Afghanistan withdrawal proponent Polis promotes Holbrooke’s cautionary last words

Colorado Democratic Congressman Jared Polis has been arguing against U.S. occupation policy in Afghanistan since he took office in 2009. He visited the country last year and later argued passionately on the floor of the House in support of the Afghanistan War Powers Resolution, which called for U.S. withdrawal by no later than the end of 2010. Minutes ago he tweeted the cautionary last words of Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s chief envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan and a towering figure in U.S. diplomacy who died Monday. “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan,” Holbrooke reportedly said as he was placed under sedation for surgery to repair a ripped aorta.

On the topic if Afghanistan, Polis is no dove. He is a realist in the Holbrooke vein who sees the ongoing existence of al Qaed as the real threat to the U.S. He has made the case for dedicating our resources not to stumbling occupation but to rooting out al Qaeda with focused special operations.

For his part Holbrooke, best known for brokering the deal that ended the war in Bosnia, had been working to lay the groundwork in Afghanistan and Pakistan for U.S. withdrawal. He emphasized diplomacy and reconstruction and pressured the Afghan government to do more, particularly to stem corruption and provide public services.

The Washington Post reports that in the end Holbrooke was “deeply frustrated with President Hamid Karzai and his administration, as well as with many officials in the U.S. government,” all of whom he thought were reluctant to move ahead and out of the current state of affairs in the region, a state of affairs he viewed as a morass.

Polis on the House floor last March:

Mr. Speaker, this nation does face a very real and immediate terrorist threat. The terrorist threat stems from al Qaeda, which is a stateless menace, a menace that is not rooted in any one location or has any dominion in one particular area. In fact, the two countries that this, our nation continues to occupy, namely Iraq and Afghanistan, are not significant bases of operations for al Qaeda. It has been recently reported that there are, in fact, only around 50 al Qaeda operatives in the entire nation of Afghanistan and there could be 10 times that number in nations like Yemen and Pakistan.

Yes, there is a very real threat, but the answer is NOT to continue to indefinitely occupy countries where we only breed more sympathy with those who would do us harm. The correct and more important way to leverage American military might to combat this menace is to have targeted and aggressive intelligence gathering and targeted special operations against the terrorists no matter where they are.

Some have expressed concerns that if we leave Afghanistan precipitously, al Qaeda could reassert itself there. The answer to that is to go after al Qaeda, in a targeted way, in Afghanistan if the need arises again. It is NOT to engage in an indefinite occupation of one or two particular countries. How many more countries would we need to occupy? If they’re in Yemen, do we occupy Yemen? If they’re in Pakistan, do we occupy Pakistan? If we weren’t already in and occupying Afghanistan, would we choose to go in there today? I would submit that the answer is no.

We need to continue our effort to battle terrorists wherever they are and focus on this stateless menace through intelligence gathering, targeted, special operations, and a refocused emphasis on homeland security—all of which our very costly and expensive operation in Afghanistan continues to reduce our ability to do, by soaking up our national time and resources, as well as costing the lives of American soldiers. I yield back.

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