AMANPOUR: This week, deadlock. Talks to reduce the government's debt collapsed as Republicans walk away, and the risk of global fiscal calamity grows.
SEN. HARRY REID, D-NEV.: The Republicans should stop playing chicken. It's not good for our country or the world.
AMANPOUR: What will it take to break the impasse?
MCCONNELL: He's the president. He needs to lead.
AMANPOUR: As President Obama prepares to enter the fray, the
Senate's top Republican and a top House Democrat tell us what they need to make a deal. And the budget battle figures into the president's decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It is time to focus on nation building here at home.
AMANPOUR: Ten years of war, is the mission changing? Is success being redefined? That, and all the week's politics on our roundtable.
Plus, David Muir with barrier-breaking first lady Michelle Obama in South Africa. At the side of Nelson Mandela, she invokes both countries' struggles for racial equality.
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: You cannot imagine how important your legacy is to who I am, to who my husband is. I just said thank you.
ANNOUNCER: Live from the Newseum in Washington, "This Week" with Christiane Amanpour, starts right now.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program. Senator Mitch McConnell joins me in just a moment. But first, some news since your morning papers. In North Dakota, the swollen Souris River is cresting at this hour, and waters are now seven feet above flood level, lower than expected but high enough to swamp 4,000 homes and force 11,000 residents to evacuate. The epic flooding is the worst the region has seen since 1881.
In New York, more than half a million jubilant gays and lesbians are expected at today's pride parade, the oldest in the country, and this year's march is a victory rally, coming just two days after New York became the largest state in the nation to York to legalize same-sex marriage.
And in Iowa today, the presidential race comes into sharp focus with the first snapshot of how voters are assessing the Republican candidates. The well respected Des Moines Register poll of likely caucus goers shows that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and the Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann are locked in a statistical tie for first place. Pizza mogul Herman Cain comes in third, with former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty trailing in single digits with just 6 percent.
And President Obama weighs into the contentious debate over raising the debt ceiling tomorrow when he meets one-on-one with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Their mission, to jump-start talks that broke down this week when Republicans walked away from the bargaining table.
Time is of the essence. On August 2nd, the government will run out of money to pay its bills, and the repercussions could be catastrophic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REID: The Republicans should stop playing chicken in pushing us too close to that line.
REP. JOHN A. BOEHNER, R-OHIO: If we meet to meet the president's timetable to come to an agreement by the end of this month, then he needs to engage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Well, the president engages tomorrow, as we said, when he meets face-to-face with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at the White House.
Senator McConnell joins me now from Louisville, Kentucky.
Senator, good morning and thank you for being with me.
MCCONNELL: Good morning.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you this. It seems to have boiled down to a battle over taxes. Now, the White House, the administration, the Democrats are saying they are not putting for the moment tax hikes on the table, but they need revenue. They are talking about closing loopholes, subsidies for wealthy corporations. Is that out of the question for you, or are you willing to entertain that?
MCCONNELL: Well, first, I'm sure my colleague and counterpart Harry Reid when he meets with the president tomorrow as well, will reacquaint him with the tax issue as it stands in the Congress. Back in December, Christiane, when Democrats owned the government, they had a huge majority in the Senate, a huge majority in the House, we had a vote in the Senate on raising taxes on people making over $1 million a year. That was defeated. Democrats voted against it, a reasonable number of them. And then two weeks later, they all came together and voted to extend current tax rates.
If we're going to address this issue, and address this issue we must and should, we need to deal with what will actually be helpful in reducing the deficit and the debt. We have been spending way too much. We need to quit borrowing, quit spending, and get us our trajectory heading in the right direction.
AMANPOUR: Senator --
MCCONNELL: Throwing more tax revenue into the mix is simply not going to produce a desirable result, and it won't pass. I mean, putting aside the fact that Republicans don't like to raise taxes, Democrats don't like to either.
