Afghanistan, Women, and US National Security Interests


Pelosi Karzai.jpgI am worried that there is substantial confusion in Democratic party ranks about what the appropriate role and function of the United States military is and isn’t.
A powerful women’s Congressional delegation led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi just returned from Afghanistan — including Congresswoman Susan Davis, Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, and Congresswoman Donna Edwards.
The focus on the plight of women in Afghanistan is commendable, and I believe that we must try our best to find ways to leave women in Afghanistan in substantially better circumstances than we found them — but to make the plight of women ‘the national security focus’ of American engagement is an enormous mistake.
Human rights issues, womens issues, gay rights issues, the rights of children and protection from pedophilia in Afghanistan should all be on America’s and the broad international agenda — but we have lots of tools, protocols, and other forms of statecraft designed to promote justice and humanitarianism in these areas.
It is not wise or even effective to use America’s overextended military power and focus it on these questions — when there are large strategic challenges looming, including perhaps with Iran, with Russia and China, and other crises we have not yet seen emerge.
I greatly respect Donna Edwards and want to share her statement from the several offered — but also want to respectfully disagree with the direction she is going.

Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD):
This is really important and what we’ve learned is that if we want to gauge the prospects for success in Afghanistan, a key barometer has to be the status of women and their participation in governance, their participation in economic development activities, their ability to achieve an education. And after years and years of Taliban rule where women have been so suppressed, we must use women’s success as a barometer for success — overall success in Afghanistan. And that success is not just about the success of Afghan women — in my view, that success is also tied to what is in our national security interest.
There are poor women and women who don’t participate all around the world. The linkage and the difference for us is that it’s tied to our national security interest and the security of Afghan women, the security that’s tied to whether or not there is corruption in government, security that is tied to whether women can get an education, security is tied to whether a woman is safe in her home, security that’s tied to whether a woman is able to go to market and to work and contribute. All of these elements are tied to our unique national security interest. And I think that it is that combination that is really important for us to understand how we measure women’s success.
I’ll conclude by saying that I hope — I’ve been and it’s no great secret — a skeptic as to whether we can achieve that kind of success in Afghanistan, but what I know for certainty, is that we will not be able to achieve any level of success if it is not measured using a barometer of women’s success and participation. I believe, I hope that President Karzai understands this and I look forward, as we go through this week in discussions with the highest levels of our government, that we’re able to tie women’s success to the overall success and the long-term success of Afghanistan.

More on this another time.
Full transcript follows at the break.

