On Friday Feb. 11, the very day that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak stepped down in the face of increasingly violent protests, the Cazenovia Forum welcomed security expert, author and producer Peter Bergen to the Catherine Cummings Theatre. The event was a organized as an opportunity for residents to learn of Bergen's personal views, expertise and insights on a range of national and international security issues.
Bergen, whose latest book "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda" was praised by the New York Times as the essential primer for understanding the war on terror, produced the first television interview with Osama bin Laden in 1997 while at CNN.
It was in that interview that bin Laden declared war on the United States. Bergen, director of the national security studies program at the New America Foundation, has reported on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, counterterrorism and homeland security for a raft of major news outlets. He was candid yet optimistic about the future of Afghanistan.
Bergen told the crowd of more than 250 people there are some common myths about Afghanistan that cloud some assessments of the situation there.
"I think there are some very persistent myths about Afghanistan. First of all, an influential myth is that Afghanistan is the 'graveyard of empires', and it was certainly the graveyard of the Soviet Empire," Bergen said. "But the Soviets went in, they killed a million Afghans, they made a third of the population homeless, they inflicted a totalitarian war on the population and they faced a country-wide insurrection. As a result, every ethnic group, every class, rose up as one against the Soviets."
Such is not the case with the American efforts in Afghanistan. Even though polls show support for the war is low in America, Bergen thinks progress is possible. He pointed out how the Americans are not universally reviled in the country as the Soviets were and the military challenges are accordingly less daunting.