AMANPOUR: Right. Well, let's just take that one at a time then. You are saying that there should be progress, and everybody is saying that there has been fairly good progress in the talks that were led by Vice President Biden, that there was somewhere between $1.4 and $2 trillion of cuts agreed to. But that the $4 trillion or so that is required is not going to happen, say the administration, without some kind of revenue raising.
So putting aside the tax hikes, basic raw tax hikes. Are you willing, I mean this is a negotiation after all, to talk about any kind of revenue raising? For instance, ethanol subsidies. For instance, tax breaks for oil and gas corporations or corporate jets. Is there anywhere where revenue raising can happen without you saying it's a tax hike?
MCCONNELL: Well, I think we've gotten to the point where we ought to put aside our talking points and get down to what can actually pass. As I was just trying to point out to you, the whole business of raising taxes, regardless of how you go about it, is something that this Congress is not likely to do.
The last Congress wasn't willing to do it. So we need to talk about what can pass. The trustees of the president's -- the president's own trustees, of Medicare and Social Security have said both programs are in trouble. We know it's an enormous percentage of the budget. We know that our annual discretionary spending has been too high.
We have a spending problem. We don't have a problem because we tax too little.
The other problem with various tax proposals is they are going to have an adverse effect on the economy. The president in signing the extension of current tax rates last December made the same argument I'm making to you this morning. It's bad for the economy.
The way to get the economy growing again is in the private sector. Raising taxes is not going to help get that done. So we need to put aside our talking points and talk about what is needed.
We need to cut spending now. We need to cap spending in the future. And we need to save our entitlement programs, which are on a path to bankruptcy, according to the president's own trustees, of Medicare and Social Security.
AMANPOUR: So are you now basically saying, all revenue increases off the table? Are you closing the door to closing any of these loopholes that we've been discussing?
MCCONNELL: What I want, Christiane, is put together a package that can actually pass the Congress. We are past the point where we trade talking points. We need to put something together that will actually pass and make a difference, impress Standard & Poor's and Moody's and the rating agencies that are about to downgrade the U.S. credit rating for the first time in our history.
AMANPOUR: So what will then -- from your point of view, what will pass?
MCCONNELL: Well, the president and I will be talking about that tomorrow.
We know that the Democrats are willing to reduce Medicare. Obamacare, cut Medicare about half trillion dollars. The president himself just a month or so ago in a speech about what he would do mentioned an additional half a trillion dollars in Medicare reductions. We know the Democrats are willing to reduce Medicare expenditures. That's something that can actually pass the Congress.
AMANPOUR: So, but let me ask you, let me go to Senator DeMint, who has said to our Jon Karl this week that he would not vote nor would he advise anybody to vote to raise the debt ceiling, if you all did not pass a balanced budget amendment. Is that even likely, the actual passage of a balanced budget amendment before this deadline needs to be met?
MCCONNELL: We're certainly going to vote on it. We'll be voting on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution in the Senate the week of July the 18th. So we'll have that vote. All 47 Republicans in the Senate support it. If we can get 20 more Democrats, that would pass. That would be an important step in the right direction particularly looking out to the future.
It would not eliminate the challenge that we have before us, which is to cut spending now, and that's what these negotiations in connection with the request of the president who has asked us to raise the debt ceiling are about.
AMANPOUR: And so, do you, at this point, believe that these negotiations are going to go right down to the wire? Might even past the August 2nd deadline? I mean, you as the leadership, are you prepared to see that happen?
MCCONNELL: Well, we'd like to wrap this up. One of the reasons we are meeting tomorrow is that I think both the Democrats and the Republicans would like to come together and finish this negotiation and finish it sometime soon. It need not necessarily go to the 11th hour.
AMANPOUR: And do you accept the administration's position that if this, and Secretary Geithner's position, that if this is not worked out, at least by the deadline, that it will have catastrophic reaction around the world and could even trigger another recession here?
MCCONNELL: I think what would reassure the world more than anything we could do would be to come together and use this opportunity, presented by the president's request of us to raise the debt ceiling, to do something about the debt. So I view it as a great opportunity to bring the two sides together and do something really significant for the country.
