updated 3/30/2009 10:31:53 AM ET 2009-03-30T14:31:53

Guest: Matt Duss

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

As the president announces his new plan for what it is we are doing in Afghanistan, the neocons—remember the guys who brought us the genius decision to let bin Laden get away so we can invade Iraq?  Those guys are back, too.  Zbigniew Brzezinski will join us this hour.  Juan Cole will be here.

And President Obama appears to have added his own catchy brand name to the wars, and this one is actually sort of better than the old ones.  I will explain.

All that plus a very exciting announcement about something coming up on this show next week.

But, first, after weeks of anticipation and buildup and selective leaks, we now officially have a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan and the new other war in Pakistan.  Today, before an audience of diplomats, civilians, and military personnel, flanked by his secretary of defense and by his secretary of state, President Obama laid out in detail America‘s new mission in our 7 ½-year-old war—a mission that we will look tonight with some of the brightest bulbs on the tree.

First, though, superficially, I think it has to be acknowledged that in today‘s speech, there were some George Bush-ish moments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  These terrorists must be pursued.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES:  They must be met with force.

BUSH & OBAMA:  And they must be defeated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Altogether now.  They must be defeated.

What does defeat mean in this context?  We also have the ominous warnings about the next attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the United States homeland.

BUSH:  Bases from which they can plot and plan attacks on our homeland.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  I guess this means that the creepy word “homeland” surviving into this administration, too.  Hmm.

There was also an echo today of one of Bush‘s pre-surge strategic promises in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I like to put it this way, as they stand up, we‘ll stand down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Coming out of the last president that sounded a little like advice for how to do well at hokey pokey.  But the idea was that when Iraqi security forces could handle their country‘s own security needs, we would leave.

President Obama?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  That‘s how we will prepare Afghans to take responsibility for their security and how we will ultimately be able to bring our own troops home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  You know, I knew that sounded familiar.  There‘s also a deja vu moment about this being tough territory.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I don‘t ask for this support lightly.

BUSH:  These aren‘t joyous times.

BUSH & OBAMA:  These are challenging times.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Honestly, it was a little eerie, how similar the rhetoric was.  And there‘s no use pretending otherwise.

But beyond the rhetoric and if we‘ve learned anything at all over the past eight years is that it is worth looking beyond the rhetoric, specifically when you‘re talking about war, when you‘re actually looking at the substance, there are some big changes here—starting with the level of commitment, money, troops, civilian resources, presidential attention, diplomatic attention, other civilian government that‘s not the State Department or the president‘s attention.  It doesn‘t mean that this is the glorious war now, but it does mean, if we want to know what our country is doing in this war now, there is new stuff to learn and new stuff to understand.

For example, under Bush, we sent a ton of money to Pakistan.  And it sort of went like this: You have a military doing military stuff, yes, send us the bill.  That‘s how it went under Bush.

Under Obama, there is still money going to Pakistan, but it‘s a whole different idea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  And after years of mixed results, we will not and cannot provide a blank check.  Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders.  I‘m calling upon Congress to pass a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by John Kerry and Richard Lugar that authorizes $1.5 billion in direct support to the Pakistani people every year over the next five years—resources that will build schools and roads and hospitals, and strengthen Pakistan‘s democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Money for providing basic governance and services to the Pakistani people so that the Pakistani people see that there is some interest in their government surviving.  That‘s the big new idea instead of the military blank check.

Another important difference—notice who was standing with President Obama as he delivered this new strategy.  I mean, sure, there was the defense secretary there, right?  I mean, Bush liked to stand next to his Pentagon guys, too.  But also, with Obama—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Hmm!

The message there, this is foreign policy not just war.  This is a big regional foreign policy initiative that has a military element but it‘s got a lot of other stuff going on, too.  How often did you see Secretary of State Colin Powell or Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice standing behind President Bush when he announced some big war strategy shift?

The headline grabber today was the announcement of 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan—an escalation.  And you can call that an Iraq-style surge if you want to, in the sense that the number of troops heading there is in increasing, not decreasing.  But there‘s an important difference.  Bush‘s surge was combat troops.

