The decision to send troops into battle is among the most difficult decisions a leader can make. It must be derived not from an analysis of what makes good politics, but what makes our nation safer.
As a combat veteran who has served in a war zone, I speak from personal experience when I discuss the commitment of our soldiers in harms way. I know first-hand the challenges facing the men and women who are fighting the war that was launched against our nation on the streets of Manhattan in September 2001.
From my days as a Marine Corps infantryman serving on the battlefields of the first Gulf War, to my time as an FBI agent bearing witness to the devastation at Ground Zero, I continue to evaluate our national security needs as if today were the first day after the September 11th attacks.
The men and women of the U.S. military remain steadfast in their efforts to eradicate the presence of al Qaeda and the Taliban and the threats they pose against our national security. As your Congressman, I will work to make sure our foreign policy supports our military and allows them to successfully conduct their mission in Afghanistan.
This is a mission that is not without major challenges. We must recognize the inherent limitations of dealing effectively with a country that may not be able to exist within our idea of democracy. This is a multi-faceted challenge, but three key factors come to mind: the lack of infrastructure; the porous border with Pakistan; an, the fundamental fact that Afghanistan is a tribal nation, all making regional stability a complex and extremely difficult objective.
In the face of such challenges, we must remain committed to a clear and decisive mission for our troops. Second-guessing and Washington "desk-jockey" analysis of what our battlefield Generals propose for their war plans will neither secure victory, nor increase the likelihood of bringing our servicemen and women home safely.
Unrealistic timelines and promises of early troop withdrawals are premature, unrealistic and dangerous to our soldiers. I believe that we should fully support General McChrystal's plan to stabilize Afghanistan, but U.S. attempts to install a Western- style democracy is a mistake.
We must accept both the kinetic, and non-kinetic requirements for stability in that region; also known as "hard" and "soft power," we must deal with the fact that a U.S. presence in Afghanistan will be needed for years to come. The bottom line is that Afghanistan is a long term project that will include building and teaching (soft power), but those builders and teachers will need to be kept safe by soldiers (hard power) and anything less will result in failure.
Our only chance of preventing the Taliban from waiting out our eventual withdrawal and returning to power is to teach the Afghan people that they have alternatives and options outside of growing poppy for warlords. If we do not provide education and economic options, then history is doomed to repeat itself.
As it exists today, Afghanistan is neither prepared, nor capable, or adopting U.S. concepts of a centralized, democratic government. Corruption will remain a staggering feature of Afghan life. Transparency International has ranked the country 179th out of 180 countries for 2009. Only Somalia, a failed state, is considered more corrupt.
Ultimately, without sustained involvement, Afghanistan will continue in its historical pattern of tribalism with little of what the rest of the world would recognize as a central government.
As a U.S. Marine combat veteran, I am fully committed to winning the war on terror, but I remain critical of the approach our current administration has taken. The President has planned to spend $1.3 billion in fiscal 2010 on more than 100 projects at 40 sites across the country in preparation for a quick victory and an exit in 2011.
Given what we have learned over the past several years, and listening to the assessments of our troops on the ground, the U.S. should not adhere to false deadlines; rather, we must recognize that the U.S. will be in Afghanistan for the long haul.
Bowing to the pressures for an early withdrawal and otherwise failing to appreciate the dangers of such unrealistic goals will unnecessarily place our troops in harms way. As a member of Congress, I will not allow such policies to go unchallenged, not on my watch.