The Rachel Maddow Show | December 12, 2012
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>>> surprise! the defense secretary , leon panetta , is at the war. and it's always a surprise whenever a high profile american official goes to the war. they never say they are on their way ahead of time. they never tell you until they're there. sometimes until after they have already been there and left, because they say it would not be safe otherwise. it was supposed to be a surprise when we were told today that the defense secretary was in afghanistan . even though they said it is a surprise, it is not that much of a surprise in the larger sense because it's december, and defense secretaries and even sometimes presidents tend to make their way to visit the troops in harm's way around christmas time . just about every year. we can see the pattern, because it's been 11 years in a row now that we have had troops in harm's way during the holidays, as americans have been fighting wars abroad for more than a decade now. given that, it is a nice tradition i think that we send over some top level civilians in december or any time both to visit the troops, but also importantly, to bring the national media with them, to bring national media attention to where they are going. it's a rather good use of a photo op and a publicity stunt to drag the press corps that typically only follows high level politicians to drag the press corps into a war they might not be talking about. we see this every holiday season . we get these images of the secretary today talking to the troops, and we get the national reporter there's to cover this bigwig on his big trip, and we get those reporters exposed to the top u.s. military commanders in the war. so we get those top flight reporters -- they get to have the war explained to them by the top tier commanders, explaining what is going on and the progress of the fight. that's how it goes roughly every december. this year, though, there was a slight change. this year the top u.s. military commander in the war did brief secretary panetta on the war, and he was seen, you can see him on the video here, the press is shooting while visiting the war, but that top military commander is not himself speaking to the reporters this year. because this top military commander is not in a position to be answering any unscripted questions from the press corps right about now, not when his e-mails to a tampa socialite ooh being scoured by a review at home. general john allen is still running the war in afghanistan , but that's happening while he is still under investigation at home for those e-mails, after his name and his behavior came up during the previous commander of the war in afghanistan 's sex scandal when he was forced to resign from his job heading up the cia. and that has now squirrelled its way into maybe an unrelated but concurrent scandal about why general petraeus seems to have been secretly taping a conversation he held with a fox news reporter last year. the reporter says she is not the one who taped it. it was not her tape. and so when that tape was leaked to the " washington post ," if it doesn't come from the reporter, does that mean it came from general petraeus ? if so, why was he taping his conversations with reporters without them knowing it, and who leaked it and why? so that's still unresolved. and general petraeus , of course, was the commander before general allen. and of course the commander before general petraeus , who had to resign in his own political scandal , he is now poised to release a new tell-all blockbuster book who will open that whole scandal up again. those are the last three top guys. in terms of the top level leadership in the war in afghanistan , it's kind of a freaking mess, right? and it has been a mess for a long time. the pentagon just released its report that shows the results of president obama 's big surge of troops into afghanistan after he took office. the report found that violence in afghanistan after the surge is higher than it was before the surge. enemy-initiated attacks are higher now than they were before the surge started, the surge that was supposed to decimate the enemy. one of the other main goals of the surge, which was to train up afghan forces, that goal has been roughly 123rd successful. i meant that in the sense of a fraction. this are 23 afghan army brigades. and of those, of those 23, one can operate independently without support of american or nato forces. one of 23. and remember, the surge is done, and that's the result. more violence and 1 out of 23 brigades. and there are 66,000 americans in afghanistan right now. and american combat operations in afghanistan are slated to continue there for another two years. but the whole basis of the plan to keep americans in combat operations there for another two years was this idea that the surge was going to reduce violence and make it so the afghan army could fight on its own. well, guess what didn't happen? either of those things. i don't mean to be a bummer, but it's true. at least the pentagon says it's true. and it seems important. not just for the military, not just for politics, but for us as a country. it's our war, right? even the traveling press corps with secretary panetta and even the people who get stories into their papers and on to the wire services about what is going on in afghanistan , even when we are talking about the war, which is rarely, what the press and the politicians who are talking about it seem mostly to be focused on is what happens after two years from now, what happens after the end of 2014 . there going to be a thousand americans who stay around in country after combat operations are over? is it a thousand or 6,000 or 10,000? we're told that the president will make a decision soon, that he is reviewing options about the u.s. mission after 2014 , about how many residual troops will stay after combat operations are over. but combat operations do not end for another two years. and here is one other thing to consider about this. here are the troop levels, the number of american soldiers deployed in afghanistan over the years, the big hump there, you can see the obama surge starting late in 2009 and ending just a few months ago. now side by side next to it, over the same time period , these are the number of u.s. troops killed in afghanistan in each of those years. see the pattern? i mean look at those numbers on the same chart. the more troops you send to the war in afghanistan , the more american troops die in the war in afghanistan . afghanistan , the more american troops die in the war in afghanistan . of the more than 2000 american troops that have died in the war of afghanistan , of the more than 2000 , more than 1200 of those, more than half, have died since the start of the surge in 2010 in just last few years of an 11-year long war. as the white house decides what happens in the last two years that they have slated for continued combat operations , there is this very pressing question. not for what happens after 2014 ? for what happens after now. how big are you going to let the number get? we need to talk about what's going to happen after combat is over in 2014 . it is 2012 . there is two years between now and then. what happens right now, at the end of 2012 ? what happens in 2013 ? 2013 starts in two weeks. joining us now for the inview is democratic congresswoman shelly pingree. thank you so much for being here.
