Reed Says Jones Exit Won't Harm NSC-Pentagon Ties (Transcript)

Senator Jack Reed said that the selection of Tom Donilon, who lacks military experience, as U.S. national security adviser won’t harm ties with the Pentagon. Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, spoke in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend,

(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)

AL HUNT: And we begin the show with Senator Jack Reed, who’s joining us from Providence, Rhode Island. Senator, thank you so much for being with us. There was news this morning -

SENATOR JACK REED: Thank you, Al.

HUNT: Jim Jones, four-star general, resigned today as national security adviser. He’s being replaced by a native of Rhode Island, Tom Donilon, but Tom Donilon has no military experience. Background in politics, Fannie Mae lawyer. Isn’t the military going to consider that a slap?

REED: Absolutely not. Tom Donilon is one of the most thoughtful and capable strategic thinkers that I know. I’ve known Tom for 10 years very well. Ironically - or coincidentally - we’re both graduates of the same high school here in Rhode Island, LaSalle. He was a few years behind me.

But he is someone who has studied these problems. He worked with Warren Christopher in the State Department. He has been diligent in pursuing the issues of national security. He’s got great managerial skills. He is someone I think is going to step in and do a superb job. I do want to -

HUNT: Let me just follow up on that, though, because Bob Woodward, you know, has this book out called “Obama’s War.” And in it, he says that General Jones got Donilon aside and said, “You have no credibility with the military. You’ve never been to places like Afghanistan.” And Bob Gates, who you admire a great deal, said he was so offended by some of what he calls Tom Donilon’s pop-offs that he almost walked out of the Oval Office. That would seem to be a problem.

REED: Well, I don’t think it’s a problem that is of the level that’s going to distract from Tom’s service. One is that he is a very capable individual. Two, he has a profound respect for the military. He’s not somebody who sees himself as knowing more than they do. In fact, he wants to know what they know.

So I think you’re going to find someone who’s able to manage that office very effectively, someone who respects the military, and someone who’s going to gain - I think already has gained the confidence. He’s worked closely with many military officers. He’s someone I think that’s going to make a real and positive difference.

Jim Jones -

HUNT: One of the -

REED: - as I said - and I do want to compliment - he -he did - you know, it is good to have someone in that White House who has led soldiers in combat, Marines in combat, that knows that at the end of the day it’s those young men and women that have to do the job. And Jim brought that to the White House. And others will have to bring that, also.

HUNT: Well, one of the great challenges, of course, will be Afghanistan. You have been generally supportive of the president’s policies since his West Point speech. I want to just read one passage, again, from the Woodward book, and this comes from Derek Harvey, who was General Petraeus’s top intelligence adviser, and he said this year that the American political, diplomatic and military strategy - and I’m quoting now - “is not going to work. The likely outcome is malign actors, disruptive, innovative, collapsing government in Kabul, a re- emergence of violent extremist groups and safe havens.”

Is it time to re-evaluate our Afghan strategy?

REED: I think the Afghan strategy has to be re-evaluated on an ongoing basis. This is a very dynamic situation. And the complicating factor is it’s not just within the confines of Afghanistan; it’s what’s happening in Pakistan. There we’re seeing tremendous challenges in terms of their cooperation with us, their ability to function given these flooding and the - and the - the catastrophic damage that has been done in Pakistan. So there are so many moving pieces here that this dynamic has to be looked at frequently.

My sense is that we are beginning to get some traction militarily in the south. That will, I think, buy us time. But the key factor - and it’s always been, and it’s alluded to by Derek’s comment - is, how do you create the governmental capacity in Afghanistan, military forces, governmental ministries, that can essentially take what we’ve done, the space and the time, and use it effectively? That’s still a tremendous challenge.

HUNT: Well, the troop withdrawal under the president’s policy is supposed to begin next July. It’s going to be conditions-based. If the conditions aren’t better than they are today, do you still expect the withdrawal to start?

REED: I think that a withdrawal will start. I think the conditions will be better. We’re seeing, again, some traction down in the south around Kandahar and areas like that. We have very effective counterterrorism operations that are going on constantly.

I think you’ll see a withdrawal begin, but, you know, the size, the pace, the types of units, that’s going to be a function of those conditions on the ground.

And also, one of the major conditions - and we keep coming back to this - is the capacity of the government of Afghanistan and particularly the army of Afghanistan to supplement our - and effectively supplement our forces.

HUNT: Well, on that - on that vein, as you know, there are reports that Karzai is trying to negotiate a deal right now with the Taliban. Is that good news, in the sense that it may provide a reduced American presence, or is it bad news, because he’s negotiating from a position of weakness?

REED: Well, he’s beginning these negotiations. But one of the whole premises behind the president’s build-up and the actions in the south is that, as these forces put more pressure on, disrupt more of these Taliban elements, that leverage will shift from the Taliban. And a year ago, it looked like they had the momentum and all the leverage. It’ll shift, and it’ll provide for, I think, better possibility of reasoned discussions about a political settlement.

Without this kind of operation, without the president’s build-up, Karzai would not be, I think, negotiating. He might just be pleading.

So we have to get those countries - those two - all the factors to the table. And, again, it goes back to Pakistan. They have influence within the Afghani Taliban. They have influence there. They have to start exerting that influence in a positive way -

HUNT: Well, let’s talk about Pakistan. As you know, the White House report said the Pakistan troops are avoiding confrontations with the Taliban, they’re not opening the border crossing the U.S. uses to supply our troops. You know, do we have to continue to fund and support a government that won’t take action against the enemy and is blocking some of our supply routes?

REED: The government of Pakistan has made some progress. Two years ago, if you told anyone, I think, that they would have real troops in the FATA, the tribal areas, they’d say, no, absolutely not. They do have troops there.

But as the report points out, they’re not engaged with some elements we feel are disruptive, suggesting that they have this uneasy sort of truce. We want them to make a strategic decision that these elements are threats to Pakistan as well as Afghanistan and to take effective action.

They have allowed the United States to conduct Predator attacks that have degraded and upset and disrupted a lot of these radical elements, particularly the ones who are planning operations outside of Pakistan, Afghanistan, in Europe and elsewhere.

So it is very much of a mixed bag. They have made progress, but they have not made an essential, fundamental decision and cut their ties and, in fact, engaged against some of these terrorist groups. We have to keep putting pressure on them to do that.

HUNT: O.K., Senator Jack Reed, thank you so much for being with us today. And when we come back -

REED: Thank you, Al.

***END OF TRANSCRIPT***

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