Two major Democratic voices on foreign policy warned on Tuesday that the United States was perilously ignoring a growing threat as it remained bogged down militarily in Iraq.
Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, Sens. Joseph Biden and John Kerry labeled Afghanistan and Pakistan respectively the "forgotten war" and the "neglected frontier," warning that the border between the two nations was a nexus of security threats where U.S. neglect was seeding greater terrorist activity.
"Afghanistan is slipping toward failure because it has never been a priority and it has not become one," said Biden. "Afghanistan's fate is tied to Pakistan's future. The border between them is just a line in the map. Extremists flow back and forth every day.... We have to bring the war in Iraq to a reasonable conclusion because it is quite frankly sapping all our resources and all our attention."
Added Kerry: "These two countries each with built-in instability are each capable of destabilizing the other... They are a major challenge that will require the very best of our foreign policy over the next months. We need to get both right."
The remarks of Biden, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Kerry, who chairs the Near East and South Asia Subcommittee, came following their recent trip to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey. Along with Sen. Chuck Hagel, they were on hand to observe elections in Pakistan, in which President Pervez Musharraf's ruling party suffered a resounding defeat. The results, said Kerry, were an important indication of democratic viability in Pakistani society, but one that should be viewed with realism.
"We have seen elections like this before," said Kerry. "I can think very quickly to Lebanon and the West Bank. We have seen elections where nothing happens after the fact... We made certain that what we heard from President Musharraf, that his commitment to help Pakistan return to civilian rule remains genuine. An election alone does not make for real democracy, let alone a functioning government."
While Pakistan's election made up a fair portion of the Kerry-Biden debriefing, the heaviest focus was on the failures of U.S. policy in that region. Both senators took swipes at the Bush administration for tying America's military resources down to Iraq while trouble brewed next door. Biden noted that yearly U.S. aid to Pakistan only approaches what the country spends in roughly three weeks in the war in Iraq. Afghanistan, he added, has been promised far more than Bush administration has delivered.
"The President promised a Marshall plan," said the Delaware Democrat. "It has been nothing approaching that."
Indeed, an underlying theme of the roughly half hour address was that until America divested its military resources in Iraq little could change in the more strategically significant regions of the Middle East. Neither Senator went so far as to declare that little could get done (in regards to Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan) until another administration took office. But the implication was an undertone throughout much of the question and answer session.
"Sen. [Barack] Obama has a very clear vision as does Sen. [Hillary] Clinton," said Kerry, an Obama supporter. "They understand that Iraq requires a political solution and enormous lift diplomatically. They attempt to provide that. I'm absolutely confident that once sworn in they will engage in the kind of diplomacy that will restore America's leverage [in the world community]."
Watch Senator Biden discuss his trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Council on Foreign Relations.