AMANPOUR: And one final question. On this issue of raising revenue, you talked about not wanting any sort of tax hikes, but you did agree to cut ethanol subsidies, the Senate did agree. Isn't that sort of -- doesn't that give some kind of hope that there is some sort of flexibility on this issue?
MCCONNELL: Well, the talks continue. I've already made the point that tax increases are not likely to pass the House or Senate, but the talks continue. We think it's important to take advantage of this opportunity to do something really important to move the country in a different direction.
We've increased, under this administration, spending 35 percent in 2.5 years. We need to stop that. We need to go in a different direction, and this hopefully will be the opportunity to begin to do that.
AMANPOUR: Senator McConnell, thank you, and we'll keep our eye on those talks tomorrow.
MCCONNELL: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And let's turn now to the House Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn, who was in those debt reform talks before they broke down. Congressman Clyburn joins us from Columbia, South Carolina. Good morning to you, Congressman.
CLYBURN: Good morning, thank you so much for having me.
AMANPOUR: You're welcome. You just heard Senator McConnell talking about what is not on the table and what will not pass, as he says. Any kind of revenue or tax hikes. So where is there room for any negotiation?
CLYBURN: Well, let me say this. Senator McConnell is someone I have a great deal of respect for, though I very seldom agree with him on political issues.
The fact of the matter is, we have on the table all kinds of revenue raises that they keep calling tax increases. How do you call closing loopholes to oil companies that are making billions of dollars in profits, closing up these loopholes that would generate $40 to $50 billion in revenue, how do you call that a tax hike? That is no tax hike. You only hike taxes when you raise rates. We are not asking anybody to raise anybody's rates. We want us to have an effective tax collection and close these loopholes, stop giving billions of dollars in breaks to millionaires and billionaires.
If you look at the proposal that Republicans put forward, they would give a tax cut to -- of $200,000 per millionaire, by raising the expenses on --
CLYBURN: -- for Medicare on seniors, by $6,000 a year. What is the fairness in that?
AMANPOUR: Congressman Clyburn, you have seen, though, that -- what you just heard was Senator McConnell has just been saying, and obviously they want to see more tax -- more rather spending cuts. So what do you think is going to be the result of the meetings between President Obama and the leadership when they start tomorrow?
CLYBURN: Well, I don't know what they're going to do in those meetings, but I think that we had some very effective meetings. We had 10 meetings, and of course when the Republicans walked away from the table, it was on the day that we were to have our either last or next to the last meeting. I thought we were doing very, very good.
Now, the question is, how do you define a tax increase? And I don't know of anybody who will define a tax increase as closing the loophole. If you tell me that my tax rate is going to be 30 or 35 percent and I come up with all kind of gimmicks with pretty smart lawyers and only pay 9 percent, there's something wrong with the loopholes in the law. We want to close those loopholes up. We do not want to raise anybody's tax rates. That's never been on the table. And I wish they would get beyond their talking points and really get honest with the American people as to what these discussions are about.
We ought not have these oil subsidies. We ought not have all these ethanol subsidies. We ought not have all these new breaks for millionaires and billionaires. We ought to be honest with the American people and have an effective tax rate that will be fair to everybody.
AMANPOUR: So what then gets one to a result? Because this has to come to some kind of result.
CLYBURN: I think it will. I think that's where it was always headed. We were going to finish up last week and kick this up to the president, the leader of the Senate, both leaders in the Senate, minority and majority, as well as the speaker of the House and the leader of the Democrats on the House side.
It is now at that point. I think the president is meeting this week, with both leaders in the Senate, in separate meetings, and I hope he will be meeting with the speaker, Speaker Boehner as well.
They will come to some agreement, and maybe they will ask us to vet their agreement with our respective bodies. This ought to be a bipartisan vote. Not just Republicans, but Republicans and Democrats, the way we've always done it in the past.
AMANPOUR: Congressman, thank you very much indeed for joining us.
