GUEST HOST: As promised, we have Rush Limbaugh on the line with us. He’s in Afghanistan. He’s been involved in a program associated with the US Agency for International Development. The game plan was to meet with some of the troops and get a good sense for the lay of the land and what’s happening in Afghanistan. Rush, thank you very much for inviting me to borrow your Golden Mic for a couple of days. It’s been a real thrill and I’d be delighted to do it again but let me just give you your head. Since I understand our two-way communication isn’t as sharp as we’d like it to be, why don’t you just lay out the stage. Tell us what you’ve experienced while you’ve been in Afghanistan the last week.
RUSH: I’d like to. Thanks, Mike, and by the way I’m happy you accepted the invitation to host the program. I appreciate your taking the time. These past two days… (Laughs.) I can’t wait to tell you about them. As I told you, the last time I spoke with everybody, I informed you I was asked by the powers that be here not to announce in advance plans for security reasons, which I’m used to. It’s sort of like when I’m in New York I never say in public where I’m going to go until it’s over and I’ll say where I’ve been. Same situation here. The last two days we went to Kabul and we went to different cities in Afghanistan, some of them heavily involved still in combat areas, primarily to see the troops in one area. That was Kandahar. The place (audio drop) Kabul and it’s the diplomatic headquarters of our effort in Afghanistan with a significant military contingent as well. Yesterday, the itinerary called for us to go to the northwestern part of the country to a town called Harat, not very far from Iran.
There’s a big Persian influence in Harat. It looked much different to me than Kabul did. It didn’t look as destructed from the civil war. It looked a little bit more modern and so forth. We had a full itinerary there, and we were to fly a C-130 up there, catch it early in the morning. Well, we got there on time but the C-130 was coming in from Pakistan and it was late arriving. They had some weather problems which are common here — and I have to tell you about this C-130.
I’ve always wanted to fly in a C-130 and we had four trips scheduled this week in C-130s, the C-130 Hercules. The plane that we were (audio drop) to take was from the Georgia Air National Guard being flown by a Texas crew. A bunch of Texas reservists flying this crew and they knew that I was on the passenger manifest and they invited me to sit up front in the cockpit with them, which I did, along with Andrew Natsios, who is the director of the USAID Organization who I’ve accompanied over here, and I just had the best time up there posing for pictures. It was about an hour, hour and a half flight up there, and we got up a little bit late, didn’t have time for some things. This was not a troop visit, by the way. There were no troop visits, no significant troops there, although we were met by a significant number of military personnel and I did have some time to talk with them. The people that are wearing the uniform over there just continue to impress me to no end, but the event in Harat was a journalist training program that I was asked to go see and I went up there and this was just classic.
These are just students that are being trained in journalism and they asked if they could interview me and they did and I, of course, agreed to it. I was asked some of the best questions about journalism and about America that I’ve ever been asked, including questions by “trained professional journalists” in America, and what was great about this is that this is something broadcast all over Iraq, and it was an opportunity to give a perspective on journalism that I’ve shared with all of you people for as long as I’ve hosted this program.One of the first questions was: “How do you balance justice and truth and objectivity,” and that was just a hanging curve ball. It was a softball. I just knocked it right out of the ballpark. I said, “The best thing you can learn about journalism is truth. Forget all the rest of the stuff. You’re a human being and you have opinions. You’re an educated, learned human being. As a result, you have opinions. You have a interest in the outcome of events. Don’t try to hide that. You’d just be a phony. You’d just be a hypocrite. Be honest about what you think. Be honest about your desires and tell people who you are as you’re reporting or as you’re covering something and they’ll respect your credibility.” I’ll tell you, the media that’s happening here, the birth of a new media, is going to go a long way toward helping this country rebuild itself. It was a fabulous time. We got in the plane after this, drove back out to the airplane and flew to Kandahar. Now, Kandahar is an area that is still heavily involved in combat. There are still skirmishes going on with the Taliban in this area and it is very, very tightly controlled. Flew the same the same C-130 in there, and this turned out to be the biggest troop event of the visit. I got off the airplane. We were late, got in there about 5 or 6 o’clock, went to the rec hall. Over 500 troops at the beginning. It swelled I think even more than that. This event lasted for two, maybe two-and-a-half hours. I did an hour and 15 minutes just from the stage, did questions after that, and I just want you folks to know that I’ve done my best to rein in, during my own presentation, some of the partisanship, but the questions I got opened the floodgates to it.
