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Interview with Michael O'Hanlon - 2002-03-20


MR. BORGIDA:
And joining us now live from Washington's Brookings Institution, Senior Fellow Michael O'Hanlon.

Mr. O'Hanlon, thanks for joining us today.

MR. O'HANLON:
My pleasure, David.

MR. BORGIDA:
The Cheney visit to the Middle East, obviously a difficult one for him in light of the continuing Israeli-Palestinian violence, but, as you just heard in our piece preceding this, the Iraqi situation also on his agenda. Do you think he straddled both major issues? And how effective was he in terms of getting some agreement on going into Iraq, or some mission into Iraq?

MR. O'HANLON:
I think the Vice President had a pretty good trip, but I don't think this was really a trip about preparing the way for an invasion. There was a lot of speculation that that was the primary purpose, before he left here in the United States, but I think the major thing he wanted to accomplish was to try to get consensus on the unacceptability of Saddam being allowed to develop further weapons of mass destruction and flout U.N. sanctions and otherwise be in violation of his commitments to the international community.

I think that was all Mr. Cheney could really hope to accomplish here, because I don't think the Bush administration has a war plan yet that it can go around and start soliciting support for. I'm not sure they actually even want to go that route if they can get inspectors back in. I think they are still debating that very issue.

MR. BORGIDA:
Mr. O'Hanlon, let's turn for a moment to the continuing situation in Afghanistan. And I wanted to quote for you a bit from a Washington Post editorial in today's paper, and certainly citing the events of the last day or so, where we've seen small attacks on U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan. The Post writes that, "after decades of war, Afghanistan is going to be a wretchedly complex situation" for the weeks and months ahead. Do you agree with that assessment?

MR. O'HANLON:
I'm not sure I'd use such a strong word as "wretchedly." I think that the situation in Afghanistan is far better than I personally would ever have imagined possible 8 or 10 or 12 months ago. I didn't even think back in October we would be this successful. So, sure, there are ongoing difficulties, there are pockets of Taliban and al-Qaida, there are warlords of different ethnic groups who essentially have become the provincial governors, who may compete with each other for influence and perhaps even clash militarily, but, overall, I am struck by just how stable Afghanistan is right now. And I think therefore that I would not go so far as the Post in terms of assessing the situation so negatively.

On the other hand, we don't want the problems to get worse. We want to prevent them from getting worse and try to solve them if possible. So I do think the Bush administration should seriously consider a larger international stability force, with American participation. Let's not let the problems get any worse and let's build on this positive situation we have today.

MR. BORGIDA:
You mentioned warlords in Afghanistan, and clearly the U.S. forces have had some difficulty in dealing with them. There have been some reports that they have gone back on their word, as it were, in terms of their agreement with U.S. forces to do certain things. Does that make the military situation in the months ahead even more difficult, or do you think that we are able to now deal with the warlords, now that Mr. Karzai is apparently saying he wants to get even tougher with them?

MR. O'HANLON:
The bottom line situation here is the United States and the international community, we are not prepared to go in and enforce any kind of political settlement in Afghanistan among these different warlords. We are not going to therefore use military force or threats against the warlords, and our leverage is limited. We are not going to have unlimited power with these people. We have diplomatic inducements we can try to use. We have economic aid as some kind of leverage. And, in a worst case, we could consider military operations, but we are not likely to do that. And therefore I think we have to expect there is going to be some need for ongoing searching for compromise and there are going to be some problems from time to time.

Overall, I am pretty content with the fact that we do not see active fighting between various warlords today. We just see pockets of competition in small regions in eastern Afghanistan and elsewhere, where there is a little bit of clashing among smaller warlords. But the big pieces of the country are relatively stable. And I think therefore we are in pretty good shape.

MR. BORGIDA:
In the 30 seconds or so we have left, the exiled King is expected to arrive in Afghanistan in the days ahead. How do you think that is going to change the political situation on the ground?

MR. O'HANLON:
Well, this is the broader point -- the King's return, and also of course the Loya Jirga upcoming, as well as future elections -- mean that the situation is not stable. Even if I am relatively content and impressed by how far we have come so far in Afghanistan, this is not a status quo that can be simply sustained. The King's return may improve the matter, improve the situation a bit, but the upcoming Loya Jirga and elections may again induce competition for power. So even if things are going pretty well now, I think we need a stronger stability force in the country to help with the difficult days ahead.

MR. BORGIDA:
Michael O'Hanlon, of the Brookings Institution here in Washington, thanks for your time.

MR. O'HANLON:
My pleasure.

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