Contact: Brendan Daly/Nadeam Elshami/Drew Hammill
Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Transcript of Pelosi and Delegation Press Conference on Visit with Troops in Afghanistan, Qatar and Germany
Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Susan Davis, Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, and Congresswoman Donna Edwards held a press conference this afternoon in the Capitol to discuss their Congressional Delegation to Qatar, Afghanistan, and Germany. Below is a transcript of the press conference:
Speaker Pelosi. Good afternoon. For us, it is — I don’t know how many hours later. We just returned from a very remarkable visit to Afghanistan. But for your information, we were gone 100 hours, of which 40 were spent flying in planes, both to the destination and within Afghanistan, and then within Germany, when we went to Landstuhl to visit our wounded warriors. 100 hour trip, 40 hours in the air, 10 different time zones — and so when I said “good afternoon,” I said it with a question mark at the end.
It was quite a remarkable trip. I was honored to be part of it. It was a trip, a visit to Afghanistan, that was organized by Chairwoman of the Personnel Subcommittee of Armed Services, Congresswoman Susan Davis. We were joined on the trip — or I joined a trip that included: Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo of Guam, Congresswoman Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts, both of whom are members on the Armed Services Committee, and Congressman Donna Edwards of Maryland. Congresswoman Edwards and Congresswoman Tsongas grew up as “Air Force brats,” so their closeness to the military is personal as well as official.
I’m going to yield now to Congresswoman Davis and as I do, I want to thank her for arranging a very extraordinary trip. If there were four words to describe what this trip was about in terms of meeting women on Mother’s Day, our women in the military, women in Afghanistan, both leaders and leaders in Kabul and leaders in the countryside, it was about: security, security, security, security. When they talked about education, it was about having security of leaving the home for their daughters to go to school. Health care to go to a clinic, security to leave home. Jobs security — security they saw it as the answer to every challenge they faced.
More about this important subject and extraordinary leadership of Congresswoman Davis. By the way, it is a return visit because she brought a group, including Congresswoman Edwards to Afghanistan a year ago on Mother’s Day as well. So it’s great appreciation and just am in awe of the trip that she planned for us. We learned so much and we’re better equipped to make some decisions as we go forward because of her leadership.
Chairwoman Susan Davis of California.
Congresswoman Davis. Thank you. Thank you very much Madam Speaker. And I’m very happy to share some remarks regarding our second Mother’s Day visit to Afghanistan, principally to the Kandahar region in Zabul Province.
The trip really had special significance this year. For one thing, it was a return. We told the women when we met them last year that we wanted to return, that we wanted to see them again, we wanted to see how things would be going for them. And in fact, we did that. We were able to take a measure of any changes they had experienced. It was also just on the eve practically of President Karzai’s visit here. And we were able to meet with him and women leaders and talk about the importance of women in the country, the importance, really, of the parliamentary elections, which are coming soon.
And finally, of course, we were really honored by the Speaker’s involvement in being part of this particular trip because she brought such seriousness, really, to our mission, and she certainly elevated that. She inspired so many of the people that we met along the way.
The first thing I want to talk about are our troops, and also, I would add, the civilians, who are now working in theater — the mothers of our troops, and also the civilians. The fact that we’re visiting on Mother’s Day, I think, just heightens the reality that these are women who are there — they are there knowing that their children are at home — no brunches for them, no hugs for their children. They are there because they think that their presence will help our own national security. So, they’re fighting for our security and they’re thinking about their children at the same time. And to everyone that we spoke to, that is why they are there. They’re in this remote area and it’s not easy. They shared with us pictures of their children. We even shared a few tears. This is not an easy assignment, but we want to impress upon you, and we certainly impressed upon President Karzai, how significant this is that these are women.
The second thing, of course, that we wanted to do was meet with the Afghani women, some of whom we had actually met with in the past. They are the key to security in their areas because we know how critical governance is, and I can assure you that without their involvement, there is no governance. That they can look to, that they can have confidence in, and they can be certain that the people who are there, that their local leaders are caring about them, and not just something that, perhaps doesn’t matter at all to the future of their country. So when you ask them what they care about, they care about security. It’s number one. They care about education. And in fact, they seemed to suggest that, you know, their kids and especially their girls, can’t always even go to school because of those security issues.
We had, at our table, we had a group of women — now last year when we met it was a group of women that had been put together through the provincial reconstruction teams. And they hadn’t had a lot of time to necessarily work together. But this, and this is a great improvement, this was a shura now — it was a council of women. And it ranged from women who essentially had been begging on the streets, to teachers, to a midwife, to women who really believe that their voices were becoming important — even in a small way in some cases. We were really inspired that they believed that they had a role to play in solving the problems.
But we also know that for many of these issues, and I’m going to just highlight one, which is health care. The midwife who was there, spoke to us about the fact that women without security, they can’t even go see a doctor sometimes. If they’re pregnant and they’re about to deliver and they’re coming from one of the villages, unless the security is there, they may not even make it — because it’s too far a distance. And they said that sometimes women arrive at the hospital, they’re not quite ready to deliver, they’re sent home, and in going home without transportation and without anyone there to care for them, and with worrying about who could hurt them along the way, they don’t always make it home. And certainly the babies don’t make it. So these are very important issues to these women.
We also heard that there are some projects there and we want those to be sustaining projects and they indicated to us that they were seeing that. One of the women who is very, very poor shared with us that she finally has some work and that she can now care for her family. It made her feel so good and this is a woman who covered her face almost the whole time that we were there with her. Very moving, very significant meetings. And we felt very good about that.
I wanted to just mention one other group of women who we had a chance to meet with because they were very impressive. In addition to the women who were there in a number of capacities, we’ve just trained up a group of women Marines called the “Female Engagement Team.” And that team has been trained in special communications skills. We actually think that as women, they have special communication skills. But they’ve been trained to especially work with translators and with the community. And what they shared with us is actually, they’re having as much success working with men as they are with women. And the very fact that you see them, it changes the environment in which they’re working. So we know that they’re critical and we were there to wish them a happy Mother’s Day as well.
My colleagues are going to speak to the peaceful jirga that is coming, also the parliamentary elections. I was particularly pleased that one of the women, who we had met with last year, and who has at this small shura that we had met with on the trip in Qalat has put her name forward on the nomination papers for the parliament. We will certainly be looking to see how the results of those elections turn out for her and for many of the women and for everyone who is putting themselves forward at this very critical time for the Afghan community.
Thank you for your presence here. I especially want to thank the Speaker for elevating this trip and inspiring all that she met along the way.
Congresswoman Bordallo is going to be next.