They wanted to know all about the troops, all about American politics and what was going on with Social Security reform. They wanted to know how what they’re doing in Afghanistan and in Iraq is being covered. They wanted to know why in the world Iraq is getting so much coverage and they’re not. They wanted to know why the good things that are happening in Afghanistan is not being covered, why the bad things in Iraq are. I mean, those are again hanging curve balls. I just zoomed them and knocked them out of the park with the answers, and you’ve heard these answers all week from me, and during the course of this show.
What we call the mainstream press in America really didn’t have any interest in either of these two places really working, as defined by success for the Bush administration, and I told these troops, young men and women, I said, “Please, when you turn on that TV and you see some report about the activities here in Afghanistan or in Iraq, let me tell you: Understand that this does not represent the viewpoint of the American people.” I told them, “When you go home, either when you’re sent home or you go home for R&R rotation or reassignment, you’re going to be cheered when you get off the plane and walk through the airport. The American people are highly supportive of what you’re doing and they very much loved hearing it,” and I stood there for single pictures for all of them that were there. Must have been, I don’t know, another (audio drop) maybe longer than that for at least 500 pictures. From there, we went to a dinner.
One of the most amazing nights of this whole week, I had dinner with warlords who have now seen the light. A governor of one of the provinces, President Karzai’s brother was there. That lasted for two or three hours and then they took us back and we had not been to our quarters yet, didn’t see where we were going to stay — and I have to tell you something. I have never faced circumstances like this. These are great circumstances, but they’re totally unfamiliar to me. Now, many of you in the military, this is your way of life. I just found a brand-new respect. Each trip and each day over here has added to my respect. We were in the VIP quarters, so keep that in mind. Our little group here was in the VIP quarters. Our rooms were only about 50 yards away from the bathrooms and the showers outside in another building. It was thirty degrees, and because they’ve had a lot of rain throughout those 50 yards there was two-, three-inch deep mud puddles, and so getting up, if you had to go to the rest room in the middle of the night, guess what you had to do? If you wanted to take a shower this morning, the next day, it was (difficult). This is military life and this is for the VIPs. You know, the enlisted personnel, the reservists over here, don’t have it that good. But even at that, one of the things that struck me was: Here we are, the United States military, we can come in and in a relatively short amount of time we erect temporary living standards for our troops that just dwarf the living standards of the Afghans.
It shows you the power of America and it shows you the great accomplishments that we have made — and the Afghan people, no matter where we’ve gone in this country, want the same thing for themselves and for us to stay and help them obtain it because they continue to face (challenges) and to have concerns because of their (audio drop). That troop event last night that we did was just… I don’t mean to disparage it or any others, but it was the longest. It was the most raucous. (audio drop) They had video games and not everybody came to this event when I started it, but 20 minutes into it the games shut down and then the people playing basketball outside decided to come in. It became very well attended (audio drop). This morning… I’ll tell you what, I’m looking at the clock. Let me take a break because what happened today is something I can’t wait to tell you about.
This whole day was a comedy of errors. It all started this morning and came together finally this afternoon and tonight. I’ll tell you about it when we come back after the break. It’s not bad, it’s just what can happen on these trips and how when something goes wrong you have to make something out of it, and we all did. So let me give it back to you Mike and we’ll come back and conclude this after the break and get to the conclusion of the trip.
GUEST HOST: I’ll look forward to your comments on that, Rush, too. One question, let me deposit. When you come back, on a scale of 1 to 10 — with 1 being total pessimism and 10 being total optimism — can you give us your impression of how Americans in Afghanistan feel about the prospects for this burgeoning nation and how the Afghanis you’ve met, how they would rate on that scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being pessimistic and 10 being optimistic. We’re talking to Rush Limbaugh from Afghanistan.
GUEST HOST: Rush is in Afghanistan. As a matter of fact, we’re talking to him right now. Let’s go right back to him. Go ahead, Rush.
