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Presidential Campaigns Weigh in on Afghanistan

On January 25, the Afghanistan Advocacy Group hosted a debate between foreign policy advisers for numerous U.S. Presidential campaigns on the subject of their candidates’ positions on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Advisors to Presidential hopefuls Senator John McCain, Senator Barak Obama and Governor Mike Huckabee participated in the forum, which was held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The debate was moderated by Peter Hickman, Vice Chairman of the National Press Club and Mrs. Mariam A. Nawabi, a founding member of the Afghanistan Advocacy Group and Strategic & Business Development Director for AMDi, Inc.

Senator John McCain’s Foreign Policy Adviser Col. Robert McFarlane previously served as President Ronald Reagan's National Security Advisor and served the U.S. government in a number of capacities throughout his career. Col. McFarlane opened his speech by framing contemporary political challenges in the history of U.S.-Afghan relations, focusing on the resistance against the Soviet Union. “We withdrew, ignoring the scale of loss experienced on our behalf. We have an enormous debt to the Afghan people,” he said. His remarks focused on the need for better command and control, the need to integrate the large contingent of international partners, and the need for common rules of engagement. He recommended that a U.S. coordinator be appointed to control the various U.S. agencies operating in Afghanistan and to lobby the Congress for additional resources for state-building. To curb poppy cultivation, Col. McFarlane advocated an investment in international subsidization of agriculture and crop substitution. Mr. McFarlane also highlighted the problem of corruption and proposed working more closely with local leaders and tribal chiefs.

Senator Tim Hutchinson represented Governor Mike Huckabee in the dialogue. Senator Hutchinson is a former U.S. Senator from Arkansas and currently serves as Senior Advisor at the Dickstein Shapiro law firm. Senator Hutchinson agreed with Col. McFarlane’s assessment that the U.S. had left a dangerous power vacuum in the wake of its withdrawal from Afghanistan in the early 1990s, but insisted that his candidate would provide much needed relief to U.S. forces serving in Afghanistan by significantly boosting troop levels and encouraging NATO to share more of the combat burden.  Governor Huckabee’s policy would aim to leave the “Cold War intelligence gathering mentality” behind, improve human intelligence, and infiltrate armed groups hostile to the U.S. “Governor Huckabee knows that a micro group can cause maximum harm,” he said. Senator Hutchinson insisted that his candidate would nurture forces of moderation in the region and work with governments in the region to balance “promoting democracy and ensuring stability.” He stressed that the U.S. must negotiate a way to operate independently in Pakistan’s FATA area, while continuing to work closely with President Pervez Musharraf. Senator Hitchinson criticized President Musharraf for weakening moderates and strengthening extremists. “If Al Qaeda attacks us tomorrow, that attack will likely be post-marked Pakistan,” he said. 

Mr. Denis McDonough, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and former Foreign Policy Adviser for Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, spoke on the behalf of Senator Barack Obama’s campaign. Mr. McDonough cited the rising numbers of suicide bombings and IEDs as proof that timely and appropriate U.S. reengagement was necessary. He criticized the Bush Administration for diverting resources from Afghanistan in the run-up to the Iraq invasion and disputed Col. McFarlane’s plan to engage non-governmental actors. “We owe it to the central government to extend their writ rather than search for alternative sources of security and power,” he said. Mr. McDonough explained that Senator Obama has called for a dramatic U.S. military increase of two brigades and a corresponding $1 billion increase of aid to Afghanistan as a, “down payment in the fight against extremism.” Mr. McDonough insisted that a more robust U.S. commitment to Afghanistan will encourage other NATO nations to do the same. Mr. McDonough stated that as U.S. President, Barack Obama would pressure Pakistan to “control their border more aggressively.” He noted that Senator Obama has called for increased economic development in Pakistan and greater transparency and accountability for U.S. assistance.

The Afghanistan Advocacy Group (AAG) was founded in 2007 to advance the dialogue between concerned citizens and U.S. and Afghan policymakers on Afghanistan. The AAG organizes events, meetings, and grassroots campaigns to provide constructive recommendations on programs and reforms needed to achieve stability and economic and social development in Afghanistan. AAG is currently composing a  policy brief, which will be shared with committees on Capitol Hill that focus on Foreign Affairs, Appropriations, and Armed Services.  Roundtables at think tanks in major cities and a follow-on event inviting the Republic and Democratic nominees for President at a larger National Press Club forum are highlights of its other planned activities for 2008.

For more information about AAG or the full audio transcript for the event, please email [email protected]


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