Congresswoman Bordallo.
Thank you very much. Good afternoon members of the press. I represent the U.S. territory of Guam — unlike my colleagues here who represent big states and large constituencies. I want to thank the Speaker. She certainly lent a great deal of prestige to this CODEL and it was unique — we were all women, which was unusual. And, of course, Mrs. Davis. Most of us here serve on Armed Services — I do as well.
I’m asked to speak about our women in service, the United States armed forces. We met with them on several occasions — Qatar, in Afghanistan, as well as Germany. On Mother’s Day, we were in Afghanistan. And so we went around the room introducing ourselves, of course, and asking them to introduce themselves and to give us an idea about their family. Well, what amazed me, was that here are women, serving in harm’s way on an important day like Mother’s Day. Some of them had three children all in college. Somehow I don’t know how they can financially accomplish that. Others — one had a set of twins — the other had — that’s right — they all had children. So we were curious. We said, “Well, who is taking care of these children?” Well, Mr. Mom — the husbands. And in some cases, the husband was serving in the armed services as well. He was deployed to some other area. So, I really marveled at the way — many of them enlisted personnel, but as well as in officer ranks as well. So we do have a great group of women in our armed services serving and what they’re doing, what they’re carrying on their shoulders — families at home, a lot of responsibilities, we all know that. So, I really applaud our women in service.
I also just want to in contrast — mention quickly about the women in Afghanistan. We have so much, they have so little. And they pleaded with us, as the Speaker and Ms. Davis said, about security. They can’t do anything, they can’t advance, life expectancy in Afghanistan is 45 years old, simply because they can’t get medical attention and so forth. So, they’re depending on us to try to help them in the way of security. Security was a key word wherever we went. And it truly was a mindboggling to me and an eye opener that we saw such a contrast between what we have and what they have. And so I think our mission, I just want to say, we went on Mother’s Day, we went to look at the role of women in these foreign countries and as well as to check on our women that are serving in the U.S. armed services.
Thank you very much.
Congresswoman Davis. And we’ll now hear from Congresswoman Niki Tsongas.
Congresswoman Tsongas. I want to thank Susan and our great Speaker for organizing a wonderful trip. It was a real pleasure to travel with my distinguished colleagues and as they say in Washington, this is really how we get to know each other. And so we did. And we survived 40 hours on planes and whatever.
It was my third trip to Afghanistan. It was an opportunity to hear directly from our soldiers on the ground, from those leading the great effort in Afghanistan, as well as to meet with Afghan women, in particular. And we were fortunate to meet with so many, as we’ve heard, women, who are currently serving and to come away with a sense of their extraordinary commitment to the war effort there. And you’ve heard what they’ve given up. Madeleine Bordallo talked about some of the women and their children. The story that stays with me is I met a young woman who had a six-month-old baby she left and she will not see that child for another year. And we all know happens in a year of the lifetime of a young child.
So it was a very poignant reminder, particularly so because we were traveling on Mother’s Day, but also, I think demonstrated their extraordinary commitment to securing the national interest of this country as they engage in this effort in Afghanistan. In their ever-increasing participation in the military, we saw an enormous array of the ways in which they are serving our country. The “Women’s Engagement Team” was one way, there was a woman who led a convoy that took 55 hours across very dangerous terrain.
These are the kinds of stories that you need to go Afghanistan to hear. But their extraordinary contributions are in stark contrast to what Afghan women are able to do. We did meet with the Afghan shura and you see, as we heard women who finally are able to make a subsistence living from the kind of ways in which we are making investments in Afghanistan — who are worried that those projects will disappear — up to women who are very sophisticated, have extraordinary talent — they are doctors, teachers — and only want to have the opportunity to contribute to their society in a very long-term way.
So the challenge I think, we have going forward, is to make sure that women are part of the peace process. It’s very important that they be — their participation be significant and robust and that as the parliamentary elections go forward, that there is a process in place so that women will be able to participate and lend their full voice to the process.
As we heard, the issues are: education, health care, economic opportunity, but without security, women cannot access those basic elements of life. And they seek to do so on behalf of their families and our children. So I look forward, as we go ahead, to President Karzai maintaining his commitment to include women in the peace process in a significant way, to make sure they’re participating in our government — in their government in a significant way, and to the ways in which our Administration and our President make sure that that is the case going forward. Because without the participation of 50 percent of the Afghan population, the long-term security that we seek to achieve really will not be attainable. So much is dependent upon their capacity to become engaged, change their lives, and change the lives of their families and children as well.
So it’s one of those things in which there is nothing like a visit to really bring home the extraordinary challenges, with the extraordinary opportunities, and to engage with the leadership that has the capacity to make the difference for the Afghan people and in particular, Afghan women.
So I want to thank Susan Davis, again, for putting in place an extraordinary effort. It’s one that I will always remember and I look forward to going back again.
Congresswoman Davis. Thank you. We will now hear from Congresswoman Donna Edwards of Maryland.
Congresswoman Edwards. Thank you to Congresswoman Davis for putting together this return trip for Mrs. Davis and I to Afghanistan on Mother’s Day. And we really do value and appreciate the leadership of Speaker Pelosi in joining us, because I do think that it elevated the concerns that were raised by women last year and continue to be raised in Afghanistan.
I’d first like to say that it was really a privilege to meet our servicemen and women who serve in Afghanistan. Who put themselves in harm’s way, as my colleagues have described. Who are mothers themselves. I think of the young woman who graduated from the high school I graduated from and she’s a sergeant in the Army, she has a one-year-old and a four-year-old here at home out in Prince George’s County. It’s their service and sacrifice that are our guidepost and barometers for success — both our success and the success of Afghan women in a security environment that enables Afghan women to be able to provide for their families, to achieve prospects for economic development, and for participation in governance in their country.
I join my colleagues in emphasizing the importance of the upcoming parliamentary elections in September. And we had an opportunity to speak with President Karzai directly about this. He confirmed for us that there will be 417 women who have qualified for the ballot in the upcoming elections, out of some 2,600 candidates. These women actually went through an even more rigorous qualification process this time — I think having to gather 1,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot. That means that in every province, there are at least two women, and President Karzai stressed this in our meetings with him. That there were at least two women who would qualify in every province, that there would be a back-up plan if for some reason a woman were not able to serve. And with this number of women, it’s entirely possible that there could even be more women than the mandate in the constitution.
This is really important and what we’ve learned is that if we want to gauge the prospects for success in Afghanistan, a key barometer has to be the status of women and their participation in governance, their participation in economic development activities, their ability to achieve an education. And after years and years of Taliban rule where women have been so suppressed, we must use women’s success as a barometer for success — overall success in Afghanistan. And that success is not just about the success of Afghan women — in my view, that success is also tied to what is in our national security interest.
There are poor women and women who don’t participate all around the world. The linkage and the difference for us is that it’s tied to our national security interest and the security of Afghan women, the security that’s tied to whether or not there is corruption in government, security that is tied to whether women can get an education, security is tied to whether a woman is safe in her home, security that’s tied to whether a woman is able to go to market and to work and contribute. All of these elements are tied to our unique national security interest. And I think that it is that combination that is really important for us to understand how we measure women’s success.
I’ll conclude by saying that I hope — I’ve been and it’s no great secret — a skeptic as to whether we can achieve that kind of success in Afghanistan, but what I know for certainty, is that we will not be able to achieve any level of success if it is not measured using a barometer of women’s success and participation. I believe, I hope that President Karzai understands this and I look forward, as we go through this week in discussions with the highest levels of our government, that we’re able to tie women’s success to the overall success and the long-term success of Afghanistan.
This week and discussions with the highest levels of our government that were able to tie women’s success to the overall success and the long term success of Afghanistan. Thank you very much.
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you very much, my colleagues. I wish to associate myself with all of their remarks, singing the praises of our men and women in the military. We started in Qatar and Al Udeid Air Base, which is a platform for going to Afghanistan where we thanked the men and women in uniform, spent some special time with the mothers in the service and heard their stories. It equipped us for when we went to Afghanistan later in the day and to say to President Karzai, our families, our women, are leaving their babies and children at home in order to fight for our national security. And we are present in Afghanistan because it is in the interest of our national security. That’s the way they see it for a safer world for their children. But you should know that we expect the policy here to match the sacrifice of our troops and recognizes, maybe he had not, that women were making this extraordinary sacrifice.
When we spoke to him, we talked to him about what Congresswoman Edwards said about the elections and the increased participation of women, but also about the peace jirga, as Congresswoman Davis mentioned. The jirga is the peace jirga, which the President has called for to get consensus on how to go forward for possible reintegration or reconciliation with the Taliban. We wanted to be sure that women were represented in that jirga in sufficient numbers, and I think we made our point there. If it was going to be a legitimate consensus, it had to have the full participation of women. We spoke to women leaders at the dinner he had for us and heard from them the challenges that are faced and the progress that they thought was being made and that more needed to be done.
