While we have seen hours of footage of members of Congress (rightfully) beating up on BP CEO Tony Hayward about the oil spill in the Gulf, Pentagon officials haven’t faced much tough questioning about a war in Afghanistan that has already cost thousands of lives and more than $270 billion. We got a refreshing break from that last week when Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) (from my hometown congressional district, I’m proud to say), spoke for the American people who question the wisdom of continuing the war when questioning General David Petraeus:
I disagree with you, basically, on the premise that our continued military presence in Afghanistan actually strengthens our national security. Since the surge of troops in southern and eastern Afghanistan started, we have seen only increased levels of violence, coupled with an incompetent and corrupt Afghan government. I am of the belief that continuing with this surge and increasing the level of American forces will have the same result — more American lives lost, and we will be no closer to success.
Pingree pointed out that the American public is growing increasingly skeptical (and with good reason) given the increasing loss of life and money and the lack of signs of success. Not surprisingly, Petraeus’ answers weren’t satisfactory for skeptics of the administration’s strategy, as Win Without War noted:
Pingree: “Pulling out of an area not only reduces the level of violence, the local Afghan leaders sometimes end up turning against the Taliban … ‘If you pull out the coalition forces, you open up the natural seams between the traditional leaders and the Johhny-come-lately Taliban.’ According to Lt. Col. [Robert] Brown, his patrolling troops [in Kamdesh] ‘were just providing a recruitment tool for the insurgency” … Is our presence fueling violence and the insurgency in Afghanistan?”
Petraeus: “First of all, with respect for the Lt. Col., there may be cases where you pull out of an area and serendipity results in the form of local leaders who stand up to the Taliban.”
Faced with facts that don’t fit the Pentagon’s strategy of fighting our way to peace, Gen. Petraeus chose to credit serendipity.
Concern about the current strategy in Afghanistan is growing. But the administration is only going to be forced to change course if there is enough pressure coming from the public and from within Congress. Other members of Congress should join Rep. Pingree in creating a clamor for a new strategy in Afghanistan.