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GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: I do think that it will happen more slowly than we had originally anticipated, and so I think it will take a number of months for this to play out. And I think it's more important we get it right than we get it fast.
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WALLACE: General Stanley McChrystal, U.S. commander in Afghanistan, during a briefing this week saying the offensive to drive the Taliban out of Kandahar is going to be significantly delayed.
And we're back now with our Sunday gang.
Some disturbing reports this week about Afghan president Karzai. The lead story in the Saturday New York Times, which you just heard Ambassador Rice deny, says Karzai has lost faith that the U.S. and NATO will win the war and is looking to cut his own deal with the Taliban, and the delay in Kandahar, which is a crucial offensive to this war, is reportedly because Karzai is failing to come up with the civilian support and the military support to hold onto the area once the U.S. clears it.
Question, Brit: Can we win this war without Karzai?
HUME: I doubt it. And the question is really can we win the war with Karzai, because he's going to be there a while, and he's a problem. And he has been a problem. So then -- which in turn raises the question, how well has the administration managed the relationship with him.
And I think you have to say that the administration's management of that relationship has been erratic. They publicly called him out at one time. That manifestly did not work. It (inaudible) talking about buddy- buddy with the Taliban, something he's now suggesting he's prepared to do again.
I think this guy requires a lot of attention. He's weak. He may be corrupt. There are all kind of problems associated with him. But there is -- and this is a tremendous diplomatic challenge, one I think the administration to date has manage not very effectively. And that counts in part for the problems we're having in Kandahar, where you've got a sort of -- as Susan Rice correctly pointed out, I think you do have -- there's a political dimension to this.
You do have to kind of lay the groundwork so that if you go in and vanquish these people that the local population there will be with you and will be able to sustain itself after you begin to pull away.
WALLACE: Let me pick up on the handling of Karzai with you, Mara, because according to the Times, there are two parts to Karzai's disaffection from the administration.
WALLACE: The first was last summer when we accused him of stealing -- trying to steal the presidential election. And the second part was the fact that when President Obama announced the troop surge into Afghanistan, in the same speech at West Point he said, "Oh, and by the way, we're also going to begin pulling troops out in July of 2011," and supposedly Karzai says, "Hey, how long are these guys going to be around?"
LIASSON: Yeah, I -- look, I think it's a legitimate question for Karzai and other Afghans to wonder how deep is our commitment. But I really think that when President Obama said he is going to begin -- not pull them out, but just begin drawing down, I think that was a domestic political statement.
He had to show that this wasn't an open-ended commitment. I think that it will be politically impossible for the president to leave Afghanistan unless he's successful there. He can't leave Afghanistan and have it go to the Taliban.
And I think that it's -- that -- I think that Karzai can use it as a handy excuse, "Oh, I can't -- don't trust the Americans because they're going to leave, therefore, I have to make a deal with the Taliban," which is what he's talking about.
I think that he -- the administration -- the White House and the president went into this escalation knowing they didn't have a credible partner. And I've been told a million times by these guys that the only way you do effective counterinsurgency is if you have a credible local partner, and they didn't have one, and they went in anyway, and now they're dealing with all the repercussions.
There is no government in a box to do the holding after you've cleared the areas of Taliban. And you know, Karzai is not only corrupt and ineffective, he also favors a policy of making a deal with the Taliban. I think this is a really huge problem. And I think it's going to hamper our efforts there.
KRISTOL: I was at a dinner this week with about a dozen experts on Afghanistan, most of whom have been there for quite some time and quite recently, bipartisan group, all of them supportive of the effort, but many very close to the Obama administration, and the non- governmental organizations and the like, and I was amazed by the consensus on two things. One, the time line. We are paying a much bigger price for the time line over there than a lot of us thought we would when Obama announced... WALLACE: The time when we begin pulling troops out in July of 2011.
KRISTOL: We understand that we could pull them out very slowly, and Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton sort of walked it back after President Obama announced it. Over there it sounded like the U.S. is getting out, and everyone's got to hedge and cut their deals.
I think the single best thing the president personally could do now is explicitly say, "Look, we hope to begin drawing down then, but we are here to stay." He needs to...
LIASSON: He said that.
KRISTOL: No, he has not gone on national television once and discussed Afghanistan since this December speech. And you could look pretty hard in his -- for a more than occasional reference to Afghanistan from the White House. And half the White House senior staff, incidentally, are briefing on background that, you know, Karzai's horrible and we have to get out.
The second thing is diplomatically, politically, we're not doing our job over there. The military is doing a good job. General McChrystal's right to say let's get it right rather than doing it quickly. And I think on the whole that General McChrystal certainly knows what he's doing.