But what was very moving for us was to go, Congresswoman Davis described it so well, but she did not describe that we had to take a plane to Kandahar, where we met with our troops. We met with female engagement teams – imagine our women reaching out to the families both men and women, but especially the women in Afghanistan to establish communication. And it has reaped wonderful results. And we are proud of that, meet with the moms and the rest. But then take another long helicopter ride to Qalat. So this wasn’t just about going to see the women in Kabul. This was about, I don’t know how they found this province in the first place because it was so remote. But they were there last year, and they said they would return. Imagine these women from the poorest of the poor–beggars of last year, now employed because of initiatives of USAID and grateful for that.
But again, it all came back to our national security and their security. Security, security, security. And we believe that women, as community builders, as moms and the rest are essential to that security, and we are taking that message back again to President Karzai.
Can you imagine being in a room with these women? Again, who are beggars, as poor as they can be. And now saying: “I can feed my children. But we need to have security.” And again, I won’t repeat, but the Congresswoman said the level of professionalism, of some women and the poorest of the poor coming to get there in their shura and enabling us to be part of it. We had met the governor of Zabul Province. He welcomed us with some children there when we arrived. But the meeting was women only. And the trust that they placed on us, the gratitude that they had to Congresswomen Davis and Edwards for coming back to this very far, distant place. At the end of the meeting, these four women gave me these bracelets. There are many more; they go all the way up here. [Shows bracelets.] I will save them for my granddaughters because…it is very moving to have them make a sacrifice even of a gift to me and to all of us in appreciation for our visit. So they place their trust in us. We know that the future of Afghanistan depends on them. And that is part of what we will talk to President Karzai about.
When we met with President Karzai, we emphasized the four points we always do. It is about security–have we said that word enough? It is about governance. It is about the people feeling benefit, reaping the benefit of policies that we have helped to fund there. It is about corruption–a decision to end corruption, to have more accountability and more transparency in their government. But because a lot of our federal dollars are going there in the military and otherwise, we need accountability too. We are subjecting every dollar we spend here to very tough scrutiny. We want that money to be well spent in Afghanistan. And then the question of the involvement of the other countries in the region that border Afghanistan which have a stake in the stability of Afghanistan–that would be China, Russia, the “stans” including Pakistan and Iran. Everyone has a stake in this.
On all of these areas, I really want to salute the President because he went to Afghanistan. He was very clear that the security of Afghanistan related to the security of women there. Secretary Clinton has been absolutely superb. And I don’t think we would be where we are in any of these issues without her tremendous leadership. And I support the statements she has made about the importance of ending corruption in Afghanistan. We are at a critical moment because we will soon have to take a vote on this. And we want to see how, in the few of the, the President after this meeting, what the further development is of a plan for success.
I think we all agree that the mission is a necessary one to protect our national security. The question is, what are the prospects for success? And what is the commitment of President Karzai in terms of governance of ending corruption of promoting security and of recognizing the important role that women play in that? We are not there to promote women’s rights per say. We are there to say that women’s rights are central to security, and that is essential to our national security.
So again, we were, really it was an honor for me. Last year, I was in Iraq on Mother’s Day, in Baghdad on Mother’s Day to thank our troops there–our women, our moms, in that case there were grandmothers. I met one grandmother on this trip, too.
After we left Afghanistan, we left to see our wounded warriors in Landstuhl, Germany. What can you say to these young people who have risked their lives? And we saw some in very, very, very critical condition. But their patriotism, their courage, the sacrifices they and their families made for our country heightens the need for us to have a plan that will work in Afghanistan. And that is our message to President Karzai.
Thank you. With that, we will be pleased to take any questions.
Q: The White House is concerned about some remarks President Karzai made where he suggested [inaudible] and he also talked about likening the Western power to perhaps to an invading force. Did you talk to him about those comments that caused some consternation in the White House? And also, do you believe President Karzai is a reliable, strategic partner to the United States?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, I invite my colleagues for any comments they may have.
I believe that those comments by President Karzai were probably for domestic consumption, and they are really behind us as we talk about how we go forward in a way with a plan. The President has confidence in General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry. We were briefed at some length by the two of them there. They believe that the prospect for success is good but must be worked for and I’d just assume without further comment, put what President Karzai said behind.
However, I did tell him that his leadership is required to convince people that he has made the right decisions in terms of security, corruption and governance. If we are to support a plan in Afghanistan and that the President has given him plenty of opportunity we’ll, this trip will tell us what the message will be. And I think that, I think we, again, so like ice skating scores, just take that one off. And we’ll take one off here. Let’s just go where we have scores in common.
Q: Again, do you believe he is a reliable partner that the U.S. can work with in the long term to stabilize this region and build this country?
Speaker Pelosi. I believe that President Obama will make, has been making that judgment. And I think that the message has been clear to President Karzai: our young people are risking their lives; our moms are leaving their children; our budget is making a serious commitment. The first of course our treasury, our treasure, our men and women in uniform are our first and foremost responsibility. If we had all the money in the world, we wouldn’t want to squander any of it. We don’t, and so we will be scrutinizing the expenditures going into Afghanistan.
But again, the sacrifice in every way that the American people are making for our own national security. We have to remember we are only there in our own national security. But it requires a plan with a reliable partner. I think he understands that. You know, I trust the President’s judgment after that.
Q: Madam Speaker, does your visit lead you to encourage your Members to vote for the supplemental that is coming up? I mean do you have more confidence in the U.S. mission so that, you still have skeptical Members for your caucus with the funding bill coming up. How does your visit factor into that?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, first of all, let me say I am, on war votes, I am never encouraging Members. We give, we present the facts, and Members make their own decision. It is a different kind of a vote. It is, and then at the end of this week we will have a better idea of what we can present to Members. So we will talk again about this after the end of President Karzai’s visit.
Q: Madam Speaker, on that score, you have, much like you had in the Iraq conflict, you have sort of an, for lack of a better term, “Out of Afghanistan” group in your caucus here. Dovetailing off that question, does that make it harder to sell? You said you would know more later this week, you will present some of your cases to the Members here, and it is about security. But some of them just don’t think the Unites States should still be committed to Afghanistan and think that we should move on past it.
Speaker Pelosi. I think we will know about the vote when we see what the proposal is that the President will make following this week. Congresswoman Edwards, did you want to speak to that as a representative of the Progressive Caucus? Well in your own way.
Congresswoman Edwards. I am a member. I am a member of the Progressive Caucus. And as I described, I have been one who is very skeptical about the vision that is laid out, and so I plan to use this visit and other information and as this week of meetings develops to make an independent decision about whether or what kind of ongoing support for this effort. And I appreciate the Speaker’s leadership here because a vote on war and peace, those are different votes. And those are votes of conscience and clarity. And I intend though to use what I have learned during this visit to make that decision and to share that with my colleagues so that we can make independent decisions. And I look forward to the remainder of the week of President Karzai’s visit and to hearing from the Administration about the direction forward.
Q: So far, how do you describe President Karzai’s commitment to fight corruption?
Speaker Pelosi. Well again, we will see what he says on his visit here. I think he understands full well how important it is to us. First of all, one of the women, I don’t know, well in the course of our visit somewhere along the way, women said to us, and I am not identifying with any particular meeting, that they saw security being served by ending corruption. So people there understand, whether it is the governance issue and how government works for people or whether it is security and the way that corruption could stand in the way and that they see a connection of corruption to impeding in governance, impeding security. And again, President Karzai shouldn’t be doing it just for us. He has got to be doing it for the people of Afghanistan and again, in furtherance of them understanding the benefit that they have from his government. So I will be interested to see what statements he makes.
It is a big challenge throughout the world. And we are not talking about paying a dollar to cross the road, we are talking about systemic corruption within the system that prevents the flourishing of a nation. And we expect a strong commitment in that regard. And some of it may be public. Some of it may be private. But I will depend on the evaluation of the President of the United States.
We will have President Karzai here tomorrow to speak to the Democratic and Republican leadership of the House. I know he will be over on the Senate side as well, and I am sure he will hear the same message there. But I told him: “We will welcome you with candor, in friendship–candor and friendship in my view go together–of respecting the office he holds and with dignity. But that we do have questions that require some answers.”
It was a pretty exciting trip for us. Especially, we were leaving for Germany as the President was leaving for the United States. Our planes were side by side. We strove to get out first because we still had another destination before coming to the United States. And I think, hopefully our trip made an impact in terms of raising the level of the importance of women and security. Again, this just isn’t about we want more rights for women. This about, you are not going to have security unless women are in the communities building this security for you. And that means our women fighters, that means our female engagement teams, that means the women of Afghanistan, that means our civilian women who are working over there. And that increased communication has been a very positive force, woman to woman. And that is what our trip was about. We thank you.

