Viewpoint: Weeklong visit shows united front
While the chattering classes deplore increasing partisan rancor in Washington and around the nation, great strides are being made by political leaders of both parties on issues of great significance to our nation - and the international community. On a recent fact-finding trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, and Israel, I had the opportunity to work with colleagues - both Democrat and Republican - from the House and Senate to advance a united front for critical U.S. foreign policy objectives.
During the recent Congressional District work period, I joined two Republican Senators and two Democrat House colleagues on a weeklong bicameral, bipartisan Congressional delegation (codel) visit. One of the objectives of our mission was to show foreign leaders that the United States is indeed united in support of President Obama's new regional strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that includes a pledge to deploy more troops to defeat al-Qaida militants, the Taliban, and their allies, but also includes a greater emphasis on regional diplomacy and economic development.
This "codel" was my first visit to the region since President Obama's election. I am pleased to report the president is popular in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey. It was clear from conversations with officials and civilians that they are intrigued by this new face on the international scene and that we, as a nation, have an opportunity to make the most of this appeal in our efforts to make the region more secure.
While in Afghanistan, the codel met with President Karzai, who expressed his appreciation for President Obama's commitment of 21,000 additional troops to augment the 38,000 troops already deployed in providing safety and security to Afghanistan. While I would prefer a slightly larger increase of 30,000 additional troops - as requested by General David McKiernan and other top military commanders in Afghanistan - I am pleased by the increased U.S. commitment.
In addition to meeting with political leaders, my colleagues and I visited with more than a dozen tribal elders representing seven Afghan tribes. While their political opinions varied, I was encouraged to hear them speak in a united voice when they insisted the Taliban must be expelled. Currently, the Afghan National Army cannot drive out the Taliban without the security provided by the United States and our NATO allies. And as we saw in Iraq, the support and trust of these elders is critical to our success. If the tribal elders believe we will prematurely leave the region, our efforts could be in vain.
Resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan cannot be reached without the involvement of Pakistan, its neighbor to the south and east. To that end, while in Pakistan, my colleagues and I met with President Zardari as well as members of the opposition party. All parties involved expressed a clear understanding of their responsibility for assisting efforts to defeat the Taliban and secure the region. Pakistani officials expressed their appreciation for the aid the United States has committed and further expressed their desire that we continue training their police and army so they are equipped to oppose the Taliban.
Our arrival in Turkey followed on the heels of President Obama's speech to the Turkish Parliament. While I was personally offended by the tone of the President's remarks and seeming apology for U.S. policies, the address was well received by the audience and opens the door for increased cooperation by the Muslim world. For years, we have been asking NATO allies to step up and share in the responsibility of providing security for the troubled region. We would like the Turks - who are a NATO ally - to be more involved in Afghanistan, and President Obama has a unique opportunity to garner that support. Turkey and other NATO allies need to recognize that the spread of Islamist extremism is a serious threat to them, as well as the Western world, and has created precisely the circumstances NATO exists to address.
In his first 100 days, I have disagreed with President Obama and my colleagues across the aisle on many issues - including runaway federal spending and questionable cuts to the Defense Department during a time of war. But we share a common goal of defending the American people and securing peace. It was an honor to join my colleagues in presenting a united front to our global partners in establishing a safe and secure world.
John Kline represents the Second District in the U.S. House of Representatives.