April 14, 2010 - Issue: Vol. 156, No. 52 — Daily Edition111th Congress (2009 - 2010) - 2nd Session
STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS; Congressional Record Vol. 156, No. 52
(Senate - April 14, 2010)
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[Pages S2296-S2298] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS By Mr. FEINGOLD: S. 3197. A bill to require a plan for the safe, orderly, and expeditious redeployment of United States Armed Forces from Afghanistan; to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Mr. FEINGOLD. Mr. President, today I am introducing legislation that would require the President to establish a flexible timetable for the responsible drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Rep. McGovern and Rep. Jones are also introducing companion legislation in the House. This bicameral, bipartisan legislation would make clear our timeframe and our intention to focus on a global counterterrorism strategy that is essential to our efforts to combat al Qaeda. As we were reminded again by the nearly successful attack on Christmas day, al Qaeda is an agile enemy with affiliates operating and recruiting around the world. Sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan this year will not help us deter or thwart attacks by al Qaeda's increasingly dangerous regional affiliates, nor will it eliminate al Qaeda's safe haven in Pakistan. The costly, military-centric, nation-building campaign currently underway in Afghanistan is unsustainable, unrealistic and unnecessary for our counterterrorism goals. This bill would require the President to set a timetable for drawing down our forces in Afghanistan and identify any variables that would require an extension of that timetable. While I am disappointed by his decision to expand our military involvement in Afghanistan, I commend the President for setting a start-date for redeployment, namely July 2011. Our allies have stated that it has helped ``focus the minds'' of our partners in Afghanistan and around the world. Having a start date is essential, but alone it is insufficient--it should be accompanied by an end date, too. The President should convey to the American and Afghan people how long he anticipates it will take to complete his military objectives. So long as our large-scale military presence remains open-ended, al Qaeda will have a valuable recruiting tool and our partners in Afghanistan will have an incentive to take the back seat, leaving U.S. troops and U.S. taxpayers on the hook. As our own ambassador to Afghanistan has reportedly stated, sending more troops for an indefinite period of time will only increase Afghan dependency upon the international community, exacerbate misconceptions about why we are there and further enable Afghan leadership to shun responsibility. I do not know what led the ambassador to ultimately endorse the open-ended commitment of additional troops, but I believe his concerns remain valid today. Indeed, President Karzai's recent statements before a variety of audiences only raise more questions about his willingness to take the necessary steps to address corruption and security. This bill does not itself set a specific date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Rather, it requires the President to set a timeline by which the redeployment of U.S. troops will be completed and to identify what variables, if any, would warrant the alteration of that timeline. While the President has set detailed objectives and metrics for Afghanistan, many of our objectives are dependent upon the conduct of officials in the Afghan and Pakistani governments, both of which have been unreliable partners for many years. We must make clear to our partners in both countries that our support is not unconditional and that we will not continue to bear the burden of our current military deployment indefinitely. Some of my colleagues have suggested that we should give the President's new strategy in Afghanistan a ``chance'' to succeed. After over eight years of war, after so many lost lives and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, I think we need to ask ourselves instead to consider whether an open-ended military presence makes sense. To me, that answer is clearly ``No.'' We will be putting at risk the lives of 100,000 U.S. troops and spending tens of billions of dollars on a military effort that is neither necessary for the national security imperative of pursuing al Qaeda's global network, nor likely to succeed in remaking the situation on the ground in Afghanistan to a meaningful extent. Addressing the threat from al Qaeda and its affiliates around the world [[Page S2297]] must be our top national security priority. The attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day serves as a reminder that we have not put adequate resources into this priority, especially in safe havens such as Yemen. We are spending in Yemen only a tiny of a fraction of what we are spending in Afghanistan even though, according to the President's top terrorism advisor, ``al Qaeda has several hundred members in Yemen.'' We need major adjustments in our global counter-terrorism strategy if we hope to defeat our enemy. Rather than investing a disproportionate amount of our resources in Afghanistan, where al Qaeda has a minimal presence, we need to shift resources to the urgent need