Congresswoman Bordallo.
If I could just jump in on the supplemental, I think a question back there on the supplemental. Is that what you were questioning? Yes.
Well I do feel that, you know, this time around, there will be a lot of scrutiny. They will be asking a lot of questions, and we are going to have to have answers. And I agree with the Speaker that, you know after this meeting with our President, I think some of these things will be ironed out. But I do know that we probably will have a little more difficulty among Members, questions because we did find those that went to Afghanistan a year ago, we found that the plight of the women were not much improved. So I think there will be questions, more questions than usual.
Speaker Pelosi. And I just may say, we find ourselves in the situation we are in because in the fall of the 2001, the United States went into Afghanistan with overwhelming support of the Congress, routed but did not defeat the Taliban. The headed for the hills, and when we went into Iraq, they came back. And they started their campaign to overtake villages and towns and provinces and the rest. So now we are in the situation where since 2001 until President Obama became President, there was no plan in Afghanistan. So this is a heavy lift because there was so much time when there was no plan. Last year when we made the vote, the President was only in office what, 10 weeks? A few months. And he had to do the supplemental in order to pay the bill from the previous Administration. The President has been at work with the generals, with the State Department and the rest, General Eikenberry having worn both hats as a general in charge there and now as the Ambassador, General McChrystal who has the President’s confidence to put together a plan on how we go forward. Essential to that plan, is the reliability of the partner that we have and that is the message that we brought to President Karzai and with the idea that though it is in our national interest and that is why we are there, and internationally as well, so in any event recognize why we are where we are and as we make these judgments, to how long there has been a period of real neglect as far as a plan in Afghanistan.
Thank you all very much.
# # #


