CELESTE HEADLEE: "We’ve been talking more this morning about President Obama’s State of the Union address. And we’ve been talking all week about the state of OUR union. The president didn’t talk much about foreign policy in his address, but my co-host John Hockenberry got to ask General David Petraeus about it in our wide-ranging interview with the head of U.S. Central Command. Part one of this interview aired yesterday. In part two, John asked the General how he would characterize the state of Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen — three areas that are so much a focus in the wars on terrorism."
GEN. PETRAEUS: “Well I think probably best to, as a general characterization to describe in a sense the state of Al Qaeda and transnational extremist elements in the central command area responsibility. We generally say that they have been diminished over the course of the last year but without question, clearly have substantial capability and are constantly adapting and trying to find some way to attack us, our partners and important infrastructure throughout the world. If you look at Iraq, despite the continued periodic attacks such as we say yesterday and indeed the day before, despite all that there has been substantial progress since the conduct of the surge. On the other hand, in Afghanistan of course you’ve seen the violence go up. It went up by some sixty or so percent. Last year over 2008, it has remained elevated over what it was in 2009.”
HOCKENBERRY: “I mean in both cases, of course civilians and for military personnel – worst couple of years.
PETRAEUS: “Yes, without question. In fact, it got worse in terms of violence in 2008 and then in 2009. Having said that, there is a sense in Afghanistan, interestingly, even some polls have showed a sense of hope among the Afghan people and so on that wasn’t present before. So there’s a sense of anticipation but we have to recognize that this is going to get harder before it gets easier.”
CELESTE HEADLEE: "That’s General David Petraeus speaking to my co-host, John Hockenberry. John also asked General Petraeus about a comment that Defense Secretary Robert Gates made recently that Al Qaida’s mission in South Asia is to get India and Pakistan at war. Here’s what General Petraeus said."
PETRAEUS: “Well frankly those two countries have actually shown considerable restraint. I think that the response for example in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba, was, again, quite restrained, considering what was done in all the issues connected with this. So, first of all, I think, that is something that gives us some reassurance and Sec Gates, I think would say, he has reaffirmed that in his most recent of trips. I’ve certainly heard him talk about it. Having said that, what he has observed is undoubtedly correct. There are elements out there, not just Al Qaeda but perhaps as an example, Lashkar-e-Taiba and others, who would like to ignite or stoke the flames of conflict between India and Pakistan. Or frankly, anywhere else they can ignite, as they did in Iraq, sectarian violence. In that case, between Sunni and Shia. If they could, in northern Iraq, there have been various efforts to target ethnic groups, the Turkmen for example, Kurds and Arabs. Again, this is a thinking enemy, it’s an enemy that adapts, it realizes that, ‘ok we may not be able to hijack another plane, so now we’ll take someone and we’ll put nonmetallic explosives in a place where they might not be discovered and try to do that.’ This is an enemy that continues to adjust, does learn from what has happened, that makes much better use of the internet, of cyberspace, an area that we’re all going to have to come to grips with I think in the years ahead. What’s the role of the military in cyberspace? This is in another, in a sense arguably, another battlefield. But it’s also an area of free speech…”
HOCKENBERRY: “But to clarify, do you think they have the capability to bring these two nuclear nations to war or just the intent?”
PETRAEUS: “No, I don’t. I think again what Sec Gates is getting at right. They would like to ignite conflict wherever they can. They want to take down different regimes. Remember they wanted to take down the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the keeper of the two holy mosques. They wanted to take down governances in a host of different places. That’s what they are about. In the name of religion, of course, but certainly a very extremist interpretation of their religion that is not shared, needless to say, by the vast majority of their co-religionists.”
HOCKENBERRY: “Everyone has to ask you this, are you planning a political career? Since you’ve maintained such a meticulous impartiality by your own admission, not even voting since 2002 I believe, between the republicans and the democrats. Is that the perfect preparation for a political career?”
PETRAEUS: “No, it’s not. I have no desire, no willingness, no nothing when it comes to any kind of political aspirations. I did that back in 2002 – it was a pretty private step to take. I have certainly read of some heroes of mine when I was a younger officer that did that. I don’t put myself in their realm at all. But I thought that as you get more senior you ought to try to scrupulously avoid anything that seems to be partisan. Now that’s really hard to do if you become as I was, the commander in Iraq – the face of a policy that is certainly associated with one administration and to a degree, one party.”