And, up next, the roundtable tackles 2012 as Michele Bachmann races toward the head of the pack in Iowa. And later, Michelle Obama on meeting a legend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MUIR: What was it like in that room?
MICHELLE OBAMA: Surreal, something I never thought would happen.
MUIR: What did you say to him?
MICHELLE OBAMA: Oh.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: ABC's David Muir's special interview with the first lady in South Africa, coming up.
AMANPOUR: Republicans drew a line in the sand this week, walking out of the debt talks and vowing not to give an inch on taxes. Now, President Obama is swooping in, hoping the full force of his office will get the parties talking again and avert a fiscal calamity.
But what kind of clout does the White House have at this point? Here to answer that question, ABC's George Will. Democratic strategist Anita Dunn, the president's former communications director. Chrystia Freeland of Thompson Reuters, and ABC's senior political correspondent, Jon Karl. Thank you all for being here.
And, George, straight to you. You just heard the congressman and the senator, and you heard him not answer about the revenues, whether they are on or off the table. So, are they completely off the table, do you think? And what kind of clout does the president have to move this along?
WILL: He doesn't have much clout. What has clout is a deadline. As every writer knows, a deadline is man's best friend. It's true for legislators also, and the deadline is coming up roughly August 2nd.
AMANPOUR: August 2nd?
WILL: August 2nd. On the lash of necessity, something will happen here. The problem is, the Republicans want to shrink the deficit and the government as a share of GDP. The Democrats want to shrink the deficit by increasing the government as a share of GDP. Something has got to give, and I think you really touched upon the drama that's coming over the balanced budget amendment. The Hatch-Lee, two Utah senators, have a balanced budget amendment that includes super-majorities to run the deficit, to exceed 18 percent of GDP with federal revenues, to raise taxes and to raise the debt ceiling. That's a revolution in American government and it is going to be voted on, because they believe it is easier to get 20 Democrats to vote for a balanced budget amendment than it is to get eight Republicans to vote for the debt ceiling increase.
AMANPOUR: So does that give sort of a way in to raise this debt ceiling?
KARL: First of all, I don't think a balanced budget amendment, which needs super majorities in the House and the Senate, passes. But I think we are headed to a point of crisis before this passes. Look --
AMANPOUR: What is the crisis?
KARL: I think there's a 50/50 percent chance there's no deal before the markets start to go nuts on this, before the administration starts to send out letters to Social Security recipients warning that their checks might not be coming, because Republicans want a fight on this. They do not want John Boehner to go in there and strike a deal with the Obama administration and then have them pass it.
They saw what happened with the deal that averted a government shutdown. They think they were had. They are going to push for this and they are going to insist -- I mean, look, there are 40 to 60 Republicans in the House that would vote no, no matter what.
AMANPOUR: Let me just ask you, Anita, since you used to work for the president, he obviously has the clout. He is the president of the United States. Is he using it? How is he going to use it? He controls the White House, obviously, and they have the Senate.
DUNN: Christiane, the president has the bully pulpit, and at the end of the day, he has the ability to go directly to the American people and lay out the stakes in this battle. And as both Jon and George pointed out, we're heading towards a deadline and we're heading towards a crisis.
Congress usually needs a crisis to really act on big things. And this is going to be a genuine crisis the likes of which we have not seen since 2008, and you may recall the first TARP failed and the stock market dropped over 800 points the next day. So it takes something of that magnitude.
I think what is really important here is the fact that a huge amount of progress was made before the Republicans decided that they were going to take their ball, go home, and refuse to talk any longer. But clearly, that was a political posturing, since the talks resume this week on the presidential leadership level.
The revenues that the Democrats are talking about, many of them are loopholes that have been put back into the tax code since 1986 when President Ronald Reagan said lower rates, not have government pick winners and losers in the economy. Let the markets make those decisions. And passed a landmark tax reform bill with the help of Democrats. And so since then, this stuff has snuck back in. For instance, just a few of the more egregious ones, that a corporate jet can be depreciated over seven years, but that if Delta Airlines buys the same jet, only five years. Now why wouldn't you treat both equally? Why wouldn't you have mortgage interest deductions for first homes but not second homes? So these are the kinds of things that at the end of the day, get discussed behind closed doors and not in the open.
