‘Afternoon of Conversation’ tackles world problems

 

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf decided he would pay a visit to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to have a frank conversation about Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, as well the looming threat of war over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

 

In an interview during Saturday’s “An Afternoon of Conversation” at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Musharraf said he went to deliver the message that a growing coalition of Muslim countries was willing to trade accepting the reality of Jewish state for a peace deal with the Palestinians.

 

“I don’t think I got any positive response,” said Musharraf, who was interviewed by Atlantic magazine publisher David Bradley.

 

Musharraf also said he advised the Iranian president to take a more conciliatory, as opposed to confrontational, tone to the rest of the world. That message was also met with resistance, Musharraf said, as Ahmadinejad talked about the “resolve” of the Iranian people. Musharraf warned him that any military conflict Iran would get into would be “unconventional” and not resemble the war it fought in the 1980s with Iraq.

 

“Your country will suffer,” Musharraf, a general who took power in Pakistan after a coup, said he told Ahmadinejad.

 

Another general was among the six featured speakers Saturday — retired four-star Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who commanded American forces in Afghanistan, and helped lead the war effort in Iraq.

 

McChrystal said he received a stark awakening to the new reality of war when he was shown the video, in 2004, depicting terrorists decapitating Nick Berg, an American contractor kidnapped in Iraq. He said he spent the next two-and-a-half years working to adjust American fighting forces to the new complexities, and hunt down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist leader responsible for the graphic video.

 

Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are no longer just infantrymen, McChrystal said. They must also be intelligence experts, social scientists, and well versed in law and customs. Over his tenure, he saw “an evolution of force,” McChrystal said. “It was difficult to describe.”

 

The wars of the last decade touched fewer than 1 percent of Americans, McChrystal said, meaning that fewer than 1 percent of us either served or had an immediate family member who served.

 

There is very little common experience binding all Americans together, McChrystal said under questioning from CBS News journalist Bob Schieffer. To correct this, there ought to be a mandatory two-year national service program that all young people must complete, McChrystal said, drawing applause from the capacity crowd at the Benedict Music Tent.

 

“I don’t think young people would fight it if it was fair,” McChrystal said.

 

As for the greatest threat facing America, the retired general, who saw his career end after an unflattering profile appeared in Rolling Stone magazine, McChrystal gave the unexpected answer of the need for a better education system. One-third of Americans never finish high school, which makes them ineligible for military service, he said.

 

“We can sort out” the various troubling issues around the world, McChrystal said. “I’m much more worried about the fundamentals.”

 

That’s a view that likely resonated with Larry Summers, an economic advisor to President Barack Obama and former president of Harvard University, who spoke earlier in the afternoon.

 

Summers lamented that the national debt seems to be the main metric people use to measure what is being passed on to the next generation. What about modern infrastructure and good schools?

 

Summers argued that the nation is foolish to not engage in more borrowing to fund infrastructure projects, such as a remodel to New York City’s dilapidated John F. Kennedy Airport. The country can borrow money, with a 30-year payback term, at 2.7 percent interest. If that borrowing could be used to stimulate economic growth, then the problems would begin to take care of themselves, Summers said. Continued economic stagnation is the biggest threat America’s future, not the nation’s current fiscal imbalances, he said.

curtis@aspendailynews.com

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