The diplomatic effort -- and this is coming from people who are sympathetic, who are on the soft power side of things, who are, you know, from liberal non-governmental organizations -- is that our effort has been bad. It's not just that we lack a reliable partner there.
Richard Holbrooke, the senior diplomat who's in charge of it -- everyone agrees that it's been a fiasco. He's not -- he can't set foot there because Karzai doesn't get along with him. Ambassador Eikenberry doesn't get along with General McChrystal. He doesn't get along either -- Eikenberry, that is -- with Karzai. All the burden has fallen on the military.
When you pick up the newspapers this morning, there's a story about how the military is trying to work out the diplomacy with the Afghan government. The military's trying to work out what happens in Kandahar. Where are our civilian and diplomatic assets? They've really been wanting. And that is where the White House can play a role.
I ask well, what is the White House doing about this. Well, they're very distant. They assume that this -- Holbrooke and Eikenberry know what they're doing. They need to be serious about resourcing and supervising the diplomatic and civilian side of the effort. General McChrystal has got the military side, I think, under control.
WILLIAMS: Well, I think there's a reason that the Obama administration set a deadline. And I don't know how it's playing in Afghanistan, but I'll tell you how it's playing here at home, which is that most of the American people at this point, according to a poll this week, think that it's not worth it.
And when you look at the death toll -- this week you had 39 international troops, 27 American troops, killed in Afghanistan -- and you look at the cost of the war, and you look at the likelihood of success, I think the American people -- and by the way, increasing numbers of Republicans -- are saying it's just not worth it.
Exactly what are we doing? If we are fighting the Taliban, if it's about going after them, we've got to go in to places like Kandahar and go across into Pakistan, and we've got to go at them directly. OK.
But what are we doing with General McChrystal's strategy of nation- building? Now, how are you going to nation-build when, in fact, the Karzai government is not worthy of trust because they are so filled with graft to the point that his brother is a power in Kandahar, and his brother -- you know, the suspicion is that you give power to the brother and he's going to make his own deal with the Taliban, and he's got drug trade and drug deals. The American people say, "This is a mess. What are you doing?"
HUME: So what...
WILLIAMS: "This reminds us of Vietnam."
HUME: So you got (inaudible) Juan, the polls are not good on this issue at the moment. So what should the policy be?
WILLIAMS: The policy should be here is a clear and straight goal. Here's what we are trying to achieve, which is to defeat the Taliban and stop terrorists from coming over to the United States.
HUME: Right, but you...
WILLIAMS: In terms of nation-building, Brit, I just don't think the American people feel it.
HUME: Well, I know, but if you go in -- no one doubts the ability of the United States military to go down there and take over for a period of time Kandahar and suppress the Taliban in the region. The question arises, then what, particularly if we ever want to leave.
We can stay there and have a sort of a military viceroyship there for a period of time under our control. But you need local authorities eventually to be in charge there. That's nation-building.
WILLIAMS: All for it. Let local authorities be in charge.
LIASSON: They can't.
WILLIAMS: But let them realize that the minute that they engage in terrorist activity or support of terrorist activity, the hammer will fall.
HUME: In other words, our military will still be there to do this.
WILLIAMS: Our military will come back. But we don't need -- we have 100,000 people...
KRISTOL: Well, then look. It's fine. Juan has a -- has articulately expressed a point of view which is not President Obama's point of view. But it does not excuse the president from not making sure this thing works. He committed the troops. He said it was an absolute priority to win there. And I do not believe he is...
WALLACE: Do you think there's -- do you think -- and we've got less than a minute left. Is there a right way to handle Karzai? You obviously think we've done it the right wrong. What's the right way?
KRISTOL: I think we have a lot of leverage on President Karzai. I think we probably should be tougher with his brother. It's distressing that the two respective ministers quit a couple of weeks ago.
I don't think we've been effective in using the leverage we have on Karzai. Ultimately, Karzai's better off with us winning than with the Taliban and the Pakistanis winning. He can hedge all he wants, but that's not a bright future for Hamid Karzai. We have to use our leverage intelligently, and that requires diplomacy.
HUME: And it probably requires some different people from those who have so manifestly failed so far.
LIASSON: Yeah, I think probably that's true. I think that if you can't get somebody who's able to do the holding after you've done the clearing, you're not going to be successful.
WALLACE: All right. Thank you, panel. See you next week.
And don't forget to check out the latest edition of "Panel Plus" where our group here continues the discussion on our Web site, foxnewssunday.com. And we promise we'll post the video before noon Eastern time.