RUSH: Thanks, Mike. By the way, I’m going to answer your two questions and that’s going to probably be in the next segment. I want to warn you that I’ll probably go through the next break as well because those are great questions and it would be a great way to sum all this up. Also, my friends, I have been told by the broadcast engineer that there are occasionally some dropouts as though I’m on a cell phone. Maybe a second, half second. They just wanted me to know this. I said, “Why are you telling me? I can’t do anything about it. I’m in Afghanistan! I’m on a phone,” and he said, “Well, we just want you to know.” I said, “What can I do about it?” So folks, here, I’ve thought about this, and if the dropouts are a problem, you know me to be one of the best and most articulate communicators in the world. You ought to be able to understand what I’m saying even if there are dropouts. So don’t complain! There’s nothing we can do about it, anyway.
I’ll do my best. I don’t know when the dropouts happen because they’re not dropping out on me. I love hearing myself speak and especially when I’m saying what I want to say, so the dropouts? I mean, their ought to be dropouts when you call from Afghanistan, so that just adds to the realism. Okay. Let’s talk about today — and also, I’m going to have more details on all of this when I get back next week. I’ve got so many pictures we’re going to post on the website. So many of the troops, so many of these military people have come up to me — and a couple of guys today actually had my book!
They just arrived in Kandahar today. They had — both of them — had two copies of my book that wanted me to sign, and they didn’t know I was going to be here! Nobody knew I was coming to Kandahar because of security. They brought them with them to read for inspiration. I’ll tell you, it’s been so heart-warming and uplifting. All right. Now today, Friday, was supposed to be the big troop appearance of the week at Bagram Air Force Base. This was the biggie. They had so much interest, they had to construct tents at the base in order to house all the troops who wanted to come. So we got up today at 4:45am because we had to trek 50 yards through the mud to go take a shower and go to the bathroom and go to the mess hall for breakfast and then go to the airport and get on the C-130. This was an Air Force C-130 that was going to take us to Bagram Air Force Base. It’s about an hour flight from Kandahar. By the way, there was some mortar fire last night flying through the air at Kandahar and I was outside with one of the Special Forces guys who was providing security, former Special Forces, and he listened. He said, “Don’t worry, that’s outgoing. Nobody’s firing on us.” I said, “It wouldn’t matter to me.
This is exciting.” So we get on this C-130, this Air Force transport plane with the crew. They all invited me up there, and the minute we lifted off, within 10 seconds of being airborne, it felt like there was just a stop in forward momentum of a split second, and I looked at the altimeter, the altitude indicator, and we had stopped climbing and started turning in a right direction, 360s, doing circles, and I’m strapped in so I can’t step forward and look out and see what’s going on. These guys are all looking out the right side of the plane.
These circles went on for like 10 minutes. Now, I know this is not part of an escape route to escape stinger missiles that the Taliban might have, or whatever. So finally, I put on the headphones so I could listen to the chatter. We lost an engine. We had a fuel line problem on the #4 engine and they had to shut it down and they were banking to the right, trying to change some fuel flow, to see if they could fix this in the air and restart it and they couldn’t. We had to turn around and we had to go back, and they said, “Don’t worry about this, Mr. Limbaugh. This is perfectly standard, normal procedure.” I said, “I’m not. This is exciting. I’ve never had an engine failure before!” They said, “You’re not scared?” “No. We’ve got three other engines. This is one of the reasons I want to fly on a C-130. I want to see what you guys do, what you put up with, what you have to do.” So we landed and we knew we had a time problem here because this big event in Bagram is awaiting. Well, we never got there because it took too long for the replacement plane. In fact, it was just the next scheduled departure.
These C-130s are trucks. They’re cargo trucks that fly, and, you know, so we had to wait for the next one scheduled to go, and it wasn’t scheduled to go to Bagram, so we hung around the rec room again, had some more time with the troops at Kandahar, different troops than the previous night. The troop event was at 5 or 6. This one took place in the middle of the day when there were different people who were off at that time of day who could come, and it was a comedy of errors.
