MADDOW: Nine years — nine years, nine conferences. Every year since launched the war in Afghanistan nine years ago, we and a bunch of other countries had held a conference to talk about what to do there. Nine years, nine conferences. And it is this year, for the first tame ever, that that yearly conference about what to do in Afghanistan is actually taking place in Afghanistan— first time. And that is your “what`s wrong with this picture” Afghanistan microcosm of the day. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew to Kabul today for the conference. Reporters asked her about concerns that western spending in Afghanistan is being diverted to the elites and to the corrupt and to the bad guys in that country. She responded with this, quote, “We also have to take a hard look at ourselves, because it is very clear our presence, all of our contracting, has fed that problem. This is not just an Afghan problem, it`s an international issue.” What`s remarkable about that from Secretary Clinton is that it seems to recognize a key and subtle point about this war: extending the duration of our presence there may very well reduce our chances of achieving our goal there. If the end goal is to have a real Afghan state functioning there, serving its people, us funneling billions of war dollars into that country breeds corruption and dependence and resentment. It undermines an Afghan state. It does not promote it. ” Newsweek`s” cover story right now is titled, “We`re Not Winning. It`s Not Worth it.” The story is a lengthy argument for why and how to extricate ourselves from this war. Is that cover story an effort to move American public opinion and the administration`s opinion on the war? Or is that cover story a reflection of where that opinion already is? Joining us now is NBC`s Richard Engel. He`s not just NBC`s chief foreign correspondent, he`s also served as my tour guide and uncompensated carpet salesman on my recent trip there.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Do you have the money for that? That`s why I came.
MADDOW: Everybody thinks that was you giving me 20 bucks to buy the rug. Can we play this up once and for all?
ENGEL: Yes, it was — it was my money.
MADDOW: Roll the tape!
ENGEL: It was your — t was your money. I was holding it for you.
MADDOW: You never carry any money. You didn`t have any money.
ENGEL: We`ll go with that story. That`s fine.
MADDOW: Richard Engel! All right. Am I right in detecting a sort of new center of gravity in arguments about our presence in Afghanistan? Do you feel like thing are shifting?
ENGEL: Things are definitely shifting. The idea is not we`ve got to win this war, how many troops is it going to take — it is: how do we get out of this war. And the shift is focusing on — well, what can be the new strategy? Is there going to be a negotiated settlement? And that`s what pretty much what Haass is arguing in that article, that there should be some sort of political accommodation and that after nine years of war, trying to rebuild and occupy a landlocked central Asian country to protect the homeland isn`t working and isn`t going to work.
MADDOW: Are there splits among powerful people? Among people who tend to influence big policy decisions like this on that central issue, or is that really — is that really the common wisdom now? Are the people who are dissenting from that and say, no, we need to stay forever?
ENGEL: I don`t think so. I think everyone is trying to figure out how to do it. And most people, the one issue that no one is talking about is the key to this entire equation is Pakistan.
ENGEL: I`ve been told time and time again, Pakistan could turn off this problem quickly, in a day, as the expression goes. It`s probably not a day, but very, very quickly. Pakistan knows it and has said to that Afghanistan several times. We can fix this problem. But they want certain assurances from the United States. They want certain deals from the United States. So, if you can come up with some sort of accommodation with Pakistan, you don`t need to be in Afghanistan anymore.
MADDOW: And what does Pakistan— what does Pakistan want, or what is salient about what Pakistan wants that might be hard for the American people and the American government to swallow?
ENGEL: The Pakistan wants to have influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan wants to have influence in Afghanistan to protect itself from India. So, it might be difficult for people in the U.S. to accept a stepping back of relationship between India and the United States, which are very close.
ENGEL: People in the United States feel very connected to India. It`s good training partner. It`s a world partner. Do we have to then sacrifice some of our relationship with India in order to placate Pakistan, in order to save ourselves in Afghanistan? Maybe. There may be some of that tradeoff that`s coming along. But it needs to be a political bargain Pakistan needs to be involved. The idea of just trying to build the Afghan government and send in more troops to try and fight our way or pay our way out of Afghanistan— most people don`t think it`s possible.
MADDOW: It has to be a Pakistan solution.
ENGEL: It has to be a Pakistan and Afghan solution — something with the Afghan government and Taliban reconciliation to a degree.
MADDOW: Well, when you talked to Afghans, and when you talked to Pakistanis, and when talk to people who are sort of connected to the power brokers in those countries, what are they expecting us to do? Do they feel like they — do they feel like they see where we`re going before we do?
ENGEL: The Afghans are very nervous — and we talked about this a lot. The Afghans are nervous that there will be a deal and that the country is going to be sold off to Pakistan. And there are many people in — particularly ethnic minorities — who are worried about this. They don`t want the Taliban coming back. They don`t want more Pakistani influence and they`re thinking, maybe we should go back into the mountains of northern Afghanistan and fight again. So —
MADDOW: Does Pakistani influence equal Taliban?
ENGEL: It has in the past.
ENGEL: So, Pakistani influence would probably mean more hard-line Islamic influence, particularly in the border areas there. Because Pakistan has found these groups useful allies, useful militias to fight other wars and other things. I think, going forward, this is an analogy I`ve always used and I think it`s starting to maybe even catch on: the war on terrorism, particularly the war on terrorism in Afghanistan— think of it a little bit as like the war on drugs. Do you remember the war on drugs? Well, the war on drugs is similar to the war on terrorism in that you`re both fighting a concept. You`re fighting something that is bad, is evil, and has a — has a damage on your society at home. But we didn`t occupy Colombia or other drug-producing countries, and we didn`t try to rebuild their governments. You try to help the local governments. You try to eradicate drug dealers, killing them when necessary. And I think there is a growing consensus that that is a different kind, that`s more the approach you need for terrorism. You don`t need to occupy, rebuild, clear, hold and build your way through every failed state in the world in order to prevent that problem washing back on your shores.
MADDOW: Does that also imply though that you tolerate some low-level of terrorism in the way that winning the war on drugs means tolerating —
ENGEL: There are still drugs there are in America. There would still be terrorism in America. There would still be terrorism in the world. You`re not going to get rid of it. If you could accept, OK, there`s a little bomb here and there. And that`s not the end of the world. You don`t need to go and occupy every unstable country in the world. But if you can protect against it, you can minimize it, you can make it happen as — you know, as little as possible, the same way —
MADDOW: Harden yourself as a target.
ENGEL: Harden yourself the same way you protect places that would be vulnerable to drugs, schools or ports. And you can look at the problem and think strategically about it, or you can look at terrorism the same way. But, yes, there will be some terrorism and there`s still will be some drugs, kind of don`t matter what you do.
MADDOW: You still don`t get that 20 bucks. That`s a really good try.
ENGEL: I thought that was worth $20.
MADDOW: That was sort of worth $20, but I think NBC pays you.
ENGEL: I`ve thought about this for years. It`s not even $20 worth.
MADDOW: Unless you know I`ll just loan you the rug whenever you want to borrow it.
ENGEL: It`s so nice to see you.
MADDOW: Thanks a lot. Richard Engel,