WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s choice for U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan insisted on Wednesday that the United States must continue its multibillion-dollar investment to achieve a “good enough” government in Kabul to prevent the country from backsliding into a sanctuary for terrorists.
Ryan Crocker was challenged repeatedly by senators who questioned a costly war and nation-building that a fresh congressional report found has had limited success despite nearly $19 billion in aid over a decade, more than the United States has spent in any other country.
“Our current commitment, in troops and dollars, is neither proportional to our interests nor sustainable,” said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Looming large as senators pressed Crocker to state an Afghanistan endgame was Obama’s upcoming decision on how many of the 100,000 American troops to withdraw from Afghanistan in July.
On a glide path to Senate confirmation, Crocker said the United States cannot afford to abandon Afghanistan, where the realistic goal is a relatively stable government – “governance that is good enough to ensure that the country doesn’t degenerate back into a safe haven for al-Qaida,” Crocker told the panel.
He recalled Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ warning that the United States walked away from Afghanistan in 1989 with disastrous consequences.
“We cannot afford to do so again,” said Crocker, who argued progress is hard, “but hard does not mean hopeless.”
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., summed up the frustration of lawmakers.
“If we’re not going to walk away, how long are we going to stay and at what level?” Coons asked.
Crocker said bluntly, “I just don’t know the answer now.”
The career diplomat pointed to the upcoming transfer of control of seven provinces and districts to Afghan authority as a significant step.