We heard four different versions all morning about when we were leaving and so forth. When we finally got out, it was about 1:45, and it was no way of getting to Bagram, but the only saving grace was I had brought a whole bunch of EIB stuff and a whole bunch of cigars and that stuff got sent to Bagram early so we were at least able to convey wishes. I mean, they know what it’s like over here, but I was disappointed we couldn’t go and I still am disappointed we didn’t make that. But anyway, the replacement plane that we got on was the same airplane that we flew up to Harat yesterday. It was this Georgia Air Guard plane with the Texas crew except this was a different crew, and these guys asked me to autograph their flight authorization, and they said, “Would you please write ‘to the best C-130 crew in Texas,'” and I started to write it and I said, “Whoa, wait a minute. I know what’s going on here.” They were trying to rag these other guys that flew me yesterday. I wrote a little note saying that I was pressured to sign this this way or else they would take me to Baghdad.
We came back to Kabul and went to another arrangement here where there’s more revolutionary media taking place, and then spent ? it was scheduled to be 10 minutes with President Karzai, spent 45 minutes with him around I guess it was six o’clock, closer to seven. In fact, it was 7:15 when I looked at my watch as we were walking out and I’m not going to go into the details of the meeting with President Karzai today. I’ll wait till next week for that, and share a whole lot more of the flavor. I wanted to give you a rundown of the events. Let me take a time-out here. I know you’re coming up on break, and we’ll answer Mike’s question and wrap all this up right after the break coming up.
GUEST HOST: We have Rush himself on the line with us right now from Afghanistan. Let’s go right back to Rush.
RUSH: Thank you, Mike. It’s just about…. What time do we have here? It’s after midnight, here. We’re ten-1/2 hours ahead of the Eastern Time zone here in Afghanistan. You asked me to answer a couple of questions, both of them optimism versus pessimism on a scale of 1 to 10. First, the Americans here work to redevelop this country and to help put it back together and I want to stress one more time. I think there’s so little reporting on Afghanistan that a lot of Americans — and I say that because I didn’t quite understand the situation until I got here, and you can’t possibly imagine what it’s like here till you see it. I don’t think pictures and even video pictures will do it total justice. But the devastation that’s here is not from anything after 9/11 really. The destruction that has taken place occurred in the years after the Mujahadin defeated the Soviets.
The Afghan people just became totally worn out and fed up with war, and that is what opened up the country to the Taliban, and there was a civil war that erupted here and that’s what led to the destruction, not so much what happened in the attacks on the Taliban after 9/11, and I’d always assumed that it happened during our war against the Taliban, and that really is not the case.
Not saying that we didn’t cause any damage, but this country has been involved in a civil strife for the last twenty-five years, and I want to go back even further than that, it’s not been peaceful. So what do we have here? We have a circumstance that really is being dictated by two things. One is the president’s new policy on the concept of the goodness and power that can come from individual human freedom, and that coupled with our own security. You heard the other day Senator McCain propose a permanent base here in Afghanistan, a permanent military presence. The Afghani people, by the way, love that and there’s a little political aside.
I personally am a little upset Senator McCain did this because I think it’s going to happen and I think he knows it’s going to happen. I think he’s trying to get out in front of it and make it look as though it’s his idea. This has been discussed. It was discussed on Monday and Tuesday before I read that Senator McCain had said it. I mean, not in an official concept, but it’s on the table. So that inspires the Afghan people.
Now, the people that are here are from America are the US Agency for International Development. It’s not very well known agency, but it became well known after the tsunami. They opened USAID camps and they did a lot of the relief work over there, which caused a lot of Americans to first learn about them and want to join and join what they’re doing. These are government employees and these are people who, as I have learned, genuinely believe in their mission here to help the Afghanistan people right themselves and put themselves on the proper footing, come up with a society based on human freedom in whatever society they choose or political form of government they choose. But remember: We trust free people to do the right things.
That’s the nature and the lesson of America, and so these people, it’s a labor of love for them. They are stationed at outposts all over the country where they are attempting, they are training. They brought in people who — former Afghanis, current Afghanis who are educated to train women how to read, for example. I mentioned this earlier in the week. To train Afghanis how to be journalists with the proper journalistic credos. They are doing everything they can for the further redevelopment both of an economy, of a rule of law, a court system.
You know, nothing of really any important significance can happen here in terms of either wealthy Afghani investment or foreign investment till there’s a rule of law here. If you want to build a hotel here, if you want to establish a bank, if you want to put any business here, you’ve got to have some confidence that you’ll be protected in the court system under rule of law. They’ve never had this. There’s so much being done it boggles the mind and it seems like an insurmountable task to me. Then when you realize it took us many, many years to do this on our own. Now, we had a bit of a foundation that the Afghanis don’t have. I mean, they were telling me tonight at dinner that in one little province, one little village, old Afghani village leaders were afraid of democracy because they thought that if they lost an election, if they voted for somebody who lost an election, they would die — if they voted for the wrong person.