One of the controversial elements of what Obama announced today is that it‘s not more combat troops that he is sending, it‘s trainers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Later this spring, we will deploy approximately 4,000 U.S.  troops to train Afghan security forces.  For the first time, this will truly resource our effort to train and support the Afghan army and police.  Every American unit in Afghanistan will be partnered with an Afghan unit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Training and supporting the Afghan army and police.  This is not the Iraq combat troop surge.  If you are reading a newspaper article any time soon about what Obama announced about Afghanistan and they call this an Iraq-style surge, I give you permission to stop reading that article, because that reporter doesn‘t get it.

Another major difference—instead of asking other NATO countries for more combat troops and then berating for them when they inevitably declined.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  From our partners and NATO allies, we will seek—we will seek not simply troops, but rather, clearly defined capabilities, supporting the Afghan elections, training Afghan security forces, a greater civilian commitment to the Afghan people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  We seek not simply troops.  Now that there is an option other than simply give us your combat troops, E.U. foreign ministers meeting in the Czech Republic today already said that their countries will send more trainers and more money.

So, there‘s a lot that‘s in flux right now and all the important devils as ever are in the details.  Still, it‘s worth not losing sight of the big picture.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE PRINCESS BRIDE”)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! 

The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Too late for that.

We now know we are not leaving any time soon from our little land war in Asia.  And, you know, Republicans were delighted today to be calling this Obama‘s war now.  Peace Action said that this is just like when JFK escalated in Vietnam after he first got elected.

I personally—well, I‘m looking forward to tapping some big brains on this subject on this show.  Joining us now is Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski.  He was national security advisor to President Carter and he is the proud father of Mika, who you know from “MORNING JOE.”

Thank you so much for coming back on the show.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, CARTER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR:  It‘s great to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Where do you think that President Obama got it right in his Afghanistan announcement and where do you disagree with him?

BRZEZINKSI:  Well, first of all, I think he is right in the way he has defined the central strategic objective.  Well, that wasn‘t really done very clearly for the last seven years.  And he has stated very clearly that the central strategic objective is to get rid of al Qaeda.  That is the enemy.  That is what we‘re focusing on.

Dealing with the Taliban, dismantling it, getting rid of it, accommodating partially with it, are essentially tactics, but the central objective is getting rid of al Qaeda.  And it isn‘t to create a modern democracy in Afghanistan; it‘s to create an effective government in Afghanistan.  That, too, is a strategic clarification and in my judgment a realistic one.

MADDOW:  Does it seem like an important new decision to also be working on governance and government service issues in Pakistan?

BRZEZINSKI:  Absolutely.  Well, that is, of course, the big question mark, because by now, the conflict in Afghanistan has kind of morphed with the conflicts in Pakistan.  And while we want to help the Pakistanis get rid of the Taliban, re-establish control, we have to be extremely careful.  I can‘t emphasize that strongly enough, not to be drawn deeply into the conflicts within Pakistan which result in direct Pakistani hostility towards us.

MADDOW:  When you say that we shouldn‘t be drawn in, I wonder if you are referring to this recent decision by the Pakistani government to essentially give us tacit permission to expand the areas where we are shooting with drones so that we can go after militants who aren‘t necessarily coming after American troops, but who are trying to topple the Pakistani government.  It sort of seems like we are a proxy air force for the Pakistani government to go after its own enemies that don‘t have anything to do with us.

BRZEZINSKI:  I think you have raised a very good issue.  I think it‘s a very important issue.  If we are not careful, if we, in the course of our military activities within Pakistan, cause a lot of so-called “collateral damage,” which is a polite way of saying killing innocent civilians, we‘re going to have more and more Pakistanis turn against us.

But beyond that, there is even a larger, more complex issue that we have to really address, and the president is beginning to address it.  Namely, can we win, quote-unquote, “win” in Afghanistan even in the more defined, narrower fashion that the president has articulated without the real help of the Pakistanis?  And can we get that real help unless we are prepared to address seriously some of the strategic objectives of the Pakistanis?  Their objectives in Afghanistan aren‘t necessarily the same as ours.

MADDOW:  And a lot of them may have a lot to do with India .

BRZEZINSKI:  Precisely.

MADDOW:  . which makes it more complicated very quickly.

BRZEZINSKI:  Precisely.

MADDOW:  Today, NBC News confirmed that two U.S. troops, both military trainers, were killed in Afghanistan, another was wounded.  And the person who killed them was an Afghan soldier.  I wonder if we are being naive and if I‘m being naive in the way I even introduced this interview, to make a sharp distinction between combat troops and military trainers.  Is there an important distinction there?

