ABC’s Koppel: U.S. ‘Turned Al Qaeda into the Biggest Franchise Since McDonalds’
On Friday’s "Good Morning America," veteran journalist Ted Koppel talked with co-host Diane Sawyer about his new Discovery Channel special on the war against terror, "Our Children’s Children’s War." Koppel used the appearance to suggest that America stop calling the conflict a war, rely more on negotiations and he also blamed the U.S. for actually making things worse, asserting that " we turned al Qaeda into the biggest franchise since McDonalds."
Throughout the interview, Koppel discussed the need to take the long view. A plan that apparently means pulling out of Iraq:
Diane Sawyer: "So if you take the long view, as the terrorists do, you start making inroads in hearts and minds in villages."
Koppel: "That’s exactly what they’re doing right now and, frankly, that's the kind of template that the United States theoretically can sustain for many years, trying to keep 150,000 troops in Iraq? I don’t think we can do it."
Sawyer: "Can't be done. So your hierarchy of hope– After you report on this, do you think we can do it? Do you think that the free, modern world can do it?"
Koppel: "I hope so. I think the first thing we have to do is probably not call it a war anymore. I think we have, we have expanded expectations by calling it a war. I think we turned Osama bin Laden into an international superstar. I think we turned al Qaeda into the biggest franchise since McDonalds. And one of the things we have to do is sort of say, they're not that big. They've gotten bigger than they were five, six years ago. And I think that's largely a measure of what we have done to react to them. I think we've overreacted. One of the things we have to do is lower the profile."
Sawyer: "Well, again, it is called ‘Our Children's Children's War.’ It is on this weekend on the Discovery Channel"
Koppel: "9:00 on Sunday."
Sawyer: "One quote from it: ‘That the victory of the terrorists will be the mistakes they provoke us to make. It is, as I say, a really new way of thinking about what seems like an insurmountable problem. Thank you, Ted."
The first half of the interview, which aired at 8:34am on March 9, featured Sawyer asserting that the war on terrorism, as a military conflict, "is a hopeless exercise" and claiming that 1700 U.S. troops in Africa are "accomplishing probably more than hundreds of thousands of troops could accomplish if they had to go to war":
Diane Sawyer: "I cannot stop thinking, after I've seen this documentary about the profound discrepancy that you analyze. Americans keep saying this war could go on a long time, five years, 10 years. And you saying the terrorists are looking at a hundred."
Ted Koppel: "If they have to. If they have to. And if that seems strange, Diane, simply consider when that bombing attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut took place, 1983. That’s already 24 years ago. Since then, we had two attacks on the World Trade Center. We had one in 1993. We had the two U.S. embassies that were blown up. We had the U.S.S. Cole. We had the Kkobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. It's been going on already for a quarter of a century. So the idea that it could go on for another 50 years or more is not that strange."
Sawyer: "And the victory will come in perception and in patience as General Abizaid says to you. That’s the victory they’re looking for."
Koppel: "Indeed, it will. General Abizaid, I think is very concerned that we have been focusing far too much on the military, with this notion of being able to win this war by the massive application of force, as we're trying to do in Iraq, is a mistake. And to hear that from a commander from CENTCOM, who is now just retired, is a bizarre thing. I mean, he says, maybe, the military should occupy 20 percent of the effort. But, the rest of it needs to be economic and diplomatic, and intelligence and police work and media."
Sawyer: "And trying to do it with the military is a hopeless exercise at the end of the day with the scope of the planet and the possibilities."
Koppel: "Running out of personnel."
Sawyer: "We have a little, a small clip. You are, I think you're in North Carolina and talking about the strain on the troops."
Koppel: "Many of the troops in Iraq these days are on their second, third, some even on their fourth tours of duty. Simply put, the mission is stretching the military beyond capacity."
Sawyer: "Who is filling the void? 100-- Do I have this right? 100,000 private contractors are in Iraq. We have 160,000 regular forces."
Koppel: "Troops. We've lost about 2,200 troops. They've lost about 800 contractors. And, of course, you almost never hear about them."
Sawyer: "And you say it really is a parallel army, and a private army in a way that is existing there."
Koppel: "In some respects, Diane. I think we have to be careful. Many of those people are cooks, and truck drivers and doing the laundry and filling in a lot the jobs that the military used to do for itself. But some of those people are there in protective missions. The U.S. Ambassador in Tehran, for example, is protected not by the State Department, not by the U.S. Army, but by Blackwater USA, these are private contractors who protect the American ambassador."
Sawyer [Sawyer drops her sheets of paper. Koppel picks them up]: Given this set of facts on the ground -- that just fell to your feet."
Koppel: "There you go."
Sawyer: "Truly on the ground, set of facts on the ground. You have a real measure of hope, it seems to me, in the 1,700 troops in the horn Africa, accomplishing probably more than hundreds of thousands of troops could accomplish if they had to go to war."
Koppel: "It's an– It’s an interesting dynamic, because what they've got, interestingly enough, at an old French foreign legion post, Camp [unintelligible French] They have 1,700 Americans. Mostly troops, but some State Department people, USA ID people, intelligence people, and what they do is they dig wells and they set up health clinics for children. And they inoculate farm animals, anything they can do to win what they call the human terrain. And to win friends for the United States. But, they're also there, picking up support if they need it, so that, for example, when Ethiopian troops went into Somalia just a few weeks ago, they had been trained by the U.S. military. They were supported from the air by the U.S. aircraft. And on the ground they had U.S. special, special forces with them."
Lest Discovery Channel viewers come away with the impression that journalist Ted Koppel’s foreign policy views are new, in 1990, the ex-'Nightline' anchor famously asserted that Americans would, eventually, long for the days of the Soviet Union:
"We may well over the next 10 or 15 years come to view the Soviet Union as being the power, the only power, that has the capacity of keeping China out of Europe, the only power that has the capacity of keeping Moslem fundamentalism out of Europe, the only power, in fact, we may find ourselves looking back wistfully five or ten years from now at Eastern Europe and saying 'Boy, I remember when Eastern Europe used to be nice and quiet.' "
-- Ted Koppel on McLaughlin: One on One, June 3.