FREELAND: I would just like to return to the point that Jonathan made, which I thought was a really important one, which is this sort of the need the Republicans in particular have right now for some real political theater in June and July. Real evidence, you know, that they are holding the president's feet to the fire. And I think that that --
AMANPOUR: For their base or just because?
FREELAND: Both. Both.
AMANPOUR: I mean, in order to actually--
FREELAND: Well, no, I think that --
AMANPOUR: You think they want to see this crisis?
FREELAND: I think everyone wants a resolution in the end. But what is scary to me is this notion that, you know, there is one political logic happening in Washington in politics, and there is an entirely different set of calculations in the markets. And those markets nowadays go very far beyond Washington.
Anita referred to the TARP moment. For me, the parallel is not so much that. The potential parallel is with the bankruptcy of Lehman in 2008. And people -- no one knew what was going to happen, but it turned out that allowing Lehman to go broke set off these dominoes in global markets. And I do think that if the political theater takes us too close to the edge, you could really see dominoes falling, because right now world markets are most worried about sovereign debt, which is basically are governments around the world able to pay their bills and get their budget in order. If the biggest one, the United States, looks like it is not able to do it, we could see a crisis that makes 2008 look like kindergarten.
KARL: But in the political reality here, we're not just talking about the freshman Tea Party. We're talking about other members of leadership. I don't think John Boehner could sell a deal struck with the White House to Eric Cantor and to the rest of his leadership team.
FREELAND: Well, Eric Cantor is his biggest problem right now, isn't he?
KARL: There's no question right now that Eric Cantor is very in tune with that Republican base, and a base that knows that this is something that will not fly with people that's (ph) in the Congress.
AMANPOUR: Let's move to presidential politics, because obviously this is all wrapped up in all of that. So earlier today, we showed the poll from the Des Moines Register, and we'll see it again, with Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann in a statistic dead head amongst likely caucus goers in Iowa. What is the takeaway from that, George?
WILL: Well, we're going to come down to a binary choice sooner or later, and it's probably going to be Romney against somebody. The question is, will it be Michele Bachmann, who stands there right now? But there's also a missing piece, and that's the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, who is thinking about getting in.
AMANPOUR: Do you think he will?
WILL: I don't know. I saw him last week, and I came away with a definite maybe. But in fact, Iowa is made for a showdown between Rick Perry, who has Texas job creation to match Romney. He has Michele Bachmann's rapport with evangelical Christians, who are 60 percent of the participants in the Iowa caucuses. So there's a two-step here, how do you get down to the binary choice?
AMANPOUR: Where do you think this is going? Isn't it amazing that sort of she's come out really from the -- from the--
KARL: I think you can make an argument right now at this point in time that Michele Bachmann is the front-runner in Iowa. Romney is barely competing out there. You have her in a statistical tie for first place. But let's have a little perspective and look back to exactly four years ago, when Rudy Giuliani was in second place, when John Edwards was in first place on the Democratic side. So it's still early. Look, Bachmann was born in Iowa. I've been out in Iowa with her. I have seen the way she connects with especially the evangelicals in that state. She's going to be a force in the Iowa caucuses.
AMANPOUR: She's going to announce this week.
DUNN: She's going to announce this week. And I think coming off her very strong debate performance, that there is going to be a lot of excitement there.
One of the really striking things so far, watching this Republican field, has been the number of people who are actually showing up at events for Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain versus some of the more, shall we say, mainstream or establishment candidates. I'm not going to name names here. But anyway, there's clearly a degree of excitement and enthusiasm on the grassroots level for some of these candidates. I think that -- I read George's column this morning. Obviously Governor Perry too would be able to excite that sort of--
DUNN: But what's clear is where the energy is. And this goes back to this debt debate that we're having, because the energy in that party is not towards the sort of mainstream solutions that the American people at the end of the day think their members of Congress should be able to come up with.
