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White House Hones its Strategy in Two-Front War

On the day President Obama met with the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan at the White House to discuss military and diplomatic strategy in combating the Taliban, two analysts assesses the obstacles standing in the way of stability in the region.

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Two countries, one war, and the U.S. strategy. Joining us are two retired Army colonels, now scholars, Boston University history Professor Andrew Bacevich. His latest book is "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism." And John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think-tank, and author of "Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam."

    Good title to your book.

    JOHN NAGL, Center for a New American Security: Thank you very much. It goes downhill after the title.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    OK, now, let me start with you on this question. Today's meeting is a kind of embodiment of this notion of treating — acknowledging that both countries have many differences, but treating them as one, one struggle. Is that a good approach?

  • JOHN NAGL:

    Well, I think it is, because we're facing, really, one enemy across both sides of the Durand Line, the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It's a very artificial border. It's 1,500 kilometers long, extraordinarily mountainous terrain. And the Taliban moves freely from one side of that line to the other.

    And so if Pakistan and Afghanistan don't both approach this problem together, don't both have an effective counterinsurgency campaign plan, there simply is no chance to stabilize either Afghanistan or Pakistan. And doing that, stabilizing both of those countries, is very much in America's interest.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Andrew Bacevich, what do you think about the general notion of treating them as one?

    COL. ANDREW BACEVICH (Ret.), Boston University: Well, I think Dr. Nagl is right, that it's very important for those two countries to collaborate. I think the big question is, what's the appropriate role for the United States to be playing?

    You know, in the wake of 9/11, the idea somehow got planted that we're called upon to determine the fate of nations in the greater Middle East. I think, based on the evidence of the past seven-and-a-half years, that's not a good idea. We lack the capacity, the power, the wisdom to do so, and so it baffles me why this new president at the beginning of his term persists in thinking that we can determine the fate of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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