That’s what voting meant to them. It’s this kind of education and instruction that’s taking place along with all the economic outreach and a number of things. These people are extremely positive. Mike, I’d say their optimism on a scale of 1 to 10… everybody has doubts with what they do, but they’re working 14 to 16-hour days, they work 7 days a week, and their optimism here is probably close to an eight, if not higher. But they’re realists about it, too. And they understand that it’s not going to be done overnight or even in a short period of years.
What can be guaranteed is that these programs will continue during the Bush administration. We don’t know what another president would do, which is the importance of a permanent base that establishes a permanent military installation here, but it’s all coupled, as I said, with our security. One of the best ways to stop a future Taliban from forming is a large population of free people that will not put up with it, that’s not intimidated by it. Women who can vote, people who can read, a media that’s reporting what some of the bad guys are doing. The Taliban shut down the media. They didn’t allow music. There was none of that. So these things are all being cultivated, and the people that voted the first time around voted in great numbers, registered in great numbers.
The Afghan people, in terms of their optimism, no matter how many of them I talk to, I’ll tell you what their optimism is based on is (audio dropout) a lot of them live in fear that we’re going to leave. And President Karzai tonight didn’t dwell on that, but he made it clear that this can’t happen fully without the United States present, and it’s not just our money, and it’s not even really all that much money compared to the foreign aid budget — and don’t forget, folks, I know a lot of people have negative feelings about the foreign aid budget anyway, but remember my foreign aid budget theory. “If we’re going to give money away to people that support us, going to say good things about us, they’re going to help us, it’s money well spent.”
If we’re going to give money away to a bunch of despots who are going to rip us to shreds and undermine our policies in their country, it’s not worth giving money away. That doesn’t describe Afghanistan. I mean, you’ve got Pakistan on the border; you’ve got Russia, who knows what’s going on their border with Afghanistan. Iran is on the border. So there clearly are security interests here regarding the war on terror and it makes sense to stabilize this place, and part of stabilizing it is having a free population that has a growing, burgeoning economy that can sustain itself and create wealth and opportunity for people, and that’s what the USAID people are doing in just incremental ways and they’re starting with the basics because the education system here does not have the foundation ours did, that our country had.
You know, we had certain traditions that the pilgrims and our Founding Fathers brought with them from their own educations and from their own life experiences. Those things don’t exist here, and so to somebody like me it seems insurmountable. I’m not pessimistic about it. It just seems like there’s so much to do. But then you look at the people who are over here doing it and you realize they’re people willing to do it. You know, it’s sort of like people volunteering — this is no bed of roses over here for these people. I mean, for the USAID. It’s not a bed of roses for the troops, but this is not a lifestyle that 99% of the American people would choose. It’s not a line of work that 99% of the American people would choose.
You don’t do this for the money. These are public servants. They work on the pay scale, pay grade and they’re not making a lot of money and they do this because they believe in it. They believe in the president’s policies and they believe in the whole mission. The Afghan people are optimistic and confident, but they feel that they need the protection of a U.S. presence because of their past and because of the enemies past and perhaps in the future that lurk on their border. As I was told, you know, the Afghan Army is growing and faster than it was projected to be at this time. It’s 46,000. But Pakistan can muster a million troops overnight if they want to. And so with the US here, that’s a deterrent against any other invaders or bad guys.
So, now I don’t know what’s going to happen here, and I have no real clue, other than as you all know, I’m more optimistic about things than I’ve ever been. When I see people who are also optimistic and committed, you have to go with the positive side of things and when you see that the Afghan people are participating in it, not resisting it, and are embracing it, that adds all to it. So all I know is this: It’s worth the attempt. It’s worth trying for two reasons. One, the whole concept of freedom and the power of human freedom to resist and overcome evil and defeat it is something I firmly believe in, and the security interests, we’re in the midst of a war on terror here. Even though you’re not hearing much about Afghanistan because of the focuses being shined on Iraq right now, there are skirmishes going on.
