a great deal of legal rights that are enshrined in the Afghan constitution, women are still considered to be second-class citizens.
Horton: Well, and you know, I can’t help but note, when you talk about the hypocrisy of the whole thing, that of course there are women who are killed for the crime of being near some guy that they think maybe is a “specially designated global terrorist,” or whatever they want to call them now when they kill somebody, on a daily basis there, oftentimes by the dozens and dozens. And also, you know, the Secretary of Defense, I forgot exactly what they call him, the Minister of War or whatever, in Afghanistan, is General Dostum, [Chief of Staff of the Afghan army – Ed.] who was like the worst mass rapist evil killer warlord maniac male chauvinist pig in all of Afghanistan. And he’s our guy!
Innocent: Exactly. And I think that’s also true, is the fact that this sort of hypocrisy about the entire thing, I mean, when you look at the number of warlords and ex-human rights abusers and criminals that make up only just the Afghan government in particular, I mean we really just have to begin questioning this notion that we must perpetuate the occupation in order to liberate the people.
And I think sort of related to that is sort of this whole, sort of related to the whole WikiLeaks issue, is that so many people are up in arms about what this might mean to the possible killings of interpreters and those who help – and don’t get me wrong, I think maybe those names should have been expunged – but we sort of ignore the ongoing treatment of people within Afghanistan and the fact that they are being bombed, they are being killed, wedding parties are getting doused with bullets at all times and bombs, and there are many people who are dying as a result of the occupation, and yet right now we’re sort of concerning ourselves with liberating them. But in what respect are we liberating them with this continued occupation of the region?
Horton: Yeah, I mean it really is something else to see Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accuse a journalist of having blood on his hands. With a straight face!
Innocent: Isn’t it [inaudible].
Horton: And in front of a press corps that doesn’t burst out laughing!
Horton: And everybody just pretends like this is legitimate!
Innocent: Mmhmm. I mean, it just goes to show. I mean, this is sort of my issue, and I’m happy to be on Antiwar.com, is that it’s not simply right and left. I mean, there are people on the left who endorse war, there are people on the right who endorse war. I almost think that the proper divide should be pro-intervention and anti-intervention.
Because many times you have people like Hillary Clinton, who says that we should liberate the Afghan women. You have people like Barack Obama, who’s perpetuating the occupation of Afghanistan and expanded into a new front with Pakistan. And then you have those on the right, such as Boehner and a lot of the Republican establishment people who endorse, you know, a never-ending campaign through counterinsurgency.
And in fact, I mean, even just a couple of weeks ago, I was a guest speaker for Dr. Ron Paul’s policy luncheon, and there were many Republicans there: Representative John Duncan, Walter Jones, Tim Johnson, Rodney Alexander, and a couple others. And they definitely agree, there is no end game in Afghanistan and the mission has no direct relationship to our national security. So again I think trying to build these bridges between those who do agree on this policy, that we should get out of Afghanistan, I really hope that that continues for the future.
Horton: Well, even Richard Haass, who, you know, Lord knows George Bush never listened to him when he was in the State Department, but he’s the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and he recently wrote in Newsweek, “forget about it.”
And you know in fact it was Angela Keaton, my producer, who was complaining, here we’ve got a real split already developing inside the establishment, inside the groups, the cocktail party collections of people who actually have power and influence, are doubting this policy, and where’s the antiwar movement? Where’s the outrage in the public telling them, “Yeah! Exactly! Give it up! It’s stupid! Stop it!”
After all, you can have a long war and occupy all of Central Asia forever and still give up Afghanistan. We’ve got bases in Kurdistan and Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and all the stans that I forget how to pronounce.
Innocent: No, I mean, that’s true. I mean, it’s funny, you mentioned PNAC earlier, and really what’s interesting is that when you read the PNAC doctrine back in the ’90s, the late ’90s, the sort of open letter to President Bill Clinton to oust Saddam Hussein, years before 9/11, so there was obviously a rationale to go in to begin with – when you read a lot of their stuff, really they have achieved exactly what they wanted. They wanted bases in the Middle East. They wanted bases in Central Asia. And now we have that. It’s almost as if there’s a trajectory in U.S. policy across Democratic and Republican administrations for U.S. primacy and hegemony abroad. And I think, overall, since sort of the end of World War II, we’ve seen that steady expansion.
And again this goes beyond the right and left. This is something that is very much sort of an indoctrination of sort of D.C. policy establishment thinking. So I’m happy to see that there are emerging splits within this consensus, but we still definitely have a tough road to hoe.
Horton: After all, you know, when it comes down to it, you know, foreign policy is not determined at all by Republican or Democrat parties, or certainly not liberal or conservative philosophies, it’s all about the think tanks. It’s all about the Council on Foreign Relations and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the American Enterprise Institute, and the Center for a New American Security, and the Project for a New American Century, and on and on down the list, and which of these different factions of so-called realists and neoconservatives and liberal internationalists and all the different weirdo definitions of the people with power there, none of them include noninterventionists.
It’s all just a question of – so where you even have like the Council on Foreign Relations types tended to oppose the Iraq war and wanted to focus more on the Arc of Crisis, as they call it, in Central Asia and the Caspian Basin there, but now they’re more on board with the neocons for the Iran war. And the Council on Foreign Relations just published a thing – Jim Lobe was noting over at the LobeBlog – promoting war with Iran. And I think that was one that Richard Haass certainly got wrong. Now they’re in bed with the neocons on that one. The realists are.
And, you know, this is where the policy’s made. It has nothing to do with the will of the people, really, unless we just insist we’re against all of it in unison, and instead we get silence from the masses out here.
Innocent: Right, and in many respects, it is a great deal, a whole lot of the sort of Washington policy establishment that’s allowed to sort of perpetuate this ongoing hegemony, U.S. hegemony, in the world stage.
But overall what I’m really concerned about is the lack of concern from the American public. I mean those who are in tune with what our government’s doing abroad, they definitely don’t agree with it. But you have the vast majority of Americans who are totally disconnected from the wars – and even not necessarily they just don’t know anyone who’s fighting in them, they just don’t read the paper, they could care less, they’re focused on their 401(k)s or the Gulf oil spill. They’re totally detached from what our government is doing abroad, and that’s even more dangerous.
Horton: Indeed. Well, and there’ll be hell to pay some day.
Innocent: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.
Horton: Thank you so much for your time on the show. Everybody, that’s Malou Innocent from Cato.
Innocent: Thank you.
Horton: See y’all tomorrow.