Monday, February 04, 2008

The Norm Coleman Challenge :
Walk and chew gum at the same time

Norm Coleman said "We're a great nation and we should be able to, you know, walk and chew gum at the same time. We have to do both right."

That was his assessment after two days of hearings discussing one aspect of the Global War on Terror; but the real question is not whether America can wage war on multiple fronts on the GWOT, but will American leaders promote peace at the same time ?

Last week, Coleman in a lead role along with his Foreign Relations committee received reports from the Afghanistan Study Group [ASG] report sponsored by the Center for the Study of the Presidency (co-chaired by General Jones and Ambassador Pickering), the Atlantic Council report (co-chaired by General Jones) and a paper written by Dr. Harlan Ullman and others, “Winning the Invisible War: An Agricultural Pilot Plan for Afghanistan.”

The Taliban, which two years ago was largely viewed as a defeated movement, has been able to infiltrate and control sizable parts of southern and southeastern Afghanistan, leading to widespread disillusionment among Afghans with the mission.

"The prospect of again losing significant parts of Afghanistan to the forces of Islamic extremists has moved from the improbable to the possible," the ASG study says, warning that Afghanistan could revert to a "failed state."

Further Coleman said, "I think it's an indisputable fact that we have missed opportunities in Afghanistan because of what is happening in Iraq. We cannot afford to fail in Afghanistan. The mission is faltering. "

The ASG report is online and it includes a number of recommendations … one of which is the similar to a recommendation from the Iraq Study Group … namely “ Initiate a regional process to engage Afghanistan’s neighbors including Iran and other potential regional partners in the future sustainable development of Afghanistan.

After the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, Iran's relations with Afghanistan improved, their trade grew and Iran helped build roads and power lines in Afghanistan. Similarly, Iran continues to play a role in Iraq's economy, supplying Iraqis with electricity, household goods and food. Iraqi leaders from the Shiite bloc that are now in power have strong ties with Iran's governing Shiite Persians. Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, stated on Friday that Iran is stronger today because of the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The reality is that engagement with Iran is the best chance for peace … from Iraq to Afghanistan and even to Palestine … Iran is the key. The longer America waits, the more entrenched, demonized and alone we become. If President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has accepted an invitation to visit Baghdad, why won’t the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee pressure the State Department to engage directly with Iran. The nuclear crisis with North Korea was at a standstill until the State Department started direct talks. The Russians are not going to support the US against Iran. The Senate cannot afford to wait until Bush leaves office … and the best ones to lead the charge are the Republicans …. i.e. Norm Coleman.

This plea has been made before and before. It’s time for Coleman to assume leadership not just occupy a chair on the committee. He needs to hold to the pledge that he made when he accepted the responsibilities the he would seek“ an even-handed approach to Middle East peace and an end to terror.”

“Walk and chew gum at the same time” is just the start of our challenges as Chairman Joe Biden lists Afghanistan as number one on his list but quickly includes Pakistan, Darfur, the Balkans, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, HIV-AIDS, non-proliferation and arms control, China, India, Russia, energy security and climate change.

Obviously, the order must mean something. Afghanistan has just been discussed and Pakistan is easy to understand but Durfur? Actually, if you read the news today, it is clear. The Taliban of Chad have moved from its Eastern frontiers have scored a strategic victory not only against the Government of the Chad but to establish Islamist-rule. Militants involved in the Darfur conflict have been attacking villages and towns in eastern Chad. It is estimated that 200,000 refugees from the Darfur region of northwestern Sudan currently claim asylum in eastern Chad. The GWOT is not Iraq but all over the Middle East and Africa. Overemphasis that Iraq may become a safe haven is shortsighted propaganda ... al Qaeda and the Taliban are spreading in other areas.

Coleman has an opportunity to do his job on the Foreign Relations Committee or look at a legacy of failure. Thus far his performance has been disappointing. While other Republicans on the Foreign Relations committee have spoken out, Coleman has been Blinded-by-Bush in his support for John Bolton, his attacks on the UN mission, and his failure to investigate fraud and abuse. The Defense Contract Audit Agency has reported that $10 billion of about $57 billion in contracts for services and reconstruction in Iraq "is either questionable or cannot be supported because of a lack of contractor information needed to assess costs."

Coleman wants to be re-elected.
Although I am critical of his performance, I am one independent voter who still has an open mind.
His best course for re-election is better performance … and it’s now or never time.
Don't do it to be re-elected, do it for the 28,000 troops that are assigned to Afghanistan and the 482 soldiers that have been killed.

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