How Much of a Victory Has the U.S. Achieved in Afghanistan?

This partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, December 17, 2001 was provided by the Federal Document Clearing House. Click here to order the complete transcript.

BRIT HUME, HOST: Some of the Taliban have been crushed. The Al Qaeda network in Afghanistan seems to have been defeated and scattered. The growing conventional wisdom is that while only a partial victory's been achieved because Mullah Omar and Usama bin Laden apparently remain at large. Everybody seems to be saying that, including even the Bush administration, which keeps telling us that much more fighting remains in Afghanistan.

So how much of a victory has been achieved so far? For answers, we turn to the syndicated Charles Krauthammer, whose Time magazine essay this week is devoted to that very subject.

Charles, welcome, nice to have you.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Pleasure to be with you. HUME: So what are we to make of what's happened in Afghanistan? I mean, is this simply the defeat of a relatively minor military force, almost a Medieval military force and a job only partly done?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, that's what the minimalists would like to say today. But remember what people were saying three months. They were saying, "Oh, yes, Iraq and the Gulf War was easy. It was in the desert. It was in the daytime. It was easy to attack a land army, but how could we attack religious warriors, holy warriors in the mountains, hardened, etcetera, etcetera?

So that was not the tune three months ago. And yet, we have demonstrated an astonishing display of arms, destroying a regime 7,000 miles away, landlocked with no real friends in the region, doing it almost by remote control, by air and with some people on the ground. That demonstration of our power has had a tremendous affect in the area on people who might be recruits in the future, and also on the regimes in the area who might be thinking of harboring the terrorist or of not supporting us in our war on terrorism.

HUME: Now, what is it, in your view, that is that so impresses them about this? Is — I mean obviously, this is — militarily, this is very powerful, a powerful display. But the argument is made that yes, well, perhaps some of the leaders will be or may be made that some of the leaders will be impressed. And after all, Pakistan is friendly to us. Iran really never liked Usama bin Laden very much anyway. But the broad trend and tendency toward fundamentalism and the powerful message of it in the Islamic world will continue and perhaps even grow here. What do you say to that?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, in fact, it — the opposite, I think has happened, if you look at the region. Remember, on September 11, you had those joyous, victorious triumphant demonstrations in the Arab street, everywhere from Cairo to Jakarta, Pakistan. People sort of braying for American — the blood celebrating our defeat and anticipating the victory.

And you see that kind of sense of triumph in the bin Laden tape. Now that sense of triumph is entirely wiped away. The Arab street is silent. Why? Not because we have displayed sensitivity to Islam. Not because we stopped the bombing on Ramadan, but because we showed our power and our will and our determination and our success.

In that area of the world, success and power speak. And think of now, if you were a recruiter for Al Qaeda now in the madrases (ph) of Pakistan, people who were saying three months ago, we are the wave of the future. We have brought America to its knees, they are now scattered. They're on the run. They're hiding. They are in many ways disgraced to their people.

I think we have had a signaled victory over the very idea of Islamic radicalism.

HUME: Let's talk about that idea, for example. Is there something about this defeat that is a contradiction to the ideology of Islamic fundamentalism?

KRAUTHAMMER: It is because part of that ideology is a sense of, sort of, the mandate of heaven. The syllogism is my god is great and omnipotent. I am a warrior for that god. Therefore, victory is mine.

And that is the syllogism of Usama. You see it in the tapes and his declarations. Well, victory is not theirs. It's ours. Defeat is theirs. They're now scattered and running. So what it does it is destroys the idea of the sense of inevitability and the sense of almost divine mandate, that this radicalism had. That is wiped away.

In a sense — in the primitive sense, the way that they would look it, our god has triumphed over theirs.

HUME: Yes. Talk, if you can, a bit about the situation between Arabs and Jews in that immediate area, around Israel?

Hamas seems in full cry. Hezbollah seems to be gaining ever more stature in Lebanon. Does this triumph in Afghanistan have any carryover, spillover effects there? So far, it would seem not.

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, it already has affects on the international community. If you look at the response of the Europeans, who have been very pro-Palestinians, all of a sudden, they have changed their tune. And they're telling Arafat shut Hamas down, dismantle it, or suffer the consequences from us.

Now from Europe, that is very, very astonishing. The message from the United States has been similar. You've had a change of tone. Until the triumph in Afghanistan, people said well, Israel has to show restraint. It's a cycle of violence.

Now what people are saying is the situation in the Middle East is analogous to what was in Afghanistan. The Israelis are looking at, essentially, the equivalent of the regime in Afghanistan and the terrorists in fighting the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. And we have thrown our weight behind Israel. That is very significant. And it comes because of the confidence that we have in our victory. And also the fact that Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been very quiet in support of the Palestinians, after having seen our demonstration of power.

HUME: Now what about Hamas as an institution? Do you sense that Hamas, and for that matter, Hezbollah, which of course has its haven there in Lebanon, as organizations, will be in some way chilled by this or chastened by this?

KRAUTHAMMER: They won't be chilled or chastened. They have to be defeated. And the question is, it's always been in the power of Israel, and even of the Palestinian Authority to destroy and dismantle Hamas and Islamic Jihad. They're only about 1,000 or 2,000 of them.

Arafat had them under control for seven years. Then he released them last September, when he launched his war against...

HUME: Is it your view, by the way, that he can still now remain a leader?

KRAUTHAMMER: Absolutely.

HUME: And crush those forces?

KRAUTHAMMER: If he wanted to, but he has no interest in doing that because he is their scout. He is their agent. He does the bloody stuff and he pretends to be the peacemaker.

So that's why he's never — he's used them as an ally, as a national ally, but he has the power. Israel has the power. The question was, would anybody unleash that power or permit it? And I think in the climate of today, either Israel will do it or the Palestinian Authority.

HUME: Charles Krauthammer, thanks very much for coming. Very interesting.

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