17 comments on “Afghanistan, Women, and US National Security Interests

  1. JohnH says:

    ydd2–I agree that the barbarity is shocking, training US soldiers to the chant: “I went down to the market where all the women shop/I pulled out my machete and I begin to chop/I went down to the park where all the children play/I pulled out my machine gun and I begin to spray.”
    Allusions to Steve’s personal life are uncalled for and definitely out of bounds. They contribute nothing to the discussion. He was right to pull the plug on your post.


  2. ydd2 says:

    @JohnH (11:45) — thanks for re-posting the link to the video that was some how ‘censored’. I’m not sure why? Perhaps, it is too ‘in ya face’ and close to the cold hard truth about the pornographic killing machine turning young religious (and in this case obviously spiritually sensitive) US youth into psychopaths for the military industrial complex.
    In any case, as the text gives the message a focus, I’ll drop it in here (the source is The Real News Network)
    American Jesus loves “choppers” and “sprayers” it seems. I’ll have to dig out the old Bible and look for the reference!
    JAY: So you go to Iraq. You join, you go through boot camp, and you’re sent to Iraq, and you’re still more or less the same mindset. Tell us a little bit about boot camp and the kind of training that takes place to prepare you for war. I mean, your religious training is supposed to be about love thy neighbor, and then you’re sent to war. So how do they get you ready for that?
    STIEBER: Yeah, I guess that’s where I started to see, maybe, some of these contradictions, just by the kinds of things that we did on a regular basis in basic training, whether it was the cadences that we sang as we were marching around, some that even joked about killing women and children.
    JAY: Like what?
    STIEBER: One that stands out in my mind is


  3. WigWag says:

    There is an irony in Steve’s remarks. In the post right below this one, Steve calls Zbignew Brzezinski one of America’s greatest “progressive realists.” Brzezinski may be a realist but calling him a progressive is perfectly emblematic of how dumbed down the term “progressive” has become.
    Brzezinski is personally responsible for the plight of women in Afghanistan today. Women participated freely in Afghan society from the early 1930s to the time of the Soviet invasion. During Afghanistan’s brief communist era as well as before, girls went to school, women worked outside of the home, women served as government officials and both genders could mingle together in public.
    But then the man Steve Clemons calls a great “progressive” realist got a better idea. Brzezinski decided that he and Jimmy Carter should “set a trap” to lure the Soviets “into their Viet Nam.”
    What was the strategy adopted by the man Steve insists on calling a “progressive?” He funded and armed the most reactionary, ultra-religious, and pre-modern Afghan tribes he could find. In essense, Brzezinski decided to turn a motely group of rag-tag fundamentalists, the Afghan mujahideen, into a modern, well-armed fighting force; it’s what we call the Taliban today.
    As soon as Brzezinski’s Taliban took power, they banned the playing of music, they outlawed education for girls, they banned women from leaving their homes unaccompanied by their husbands, fathers or brothers and they instituted an extraordinarily harsh version of Sharia.
    When asked what he thought of all of this, Steve’s progressive hero said,
    “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe…”
    I wonder if Brzezinski would have been as callous if Mika had to live under the rules instituted by the fundamentalists that he empowered.
    Referring to Iraq, Colin Powell famously remarked to President Bush, “if you break it, you own it.”
    Zbignew Brzezinski and Jimmy Carter broke Afghanistan; that’s why American troops are there trying to fix it.
    It’s also somewhat dispiriting to see what an unrealistic realist Steve Clemons has become. Steve said,
    “Human rights issues, womens issues, gay rights issues, the rights of children and protection from pedophilia in Afghanistan should all be on America’s and the broad international agenda — but we have lots of tools, protocols, and other forms of statecraft designed to promote justice and humanitarianism in these areas.”
    Maybe Steve would like to enlighten us about exactly what “tools,” “protocols,” or “other forms of statecraft” will be effective in protecting women, gays or children if the Taliban take power again in Afghanistan.
    Who exactly does Steve think is going to protect the rights of women and girls, gays or minorities? The United Nations? Unicef? The Lambda Legal Defense Fund?
    People of good will can debate whether the trade off Brzezinski and Carter made in Afghanistan was a good one or a bad one.
    But please, let’s stop calling Brzezinski a “progressive.” You might as well call the stench of a skunk, perfume.


