McKeon: Obama Must Stress Mission in Afghanistan

By Rep. Buck McKeon

The following text is from a speech delivered on February 24 by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon at the National Press Club.

For nearly 13 years now, the United States has been at war in Afghanistan. We’re there because Afghanistan was used as a launch pad for attacks that killed Americans. We have a responsibility for the safety and security of our citizens. And we don’t abandon that responsibility just because the fight is hard. If you read polls, you’ll hear that American support for the Afghanistan campaign has dipped below 20%. If you listen to the news, you’ll hear about a hopeless campaign to win the unwinnable. That’s if you hear about it at all. Looking at those barometers, the American people know two things. They know the war is going badly. And they know most of their neighbors oppose our involvement there. But neither polls nor the press paint the full picture. Neither tell the full story.

That story is a hopeful one. Not blindly so, but hopeful nonetheless. Traditionally, it is right and proper that these stories come from the Commander-in-Chief. But he has talked about Afghanistan only a handful of times during his Presidency. And each time, President Obama praised his run for the exits or pitied our wounded, instead of lauding the accomplishments of our troops and the importance of the mission they were given to fight. So, if the President of the United States won’t give this speech, I will.

In 2001, after the worst attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor, the United States invaded Afghanistan. The very act of toppling the Taliban regime was both strategically and technologically astounding. In three months’ time, America and her allies knocked down a regime 7,000 miles away in landlocked, mountainous terrain.

We dropped young men and women in a combat zone with a brutal climate, with no support other than by air, and a tough, determined enemy fighting on his home turf. We asked them to establish supply lines that any sane logistics officer would call impossible. We asked them to fight a war they hadn’t trained for, in a land that had buried the most powerful empires in the world. Not only did they succeed; they kicked the Taliban down in three months – that’s less than a semester to their college friends back home. Then, we asked them to do something even harder.

Make no mistake – an insurgency is the hardest type of war a democracy can fight. Holding a new country steady, with insurgents hiding among innocents, can take years. It took the British 12 years to put down the Malayan communists. The insurgency in Northern Ireland took decades to resolve. Last week I visited our Colombian friends, who have fought a narco-insurgency since the ‘60s. They’re finally nearing the finish line. These fights can be won. But they take time, patience, and treasure – and all those things usually come in short supply with voters.

I won’t sugarcoat it. The American people are sick and tired of this war. And it is their will--not the enemy’s-- that will determine Afghanistan’s fate. It’s the will of the American people that’s the most important weapon in this fight – not million dollar smart bombs or aircraft carriers.

So here are the questions we have to ask ourselves.

Is Afghanistan less of a threat to the United States than it was 13 years ago?

Is it a better place than it was 13 years ago?

Is America safer than it was on September 10th, 2001?

Take a good, hard look at what’s actually been happening out there, and each of those answers come back yes. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the President hasn’t taken credit for these victories. The gains since 2009 are three-fold – strategic, diplomatic, and moral. 

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Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-California) is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Rep. Buck McKeon
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