Defense secretary Robert Gates was the sole guest on PBS' Charlie Rose program last night. It was a wide-ranging discussion on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Russia, China and Gates' historic decision to become the first sitting defense secretary to serve an incoming administration.
The full interview is online here.
Gates noted President-elect Barack Obama's administration must decide what the U.S. objectives are in Afghanistan and whether some of the current goals are too long-term and idealistic.
Perhaps the United States needs to scale back its objectives there for the next two to three years and focus above all on preventing Afghanistan from again becoming a safe haven for violent extremists, he said. That is easier said than done, he acknowledged, adding the solution cannot simply be military in nature.
"My biggest concern in Afghanistan is the history of foreign armies in Afghanistan going back to Alexander the Great. As long as the Afghan people see us as their friend and ally, as long as they see us as in this fight for them, as well as for ourselves, then I think we'll be OK," Gates said. "But if we get too many forces in there, if they come to see us as in it only for ourselves, and not as their ally, and they turn against us, then I think we cannot be successful."
The solution is to accelerate the growth of the Afghan army and get them in the lead with the United States in a supporting role, Gates opined.