  4. erichwwk says:

    From Howard Zinn’s essay on the just war, quoting Richard Burton’s NYTimes article [Nov. 23, 1974] after Burton had played the role of Winston Churchill:
    “In the course of preparing myself….I realized afresh that I hate Churchill and all of his kind. I hate him virulently. They have stalked down the corridors of power all through history…. What man of sanity would say on hearing the atrocities committed by the Japanese against British and Anzac prisoners of war, ‘We shall wipe them out, everyone of them, men women and children. There shall not be a Japanese left on the face of the earth’ ? Such simple-minded cravings for revenge leave me with a horrified but reluctant awe for such single-minded and merciless ferocity”.
    Those who have swallowed the propaganda that “Hitler had to be stopped” have either not read what Winston Churchill himself wrote about the war, or rationalized it away.
    Jack Hirshleifer, in his 2001 book “The Dark Side of the Force: Economic Foundations of Conflict Theory”, on p. 26 cites what Genghis Khan is supposed to have said:
    “The greatest pleasure is to vanquish your enemies, to chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth, to see their near and dear bathed in tears, to ride their horses and sleep on the white bellies of their wives and daughters.”


  5. JohnH says:

    “In boot camp we trained with songs that joked about killing women and children.”
    Like I said, who do these cynical queens think they’re fooling with their “benchmarks for progress?”


  6. Steve Clemons says:

    Greetings Downtown —
    Sorry your earlier comment was removed. I think it was accidental. I have to have a “spam” trolling function performed each morning as some outfits — some porn, some commercial, some just really mean — try and post things through the site. I think the people I have do this accidentally removed yours as there is nothing editorially problematic about your post.
    That said, I do reserve the right to remove any comments that cross red lines I have previously communicated….so just wanted to publicly acknowledge that I do editorially interfere with comments on occasion and will continue to do so — though any one who reads this blog knows that I try to do this with a very, very light touch.
    All best — and apologies that you needed to repost your item,
    Steve Clemons


  7. JohnH says:

    Afghanistan–killing women and children to “save women and children.”
    Who do these cynical queens think their fooling with their “benchmarks for progress?”


  8. downtown says:

    I can see that my sarcastic remark made about an hour ago has now been deleted. I’m herewith going to repeat it, if only to verify editorial interference.
    “Have we learned nothing from our fiasco in Iraq?”
    We don’t need to learn. We are America. WE TEACH.


  9. erichwwk says:

    Steve opens with:
    “I am worried that there is substantial confusion in Democratic party ranks about what the appropriate role and function of the United States military is and isn’t. ”
    I wonder what Steve finds problematic in her statement, other than trying to solve a problem for others when we have not come close to solving it for ourselves.
    But I hope someday Steve has the time to expand on “the appropriate role of the military”, as this divides into two camps. On the one side are folk like Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill — yes I am happy to discuss whether these are not essentially identical folk, or even Ed Teller and Thomas Schelling- the later so arrogant and absorbed with his own self importance that he couldn’t understand why Iranians were unwilling to initiate contact to invite him to share a “cup of coffee or a beer” in countries where this is not the custom, that is so deluded ala Fischer Black and Myron Scholes that they believe one can ignore flawed assumptions if the mathematical models is elegant enough.
    On the other side are folks like Joe Rotblat, M.Gandhi, MLK, Howard Zinn, Chris Hedges that see that militaries exist for things like camaraderie, the ability to shove one’s boot in another’s face, that condone theft as a legitimate means of acquiring wealth.
    It seems to me that wars essentially occur when rich old men succeed in bull shitting poor young men into stealing for them.
    Is there REALLY a purpose in the US Military other than to legitimize the concept of an elitist entitlement class,a domestic and foreign empire, for whom the rest of humanity is to work for?
    So yes, what IS the appropriate role of a military?


  10. John Waring says:

    It simply is beyond our power to remake Afghan society.
    Have we learned nothing from our fiasco in Iraq?


  11. yankeedoodledandy says:

    “our wounded warriors…” — what, are these the same brave goons that kill afghan women and children (and men) with remote drones and midnight raids in spook night vision wear?
    Sick crusader fantasies — actually they are simply foreign soldiers and ruthless mercenaries, all invaders who are part of an expanding military machine funded on debt that has, amongst other things, increased the world’s heroine supply many fold and caused untold harm and misery there an abroad.
    These ‘ladies of Washington’ must have really roughed it eh? Probably would not have stepped off the red carpet, over one pot hole, or even tossed a simple dollar into a widow’s freezing begging bowl.
    Phew, “100 hours and I don’t know what time zone I’m in” — please, … how many gin and tonics is that? And no doubt the on-board hair dressers were working overtime keeping them all looking fresh for ‘meet the press’ photo op’s with those same poor suckers they call warriors who are no doubt now going to rot in some hobbling disability backwater on a miserable pension.
    Where’s the benchmark for these cynical Amazon queens? Try this little woman who is doing 10,000 times more good than these spoiled power bitches all put together.
    BTW: $150 buys a sewing machine so poor Afghan widows can scrap up a meager living while waiting for ‘Wonder Woman’ to turn up with her golden lasso from tinsel town!


  12. JohnH says:

    I’m sure these women are all serious about women’s rights. But why don’t they try and measure the progress that has been made to date in Afghanistan?
    There is nothing worse for women and children than war. A brief war might be justifiable, because the harm to women and children, though horrible, is brief. But what is happening is protracted, harming women and children during the majority of child rearing years. And endless war is exactly what Pelosi and her ilk support.
    Pelosi and her warmonger allies are no friend to Afghan women and children. Using the women’s issue to justify endless war is simply reprehensible.


