On November 18, 2009, Congressman Ron Paul took part in a 60 minute special order on the House floor about the continuing quagmire in Afghanistan.
Event: House Floor Special Order: A True Bipartisan Effort
Steve Kagen: I believe there is a better way of doing things in America, and I am convinced that by working together, we’re going to be able to find it and to do that in very bipartisan way and I yield to my friend, my colleague, a physician and congressman, Ron Paul.
Ron Paul: I thank the gentleman for yielding, and I want to express my appreciation for you getting this special order on this very important subject. Of course, a lot of people in this country are asking, “What should we do about Afghanistan?” It is a pretty important question. It might one of the most important questions that we’re asking right now, and yet nobody seems to have an answer.
But, you know, I think the difficulty in finding an answer comes sometimes from not having fully understood why we got there. I just can’t imagine this debate that’s going on within our government today, executive branch and the legislative branch and with the people. Can you imagine this going on during the World War II. You know, how many troops should we have? What is our exit strategy? Who is our enemy? How are we going to impose democracy?
It is far removed from what a traditional responsibility is of our government to provide national security. Now, they’ve practically ran out of excuses for why we’re over in Afghanistan. The only one that is left that they seem to cling to, “Oh, we’re there for national security. We want to fight the bad guys over there because we don’t want to fight them over here.” I’ll talk a little bit about that later, but quite frankly, I think that’s a fallacious argument and it actually makes things a lot worse.
But you know, it just bewilders me about how we get trapped into this situation, and I believe that it is because we got ourselves involved too carelessly, too easily, and we don’t follow the Constitution because under the Constitution, you’re supposed to declare the war and know who your enemy is and know when you can declare victory and bring the troops home, and we did that up until through World War II. Since then, that hasn’t been the case.
But I recall a book I read in the 1980s written by Barbara Tuchman, and she wrote a book called “The March of Folly“, and she went back as far as Troy, all the way up through Vietnam and took very special incidents of countries where they were almost obsessed or possessed with the policy even though it was not in their interest and the foolishness and the inability to change course. She died in 1989, but I keep thinking that if she had lived, she would probably write a history of our recent years, “Another March of Folly”.
Just think of what has happened since the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet system collapsed. I mean, it didn’t take us long. Did we have any peace dividends? No. There were arguments for more military spending. We had more responsibilities. We had to go and police the world. So it wasn’t long after that, what we were doing? We’re involved in the Persian Gulf War and then following that, we have decades of bombing in Iraq, which didn’t please the Arabs and the Muslims of the world and certainly the Iraqis, but it had nothing to do with national security. And then, of course, we continued and accelerated our support of the puppet governments in the Middle East, the various governments. In doing so, we actually went to the part of knowing and supporting the governments that we started putting troops on their land and when we had an air base in Saudi Arabia, that was rather offensive.
The people, if you understand the people over there, this is a violation of deeply held religious view. It’s considered their holy land and foreigners, especially military foreigners are seen as infidels. So if you’re looking for a fight or a problem, just put troops on their land. But also, the policy that we’ve had in the Middle East, we have been perceived as being anti-Palestinian. This does not sit well, either.
And since that time, of course, we haven’t backed off one bit. We had the Persian Gulf War and then we had 9/11 and we know that “9/11 changed everything”. We had fifteen individuals from Saudi Arabia, a few from Yemen, and a few from Egypt, but aha, this is excuse that we have to go and get the bad guys. So where are the bad guys? Well, Iraq, of course. First, they figured, “Well, we can’t quite do that. Let’s go into Afghanistan.” Of course, not one single Afghani did anything to it. They said, “Oh, no. Well, the al-Qaeda visited there.
But you know, I just can’t quite accept the fact that the individuals that were flying those airplanes got their training by going to these training camps in Afghanistan doing pushups and being tough and strong. What do they do? Where is planning? The planning was done in Spain and they were accepted there in legal basis. They were done in Germany. They were accepted as… as a matter of fact, they even came into this country with legal visas and I mean, they were accepted by the countries and no, no, we said it’s the Taliban. It’s the people of Afghanistan, never questioning the fact that a few years back, back in 1989, when the Soviets were wrecking the place, we were allied with the people who were friends of Osama bin Laden and we were over there trying to support him, so he then was a freedom fighter. And the hypocrisy of all these and the schizophrenia of it all, they were on again and off again. No wonder we get ourselves into these difficulties and it doesn’t seem to ever leave up.
But you know, the one assessment that was made after Vietnam and I think can apply here is how do we get in and why did we get bog down? And two individuals that were talking about this East and West, Vietnam and United States, they sort of came to the conclusion that we, the Americans, overestimated the ominous power of our military. We could conquer anybody and everybody and we underestimated the tenacity of people who are defending their homeland. It’s sort of like we were defending our homeland in the Revolutionary War and the invaders and the occupiers were the Red Coats. There is a big difference and you can overcome all kinds of obstacles, but we have never learned that and unless we do, I don’t think we can solve our problems.
