Yesterday American leaders, including the president, spoke out to condemn a Florida group's plans to burn the Quran. They stressed, and counter-terrorism experts including the FBI agree, that this fringe group's actions present serious national security concerns. Referring to riots and protests in his area of command, General David Petraeus said this past weekend, it "could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan." The FBI predicts real or threatened reprisals "with high confidence." The best thing for America is that unrepresentative fringe radicals not receive the attention they so desperately seek at the expense of the country's well-being - and that this overheated, political discourse be rejected by all sides going forward.
Yesterday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to confirm General David Petraeus as the new commander for Afghanistan saw a stark contrast between conservatives and progressives on how best to deal with America's war effort. Conservatives sought over and over to make the hearing a referendum on the July 2011 commencement of a conditions based transition out of Afghanistan. Despite the General's explicit support for the date, conservatives tried to depict daylight between Petraeus and the Administration, even after it was clear that there was none. In contrast, Senate progressives used their oversight rule effectively, pressing the general on the recent challenges encountered by the U.S. and its international partners in Afghanistan, including lagging efforts at standing up the Afghan security forces, as well as ongoing difficulties in creating an effective and accountable Afghan government.
Tomorrow, the Senate Armed Services Committee is holding a closed door hearing on progress toward the closure of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, with Special Envoy for Guantanamo Bay Ambassador Daniel Fried and senior officials from the Departments of Defense, Justice, and the intelligence community. Closing the prison, which has become a recruiting tool for terrorists worldwide, is part of the Administration's broader counterterrorism strategy.
This past weekend, two of America’s foremost experts on defense and security issues came out in full support of the President’s plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. General Petraeus, CENTCOM commander, said that the detention center hurts our ability to maintain the moral high ground, harms our counterinsurgency efforts and serves as a major terrorist recruiting tool. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a career intelligence and defense official who has dealt with imprisoning terrorists for 20 years, said this past Monday that the U.S. has imprisoned terrorist suspects many times and conservative opposition amounted to “fear mongering.” The statements from Petraeus and Gates reflect a growing consensus among former senior officials, military officers, and national experts that Guantanamo must be closed. Yet conservatives continue political attacks that argue that closing Guantanamo will bring terrorists into our backyard and that its symbolic damage to America’s image is irrelevant.
The situation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region continues to deteriorate, with news in the last week of more attacks on American and NATO supply routes from Pakistan and the Kyrgyz government’s decision to close a key American air base. It is critical that we have a clear strategy for Afghanistan that includes measureable and realistic objectives, and President Obama’s decision to delay the announcement of additional troops into Afghanistan until we have a focused strategy is the right approach.
One of the major fault lines in this election has been over the willingness to talk to our adversaries. Sen. Obama has stated he is prepared to diplomatically engage rogue regimes, while Sen. McCain has insisted on setting “pre-conditions” before any talks are able to occur. Peace is made through negotiations.
Throughout this campaign Senator McCain has failed to lay out concrete plans on some of the most important national security issues before the U.S. McCain has either adopted an incoherent approach, such as with Iran, where he will attack his opponent’s position in one sentence and then agree with it in the next, or replaced policy proposals with empty platitudes about “not surrendering” and achieving “victory” in reference to Iraq and Afghanistan.