June 08, 2011

Lugar Tells Afghan Nominee U.S. Must Focus Strategy, Defending Vital Security Interests at Less Cost

Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made the following opening statement on the nomination of Ryan Crocker to be Ambassador to Afghanistan:

I join the Chairman in welcoming our distinguished nominee.  Ambassador Crocker has returned from his well-earned retirement to again apply his unsurpassed experience at managing civil-military collaboration in a dynamic conflict environment.  I thank him for his commitment and know that he will bring insight and informed judgment to his job in Kabul.  

This is the sixth hearing the Foreign Relations Committee has held related to Afghanistan during the last two months.  We have explored not just what is happening in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, but whether our vast expenditures in Afghanistan represent a rational allocation of our military and financial assets.    Our geostrategic interests are threatened, not just by terrorism, but by debt, economic competition, energy and food prices, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and numerous other forces.  Solving these problems will be much more difficult if we devote too many resources to one country that, historically, has frustrated nation building experiments.

The question the President must answer is whether we can achieve the most important national security goals in Afghanistan – especially preventing the Taliban from taking over the government and preventing Afghan territory from being used as a terrorist safe haven -- at far less expense.

Ambassador Crocker would be assuming his post coincident with the Obama Administration’s review of Afghanistan policy that is anticipated to result in some level of troop reduction.  This opportunity should be used to do more than just withdraw an arbitrary number of troops based on political expediency.  Rather, the President should put forward a new plan that includes a definition of success in Afghanistan based on U.S. vital interests and a sober analysis of what is possible to achieve. 

Such a plan should include an explanation of what metrics must be satisfied before the country is considered secure.  It should also designate and eliminate those activities that are not intrinsic to our core objectives.  The Administration’s ambiguity on our goals must be eliminated in order to more effectively address our national security interests and convey to Afghans the continuing relationship we will maintain as allies in the region.

Despite ten years of investment and attempts to better understand the culture and the region’s actors, we remain in a cycle that produces relative progress but fails to deliver a secure political or military resolution.  In Afghanistan, measuring success according to relative progress has very little meaning.  Undoubtedly, we will make some progress when we are spending more than $100 billion per year in that country.   The more important question is whether we have an efficient strategy for protecting our vital interests that does not involve massive open-ended expenditures and does not require us to have more faith than is justified in Afghan institutions.

I would appreciate hearing the nominee’s impressions of the Obama Administration’s strategic review and of how we can improve Afghanistan’s capacity to defend and govern itself, while reducing our own commitment of resources.

I applaud Ambassador Crocker’s willingness, once again, to take on an extremely difficult mission, and I look forward to his testimony.


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