There’s still a big offensive that’s thought to take place — well “big,” I mean, it won’t be as big as it is because the Taliban is in the process of being wiped out but there’s still pockets of unrest throughout the country. These Afghani people are tough though. Everybody I’ve talked to talks about their legendary fighting for what they believe in, and they’re just physically rigorously tough people, so it’s been an eye-opening experience. I would have never known any of this had I not come here — and I don’t want to come off as a proselytizer for this. I actually just am sharing with you the things I’ve seen and learned and the thoughts I have. Just so you understand, tempered with some realism. During dinner tonight — we had our final going-away dinner — and they asked me is there anything you didn’t get to do and I said, “Yeah, there’s one thing.” I said, “Driving around this city and driving around this country, I’ve seen the average Afghanis that I’ve not been able to meet. I’ve seen the people pushing the push carts. I’ve seen the people with their meat carcasses hanging in their dumpy little shacks trying to sell them. I’ve seen just the average Afghan citizen in various parts of the country.
I’ve seen the upscale as well. But the people I’ve been introduced to all pretty much (audio dropout).” But I’d like to go talk to the average Afghani to find out if what I’m told about him is actually true. Does the average Afghani really believe in what’s going on, was he really excited to vote, was he really excited to register to vote, is this something that really mattered, are they even paying attention? You know 40% of America doesn’t pay attention to politics, doesn’t care. Fortunately enough Americans do that we get a representative result with each election.
So you don’t need a hundred percent participation, but you do need a significant percentage, and that’s the one thing I haven’t got a chance to do and there wouldn’t be because of security concerns, and at this stage, if I just went out there by myself, I can’t speak the language. So if I took an interpreter, they might clam up, not knowing who I am and what I’m representing. There’s a level of suspicion that naturally exists here. That will all shake out. The next parliament elections are coming up sometime in the summer, I believe, and so we’ll see what happens, but I can tell you this: The Americans that are here, both wearing the uniform — they’re all troops, by the way, be it the USAID people or the military, they’re all troops, and they’re all engaged in this. These people that have signed up for this, 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds signed up specifically to come do this. There’s such a maturity and an understanding among the military specifically for what this is about. They’re purposely signing up to come here.
I talked to a commander at Kandahar today, Colonel Peterson. He was just proud as he can be to tell me about his people and I’m proud too. I didn’t hear a bunch of complaining or griping or monkey and you would think that some would take me aside and do so. None of them have. I don’t want to make too much out of that but I’ll tell you it’s been a very uplifting experience for me and I’m in awe of the Americans who are here both in and out of uniform in this cause and doing what they can because it’s all, in their minds, oriented toward these two things: The security of their own country and the assistance that they think they can offer a beleaguered population. So with that, Mike, I’ll turn it back over to you for the conclusion of the program and I’ll have details and I’ve got pictures coming from all these people that have been snapping them all week long that we’ll post on the website. Some of these pilots of the C-130s, I gave them my address to send these pictures so we’re going to have some fun with this. I have interviews that I did in these media stations that we’re going to post on the website which needed translators. You’re going to love hearing this stuff, folks. It’s all going to pop up next week when I get back. I’ll fly out of here tomorrow at 8 o’clock in the morning. Probably be back around midnight on Sunday and see you back here at the same time, same place, Monday at noon which I’m looking forward to. Mike, back to you and thanks Mike and back to you.
GUEST HOST: Thanks, Rush. One question before you go. I understand you have a talk radio counterpart in Afghanistan, Ali Limbali “with talent on loan from Allah.”
RUSH: I asked some military commanders today if when they send their missions out — and I saw the Third Brigade, the Broncos today at Kandahar with their big situational board. I’ve never seen this stuff before and I said — and where they’ve got people’s troops that I never had a chance to see because they’re stationed way out in the hinter lands and I said, “There’s this guy that’s sending in tapes now and then that’s undermining the Afghan operation, trying to pass himself off as the Rush Limbaugh of Afghanistan, Ali Limbali. See if you can find the cave he’s broadcasting out of and eradicate him,” and they promised to do it.
GUEST HOST: Okay, Rush. Best of luck. God speed coming home.
RUSH: Thank you, Mike, very much. See you Monday.