FREELAND: So, Anita, isn't Michele Bachmann your fantasy? I mean, are you talking her up partly because the Democrats would love to run against Michele Bachmann?
KARL: I think the answer is yes.
DUNN: I learned a long time ago not to try to pick candidates in this kind of thing. I remember very well Democrats feeling that Ronald Reagan was the candidate we wanted to face in 1980, because we didn't want George Bush or Howard Baker, for God's sakes, so.
AMANPOUR: What about Jon Huntsman? He today this week said that they were going to run, you know, a campaign on the high road, I don't need to run down someone's reputation. Is that going to stick?
FREELAND: I think there is a chance that Huntsman is going to be sort of the Republican version of Obama, with all the positives and negatives that that entails. So I think he is looking very much like the darling of the elites, you know, media elites, also Wall Street business. They love that he's shown up. He talks in complete sentences. He could give you an analysis of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.
FREELAND: How is that going to work in the primaries? We'll see.
WILL: In almost every cycle there's a Republican who appeals to people who don't really very much like Republicans. There was a Democrat, Bruce Babbitt, John Anderson, there is a Democrat who appeals to people who don't really like Democrats. Mr. Huntsman's announcement that he would take the high road had a whiff of moral arrogance about it. And we'll see. He said, I'm not going to run down my opponent. He stood there where Ronald Reagan stood. And when Ronald Reagan stood there in 1980, he said this about his opponent, Jimmy Carter, "a litany of despair, of broken promises, of sacred trusts abandoned and forgotten." That's politics.
AMANPOUR: And that's the last word for the moment. The rest will continue in the green room, and you are going to stay with us, George, as we try to unravel what is happening in Afghanistan and the unraveling surge. President Obama pledges to cut 33,000 American troops out of Afghanistan by next summer. Will that leave enough boots on the ground to complete the mission, and what is the mission now anyway? Expert analysis on week's two big questions coming right up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA: This is the beginning, but not the end of our effort to wind down this war. We'll have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we made, while we draw down our forces and transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: President Obama on Wednesday told a war-weary nation that he plans to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan this year, and all 33,000 surge troops by the end of next summer. Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged the move is in part a response to political realities at home, but will it hamper American efforts on the frontlines? Here's ABC's Mike Boettcher.
MIKE BOETTCHER, ABC NEWS: Ask a frontline American soldier what motivates him to keep fighting, it is this, the sacrifice of fallen buddies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything comes with a cost. The thing I'll always remember is every one of my soldiers, especially the ones that I have lost.
BOETTCHER: In one spring battle, in one hour, Captain Ed Bankston (ph), 101st Airborne Division, lost three of his men. Corporal Thomas Shelton fights on for his buddy who was killed that day.
CPL THOMAS SHELTON, 101ST AIRBORNE: He's got a daughter that's a year old. He sacrificed not only his life, but he sacrificed that time with his daughter and his family back home, so that the fight stays here and does not come to our country.
BOETTCHER: And at least through this summer, they keep fighting at surge strength. Curahee (ph) brigade of "Band of Brothers" fame is the final 101st unit remaining in Afghanistan. They go home later this summer and are scheduled as of now to be replaced by a similar sized unit.
In the meantime, they still face the tough challenge of stopping Taliban infiltration along a dangerous part of Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, a problem that does not go away, surge or no surge.
President Hamid Karzai applauded President Obama's order to reduce the American footprint here, calling it a major step towards an independent Afghanistan. However, not all Afghan voices are keen on an early American exit. Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's former foreign minister and Karzai's political opponent, believes the Afghan government is not strong enough to stand up on its own without significant American help.
DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, FORMER FOREIGN MINISTER: The success of the transition will depend on the ability of the Afghan government and the Afghan institutions to assume responsibilities. That seems to be, to me, in doubt.
BOETTCHER: How quickly U.S. troops draw down depends how quickly they train up the Afghan national army. Their numbers are growing, but their capabilities and motivation are still very much in question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, they are trying to pull themselves up by the bootstraps.
