Rep. McGovern Against Timeline, More Troops

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) has been opposed to increasing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He says, "Sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan will make it 30,000 times harder to get out of this mess." McGovern talks with Steve Inskeep and Renee Montagne about the situation in Afghanistan.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

So those are the Republicans, some of them anyway. And now we'll hear from a Democrat who has spoken out against sending more troops to Afghanistan. He is Congressman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts.

Congressman, welcome to the program.

Representative JIM MCGOVERN (Democrat, Massachusetts): Thank you.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about that withdrawal date that we just heard Republicans discussing. The president said that although he is going to send 30,000 more troops, which you oppose, that he will, quote, �begin to reduce our combat troops in the summer of 2011.� Does that ease your concern?

Rep. MCGOVERN: Not really. I mean, first, I commend the president for thinking long and hard about the issue, and he deliberated on this, which is something that the previous administration didn't do when it went to war. But I think he came to the wrong conclusion. And the ending date that he proposed last night was really not an ending date, it was the beginning of a troop withdrawal process.

INSKEEP: Meaning it could take years more.

Rep. MCGOVERN: It could take years and years more. So it's really not necessarily an end to the war. And so I, I look forward to hearing the president flesh out some of the details, you know, in the coming days.

INSKEEP: Well, why - let's get a basic thing on the record here. Why are you against sending more troops at all to Afghanistan?

Rep. MCGOVERN: Well, because I think sending 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan will make it 30,000 times more harder for us to get out of this mess. This war's been going on for eight years. And we have a government over there led by Mr. Karzai that is corrupt and incompetent. I don't want to put any more American men and women's lives at risk defending a government that is corrupt and incompetent.

INSKEEP: Is there a case to be made that, although the war has been going on for eight years, the United States hasn't really tried until very recently?

Rep. McGOVERN: Well, we have spent countless billions of dollars in Afghanistan over the last eight years. We have lost many men and women in our armed forces. Countless numbers have been wounded. We have been trying to train their police, train their military. We have dumped a ton of money into the situation and what we have to show for it is a government that fixes the election. Karzai cheated in the last election. Nobody questions that. In a country that's not used to a centralized government, the centralized government that we're now promoting is corrupt and incompetent. I think that's not a recipe for success.

INSKEEP: Renee Montagne is in listening as well.

MONTAGNE: And Congressman McGovern, though this president that is Karzai has not had much pressure put on him to clean up his government over the last seven years, there is enormous pressure being put on him now and, you know, troops being sent in to in theory help him give him the space to do that. Do you not believe he has any possibility of changing?

Rep. McGOVERN: Well, what's the pressure? I mean he has done away with this for eight years. We just had an election that the U.S. made a big deal about and by conservative estimates, 30 percent of his votes was fraudulent. He's getting more money. Troops are going to continue to flow in there, now 30,000 more to defend him. You know, what price is he paying? I mean he has gotten everything he wants. Look, if you win elections by cheating, if that's the winning strategy, you'll do it again. If you get away with corruption and, you know, why not continue it? He has gotten away with this for a very very long time. I have no confidence that this government is going to change.

MONTAGNE: President Obama argued last night that the U.S. national interest is at stake here. Afghanistan is a safe haven, would be more of one if the troops, western troops pulled out, its stability affects the stability of Pakistan next door, which is a nuclear armed nation. What's wrong with that argument?

Rep. McGOVERN: Well, what's wrong with the argument is that according to our own generals, at most there's less than 100 al-Qaida members in Afghanistan. Do we really need 100,000 American troops to go after 100 al-Qaida members.

MONTAGNE: Well, the idea of course is that there may be a 100 now but there'll be many, many more if that country is taken over by the Taliban.

Rep. McGOVERN: Well, here's the one thing. Afghanistan has not been the only place where al-Qaida has sanctuary. We can go to Yemen, Somalia. I mean we go onto, you know, dozens of other countries, are we going to send troops there as well? Look, I'm not saying that we should abandon the Afghan people. They had a rough time over the years with various invaders. The fact of the matter is, I think we can have a committed development program, one that's sustainable, one that represents what the Afghan people want without enlarging our military footprint. I think enlarging the U.S. military footprint there will be used as a recruiting tool by the Taliban to recruit more people into their forces and will be counter-productive. I don't see this as a way to calm things in Afghanistan, nor do I see this as an effective way to go after al-Qaida.

INSKEEP: We just got 10 seconds or so. But are you saying, you would rather keep the troops there who are there and enlarge civilian aid.

Rep. McGOVERN: I would - I'm in favor of enlarging civilian aid, though what I'm in favor for is a flexible withdrawal strategy like the one that Senator Russ Feingold talked about. We need to figure out a way to extricate ourselves militarily from this mess.

INSKEEP: Okay.

Rep. McGOVERN: Any more troops I think would be a mistake.

INSKEEP: Congressman, thanks very much.

Rep. McGOVERN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Jim McGovern is a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts responding to President Obama's speech last night.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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