‘We are bombing a sovereign country. Where do we get the authority to do that? Did the Pakistani government give us written permission? Did the Congress give us written permission to expand the war and start bombing in Pakistan?’—AP/File
WASHINGTON: The House Foreign Affairs Committee of the US Congress heard an unusual speech from a Republican lawmaker who described US drone attacks as the bombing of a sovereign country and questioned America’s right to do so.
US special envoy Richard Holbrooke disagreed with this description of America’s military operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan and reminded Congressman Ronald Ernest Paul that US troops were there because people living in that region had invaded their homeland on Sept. 11, 2001.
But the explanation came only after Rep. Paul had completed his speech, urging policy makers in Washington to review the US foreign policies which were causing worldwide resentments against the United States.
‘We are bombing a sovereign country. Where do we get the authority to do that? Did the Pakistani government give us written permission? Did the Congress give us written permission to expand the war and start bombing in Pakistan?’ asked the US lawmaker.
‘Why do we as a Congress and as a people and as our representatives within the executive branch just so casually and carelessly expand the war and say, ‘Well, today we have to do this; we’ll worry about tomorrow.’
Mr Paul is an American physician and Republican Congressman from Texas, who gained widespread attention during his unsuccessful bid for the 2008 Republican Party presidential nomination. During the campaign he attracted an enthusiastic following which made use of the Internet and social networking to establish a grassroots campaign despite lack of traditional organization or media attention.
Rep. Paul wasted little time in formalities when the committee’s chairman, Congressman Howard Berman, invited him to speak.
After thanking the chairman and welcoming Ambassador Holbrooke, the lawmaker went straight to the question that seemed to be bothering him.
‘The main concern I have is I was hoping to see maybe a change in our foreign policy from the last administration, but, of course, we see just more of the same — more nation-building, more policing of the world, more involvement,’ he said.
‘And it just seems like we never learn from our past mistakes. We don’t learn from what kind of trouble the Soviets got into, and yet we continue to do the same thing.’
Referring to Mr Holbrooke’s earlier statement before the committee, Rep. Paul reminded him that he too had set ‘a grandiose goal.’
‘We want to work for a vibrant, modern democracy. Wow, what a dream. But think of how we’re doing this. I mean, we label everybody that opposes what we’re doing, we call them Taliban,’ he said.
While the US fought this war, ‘all of a sudden … many, many thousands of Pashtuns that are right smack in the middle, getting killed by our bombs, and then we wonder why they object to our policies over there.’
The bombing of this area, Mr Paul said, made him believe that the US was there for the long haul. ