Cantwell: Stabilize Afghanistan, don’t stay

By:  Joel Connelly
Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Noting that 4,000 soldiers from Fort Lewis are in Afghanistan, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., on Wednesday praised the “thoughtful outline” of President Obama’s policy, but voiced worries that U.S. forces could “remain long after 2011.”

“While the President’s proposal to send another 30,000 troops comes with a date 18 months from now that specifies the beginning of withdrawal,” Cantwell said, “there are no guarantees and it concerns me that our troops could remain long after 2011.

“There is much work that needs to be done to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan so the region will no longer serve as a stronghold for extremists.

“But the question is how much of this work can be done by our military versus other political and diplomatic efforts and the Afghans and Pakistanis themselves.”

Cantwell has learned in her two Senate terms that war can be unhealthy for Democratic officeholders and other living things.

Early in her 2006 reelection race, Cantwell came under some fire from the Democratic left for voting to authorize U.S. military action in Iraq. The 36th District Democrats at one point withheld their endorsement from the Democratic incumbent.

But opposition popped like a soap bubble.

Nobody paid attention to the few hecklers at a packed Garfield High School rally when a young Illinois senator named Barack Obama visited Seattle to boost Cantwell’s reelection.

Still, Cantwell is treating Pressdient Obama’s war policy with care — and stressing alternatives to combat.

“I believe more needs to be done to stabilize economic development and opportunities throughout Afghanistan and the tribal regions of Pakistan,” Cantwell said. “My focus in the Senate has been working toward swift passage of the Afghan-Pakistan authority to create duty-free export zones in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan for exports to the United States.

“The aim is to stimulate economic development and create jobs as alternatives to terrorism and narco-trafficking. Today, extremists are able to recruit insurgent fighters for a few dollars a day.”

In Cantwell’s view, funding for the Afghanistan war should be “conditioned on meeting certain benchmarks, particularly benchmarks on political and economic development.”