BRZEZINSKI:  Well, there is an important distinction in the sense that combat troops are in combat.  But as we increase the number of people mingling with the Afghans, the trainers, and then the many civilians that would be deployed in Afghan, the chances rise, sad to say, that there will be more American fatalities.  So, that is also a risk.

But here I want to emphasize another important aspect of what Obama has proposed.  He, in effect, has made it clear without overstressing it, but he has made it clear, that our objective is not a military victory alone.  It is a political, military victory, and that one of the tactics we will be pursuing is something that we haven‘t been doing until now—namely seeing if we can isolate some of the more moderate elements within the Taliban, and there is something which can be vaguely called “moderate,” from the more extremist radical ones.  Because as he put it today, reconciliation is part of the desirable outcome which creates, in effect, something we can call a success or a victory.

MADDOW:  Dr. Brzezinski, I wonder if you could respond to the criticism that was lobbied today an anti-war group called Peace Action that said, after JFK was elected, he escalated a low-lying military conflict which is part of the way that we ended up inextricably—feeling like we wee inextricably tied to the conflict in Vietnam.

Do you think that there‘s a risk that we‘ve entered in to sort of an incrementalist, escalating quagmire in Afghanistan and we‘re going to find it harder to get out?

BRZEZINSKI:  You know what?  People forget when they say that.  It‘s something that to some extent even got overlooked in the earlier comments about Bush and Iraq.  Vietnam and Iraq were American engagements of our choice—I repeat that—of our choice.  We didn‘t have to go in.

Afghanistan is a reaction to 9/11, to a massive attack on the United States which originated from within Afghanistan, not from the Taliban, incidentally, but the Taliban was sheltering al Qaeda, and al Qaeda is still in Afghanistan and even more so in Pakistan.  So, in that sense, President Obama is not making any choice.  The choice has been forced upon him by history, by a brutal act to which we have to react.

So, we have here a national challenge which cannot be really discussed in terms of the president somehow dragging us in.  We have been dragged in by those who attacked us.

MADDOW:  Dr. Brzezinski, former national security advisor to President Carter—it‘s always such a pleasure to have you on the show.  Thank you for taking time.

BRZEZINSKI:  Good to be with you.

MADDOW:  Thank you.

So, we‘re just getting used to the idea of a president who pays attention to the fact that there is a war on in Afghanistan, one that might need, you know, strategy.  Just as we‘re getting used to that new idea, we find out that we also have to wrap our heads around the fact that we‘re fighting a robot war.

We are fighting a war with robots?  Yes, we are fighting a war with robots right now already.  After we grasp that, we then have to grasp whether or not the robot war idea is a good idea.  Brain overheating.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  You know, it is not an easy thing for the prime minister of the Czech Republic to make news in America—for anything.  But when the Czech prime minister this week called our president‘s stimulus plan, quote, “a road to hell”—yes, that made news.  And now he‘s making even more news, by admitting to a Czech newspaper that that specific critique was influenced by AC/DC, specifically by the AC/DC song, “Highway to Hell,” which he just heard when he attended AC/DC‘s recent concert in Prague.

The prime minister is hosting President Obama on April 5th.  He says that he will not apologize for the “road to hell” remarks.  And now you‘ll know the backstory if you read that at that meeting, the Czech prime minister got himself knocked out with some American thighs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Today‘s big presidential announcement was largely billed as the new plan for Afghanistan.  And then .

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Pakistan.  From its safe haven in Pakistan.  Its neighbor Pakistan.  Its allies in Pakistan.  Al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan.  Pakistan.  The way forward in Pakistan.  The Pakistani people.  The people of Pakistan.  Pakistan.  Pakistan needs our help.  Pakistan.  Pakistan.  Pakistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Dude, at least he pronounces it correctly.  Unlike me, I feel like I can‘t really pull that off.  Pakistan.  I hope it‘s OK if I keep saying that.

The context of those many, many correct pronunciations is that roughly half of the big Afghanistan war plan speech was about Pakistan.  The clear presidential statement we have been waiting for about the reason we are staying in this war well into its eighth year, that statement even mentioned Pakistan before it mentioned Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We have a clear and focused goal to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That‘s the point of this war now, to defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and in Afghanistan.