of pursuing al Qaeda's global network. We do not need to maintain a massive military presence in Afghanistan in order to prevent al Qaeda from having freedom of movement in that country. Instead, we need a sustainable counter-terrorism strategy for the region that will also enable us to target any members of al Qaeda that make the mistake of returning. Drawing down U.S. troops from Afghanistan and better investing some of the billions needed to support them there would allow us to increase our ability to pursue al Qaeda as it continues to establish footholds in other locations around the world. I also continue to be concerned that our massive military presence in Afghanistan has a destabilizing effect, both there and in Pakistan, and that our current strategy is overly dependent on actions by these two partners that have often proved unreliable. As our own ambassador reportedly noted, the last time we substantially increased forces in Afghanistan, namely the deployment of 33,000 additional troops in 2008 and 2009, overall violence and instability increased. Our troop presence in Afghanistan has also provoked greater militancy. The reality is, our presence has driven militants across the border into Pakistan, and may be driving militant groups which normally have tense relationships closer together, compromising our ability to divide al Qaeda from its hosts in Pakistan. Furthermore, our current military strategy is unlikely to succeed in the face of the ongoing safe haven in Pakistan. The Director of National Intelligence recently testified that unless the Taliban's safe haven in Pakistan ``. . . is greatly diminished, the Taliban insurgency can survive defeats in Afghanistan.'' He went on to state that ``Islamabad has maintained relationships with other Taliban-associated groups that support and conduct operations against U.S. and ISAF forces in Afghanistan.'' Until this sanctuary problem is fully addressed, any gains from sending additional U.S. forces may be fleeting. Some have argued that we must pursue an open-ended military campaign in Afghanistan if only to prevent instability in Afghanistan from spreading into Pakistan. I, too, am concerned about instability in Pakistan, but I strongly disagree that sending troops to Afghanistan has helped or will improve the situation. According to our intelligence community, instability in Pakistan is driven primarily by poor governance and lack of socioeconomic reform in Pakistan. Even if we increase stability in Afghanistan, Pakistan remains at risk if these issues are not addressed. We must convey to those in Pakistan who support reform that they have our long-term support. That doesn't mean spending many billions of dollars for several years on military operations in Afghanistan. It means making a sustainable commitment to reforms in Pakistan. We have to be realistic about our goals in Afghanistan. Without a legitimate Afghan partner, our tactical victories will likely be squandered. We may build outposts throughout Helmand and Kandahar but this has little meaning if we are unable to distinguish friend from foe and the Taliban is able to maintain shadow structures throughout the region. It does no good to ``clear'' an area of insurgents to be held by the Afghan police if the police are perceived to be corrupt or unreliable. Nor can military operations address the sense of alienation among the population in the South. Indeed, such operations may actually undermine long-term stability as they contribute, despite our best efforts, to civilian casualties. In regards to casualties from operations related to things like checkpoints and convoys, for example, Gen. McChrystal recently acknowledged that ``[w]e've shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none ha[ve] proven to have been a real threat to the force.'' This only reinforces the image of the United States as a hostile, occupying force. Rather than spending $100 billion in Afghanistan in one year, primarily on military operations, it would be far better to make a sustainable commitment to this country. Long-term, gradual change is far more realistic than attempts to radically transform Afghan society at the point of a gun, especially when we have lost the support of key sections of the population. We must also prioritize efforts to promote the rule of law. Without the rule of law, our development efforts are vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse and will further feed into the corruption that is alienating the population from the government. Indeed, Secretary Clinton has testified that ``siphoning off contractual money from the international community . . . [is] a major source of funding for the Taliban.'' For too long, we have prioritized short term security goals at the expense of the rule of law. We have prioritized quantity over quality in the Afghan National Security Forces. We have compromised the state's monopoly over the use of violence by partnering with--in Gen. McChrystal's words--``polarizing and predatory'' powerbrokers. We have turned a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuses. If we get serious about these issues, it will do more to stabilize the situation than anything we can accomplish by conducting military operations. After so many years in which our military efforts have been shortchanged by the focus on Iraq, we cannot simply turn back