BOETTCHER: Daniel Allyn, of the 1st Cavalry Division, is the new general in charge of military operations in eastern Afghanistan. Last week he observed firsthand an Afghan-led patrol near a village east of the capital, Kabul. And on this day, at least, the ANA went unchallenged, a good sign to General Allyn.
MAJ. GEN. DANIEL ALLYN, U.S. COMMANDER, EASTERN AFGHANISTAN: Bottom line is, it's central to the future. That's why, quite frankly, the future looks very good.
BOETTCHER: But more quickly than anyone imagined, there will be fewer and fewer American soldiers to back them up. And that's what's on the mind of U.S. troops. They want to go home, but they also want almost 10 years of blood, sweat and tears to have been worth it.
Mike Boettcher, ABC News, Kapisa (ph), Afghanistan.
AMANPOUR: So, how will the president's announcement shape the course of this war? Back with me again is George Will, and we're joined by Vali Nasr, a former senior adviser to the Obama administration on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and ABC News senior foreign affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz.
George, you were and are a small proponent of withdrawing and pulling back. Are you satisfied and convinced that a deadline with no conditions, which is for next summer, to withdraw the surge troops, will not materially affect the gains that have already been made, which everybody is talking up?
WILL: Such as they are. And that's not clear what the gains are. There's one U.S. service man or woman for every two Afghan soldiers at this point. There's an 18 percent desertion rate in the Afghan army, which means you have to recruit 25,000 more Afghan soldiers just to stay even.
The current U.S. military opinion is that 200,000 Afghan soldiers are no match, can't defeat, 20,000, 10-1 ratio, 20,000 Talibans. Bing West, who's been over there a lot, a great American journalist and military man, says to fight on in some capacity, as we're apt to do until 2014, might involve 1,700 American deaths. The question is, to what strategic end? And I've not heard a satisfactory answer.
AMANPOUR: Well, Vali, the strategic end of this surge in the first place seemed to be, in President Obama's own words, enough kinetic contact -- in other words, fighting -- to break the back of the Taliban and bring them to the negotiating table. And that's where the end would be, around the negotiating table. Has that happened to a satisfactory degree now? And do you think it will by next summer?
NASR: No, I don't think it has happened. We've had gains against the Taliban, but there has not been a turning point in this war. The Taliban's back has not been broken. We've done well where we have put troops in, but this has been very much a whack-a-mole game. We go in, the Taliban goes somewhere else. We have to chase them. It's true as George says that we don't have the capacity to chase them everywhere, and we have to find a way to bring this war to a conclusion.
The president has decided that counterinsurgency doesn't work. What happened in Iraq is not happening in Afghan. But what he hasn't presented is that what do we do with the war going forward? There is no convincing strategy.
AMANPOUR: Well, the military in their briefing, senior officials are talking to us all say that actually the president has not abandoned counterinsurgency, that they are just going to continue to do what they've been doing, with, yes, a few less troops. What do you think about the message that's coming out from the military right now?
RADDATZ: I think the president has never wanted a full counterinsurgency. The president has never even mentioned counterinsurgency in December 2009 and he certainly didn't mention it the other night.
I always had the impression that David Petraeus and Stan McChrystal before him were fighting a war based on counterinsurgency, but the president was never committed to that. And in fact, if you are going to send in 33,000 surge troops based on something the military wants, but then you are going to pull them out before the military wants them to, why did you send them in to begin with? And yet, there are parts of the country where counterinsurgency is working, but certainly not all of them. They talk about, look, we're not changing our strategy, we can do it with even fewer troops. But it's kind of like ditch diggers. If you have four ditch diggers and you're going to build two ditches, OK, that's fine, you can get it done. It is going to take longer and the ditch that you first built might be abandoned and falling apart by the time you get to the second one, and you do not have enough people to go back and do that. So I'm not sure what the strategy really is at this point.
