With reports that the Obama Administration will unveil its Afghanistan strategy as early as Friday — and one senior Senate staffer telling me that Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, will hold a Senators-only briefing on Afghanistan/Pakistan today — it was good timing that yesterday the Congressional Progressive Caucus kicked-off its six-part forum, Afghanistan: A Road Map for Progress.
In his opening remarks, Caucus Co-Chair Raul Grijalva described the significance of this forum: “We felt that it’s very important for staff, community organizations, and Members of Congress to begin to have this vital discussion on Afghanistan and Western Pakistan and the policy direction in which we’re moving… One of the best ways [to do this] is to listen and allow ourselves to get information from very learned individuals….”
One of the “learned individuals” on yesterday’s panel — which focused on a “Historic Perspective on Afghanistan, its People and their Cultures” — was Dr. William Polk, a former history professor and State Department Middle East expert who served in the Kennedy Administration. Polk traced his personal involvement with Afghanistan back to 1962 when he took a 2000-mile jeep trip around the country. He was on assignment to speak with the provincial governors and tribal chiefs about a series of programs under the Eisenhower Administration that had nearly all resulted in “disastrous failure.” Polk said during the trip he “fell in love with” the country.
Polk described the population as living in “deep valleys and on high plateaus scattered along one of the world’s biggest mountain ranges…. [A country] about the size of Colorado and New Mexico.” He said Afghans are diverse, speaking many languages, “divided in many respects but united by one belief: they don’t want foreigners — the British, the Russians or the Americans — on their land.” He also said that “Afghanistan is the perfect example of the land of the Hatfields and the McCoys. Every person is armed, every person is involved in protecting his local turf.”
Through his intimate familiarity with Afghanistan, experience with Vietnam during the Kennedy Administration, and research on the history of insurgency and counter-insurgency, Polk has concluded that “we shouldn’t be there at all.”