COLUMBIA — Peter Bergen is not imposing in person.
As CNN’s security analyst, he often appears on TV or in the news looking busy and efficient. In reality, he stands casually, dressed in a navy suit, carelessly handling a mug of coffee between his fingers, making small talk.
But when the conversation turns to the war in Afghanistan, his demeanor changes. His fingers stop moving, his posture straightens and his voice becomes clipped. This is his cause.
Bergen spoke last night at Jesse Hall as part of the Mizzou Reads program. In addition to discussing key Afghani issues, Bergen described his own experiences traveling through the former Soviet-occupied country.
“I think Afghanistan is perhaps a lot less hopeless than people think,” Bergen said. “I want to say why I think there’s a fair amount of hope and why Afghans have a fair amount of hope.”
Bergen has traveled to Afghanistan extensively. In 1993, he witnessed a civil war that killed 10 percent of the population and forced 5 million more into exile. He's returned several more times since 9/11. He’s seen dramatic change that most people might not believe if they didn’t see it.
“People in Afghanistan aren’t forced to remain indoors,” Bergen said. “They go to school, they go to work. Even with all the things we know are going wrong, they’re still much better off than they were in the pre-9/11 era.”
Bergen also said conditions for women are slowly improving in Afghanistan. It’s difficult for Bergen, a Western man, to interact with women in Afghanistan, but he did say more women attend school and work outside the home now then they did even 10 years ago.
That said, Bergen was quick to admit that the situation in Afghanistan is not perfect. He talked about the rising number of deaths and estimates that by the end of the year, 68,000 American soldiers will be in Afghanistan.
He also said the war is steadily moving into Pakistan, one of the most hostile countries toward the U.S.
“Someone said to me, ‘This is going to be (President Barack) Obama’s Vietnam,’” Bergen said. “That’s crazy. This isn’t Obama’s Vietnam or Obama’s Iraq. This is Obama’s Afghanistan.”
Some MU students said a desire to learn more about international affairs drew them to Bergen’s speech.
“I don’t know anything,” Kristen James, a journalism student at MU, said. “I don’t think you really know what something’s like until you’re there.”
Other MU students echoed the sentiment.
“I think political reporting is an area that’s not reported in as well as it should be,” Lauren Johnson, a senior at MU, said.
Even though Bergen spoke about many of the country's problems, he wants people to know one thing: He believes there is hope. It might take more than a year, but he believes that the Obama administration can help resolve this war eventually.
“Four million Afghan refugees have returned to Afghanistan,” Bergen said. “Refugees don’t return to a country where they think there’s no future.”