One big war then for the whole region?  Well, the special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke keeps saying over and over again that America will not put ground troops into Pakistan.  He says that is a red line that we unequivocally will not cross.

So, no ground troops in Pakistan.  But how about America‘s brood of armed flying robots in Pakistan?  Since President Obama took office we have already launched seven drone-fired missile attacks inside Pakistan at least.  Our government still doesn‘t give us a lot of detail about those strikes or about how exactly we are fighting over the Afghan border in this whole other sovereign country called Pakistan.

But as of today, it sort of seems official that what we call the Afghanistan war is over the border in this other country, too.  So, welcome to your first drone war, America.  Always support our robots.

Joining us now is Juan Cole, professor of modern Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian history at the University of Michigan and author of the new book, “Engaging the Muslim World.”

Professor Cole, Juan, thanks so much for coming on the show tonight.

JUAN COLE, AUTHOR, “ENGAGING THE MUSLIM WORLD”:  It‘s my pleasure, Rachel.

MADDOW:  If we are trying to figure out where we are at war with Pakistan, is there a meaningful distinction to make between us having flying robot drones killing people there instead of men with guns killing people there?

COLE:  Well, we are not at war with Pakistan.  The Pakistani government is designated by the president as a non-NATO ally.

The war is being fought against what are called Arab Afghans.  These are fighters from places like Egypt and Algeria who have slipped in to the tribal agencies.  They‘re not really under Pakistani control either, and who are awfully hard to get at.  It‘s very rugged terrain, it‘s like our southwest.  And so, we are hitting them with these drones.

MADDOW:  But, is that—is that a way that you can say that we are not at Pakistan?  I mean, we are not technically at war with the Afghan government either.  We are waging war in Afghanistan supposedly to support the Afghan government just as President Obama says we are going to be doing something unspecified in Pakistan in order to support their government from the insurgency that is a threat to them.

COLE:  Right.  Well, we are not at war with the Afghan government either and we are fighting against various groups of Pashtun tribes people.

And this is the thing—actually, to the extent that we are at war, we‘re at war with some Pashtun clans.  Some of them have joined groups that we characterize as Taliban; some of them call themselves Taliban.  They have hooked up with some of these Arab fighters who have come in from abroad.

And that‘s the war.  It‘s on some clans, in the rugged, mountainous regions on either side of the Hindu Kush.

MADDOW:  There‘s reporting by Carlotta Gall in the “New York Times” today that the Taliban on either side of nominal national border between Afghanistan and Pakistan have joined forces, and that they see—whatever their differences between them and there are significant differences between them and among them, they want to join forces and fight collectively against U.S. forces, particularly now that they‘re going to be more U.S. forces in the region.

Are they a formidable fighting force against U.S. troops?  Is that something that should be very worrying to the U.S. military?

COLE:  Well, some of them are battle hardened.  Some of them are long in the tooth and go back to the 1980s when they were fighting the Soviets with American money.  They have a lot of younger people now who also have gotten fair training and somehow pretty high explosives.

So, they can be formidable but as guerilla groups.  They‘re going to sneak up on U.S. troops, set roadside bombs, and use guerilla tactics.  They‘re not going to—they‘re not going to stand and fight in formation.

MADDOW:  Will the non-military funding that‘s going to Pakistan help, do you think, in terms of undermining the reach of the Taliban there?

COLE:  Well, if the money is actually spent, substantially in the tribal agencies it might help.  There are a lot of people at tribal agencies—there are seven tribal agencies—that are not under strict control of the Pakistani government, a lot of people in there that don‘t like the militants who have taken up arms against them.  The Pakistani military itself has been fighting the militants in that area.

So, yes, you know, it‘s a low resource area.  It‘s mountainous.  It‘s rural and people don‘t have enough resources, water, and a lot of life decisions not in their control.  So, you do some development work in there, you may make some real friends.

MADDOW:  Juan, you‘ve been a really tough strategic thinker on all sorts of American foreign policy issues related to the Muslim world.  And so, I have to ask you just this last big picture question.

President Obama said really explicitly that his goals are to disrupt and dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan and prevent their return to either country in the future.  Do those make sense as American foreign policy goals?  And given what he wants to do in order to reach those goals, do you think that we are likely to reach those goals?

COLE:  Well, I have a chapter on this in the book.  As stated, no.  I mean, the real question is, how to defeat al Qaeda.?  And there is no al Qaeda to speak of on the Afghanistan side, by the way.

