U.S. Rep McGovern: Floor speech on Afghanistan-“Change Course Now”

Below are remarks delivered by U.S. Rep. James McGovern of Massachusetts.

Last night the President outlined his strategy for Afghanistan – which included a drawdown of 10,000 troops by the end of this year and an additional 23,000 by the end of next year.

I believe this is insufficient and I fear that it means more of the same for the next 18 months. The same strategy means the same costs – and I’m sad to say, even more casualties. More American soldiers losing their lives in support of an Afghan government that is terribly corrupt and incompetent.

We’ve been doing this for ten years. It is the longest war in our history, Mr. Speaker. Enough!

Our focus should be on encouraging a negotiated settlement, a political solution – and bringing our troops home where they belong. Our troops are incredible men and women. I am in awe of what they do. They don’t belong in the middle of mountains and deserts fighting a cruel war.

According to the Pentagon’s own figures, U.S. and Coalition casualties in Afghanistan are steadily rising. Last month was a record high for the number of coalition forces killed. March and April were also the worst respective months of the war in terms of casualties – for U.S. forces, Coalition forces and Afghan civilians.

A poll last month by the International Council on Security and Development found that Afghans are overwhelmingly opposed to the current U.S. strategy with nearly 8 in 10 believing that U.S. and Coalition operations are “bad for their country.”

These are serious matters, serious consequences, of the strategy the U.S. will pursue at least through next year.

We need a change in direction now, Mr. Speaker, not 18 months from now.

We are borrowing nearly $10 billion a month to pay for military operations in Afghanistan. Borrowing! We’re not paying for it – we’re putting it on our national credit card. Our kids and grandkids will pay the price. Each day we remain in Afghanistan increases that burden.

We are currently having debates about how to reduce our deficit and debt. There are some who have advocated deep cuts in programs that help the poor, in Pell Grants, and in infrastructure.

For those who support the status quo in Afghanistan, let me ask – Where is the sense in borrowing money to build a bridge or school in Afghanistan that later gets blown up – while telling our cities and towns that we have no money to help them with their needs? It’s nuts!

Some of our biggest problems, Mr. Speaker, are not halfway around the world, they’re halfway down the block.

Americans are willing to do whatever is necessary to ensure our national security. But let me remind my colleagues that national security includes economic security. It means jobs.

It means rather than nation-building in a far off land, we need to do some more nation building right here at home.

Contrary to the tired and ugly rhetoric employed by Senator McCain yesterday towards thoughtful critics of our current strategy in Afghanistan and its consequences, I am not an isolationist. As my colleagues know, I firmly support human rights and the U.S. being engaged around the world. Those who advocate a political solution in Afghanistan are not isolationists.

I don’t believe we should walk away from the Afghan people. But tens of thousands of U.S. boots on the ground in Afghanistan does little, in my view, to advance the cause of peace, protect the rights of women and ethnic minorities, or strengthen civil society. If you want to protect Afghan women, we must end the violence. You end the violence by ending the war. You end the war through a political solution.

I have great respect for President Obama. I believe he has the potential to be a great president.

I also realize, as Lyndon Johnson once said, “It’s easy to get into war – hard as hell to get out of one.” It is not easy to end this war. It won’t be neat or pretty. But I believe with all my heart, it’s in our national security interests to focus on al-Qaeda and not waste our precious blood and treasure in a conflict that can only be ended through a political solution.

Rather than crafting a compromise and trying to chart a middle course, I believe we need to change course. I urge the President to rethink our Afghan policy; rethink it in a way that brings our troops home sooner rather than later.

(Hat Tip: Stephen Miles, Win Without War)

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