the clock and assume that what may have been achievable militarily in Afghanistan years ago is still achievable today. Even if my colleagues support the President's strategy in Afghanistan, they should acknowledge the need to set a goal for when it should be brought to a close. While I have serious doubts about the wisdom of the current approach, as I have explained, and about pursuing an expansive nation-building agenda in the face of the economic problems facing our own country and the rising casualty rates in Afghanistan, this bill does not dictate a particular strategy for Afghanistan. Rather, it simply requires the President to inform the American people about how long his military strategy is expected to take. I urge my colleagues to support this bill. ______ By Mr. UDALL of Colorado (for himself, Mr. Begich, Mrs. McCaskill, Ms. Landrieu, Mr. Warner, Mr. Nelson of Nebraska, Mr. Bennet, Mr. Leahy, Ms. Mikulski, Mrs. Murray, Mr. Kerry, Mr. Bayh, Ms. Klobuchar, Mrs. Lincoln, Mr. Casey, Mr. Menendez, Mr. Cardin, Mr. Brown of Ohio, Mr. Sanders, Mr. Lautenberg, Mr. Whitehouse, and Mr. Durbin): S. 3201. A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to extend TRICARE coverage to certain dependents under the age of 26; to the Committee on Armed Services. Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. President, I rise to speak about health insurance reform. I wanted to remind all of us that last month we successfully passed health insurance reform, upon which I think we will have a very strong foundation to build, improve, and strengthen access to health care all across America. Throughout the long and critically important debate on how best to fix our system, I came to the floor on many occasions, as did the Presiding Officer and a lot of my freshman Senators, to discuss the need for reform. I believe the bill that President Obama signed into law will help struggling Colorado families and hopefully our struggling economy as well. So I think you and I agree there is a lot of work left to be done, and no bill of this magnitude and importance is perfect. To implement this new law is a major undertaking that will require us in the Congress to revisit and improve upon what we have already done. [[Page S2298]] In that spirit, I come to the Senate floor to introduce a bill that I believe is a great way to start making those improvements. I thank Senators Begich and McCaskill for working with me to develop a bill, and Senator Mikulski for her hard work and energy and support as well. Our legislation is entitled ``The TRICARE Dependent Coverage Extension Act.'' It would help fulfill this important goal of the health insurance reform that the Presiding Officer and I support; that is, giving young adults the opportunity to remain on their parents' health care plan until the age of 26. Young adults across our country are struggling to enter the job market as we get our economy back on track, and this legislation will ensure that the families of our military servicemembers are not left behind when this benefit goes into effect later this year for millions of civilian families and their children. Currently, the TRICARE Program, which provides health insurance for military servicemembers, retirees, and their families, covers children up to the age of 21, or in some cases up to the age of 23 if they are full-time college students. The TRICARE Dependent Coverage Extension Act will give young adults of these military families who have not been able to find health care insurance through an employer the opportunity to pay a reasonable premium and remain covered until their 26th birthday on their parents' plan. Health reform, I think we agree, is meant to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable health care coverage. I cannot think of any of our countrymen more deserving of the peace of mind envisioned by this new law than members of our Armed Forces and their families. They, in countries all over the world, make tremendous sacrifices every day for our Nation. I think it is over 60 different countries that we have servicemembers serving around the world. They deserve benefits that will keep them healthy and secure. In addition to the three Senators I mentioned, Begich, McCaskill, and Mikulski, there are 19 of our Democratic colleagues who have also joined in supporting this legislation. I think this outpouring of support on short notice is indicative of how beneficial the bill will be for the families of our armed servicemembers. Now, we have had our disagreements with the other side of the aisle on how best to reform our health care system as a whole. But I think there are certain areas of common interest we can still find and come together on to improve the lives of the people we are here to serve. I think this is one of those instances, and I want to offer my hand to our Republican friends and hope they will join a group of us in cosponsoring this important piece of legislation. I sit on the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, and I served on the Armed Services Committee in the House. I would like to think I learned how to spot a good deal for our Nation's soldiers and their families, and this is a good deal. Again, I would encourage all 100 Senators to consider joining us in this important, straightforward, cost-efficient idea that I am presenting today. ____________________