MADDOW:  Yes.

COLE:  And—to the extent that it has regrouped a bit, it‘s in the Pakistan side.  And it seems to me that what you would want is to have the Pakistani government have really good control of its airports and ports and people going in and out, monitoring communications.  You can‘t—you can‘t control those tribal areas.

MADDOW:  Juan Cole at the University of Michigan, author of the new book, “Engaging the Muslim World.”  One of the clearest and most direct thinkers who‘s taught me a lot about this stuff.

Juan, thanks for your work and thanks for joining us.

COLE:  Thanks so much.

MADDOW:  We got an update for you on how the giant ice jam and flooding problem is unfolding in the northern plains.  We‘ve got some weird and worrying news for you about how John McCain is planning to spend his Monday.  And a global war on terror brand name re-launch that actually has sort of a happy ending.  That‘s all coming up.

Don‘t go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  President Obama briefed congressional leaders on Afghanistan before his big announcement today.  Key Senate Republicans were, where?  Elsewhere.  So that‘s their big foreign policy idea now.  Passive aggressiveness with the president. 

I‘ll have more on that in just a moment.  But first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  Thousands of Fargo, North Dakota residents are spending an anxious night away from their homes as the threat from flooding from the Red River gets worse, not better. 

The Red River, you will recall, runs north at the border of North Dakota and Minnesota right alongside the cities of Fargo on the west bank and Moorhead on the east bank and then Grand Forks, North Dakota just a little way up the river. 

Over the last few days, emergency crews and volunteers have filled more than 2.5 million sandbags in a stupendous effort to protect the cities from the Red River‘s flood of water, ice and snow. 

This morning the rising river broke 112-year record.  The river hit more than 22 feet above flood stage.  The National Weather Service predicts the river will keep getting higher until some time tomorrow.  Mandatory evacuations were ordered in some neighborhoods, including one neighborhood in Fargo late last night.  The city is preparing to evacuate many more after water breached one of the levees surrounding the city. 

The American Red Cross is sending another 150 staffers to join the 85 they already have in the flood zone.  The North and South Dakota National Guards will also soon have about 1,700 members in place.  And Northwest Airlines, which is based in Minneapolis - they‘re sending two jetliners to evacuate hospital patients. 

Still, this evening, there are new and urgent calls for people to volunteer to fill yet more sandbags in North Fargo.  Volunteers were up doing the same through the night last night in the southern part of Fargo. 

It is down to good luck and organization and hard work at this point in the Red River Valley, which since 9/11 is inarguably hallowed ground. 

In an effort to try to pay respect to the enormous respect to the enormous tragedy that happened there, former New York Governor George Pataki named the planned building that will one day replace the World Trade Center the Freedom Tower. 

But for more than a year now, the Port Authority has been slowly and quietly backing away from that name because they say the name might scare off perspective tenants.  Well, today, the “New York Daily News” and the “New York Post” report that the building owners will call the new skyscraper, ready, drum roll, please - ready for the new name?  Are you ready?  World Trade Center.  You know what?  It‘s easy to remember.  Maybe that‘s the way it should be. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Before President Obama revealed his Afghanistan-Pakistan policy to the whole world this morning, he briefed congressional leaders about it.  It‘s protocol.  It‘s professional courtesy.  It‘s good manners, probably a good way to make policy. 

But guess who didn‘t show?  Senate Republicans.  I know, shocking.  Shocking.  Senators Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl said they received their invitations too late and couldn‘t move around their schedules to hear the commander-in-chief explain America‘s biggest foreign policy initiative.  The dog ate my homework?  Weak. 

The Republican senators‘ absence may be one sign of a partisan divide over foreign policy, another big red siren flashing above 48-point type reading “partisan divide over foreign policy” involves the neocons.  Remember the neocons? 

Neocon - what a double entendre that turned out to be, right?  The neocon developed and then sold the country on the worst foreign policy blunder of at least a generation.  That would be the “don‘t kid yourself it is still going on” war in Iraq. 

And if you think a world-altering debacle like Iraq would send the neocons into other lines of work - behold!  The foreign policy initiative.  It‘s a new nonprofit think-tank, and this one is a lot like their old one, the now-disbanded project for a new American century. 

