Interview with Richard Holbrooke

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AL HUNT: And we begin the program with Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. Mr. Ambassador, thank you for being with us.


MR. HUNT: Let's start with Iraq. Maliki is demanding a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. combat forces. Doesn't that suggest the surge is working and should we go on with it?

AMB. HOLBROOKE: It's kind of amazing to watch this argument between the U.S. and Iraq over the Status of Forces Agreement. Let's call it the SOFA, which is what we - I negotiate a lot of these SOFAs. The United States, the - I don't understand why the administration doesn't just say you want a three-to-five-year timetable, fine. The Iraqis need it for political purposes; it would be the smart thing to do. But the administration and Senator McCain seem to think it's a threat to our national security and yet, Bush has said repeatedly if the Iraqis don't want us, we'll leave.

MR. HUNT: Let's go next door to Iran which, as you know, launched nine missiles this week, including one capable of -

AMB. HOLBROOKE: Maybe eight, who knows with the photoshopping.

MR. HUNT: Well, that's right. (Laughter.) If the Israelis, as has been speculated a great deal over there, decide the danger is too grave and plan a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, should the United States give them the green light or try to stop it?

AMB. HOLBROOKE: Obviously, you can't take a force option off the table completely in any contingency. And obviously, Iran proposes an existential threat to the state of Israel. But at this time, based on what we now know, a military action against Iran would - by anyone, which would necessarily involve the U.S. - it is not, in my mind, a desirable thing. We have two wars on our hands, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said; we don't need a third.

MR. HUNT: Richard, the other war, Afghanistan, where you've traveled recently, worst month - the most violent month since the invasion. Things seem to be getting worse. You, according to reports, lectured Karzai on the need to get tougher when you were there. Karzai seemed like a nice man. But really, it appears he's just not up to the tough job -

AMB. HOLBROOKE: I don't think I lectured him. I asked him some questions and received a lecture in return. (Chuckles.) We have three overwhelming problems in Afghanistan, but let me say two things before I list them. Number one, this is the war we cannot fail in. This is the war which, if we fail, al Qaeda and the Taliban come back. Number two, we are not going to lose in Afghanistan because the Taliban are so hated, but we're not going to win because the government is so weak, incompetent and, let's be honest, corrupt.

There are three overwhelming problems. The border areas with Pakistan, you can't stabilize Afghanistan unless Pakistan buys in and the U.S., under the Bush administration, is has two policies; they have an Afghanistan policy and a Pakistan policy, and they've never integrated them. I was in Islamabad and Peshawar and Kabul on this recent trip, went down into the provinces on the border. Everybody has got their own theories. Point number two, the drugs. Fifty percent of the GDP of Afghanistan is drugs; Karzai has never arrested a single drug lord. Everyone knows who they are. You go into the central marketplace in Kabul and the big villas are the drug lord people. Instead, they eradicate crops, driving farmers out of work and into the hands of the Taliban.

MR. HUNT: Well, that suggests he's just not up to it, doesn't it?

AMB. HOLBROOKE: Whether he's up to it or not, I don't think the United States and the rest of the world should be giving him money - $20 billion pledged to Karzai the week before last in Paris - with no kind of conditions.

The third issue is the government's weakness and corruption, and of course, the police. So you've got to fix the police and the government weakness, you've got to change our policy towards drugs - we've wasted about a $1 billion a year on drug policies in Afghanistan. And Al, you know what's happened for that? The drug crop goes up every year. This is Bloomberg Television. I think your viewers know that's not a good business model.

MR. HUNT: No, it's not.

AMB. HOLBROOKE: And the third thing is the border. This war in Afghanistan is going to go on much longer than Iraq. In fact, it's my view that before it's done, Afghanistan will surpass Vietnam as the longest war in American history. Vietnam measured, at its greatest, 1961 to '75 was 14 years. We are about to begin our eighth year in Afghanistan and the situation has deteriorated.

MR. HUNT: From your perspective as a Democratic geopolitical thinker, strategist, analyze John McCain's foreign policy.

AMB. HOLBROOKE: Well, it's interesting you ask that, Al, because I've lately been comparing Senator Obama and Senator McCain's positions. Of course, I support Senator Obama. That's hardly a secret. But what really strikes me is two things about Senator McCain and his positions. He is - on almost all major foreign policy issues, with one important exception, which I'll get back to in a minute - Senator McCain is running to the right of President Bush: Iraq, he's harder line; Iran, he's harder line. He's famously said that the only thing worse than war with Iran is a nuclear Iran.

On Russia, he wants to throw the Russians out of the G8, which is an impossibility and a bad idea to boot. On the United Nations, he wants to create a new league of democracies which would have the power - and I quote from his own speech "to act whether Moscow and Beijing like it or not." Now, our closest allies, our greatest Democratic allies plus the world's largest democracy, India, are not going to participate in an organization like that which would abrogate to itself the authorities. On Cuba, he is harder line.

So he is taking very strong positions which really are neoconservative. His advisory team has the same schizophrenic approach that George W. Bush has had. He's got the so-called realists.

MR. HUNT: The Powells and the Cheneys. (Chuckles.)

AMB. HOLBROOKE: Powell has actually not endorsed anyone.

MR. HUNT: No, but I mean that type.

AMB. HOLBROOKE: But Kissinger, Baker, Scowcroft - these men have all endorsed McCain and privately they're all concerned about the views I just discussed. And you have the neo-cons, most important and visible of whom, of course, is Senator Lieberman, but there are many others. John McCain is very confident of his own views and he believes he can reconcile this. But if you look at the actual positions - now, the one exception, and I need to say this, is climate change. Of the nine Republican candidates for the nomination, he was the only one who got up and said, global warming is real; it's a problem and we've got to do something about it. If you compare the Obama and McCain positions on climate change and energy, Obama's is far more forward-leaning, far more comprehensive. But at least McCain has said he will change the Bush - Bush has wasted seven-and-a-half years on climate change.

MR. HUNT: Ambassador Holbrooke, thank you so much for being with us. When we come back, financial markets in turmoil. Who should regulate them? Who assumes the risk? We'll talk with our reporters right after the break.


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