A New Approach for Afghanistan

As a candidate for Senate in Massachusetts, I've argued that we need a new politics, a new agenda and a fundamentally new approach for how we solve our problems.

I've said that we need Big Citizenship, instead of the tired debate between Big Government vs. Big Business.

Throughout the campaign, I've offered new ideas and a fresh approach. Yesterday, I gave a speech outlining a new approach for Afghanistan. You can read the full speech at I've taken a short excerpt from that speech that summarizes my new approach:

We went to Afghanistan to destroy the Al Qaeda terrorists who attacked our homeland on 9/11.

It was the right war, at the right time, and our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines did a remarkable job.

As of a year ago, the director of the CIA reported we had effectively removed the last remnants of Al Qaeda from Afghanistan.

He highlighted the need to pursue them in other countries, including Pakistan.

But, over time, our commitment had changed, and our brave sons and daughters, who put their lives on the line to defend our freedom against the terrorists, were asked to fight a new war -- a much harder and longer war, not against Al Qaeda, but against the Taliban and other Afghan insurgents.

We've lost our way, strayed from our mission, and now we are asking our troops to build a nation in a place that is laden with corruption and has never had a strong central government.

This isn't in our interest as a nation, and it's not fair to our troops.

General McChrystal has developed a plan to fight a counterinsurgency campaign, but President Obama needs to decide if a counter insurgency campaign is really in our national interest.

Now, we all know the Administration is deeply involved in reviewing policy, strategy and troop levels for Afghanistan.

And I appreciate the President is taking his time to decide what will likely be the most momentous decision of his presidency. Today, the Administration is considering a menu of options.

Several involve increasing our presence in Afghanistan by 20,000 to 40,000 more troops in an attempt to bolster a counter insurgency strategy. Recently, it's been reported that the President is looking for another option. That he's looking for "off ramps" and an exit strategy.

As the President reviews the options, I offer a ten point plan for how we should proceed in Afghanistan to add to the discussion.

First, we should go back to our original mission of destroying Al Qaeda and ensuring that Afghanistan not become a haven for terrorists.

Thus, we do not need to send more troops to Afghanistan but can draw down troops and bring them home.

Second, we should set a timetable for transferring counter insurgency operations from American and International forces to the Afghan government.

We need to send a clear message to the Karzai government that we will not be there indefinitely and fight their battles for them. Otherwise, Karzai has no incentive to reform or engage with his opposition.

And as we transfer counter insurgency operations from our forces to the Afghan government, we need to focus more of our effort on training the Afghan army and police and providing security for the trainers and trainees. And we must insist on the quality and integrity of those we train, more than just the numbers. Currently, too many are dropping out and there is too much corruption among the Afghan police.

We also need to send a clear message to the Afghan people, who have been suffering with more than thirty years of war, that we do not plan to be in their country indefinitely.

And ultimately, this is their fight.

Third, we should encourage the opposition led by Abdullah Abdullah and others to make their voices heard and keep the pressure on the Karzai government from within.

Fourth, we must insist that Karzai take clear and demonstrable action to weed out corrupt officials in his government and replace them with people of integrity and competence.

He must begin with his brother, who is involved with the Opium trade and we must immediately remove him from the CIA payroll. I am not confident at all that Karzai will reform, but we must insist on it as a condition of our continuing engagement.

Fifth, as we push Karzai to allow for an opposition to exist as does any good democracy, we must also push the Karzai government toward negotiating with some of the elements known too broadly as "The Taliban."

We have to take the excellent advice of General Petraeus and be very sophisticated about deciphering who are the "reconcilables" and who are the "unreconcilables" in Afghanistan.

Those who want to reconcile and be part of the future of an Afghanistan with a representative government should be brought into the fold.

Those who don't must be defeated.

But we have to be very smart about discerning between the two.

A smaller, but very well-trained, well-informed number of counter-terrorism troops can do that. And they can do that more effectively in smaller numbers than they can with a surge of troops that may further alienate the population.

Sixth, rather than imposing a western style democracy on Afghanistan, we need to be more cognizant of Afghan traditions and encourage their own representative democratic tradition, the Afghan tribal, bottom-up system of the Loya Jirga grand council.

Seventh, we need to support economic development. That means building more roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and micro-enterprise as an alternative to selling opium.

It is in our national interest to prevent Afghanistan from falling prey to a terrorist ideology that exploits chaos and economic hardship.

To do this, we should fully fund and rapidly develop the new Civilian Response Corps, an effort led by Secretary of State Clinton, coordinating eight cabinet departments and government agencies.

We need to enlist brave, idealistic American civilians who can bring their skills to this struggle. We need accountants and lawyers who can help to review contracts and work against rampant corruption thwarting the success of the mission. We need people willing to step forward to ensure our aid to this country is going to the projects for which it is intended.

Eighth, we need to focus on destroying Al Qaeda globally by expanding our use of intelligence, special forces and drone attacks.

And we should explore creating a New International Counter Terrorism Organization, a 21st century version of NATO for counter terrorism, that will more rapidly share intelligence and coordinate measures among our strategic allies and partners to prevent future terrorist attacks on all of us.

This is a strategy that has begun to take shape recently with noticeable success. There have been surgical strikes on specific targets in Somalia, Yemen and Indonesia. We need to build on these successes and continue in that direction of a smart, stealth form of counter terrorism.

Ninth, as we draw down our commitment in Afghanistan, we need to refocus our efforts in Pakistan and do everything we can to support the new democracy there. We're spending $43 billion a year in Afghanistan and only $2 billion in Pakistan -- and yet Al Qaeda is in Pakistan and Pakistan has nuclear weapons.

We should explore a new "Marshall Plan" for both Pakistan and Afghanistan that will send a message that we are committed for the long haul to provide aid that will promote stability and development in both of these countries.

But that aid should be tied to reform and progress on the ground.

Tenth, we need to support our veterans and military families, who are carrying an extraordinary burden because of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We must ensure mandatory full funding for the Veterans administration and provide every single veteran with the resources they need once they get home.

And each of us must thank them and honor them deeply for their service to our country.

All told, this is a new approach. Not simply a military strategy but a comprehensive foreign policy strategy.

Not counter insurgency and nation building in Afghanistan but ensuring Afghanistan does not become a haven for terrorists and fighting terrorism globally.

Not a troop build up but ultimately a force draw down in Afghanistan and setting a time table for transferring counter insurgency operations over to the Afghan government.

Not simply and simplistically asserting we must bring our troops home, but providing a plan to do so, given complex realities.

The choices in Afghanistan are not easy. But with the right strategy, we can redefine our mission, set a timetable for transferring counter insurgency operations to the Afghan government, bring our troops home, and succeed in our fight against Al Qaeda.

You can read the full speech at