The foreign policy initiative is headed up by - you guessed it - Bill Kristol, Robert Kagan and Dan Senor, all neoconservative hall-of-famers.  So while the foreign policy initiative is a more innocuous and less presumptuous name than “Project for a New American Century,” I urge you to approach with caution.  Keep your fingers inside the tram. 

Here is how the Foreign Policy Initiative describes what they will promote, quote, “Continued U.S. engagement, diplomatic, economic and military in the world.”  Promoting U.S. Military engagement in the world. 

Hi, neocons, I see you hiding there.  The group also wants, quote, “U.S. leadership working to spread political and economic freedom.”  For the record, spreading freedom?  I think America would like to have a chance to vote on that next time. 

The FPI‘s mission statement says, quote, “There are those who hope we could just return to normalcy, to pre-9/11 levels of defense spending and pre-9/11 tactics.”  Who are the “those” they are talking about?  Mitch McConnell, Jon Kyl? 

Charter member Dan Senor said to “Foreign Policy Magazine, quote, “We believe it is exactly the wrong time to demote America‘s role in the world.”  Who is demoting America‘s role in the world exactly?  The administration is using the State Department and the military, even the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice. 

They are sending special envoys all over the globe to engage in diplomacy.  They‘ve stopped talking smack about the United Nations.  Where is this “diminish America coalition” and who is in it? 

On Tuesday, the neocons‘ new group will host John McCain for their first public event.  It is titled “Afghanistan: Planning for Success.”  From you guys? 

Matt Duss of “Think Progress” translated it from neocon into English whereupon it reads, “Afghanistan: Dealing with the Huge Problems Created by the Many People on this Very Stage.” 

Joining us now is Matt Duss, national security editor from “ThinkProgress.org.”  Matt, thanks very much for joining us.

MATT DUSS, NATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR, “THINKPROGRESS.ORG”:  Thanks, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Let me give you a chance to explain that line I just quoted from you.  How is the Afghanistan and Pakistan war dealing with the mess created by the neocons? 

DUSS:  Well, there‘s a broad consensus among national security analysts and NGOs that because of the diversion of troops, resources and importantly, administration attention from the war in Afghanistan beginning in 2002 toward the war in Iraq, that‘s really what eventually allowed the Taliban to regroup in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area and which allowed Afghanistan to fall back into insurgency which we now have to go back and deal with. 

MADDOW:  Matt, you know a lot about national security.  I know you are based in Washington with “Think Progress.”  Here‘s the thing I don‘t understand about D.C. and national security policy.  Why is it that people who are catastrophically wrong about big important things like foreign policy and war never like, flunk out of that as a subject?  It doesn‘t affect our judgment of them apparently at all for the next things they want to do. 

DUSS:  I think that‘s a great question, Rachel.  I ask myself that question all the time.  And it seems to be this special dispensation in American foreign policy that as long as you are wrong on the side of more military force, then all is forgiven. 

I mean, you can‘t be wrong in deciding to use less force.  As long as you make these huge errors in favor of more military action, then eventually you are forgiven and you are allowed back into the conversation and everyone just forgets about it. 

MADDOW:  Does that mean that when the Foreign Policy Initiative, this group that just they‘ve just founded, define themselves as supporting an increased defense budget?  That means that they will inevitably find defense industry sponsors who are going to put them up in like swanky digs and pay for their conferences? 

DUSS:  Well, of course.  As I wrote, in the way it works in Washington, if you‘re arguing for more military intervention which necessitates more military expenditures you‘re always going to find someone to fund your think-tank. 

But I should also note that the fact that they shut down the project for a New American Century and started up this new very innocuous sounding Foreign Policy Initiative at least says to me that they understand that they have something of an image problem.  So they do have some relation to reality.  So I think that is encouraging. 

MADDOW:  The shame thing is still working.  That‘s a good sign.  Well, Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan today praised Obama‘s Afghanistan announcement.  So given that and given that they‘re founding this new group whom we have seen with their mission statement.  Now, where do you expect to find the partisan divide on war and foreign policy now? 

DUSS:  Well, I think if you look at what Kristol and Kagan have been writing since the mid ‘90s, they had, you know, a pretty famous piece called “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy.”  I mean, you know, how conservatives and Republicans are with Reagan.  They have this huge Reagan thing. 

And their whole argument was that America needs to use military power to get out there in the world and be a force for good and kind of go out there and transform the world.  And this is what George W. Bush seized upon after 9/11. 