>> thank you very much and thank you for bringing up this topic.
>> let me ask in my summation, it is hard for me to talk about troop deaths in terms of their statistical manifestation over time . it is a difficult thing to put in those terms. the basic thesis, the more americans we have in afghanistan , the more americans are dying there, do you think at base level that has to be part of the calculation for how much time we spend there and how many americans are there over the next two years?
>> absolutely. we have had a suspy shun that the surge didn't work and now it has made things worse. i have opposed the war since 2002 . you have been talking about it for a very long time. we have been encouraging the president and arguing that we should bring the troops home. losing 2000 lives, the billions of dollars we have spent and not to have increasing progress says to me, we need to have an end. we can't be talking about what to do after 2014 . we have to talk about what to do before 2014 and bring our troops home.
>> you are in a position of some responsibility here and you also have good access to information here because of your position on the arld services committee. when you this i about the strategic goals of why we are there, i don't think we are there for wonton reasons. they have articulated a strategic way out that would leave the country more more stable than if we didn't stay. do you think the failure of the surge on its own terms disproofs the basic reason for why we are staying. do you think it says the longer we stay, it doesn't necessarily make things more stable there?
>> i think it gives concrete proof to that. i think it is what many of us believed for a long time. we are a bigger target in afghanistan and frankly around the world. it is time to allow the country to proceed and it is time to discontinue the loss of lives and the spending of american taxpayer dollars at something that is not becoming more effective, not working any better and, in fact, as you say, it is getting worse. the american public is strongly behind this. i occasionally get the argument from my colleagues that say we should set new conditions, more and more reasons that we stay. i don't hear that at home from my constituents. most people, it is off their radar screen. they think it should have ended a long time ago. now, they really want it to come to an end.
>> do you think there is, asking your advice, what should we watch for in washington if we are hoping for some substantive debate on this? what needs happen in washington in order for this to become a media enough political issue that it is debated to enough extent that it might make a difference in when the troops do come home?
>> boy, i feel like we've tried everything. we have just gone through an enormous election cycle. it hardly made it on to the radar screen. i hope that the president, now that he has won the election, starts to say, i need to be effective here. i have to do what's right for our troops, four our country, for the future of afghanistan and make the argument that it is time to come home and that we can't be talking about post 2014 . we have to say, can we speed this up? there is good, concrete evidence that says, it is not getting better. it is getting worse. and for all of the talk of the challenges that we have of reducing the deficit, of nation building back here at home, rebuilding our infrastructure here, how can we just it i phi spending taxpayer dollars there and particularly with the figures you showed us, the increasing loss of lives? we are a bigger and bigger target all the time. we can't keep saying to people or letting one more general say to us, oh, it's going to get better. we have this new idea. it is right around the corner. it is not. it hasn't been going in that direction for quite a while.
>> democratic congressman, chellie pingree of maine, member of the democratic armed services committee .
>>> the much-needed, best new thing in the world coming up.