This is a rush transcript from "Your World With Neil Cavuto," October 5, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Now to the former prime minister who says that, if you think the cost of fighting the good fight in Afghanistan costs a good penny, imagine the cost of not doing so. Happy to be joined by the former Australian Prime Minister John Howard today in Dallas, Texas, where he was visiting an old friend, George Bush.
Mr. Prime Minister, good to have you back. Thanks for coming.
JOHN HOWARD, FORMER AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Neil, good to see you.
CAVUTO: In your discussions with the former president, did the issue of sending more troops to Afghanistan come up?
HOWARD: Well, I haven't seen him yet. I will be seeing him in the next couple of days. But I have got a view. I think winning in Afghanistan is critical — critical to the long-term prestige of the United States and the Western — I think there does need to be, on all the evidence I have seen, an increased troop commitment, but it shouldn't only come from the United States. And it is not fair for America to carry all of the burden.
There should be additional commitments from all of the countries, including my own, that have troops there at present. What we're going to ask ourselves is, what is the consequence of failure in Afghanistan? And that would be an enormous blow to American prestige. It would greatly embolden the terrorist cause...
HOWARD: ... not only in Afghanistan in the Middle East, but throughout the world. So, that is really what is at stake.
I know it is difficult. I know people are weary. It has taken a long time. And, of course, our opponents always play a very long game. They know that, in the end, Western liberal democracies get weary of troop commitments, and they call for an end or they call for a shortcut.
And that is exactly what our enemies, Al Qaeda and others, want to see happen.
CAVUTO: But, Prime Minister, the arguments for not allowing more troops in there is that we don't have a clear endgame, as we did with the troop surge in Iraq, that, as you know, worked very well.
And even Colin Powell has been among those saying, you know, I would kind of go slow here, Mr. President, because we don't have a clear sort of mission statement.
And — and that appears to be the conundrum for the president meeting with his defense secretary as you and I speak, that there is no clear endgame. And, if the endgame is, you know, seven, eight, nine, 10 years, as some have said, then the American appetite for that is — is not strong.
What do you say?
HOWARD: Well, I understand that argument, but it seems to me that the — the endgame is even less attractive if there is not a greater commitment. The — the greater the commitment, the more likely it is that the — the end, the game will end sooner.
The great worry I have is that we will just drift along, unwilling to pull out, because that would be a very overt admission of failure, but unwilling to make a decisive additional commitment, which means that we just go on as we are. And that inevitably will produce an outcome where there will be a chorus, in some years time, for the West to pull out.
And that will be the very result that our opponents want. I mean, it is very difficult, I understand that. And I — I don't envy those who are now charged with the responsibility of making the decision. But I — I do have that sense that, if we continue as we are, where General McChrystal is saying that more forces are needed — he is the man on the ground.
HOWARD: He is the person designated — I think we run the risk of just drifting to a situation where there is no alternative, other than to give it away. And that will be a colossal blow.
CAVUTO: And we should stress that that view of General McChrystal's has been backed by General Petraeus, of course, the region commander.
But let me ask you, Prime Minister, when the White House says, well, even, you know, in light of this, we would not be pulling out, we would not be taking our troops out, you think, by not adding to them, when the top general there says you should be adding to them, is sending a bad signal?
Do I read you right? Is that what you're saying?
HOWARD: Well, I think — I think it's a very risky strategy to ignore advice of that kind from the man on the ground. And there — there seem to be independent verifications of his attitude from quite a number of sources. He is not alone. And he has spoken out very strongly.
HOWARD: And I know there are examples in the past of commanders in chief ignoring military advice. And, sometimes, that decision turned out to be right. I mean, after all, President Bush, in opting for the surge, didn't take the advice of many of his military commanders.
CAVUTO: That's right. That's right.
HOWARD: He took the advice of some, and he turned out to be right, and they turned out to be wrong. So, it is always a judgment call. That's why the president at the time is the commander in chief.
But it does seem that every element of logic suggests that, if you’ve got the man on the ground saying, "let's have more," then it's pretty hard to ignore that.
CAVUTO: Let me ask you while I have you here, Prime Minister, when you do meet with President Bush — and I apologize — I thought you already had — he has been very low-key, very quiet, saying virtually nothing of his successor.
His vice president, Dick Cheney, certainly, has said a great deal. You have been quite similar about your successor, Prime Minister Rudd, two opposing political views and philosophies, an occasional barb here and there. You are Australian, after all.
CAVUTO: But, besides that, not much. And I mean no offense.
So, what do you think he should do? What is the role of an ex-leader? How long do you have to be polite?
HOWARD: Well, I think I will speak for myself. I wouldn't behoove to give a former American president advice.
CAVUTO: Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead.
HOWARD: ... himself in his own country.
No, no, no, no, no, I would not. I would not dream of doing that, except to say I think he's — he's behaved with enormous dignity since he left office. And I'm sure that's widely appreciated in this country.
Look, speaking from my own point of view, I will speak out in defense of my record. If people have a go at something I did which is wrong, I will speak out very, very strongly. But I do take the view that, once you have left office — and this is especially so in a parliamentary system. When — when I give up the leadership of my party, the leadership is taken by somebody else. And if I keep giving a running commentary on day-to-day issues, it makes it very hard for the man or the woman who has followed me. And I think you do owe a certain vow of — of restraint and moderation in what you say about contemporary events. I think you are entitled to pin your ears back and say all sorts of things in defense of the good things you did when you were in government.
And we left Australia in a very strong financial position...
HOWARD: ... no — no budget deficits, no net commonwealth debt...
HOWARD: ... a very, very strong economy, so that, when the financial system collapse hit, we were in good shape to deal with it.
But I tend to confine myself to defending the legacy and talking in generic terms about issues. I don't want to become the bloke who was once in charge who can't give it up and who can't keep talking about how — how...
HOWARD: ... how things should be run.
CAVUTO: All right.
HOWARD: I mean, that is just...
CAVUTO: Leave that bloke — we will leave that bloke alone. I think I know who you are referring to.
CAVUTO: But, Mr. Prime Minister, very quickly, following up your last visit with us, the idea that the world might be revisiting another economic storm, that not all the numbers, but some of them lately, have softened again, not across the board, and certainly not across the board in your country, but that the globe is about to hit another — hit another fan, what do you make of that?
HOWARD: You know, my instinct would still be on the optimistic side. I — I — I certainly find a bit more pessimism in the United States than I do in Australia, because I think you are at a slightly different stage of the cycle, and you have a bigger deficit, and you have higher unemployment.
But just remember, with unemployment...
CAVUTO: You don't have to rub it in. You don't have to rub it in.
HOWARD: No, no, no, no, no, I am not rubbing it in.
HOWARD: But I think what people should — and this is being optimistic.
HOWARD: I think what people should remember about unemployment is what they call a — the economists call a lagging indicator.
In other words, unemployment always remains lower than it ought to be when you're going into a slump. And, sometimes, when you're coming out of a slump, it stays higher than you think it ought to be.
CAVUTO: That's right.
HOWARD: In other words, it drags its feet.
So, I think you could well be having the circumstances of some recovery beginning in the United States, but it being a few months yet of continuing increases...
HOWARD: ... in unemployment and a while yet before that unemployment number turns and starts to head down.
Now, that's — that's being optimistic, but I think there's probably some element of truth in that.
CAVUTO: Prime Minister, not bad for a former bloke. Very good having you on.
HOWARD: Thank you.
CAVUTO: All right, Prime Minister John Howard.
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