And it is worth pointing out that the program that Obama laid out today and even what we ended up doing in Iraq represented a pretty forthright reputation of the entire war on terror ideology that the neoconservatives kind of gave us, this idea that we don‘t negotiate with our enemies.  We defeat our enemies as we learned in Iraq.  In fact, we do negotiate with our enemies.  We pay them enormous sums of money to not fight us, and that‘s what we‘re going to attempt to do in Afghanistan, to reach out to our enemies and see if we can reconcile. 

MADDOW:  These guys will try to get it on it somehow and claim credit for other people‘s ideas when they can.  And they‘ll be funded the whole time they do it.  That is what I predict.  Matt Duss, national security editor for “ThinkProgress.org,” thank you so much for coming on the show, Matt. 

DUSS:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann calls for revolution.  Keith calls her exactly what she needs to be called. 

Next up here, after eight years of new and increasingly odd names for all the wars that we have been fighting, the Obama administration decides to do something totally new and really, really different with war nomenclature.  This means that your global struggle against violent extremism mugs and hats are about to be collectors‘ items.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

MADDOW:  While his party searches for meaning in the political minority, one Republican senator appears to have been looking for something else entirely at the Senate Budget Committee hearing meeting yesterday.  Amid the long and arduous Budget Committee arguments, a remark was made by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley to Committee Chairman Kent Conrad.  Frankly, it was a remark that sounded a little more Jerry Springer than C-Span. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R-IA):  Let me just say - oh, you are good. 

SEN. KENT CONRAD (D-ND), BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  Your wife said the same thing. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Oh, no, he didn‘t.  Oh, geez.  Actually, no, he didn‘t.  It turns out Sen. Conrad knew his wife had indeed complimented Sen. Grassley and Sen. Grassley had given a really speech at a policy seminar earlier this week.  She said, “Oh, you are good at giving a speech.”  Whew.  Scandalous interruptus.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  In 1964, Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty.  Three years later with poverty vanquished, Johnson proclaimed a war on crime.  Two years after than, when there was no more crime, Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs.  Building on the huge success of that, two years later, with drugs obviously and totally vanquished, Nixon proclaimed a war on cancer. 

Since then, we have had the war on Christmas.  We‘ve had the war on the war on Christmas.  When government scientists got their papers overwritten by Bush administration political appointees that sort of felt like a war on science. 

When they started confiscating bottled water and toiletries before we got on planes, that was sort of war on moisture.  We like to declare a war on things that win those wars against us - poverty, drugs, cancer, Christmas, science, hand cream.  These are all things that are not at all that susceptible to the means by which we have war-fighting dominance in the world. 

You cannot smart bomb poverty, let alone hand cream.  But as we discussed on the show earlier this week, it is one thing to declare euphemistic wars on things you can‘t deploy your military against.  It is a whole other realm of confusing to declare that our actual military will fight wars against things that can‘t be defeated by military means such as declaring war, a big military on the feeling of being scared. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  Our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The war on terror.  The war on the feeling of being scared quickly

became even bigger and more grandiose.  It became -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  A victory in the global war on terror. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  It became the global war on the feeling of being scared.  The global war on terror was quickly adopted as a sort of name brand for post-9/11 military actions, even as the Bush administration itself seemed uncomfortable with it.  There were a few short-lived efforts to start calling it something else.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The struggle against violent extremism is going to take a long time.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The global struggle against violent extremism, a global struggle against the enemies of freedom, a global struggle against the enemies of civilization.  Donald Rumsfeld tried out a few different variations of this, but they never stuck.  They never stuck in part I think because the president at the time had his own ideas for what to call it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUS:  We actually misnamed the war on terror.  It ought to be the struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies, who happen to use terror as a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the free world.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  “The struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies, who happen to use terror as a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the free world.”

I actually kind of like that one, but it never stuck.  Since then, we had a brief effort to recast everything as the easy to remember, easy to spell, long war. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  West Point has given you the skills you‘ll need in Afghanistan and Iraq and for the long war with Islamic radicalism.  

MADDOW:  “The long war.”  It‘s a little esoteric, little hopeless, a little crusade-y, never really caught on.  Earlier this week, we reported that Pentagon civil servant had E-mailed speechwriters and others at the Pentagon to say that there was yet a new term to get used to. 

