CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said that the Democratic Party needs to make a speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan a major priority, criticizing the war effort's support for a "corrupt" regime.
Merkley's comments came in an interview with The Huffington Post during the Democratic National Convention, where most public speakers have avoided mentioning Afghanistan. Although there is deep unrest with the ongoing war among both the party's progressive base and many conservatives, President Barack Obama has continued an aggressive campaign in Afghanistan, making many Democrats wary of raising the issue during the convention.
Merkley said Obama has responded to pressure from the war's critics, including Merkley himself, speeding up a timetable for withdrawing troops from the troubled region after Democrats pressed him on the issue. The war in Afghanistan has lasted more than a decade.
The government that the United States is attempting to support in Afghanistan is corrupt, Merkley said, commenting on his own visit to the region. In meetings with local civil society leaders, Merkley said leaders repeatedly urged the U.S. to cut funding to the Afghanistan government, arguing that every level of the public sector -- from President Hamid Karzai down even to teachers -- is corrupt.
The western idea of a government that serves the public is simply not the reality in Afghanistan, Merkley said. Rather, the Afghanistan government exploits the public, with officials performing their duties largely in the service of corrupt quid pro quo arrangements. Even teachers are paid for grades, Merkley said.
Merkley told HuffPost that a quick end to the war in Afghanistan was critical not only for the Afghan people, but for the American economy, which is spending vast resources to continue the campaign with limited results.
Watch Merkley's comments in the video above.