  13. Dan Kervick says:

    “It’s pretty clear that American voters support Obama’s Afghanistan policy so enthusiastically …”
    While 49-39 shows more support than opposition, I wouldn’t call 49% “enthusiastic”.
    I really wonder how well-informed even this ambivalent opinion is. Is there any more to it than the vague sense that we should “do something”, along with the childishly naive belief that if you do something with soldiers, rifles, bombs, planes, helicopters and tanks, the effects are so dramatic, so literally ground-shaking, that they are bound to work.
    We can fight in Afghanistan for another 30 years, we can spend several trillion more dollars, and yet will probably do little to change the way of life and archaic gender relations we deplore there.
    I hope the women who participated in this delegation will be happy when the social services framework for women at home is ripped apart and torn down to pay the bill for these fantastic foreign dream adventures. Having successfully engineered two stupendously expensive wars; a bona fide financial sector meltdown; the destruction of massive amounts of individual savings and wealth; outrageous tax giveaways to the affluent; and the destruction of one American city and neglect of much of our national infrastructure, the Republican Party has at last succeeded in engineering the fiscal train wreck they have long desired. Now they and the New Democrats will conspire to dismantle much of the remaining social safety net to pay the debts and the repair bills.
    In my state – which is admittedly famously frugal – they just cut some programs aimed at victims of domestic abuse as part of the plan to make up for collapsing revenues. They are also gutting the court system, which helps defend and finds justice for the vulnerable. We could use some of those vast sums that Pelosi and Co. have no problem throwing at Afghanistan, generating one colossally expensive and utterly ineffective bang in the dirt after another.


  14. Carroll says:

    Well this little stage play on womens rights by Pelosi and etc. is so ridiculous I don’t know what to call it.
    We should put one of those gaint tents contractors use to exterminate pest from school and industrial buildings over congress and just gas the idiots.


  15. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Now these Washington sacks of shit are gonna lament the plight of women in Afghanistan after destroying women’s rights in Iraq?? Compare the opportunities women enjoyed under Saddam’s reign with how they are faring now.
    Really, the way things are shapin’ up, if we are REALLY concerned about human rights, maybe we should quit meddling. I don’t see where we are improving things in any of the countries we are screwin’ with. Why don’t these sacks of shit give a damn what Israel is doing to the women and children of Palestine, or the million or so non-combatant fatalites in Iraq? Screw these posturing insincere elitist assholes.
    Pelosi oughta be put out to pasture. I detest that cackling crone.


  16. pangloss says:

    Thanks Steve I’d missed this but love the imperialist malarkey
    whenever or however it’s served up. This particular old chestnut is
    such a great heart warmer it gives me a shiver just reading about
    them pontificating it. From the picture I’m curious whether the
    ladies – is that the appropriate term for them – were wearing
    heels. I hope so as it would seem to fit in with their little slumming
    military/fact finding/humanitarian jaunt & the sermonizing too, of


  17. WigWag says:

    Steve’s realist colors are showing again; the good news is that a significant majority of the American public disagrees with Steve.
    The Quinipiac Poll on Obama’s foreign policy released just three weeks ago (April 22nd) demonstrates that the single most popular foreign policy decision that President Obama has made was his decision to commit troops to Afghanistan.
    The poll demonstrates that by a 48-42 percent margin Americans approve of Obama’s foreign policy. But voters approve of Obama’s decision to commit troops to Afghanistan by a margin of 49-39 percent. By contrast, voters disapprove of Obama’s policy towards the Israel-Palestine conflict by 44-35 percent.
    It’s pretty clear that American voters support Obama’s Afghanistan policy so enthusiastically for two reasons: (1) they want Afghanistan neutralized as a staging point for world wide terrorism and (2) the pre-modern ideology vis a vis women, gays, religious minorities and others that the Taliban espouses is simply too much for American voters to stomach.
    Back in the 1990s there was massive support for Bill Clinton’s decision to intervene in the Balkans because of the ethnic cleansing that took place both in Bosnia and Kosovo. Few American interests were directly impacted and the behavior of the Serbs, while brutal, was no where near as objectionable as the behavior of the Taliban. Yet American public opinion virtually insisted that Clinton intervene in the place of the feckless Europeans who cowered on the sidelines.
    Besides, the treatment of women in Afghanistan is as good a metric for success as anything else the military might think of. As long as girls are going to school, women are going to work outside of the home and men and women can be seen together in public without threat of being beaten or killed, it suggests the American military is being successful. When women are forced back into the prisons of their homes and not allowed to emerge, it suggests that the Taliban is in the ascendency.
    If Steve thinks that intervening in Afghanistan to protect the rights of women is misguided, that’s fine; but Steve should tell us where he draws the line. Does he think that mass murder in Rawanda justified intervention? What about Darfur? How about the Nazi extermination of the Jews; did that justify U.S. intervention or was America’s entry into World War II only justified because American “interests” were at stake?
    As a “progressive realist” does Steve ever think U.S. military intervention is appropriate when only humanitarian concerns are at issue, or is he like Flynt Leverett; a man without a soul (professionally not personally)?
    I believe that there is a reason the realist school of foreign policy is in extremis and there’s also a reason the leftists are so frustrated that their foreign policy predilections are almost always ignored.
    Leftists eschew the values that most Americans hold dear while realists just don’t think values should come into play when it comes to making foreign policy decisions.
    Americans just aren’t buying what either the realists or the leftists are selling.
    Thank goodness.


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