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Op-Ed: Getting Outside of Washington


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A Column by U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill

Washington has a way of isolating itself from tough decisions and difficult situations. For many, it's easier to live in a bubble rather than face hard realities.

But our country didn't become a superpower by taking the easy road and ignoring tough choices. And, choosing the path of least resistance is not the way to stay on top.

The truth is our country is facing serious challenges both at home and across the globe, and none of it will be solved by staying inside the Washington bubble.

I come home to Missouri every chance I get - nearly every weekend in fact - to stay in-touch with Missourians and our challenges at home. The people of Missouri are, after all, my bosses. But last week there's a good reason I didn't come home: I spent that week getting on-the-ground exposure to the tough national security issues facing our country with visits to Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Kuwait and the headquarters for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). I knew that getting out of Washington was necessary if I wanted a clear picture of what's actually happening on the ground there.

My first order of business on the trip was to visit with Missouri troops stationed in Kuwait. These brave men and women never cease to amaze me. I can tell everyone back in Missouri that our state is being well represented by the highest quality servicemen and women. They and their families have my thanks and unending respect.

Meeting our brave troops who are working so hard to keep us safe inspired me to get down to the nitty-gritty of some of the work I enjoy most: rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse in government contracts. In both Kuwait and Afghanistan, I went and visited the facilities where contractors were working. I questioned contracting oversight personnel. I pressed to make sure the billions in dollars in equipment leaving Iraq is being fully accounted for.

When I was in Iraq three years ago, the state of contracting oversight could only be described as the "wild west". After my recent visit, I am glad to report that we're doing better. Nonetheless, we are far from good enough. As chairman of a committee responsible for contracting oversight, I will be vigilant in following up and continuing aggressive oversight of how American taxpayer dollars are being spent on contracting in the Middle East and Central Asia.

While in Afghanistan, I also sat down with General Stanley McChrystal, the top military commander, and U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, among other senior leaders, to review the security situation there. As I told these men, I recognize that the threat to America from terrorist forces in and around Afghanistan is real. That is why I supported adding nearly 50,000 troops to the region and a renewed focus on fighting to secure the place where the attacks against America on 9/11/01 originated. I want to make sure we are making progress in achieving America's goals in Afghanistan: eliminating remaining terrorists, the Taliban, which has supported them, and any ability for terrorist forces trying to organize attacks against the United States.

I can say, after my visit, that we are making progress, but much work remains to be done. The situation in the Afghanistan region is more complex than it appears. The terrain, the people, the enemy forces, the surrounding countries all provide substantial challenges of their own. And so, while I was encouraged by much of what I saw in Afghanistan, I remain realistic. We must continue to develop and utilize smart strategies for fighting terrorism abroad, while making sure that our own government remains accountable to the American people.

After a week away from the U.S., it is nice to be home. But until the last American troops return home, as well, I'll stay firmly focused on Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere in the region to monitor on our efforts there - and to make sure the sons and daughters of America serving in harm's way have what they need to be successful. After all, living in a bubble is no way to legislate, and it is certainly no way to develop the right policies for our country.

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