AMANPOUR: It's an interesting question and we're all going to talk about it, hopefully, but what you are talking about is risk. And risk is what both Admiral Mullen and General Petraeus talked about this week. Let's just listen to how they reacted to this drawdown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADM. MIKE MULLEN, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: The president's decision are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept. More force for more time is without doubt the safer course. But that does not necessarily make it the best course.
MAJ. GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES, AFGHANISTAN: The ultimate decision was a more aggressive formulation, if you will, in terms of the timeline, than what we had recommended.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: It's quite unprecedented to see active-duty serving senior officers talk about that. But then again, they are telling us also that they support what the president has done. He is the commander in chief. And that taking away the troops, as he's mentioned, has been basically sort of nibbling around the edges, they are comfortable with it. Do you think that it can actually work? I mean, in view of what Martha just said, what is now the end game for the military operation?
NASR: I actually think the risk is much higher than the general and Admiral Mullen have specified, for the reason that if you reduced 3,000 troops, and the Taliban surge, which more than likely they will, then you are causing the situation that you either have to go back in or you have to withdraw the other 70,000. We're handing over the momentum to the Taliban and then we're putting our eggs on some kind of a negotiated settlement, whereas we are taking away our leverage to actually get the Taliban to make the negotiated settlement. So we're basically creating a situation in which we're far more vulnerable to a war that will escalate, and we don't have a strategy about how to deal with it at that point.
AMANPOUR: When you look at this and you say I don't know what the end is, part of the end, apparently as far as we know has been to have Pakistan as the insurance policy. Build up Pakistan enough, have a close enough relationship that Pakistan is not going to allow that area to be used for the kind of terrible threat that created 9/11. But Pakistan and U.S. are not having good relations now. So where does that leave us? Where does that leave the U.S.?
WILL: Obviously Pakistan is key. If Afghanistan were next to Denmark, we wouldn't be there, we wouldn't be worrying about it the way we do, because it is next to Pakistan, a nuclear power.
I think Martha has got it exactly right, which is the commander in chief and his commander in the field are fighting different projects.
David Petraeus is the author, literal, of the book on counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgency is nation building. The United States army -- army has been engaged in 16,000 economic projects over there.
There are three problems with nation building. It's expensive and we're short of money. It takes time and we're short of patience. And, three, we don't know how to it. It's like orchid building, nations are not built like tinker toys.
RADDATZ: And if you're switching to counterterrorist strategy, and there's obviously a bit of counterterrorism strategy and counterinsurgency, if you are really switching to that, you don't really need 70,000 troops.
So there seems to be this disconnect on exactly how you go forward. And frankly, hearing the generals on the Hill saying I wanted much more -- I never really heard that before. I didn't hear that last time. It's almost to me the White House, the White House was the one saying David Petraeus didn't want this. They really want the president to look tough on this. They want the president to be the guy who is saying, you know I didn't follow the advice of the generals. Now obviously the military is under civilian control, but I think there's a real effort to spin here that the president is pushing back against his generals.
NASR: But if I may follow up on your point about Pakistan, it suggests that there is some kind of a fundamental disconnect in policy making. Everything we've done for the past two years in this Af-Pak area has been based on the assumption of improving relationships with Pakistan, the ability to draw troops out, even ability to negotiate the end of this war all suggest that we are improving relationship with Pakistan.
That relationship is going in a negative direction and we are not doing anything to stop that decline at the time that we are claiming that things better and we can get out. This means that we're fundamentally turning around the logic of the whole Af-Pak strategy, which required these two policy areas to be tightly connected and we improve things with Pakistan in order to improve things in Afghanistan.
And the president did not explain, or the administration has not explained, why is it possible to actually have a better situation with Afghanistan whereas the relationship with Pakistan can be allowed to suffer.
RADDATZ: And remember the border is the most dangerous part of Afghanistan right now.
AMANPOUR: We'll be monitoring this very closely. Thank you all for weighing in on this debate.
And up next, the Sunday Funnies and David Muir's special interview with the first lady Michelle Obama on whirlwind trip to South Africa. Stay with us.