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What Will Troop Drawdown Mean For San Diego’s Military?

Above: Members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul and 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, make their way to the Zabul Juvenile Detention Facility on Wednesday in Qalat, Afghanistan.

Aired 6/23/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

We'll speak to San Diego congressional representatives Brian Bilbray and Susan Davis about the U.S. mission in Afghanistan now that Osama bin Laden is dead and what the planned withdrawal will mean for Camp Pendleton-based Marines and their families.

President Barack Obama says he's bringing 10,000 troops home from Afghanistan this year. It's the beginning of a U.S. withdrawal plan that pace is too fast for some and too slow for others.

Guests

Brian Bilbray, Republican congressman representing California's 50th congressional district.

Susan Davis, is a Democratic congresswoman representing California's 53rd District.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: We begin with some reaction to President Obama's major foreign policy speech to the nation last night. Of the president announced the beginning of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan that will start this summer and end in 2014. The plan calls for a 10,000 troop reduction by the end of this year. There are about 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Reaction to the president's plan has been mixed across the political spectrum. A few minutes ago, I just with Republican Congressman Brian Bilbray of San Diego. Good afternoon Congressman Bilbray.

BILBRAY: Good afternoon.

CAVANAUGH: In your opinion, is the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan announced pie the president last night too fast or too slow?

BILBRAY: I have concerns about the motivation for making the decision. But you're asking a member of congress who doesn't have a jurisdiction. I think the president is making the call. I may not agree with it. I'm concerned about why he's making it this time. I fear that it's more political. But it's his call. He's the president. And I think that there are a lot of things we can second guess on -- Mr. Obama on. But this is one where members of the Senate and the house have to understand that the president is elected to make these calls. We may be concerned, but the fact is in the bottom line, constitutional he this is his call, and we should just accept that that's a reality and concentrate on things in our jurisdiction.

CAVANAUGH: Some people who think that this withdrawal is too fast agree with general Petraeus, and a lot of the higher military leaders who advise the president for a slower reduction of troops. They think this may under mine the gains we've made in Afghanistan. What do you think about that?

BILBRAY: I wish that more people would concentrate not on quote unquote the military option but really concentrate on the fact that we have done miserable on the civilian part of the pacification. The American aid program to me should get more attention than our military operation. The military operation in my opinion has been great, very successful, but has had the problem of being outflanked by the lack of economic and political progress in that country. And I think one of the big mistakes that is blatantly out there, being a former mayor, that we've been a day late and a dollar short. And this is the bush administration and the Obama administration at realizing how important local governance is, that a central federal government is not as important as having provincial and county and city operations. And you've got villagers in the rural area of Afghanistan who have never met an elected official and will not as long as we continue to focus only on a federal government and the power of the federal government rather than empowering the local communities to have self governance. I know it's abstract, but it's really important. It's something I think we take for granted as Americans. And sadly as Americans we have gone into another country and forgotten what makes our system work. You may not like what's going on in the nation's capitol, but at least you can go to your mayor or your city council and your state legislator and have some participation in the system. I think we disenfranchise the rural people in Afghanistan by denying 80†percent of the people that live in that area the ability to actually function and participate in their own government.

CAVANAUGH: I think this goes to what you've just been saying. I think now that Osama bin Laden has been killed, there's some question in men people's minds about what our mission is in Afghanistan. What do you think our mission is in Afghanistan?

BILBRAY: I think our mission is to basically leave a country that has the ability to resist the kind of radical extremism that was festering there for much too long. And I see one of the ways we do it is basically teach people not just personal responsibility but responsibility for their community. And that's new empowerment. Our mistake that we made is that there was this obsession with -- because Afghanistan has not had a functioning central government since the king was thrown out that somehow the way to give the central government power is to deny any power to the tribal or the community or the regional authorities. And I think that is just so contrary to what really is functioning. Most Americans feel a real bond across the board to the entire system more because of their ability to function at the local level than be able to turn on C-span and be able to watch us in Washington. I just think we -- that effect has a major psychological impact on if people relate to their federal government as tied as much to the power of that central government, if not more, to the power of the individual to be able to hear their voices heard in their own city hall.

CAVANAUGH: The your about the war in Afghanistan, it doesn't seem to be breaking down on strict party lines. Some Republican it is like mit Romney, Michelle Bachman, have been calling for a quick withdrawal from Afghanistan. Is your party unified on this issue?

BILBRAY: No, and I think it's great to see this bipartisan division, we'll call it. Frankly, I think it's helped that we allow everybody to sort of have their opinion because let's face it, I for one don't think that any of us posses all the answers. I think this is why we have freedom of speech and dialoguing. If we lock it up just to party to the left, party to the right, and no one else'll be heard, I think everybody in the rank and file should be able to speak up and not only allow to say when they think the leaders are wrong but encourage them to say when they think the leader's wrong. As Thomas Jefferson said, freedom of speech is not for the individual the. It's for the benefit of the individual population to have access to those ideas and concepts. I think this division on this issue is a healthy sign of our republic working.

CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with congressman Brian Bilbray. Thank you very much.

BILBRAY: God less you. Thank you very much. Take care.

CAVANAUGH: Joining me now on the line is San Diego congresswoman Susan Davis of San Diego. Good afternoon, congresswoman.

DAVIS: Hi, how are you?

CAVANAUGH: I'm fine, thank you. Do you go with President Obama's plan with troop withdrawal in Afghanistan? Is it fast enough for you.

DAVIS: I think it does strike a good balance. I think the president is willing to take on some risks and acknowledges that he could certainly be bringing out more troops or less. But that there's the risk almost in whatever he does. But he thinks this is as balanced a risk as possible. And I think that's also what we heard from Admiral Mullin this morning in armed services.

CAVANAUGH: The plan though is being criticized as we heard from congressman Bilbray, on both sides of the aisle. He didn't criticize it, but there are some republicans who are. House democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, says she will continue to work for a better outcome. Is your party split on the issue of Afghanistan?

DAVIS: In many ways, I think that's not a bad thing, actually, that there are a lot of differences of opinion. But I think there are a few things that probably we all agree on. In fact, in San Diego and across the country, I think we all agree that we just can't afford to spend any of our own resources in Afghanistan beyond the point that we think we can give them the space to transition to an Afghan military force. I think that's important that we look at the signs and decide when and in what way that that's gonna be a good transition. And I think we also recognize that, you know, we still have a strategic interest in Afghanistan. They're in a tough neighborhood. And Pakistan certainly is important to us all in terms of our relationships there and in terms of the fact that they have nuclear weapons, and we need to be very well aware of that.

CAVANAUGH: That is a question that I also asked the congressman. A lot of people are questioning what we're doing there now. Osama bin Laden has been killed. So do you -- what is our mission, do you think, in Afghanistan?

DAVIS: I think our mission now is to continue to work with the Afghan forces to make sure that they are capable of providing a safe space for their own people and certainly to be able to resist the growth of rogue elements in their country. And I think the amazing thing is that we have been able to make a great deal of progress there. I think we can hopefully move as quickly and carefully as possible. But at the same time, I think we need to be aware of some of the work that we have yet to do and that we have a strong civilian community and a civil society developing in Afghanistan. And we don't want to lose those gains.

CAVANAUGH: As you know, Camp Pendleton marines continue and will continue to be a major force in the Afghanistan operation. Those troops have seen a lot of deployments. And 2014 seems a long way away. How much longer do you want to see them going to Afghanistan?

DAVIS: Well, I think we certainly again want to have our troops out of Afghanistan just as quickly as possible. We need to be certain that our Afghan partners know that we're not going to be there forever. But we have some bad experiences with moving out at one time. And I think we want to just assure our partners that we are going to help out, but that they need to really do this on their own. And I think that's the tone that's being taken right now. And I'm satisfied that if we trust the instincts of this president, which I think actually is -- he's pretty much doing what he said he would do. He's continuing with the withdrawal in Iraq, and he's certainly worked very hard to make certain that we got, essentially, Bin Laden, that he is dead. And we will continue to make certain that those who are continuing to plat against the United States know that we are out there and still certainly looking for them. But I think that our own situation in the United States now is really pressing on the president. It's pressing on me, and it's pressing on all of us. When I see pictures like in the Union Tribune this morning of a young family packing up and having to move out of their homes, it's important that we do what we have to do here at home as well.

CAVANAUGH: Public opinion since the death of Osama bin Laden has been turning, it seems, against the war in Afghanistan. If that trend continues and you and other lawmakers continue to get pressure, do you think we're gonna see a speedup of this draw down?

DAVIS: I would hope that if the conditions are such and if we feel that we can up those numbers, I think that's fine. But what I've also said is that we need to be certain that we have the right combination of troops that are there. And we have support troops, we have those who are engaged in training with the Afghan military. We have people who are there working on logistics and certainly we have our combat troops. And I think where we can find the right balance to secure some areas that are important and to continue to work. I am also very interested in how we move toward some reconciliation and reintegration because we certainly don't want the gains that women have made and in education and in developing civil society. Those are also important. And they're also important to our own safety because the extent to which that develops, and I think there are some -- there's tremendous signs of capacity there to do that. That's all very good.

CAVANAUGH: I am gonna have to leave it there.

DAVIS: We are disappointed when you see the corruption in Afghanistan, and I think that's also an issue that's important to us.

CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with San Diego congresswoman Suzanne Davis about Afghanistan. Thank you so much.

DAVIS: Sure. Thank you.

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