Quote, OMB says, “This administration prefers to avoid using the term ‘long war‘ or ‘global war on terror.‘  Please use ‘overseas contingency operation.‘”  Overseas contingency operation - OCO. 

And you thought the long war didn‘t catch on.  Here‘s your update this.  You might have noticed that President Obama‘s Afghanistan announcement used a bunch of different names for what we‘re doing there, but he never once mentioned OCO.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  The campaign against extremism will not succeed with bullets or bombs alone.  This is one part of a comprehensive strategy to prevent Afghanistan from becoming the al-Qaeda safe haven it was before 9/11.  The United States of America did not choose to fight a war in Afghanistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So in his terms, it is a campaign.  It is a comprehensive strategy.  It is a war in Afghanistan.  The new president doesn‘t appear to have picked a brand name that he‘s going to repeat a lot.  But it turns out that inside the government, inside the Obama administration where the rubber hits the road in terms of how things get funded and resourced and compared to other things, OCO might actually be for real. 

This is Geoff Morrell.  He‘s the Pentagon spokesman.  When he was questioned about this what to call the wars thing this week, he said nobody‘s telling him what to call anything from the podium at the Pentagon.  He said there is no mandate on how what brand name he is supposed to use. 

He says as a Pentagon spokesman, he doesn‘t have any preferred

nomenclature for the wars, nor has one been pushed on him.  However, he

says, inside the government -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF MORRELL, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN:  I think that is - that is the new way of referring to war spending is that overseas contingency - it‘s still new to me.  So let me get it right. 

MADDOW:  OCO.   OCO.  OCO.

MORRELL:   Overseas contingency operations budget.  This is a budget term.  I mean, this replaces supplementals.  But it‘s not just a - this is not a matter of semantics.  There is a difference here.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  There is actually a difference here.  Hold on, wait a minute.  There‘s actually something important and smart going on here.  The Obama administration apparently isn‘t playing re-brand the war with new catchy public slogans all the time, the way the Bush administration did. 

They haven‘t even told the Pentagon spokesman that he has to use some specific terminology.  But they have changed the way that we are paying for the wars and making decisions about the wars instead of those emergency supplemental war requests that came in like every quarter for nearly eight years under Bush, like every three months.

It was a complete surprise we were still at war and needed to fund those wars as an emergency, totally separate from every other budget request we were considering.  So they were never compared and balanced against other needs or priorities of the country, yet alone the military. 

Well, now the wars are OCO, overseas contingency operations that get funded alongside all the regular stuff in the budget, which means there‘s actually a debate about the merits of that spending alongside of the other things that are competing for the same money. 

OCO - overseas contingency operation.  It turns out it is not a new bumper sticker slogan for what used to be called the war on terror.  Turns out it is a recognition that this is a huge monetary commitment that our country has been making for years now and we‘re likely to keep making for years. 

And we ought to stop pretending that we are paying for it with monopoly money.  You can call it the war on silly putty for all I care if it means that we‘re actually going to level with ourselves about what we are doing, what it‘s costing us, whether we might not be better off spending this stuff on something else.  I think that‘s OK.  Also, I like saying OCO.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  So now we know the new president‘s plan for what has been thought of in this country as the other war for about six years now.  The new plan actually involves us in two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, indefinitely.  There‘s no end date. 

So let the debate begin as to whether or not we, as a country, agree with President Obama about his new approach to this old war.  What isn‘t up for debate is the fact that the Americans sent to execute this new plan will be largely the same Americans who have been waging our wars for the last eight-and-a-half years running. 

Their lives will remain in peril.  Their families will continue to miss them and the number of Americans who can call themselves combat veterans will continue to rise, as will our responsibility as a country to make good on the promises we make to our veterans in exchange for them volunteering to serve. 

This all means a recommitment to our veterans as well.  That‘s our show for tonight.  One very exciting programming note, former Secretary of State, Gen. Colin Powell will be my guest on my show this coming Wednesday, April 1st.  I‘m very much looking forward to that.  I hope you‘ll watch. 

“COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.  Have a great weekend. 

                                                                               

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED.

No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research.

User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s

personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed,

nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion

that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or

other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal

transcript for purposes of litigation.>

WATCH 'THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW' WEEKDAYS AT 9:00 P.M. ON MSNBC.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,