Sen. Cantwell on Afghanistan: It's The Economy Stupid

By:  Josh Feit
Source: Publicola

In his big Afghanistan speech yesterday night, President Obama outlined his three-point strategy for beating the Islamic extremists: “A military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan.

Obama’s “civilian surge,” however, doesn’t sound like the sort of Marshall-plan-style business and civic project surge he’s talked about in the past (see below). It was a bit vaguer than that, focusing  on ending corruption, supporting agriculture, and welcoming Taliban who relinquish violence into the civic process.

Sen. Maria Cantwell issued her response late today.

Editorializing here: Sen. Cantwell gets it. I’ve bolded the section I love (which takes us back to a Marshall Plan-style solution that seems more likely to win this war).

“I appreciate the President’s thoughtful outline of what he believes should be the continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. The U.S. now has 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, including four thousand currently there from Fort Lewis, Washington.

“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.  But 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.

“I believe more needs to be done to stabilize economic development and opportunities throughout Afghanistan and in the tribal regions of Pakistan. My focus in the Senate has been working toward swift passage of the Afghan-Pakistan Reconstruction Opportunity Zones legislation. The bill would give the President 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. This situation cannot continue.

“I will be looking for more details and specific benchmarks from the President on his plan so that we can measure when success will be attained clearing the way for withdrawal of U.S. troops. During the Supplemental Defense Appropriations process, I will make sure that funds are conditioned on meeting certain benchmarks, particularly benchmarks on political and economic development.”

Sen. Cantwell has been pushing her reconstruction zone legislation since early March. And in President Obama’s earlier big speech on Afghanistan (in late March) he said specifically that he supported her legislation. (No mention of that yesterday.)

Here’s what the (now) Nobel-Peace-Prize winning Obama said in his big speech last March:

A campaign against extremism will not succeed with bullets or bombs alone. Al Qaeda offers the people of Pakistan nothing but destruction. We stand for something different. So today, I’m … calling on Congress to pass a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Maria Cantwell, Chris Van Hollen and Peter Hoekstra that creates opportunity zones in the border region to develop the economy and bring hope to places plagued by violence.