But indeed, we have to realize that we are not the policeman of the world. We cannot nation build, and presidential candidates on both sides generally tell the people that is what they want and the people say, “Keep the fingers crossed. Hope it’s true.” But then once again, our policies continue down the road and we never seem to have the energy to back off of this, and I emphasize once again that I think we could keep our eye on the target, emphasize what we should be doing if we went to war a lot more cautiously, that if we have an enemy that we have to fight in our national defense, then there is a declaration of war.
Steve Kagen: Will the gentleman yield for a moment?
Ron Paul: I will yield.
Representative Steven Kagen: You know, at the beginning, in the formation of the United States, we had an outside observer come over here, Alexis de Tocqueville, and de Tocqueville observed that with our republic, it would be very difficult to get this country, this nation, to go to war. But once involved in a war, very difficult to stop it, and I think that MO, that picture, that frame is in part what’s happening here. Now, that we are involved in a ground game in other areas of the world, it’s very difficult for our republic to pull back.
Event: House Floor Special Order: A True Bipartisan Effort
Chairman: Mr. Paul.
Ron Paul: I thank you for yielding. I wanted to just make a couple of points in closing. The statement at the beginning of this war was made that it’s different this time. Even though the history is well known about Afghanistan, it’s ancient history, but it’s different this time because we’re different and it’s not going to have the same result. But so far, you know, they haven’t caught Osama bin Laden and we don’t have a national government really. We don’t have really honest elections. We haven’t won the hearts and minds of the people. There is a lot of dissension and it’s a miserable place, so it’s really a total failure. We really learn the costs, the cost of life and limb and money. I mean, it is just a total failure. The thought that we would pursue this and expand it and send more troops just blows my mind and I want to just mention a couple of things I think are bad arguments. One is that we’re involved there. We’ve invested too much and therefore we have to save face because it would look terrible if we had to leave.
But you know, it’s like in medicine. What if we in medicine, we’re doing the wrong things and make the wrong diagnosis. But we keep doing it to prove that we’re right? Or are we going to listen to the patient and to the results.
Steve Kagen: You’d lose your license.
Ron Paul: Yeah, that’s right. But it seems like politicians don’t lose their license and maybe they should and maybe there will be more this year or something. But the other argument they make is if you take a less militant viewpoint, as we all do, that we’re not supportive of the troops. The troops don’t believe that. The troops I talked to, the one Walter talks to, I mean, they know we care about them and they shouldn’t be put in harm’s way unless it’s absolutely necessary. This other argument is, but we got to go over there to kill them because they want to kill us.
Well, like I mentioned before, it wasn’t the Afghans that came over here. By going into their country and killing them, we’re going to create more terrorists and the more people we send, the more terrorists and the more we have to kill. And now, it’s spreading. This is the one I’m worried about in this war. You know, there was one individual, I don’t know his name, but they believed he was in Pakistan. So he was part of the terrorist group, the people who were opposing the occupation. So they sent fifteen cruise missiles, drones, over, looking for him. It took the fifteenth when they killed him, but fourteen landed and there was an estimate made that about 1,000 civilians was killed in this manner. How many more terrorists have we developed under those circumstances?
I do want to have one minute here to read a quote and I’ll yield back. But this quote comes from a Russian general talking to Gorbachev, and Gorbachev went into office in 1985 and this was a year later, and the general was talking to Gorbachev and he says… and this is after…. just think, Gorbachev was in office one year. He had a problem. He was trying to get out. He didn’t get until 1989. But the general says, “Military actions in Afghanistan will soon be seven years old and so Mr. Gorbachev, at a November 1986 Politburo session, “There is no single piece of land in this country which has not been occupied by a Soviet soldier. Nonetheless, the majority of the territory remains in the hands of the rebels.” It reminds of the conversation between Colonel Tou and some nurses after Vietnam and some of our colonels says, “You know, we defeated you in every battle in Vietnam,” and Tou looked at me and says, “Yes, I agree, but it was also irrelevant.” I yield back.
Chairman: Thank you very much and…
(A little time later)
Steve Kagen: Mr. Paul.
Ron Paul: Yes, I would like to just make one more comment as we close this special order. You know, I opened my remarks about talking about Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly” and we are on the same course and I would say it’s time to march home. I’m not for sending any more troops. It’s very clear in my mind. If the job isn’t getting done and we don’t know what we are there for, I would say, it’s time to come home because I fear and it’s been brought up. Congressman McGovern has brought it up and everybody has talked about the finances of this because it is known that all great nations, when they spread themselves to thinly around the world, they go bankrupt and that’s essentially what happened to the Soviet system and they fell apart for economic reasons. So there are trillions of dollars spent in this operation and we’re flat out broke. Two trillion dollar increase in the national debt last year and it just won’t continue. So we may not get our debate on the floor. We may not be persuasive enough, you know, to change this course, but I tell you what, the course will be changed. But let’s hope they accept some of our suggestion because when a nation crumbles for financial reasons, that’s much more dangerous than us taking the tough stand and saying, “It’s time to come home.”
Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Paul.