Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Nominees for Ambassadors to Iraq and Afghanistan testify before the Senate

This morning, in a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ryan C. Crocker and William B. Wood testified in regards to their nominations as Ambassador to the Republic of Iraq and Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, respectively. Senator John Kerry from Massachusetts, who presided over the hearing, opened by discussing how the wars in both nations are “vital to American national interest.” The war in Iraq, which needs a political, rather than military solution, Kerry said, has disastrous consequences which have made the U.S. less safe, the Middle East more volatile and relations between the U.S. and Iran touchier. Afghanistan, Kerry continued, has reached a critical juncture where corruption and income disparity, among other concerns, have taken their toll.

Wood, has more than 30 years experience in the foreign service, and has served as Ambassador to Colombia since July 2003. As Ambassador, Wood said his focus would be on finding the right combination of security and law enforcement with humanitarian assistance and aid- continuing with current strategy. He also noted that the proposed budget includes $10.6 billion to aid Afghanistan over the next two years. Two billion is to be used for economic reconstruction and aid, with special efforts aimed at the poorer southern region. The remainder will be spent on the police and security sectors.

In response to Senator Lugar’s concern about the fourth attempt at Afghan police reform (twice by the Germans and once by the U.S.), Wood addressed the issue as one of fundamental importance. If a community does not trust the police, Wood said, the police are seen instead as an internal repressive force.

To fight the drug trade, Wood said he would consult politicians both in and outside Afghanistan. For this, he believes his experience in Colombia will be useful. The flowers that contain the poppy seeds used to produce opium are easier to kill than the weeds used to produce coca. Additionally the Afghan flower has a shorter growing season. Further expanding on the differences, Wood said, “Colombian drugs represent a World Trade Tower tragedy in the U.S. every year,” referring to the number of Colombian cocaine-overdoses in the U.S. Afghanistan, on the other hand, illicitly exports only 10% of its opium supply to the U.S. These facts lead Wood to believe that the industry can be dealt with, but do not cheapen the importance of the task, commenting, “Destroying the drug trade is critical to achieving our [political, security, and humanitarian] goals.”

Crocker, has more than 35 years experience in the foreign service, and has served as Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan since November 2004. Crocker began his address by stating that the average Iraqi does not believe that the Iraqi government or the coalition forces have brought security to the country. Though he agrees with Senator Kerry that the core of the problem and its solution is political, Crocker stated that “violence dominates the political discourse.”

When asked by Senator Feingold whether Crocker believes that an increase in the number of U.S. troops sent to Iraq will help increase security against sectarian violence, Crocker responded that “our role in support is crucial” since the Iraqi police force is not ready to independently handle the violence. Crocker stressed, however, that the most important aspect is the commitment of the Iraqi forces. The five brigade increase will play a critical supporting role since the mission is different from those of the past, Crocker said, but the Iraqi government has to be held accountable for their responsibility in reducing sectarian violence.

In addition to “dampening down on violence,” Crocker said that his other priorities as Ambassador would include economic, political and social reforms, such as reforming the de-Baathification process and the constitution. Additionally, he would emphasize a regional dynamic, including Iraq’s neighbors who serve as a counterweight to Iran’s role in the conflict.

Crocker closed his initial address to the Senate committee by stating, “Failure would feed forces of terror and extremism well beyond Iraq’s borders. We would all pay the price.”

The Senate will not vote on Ambassador Crock and Ambassador Wood’s nominations until they return from a week long recess.


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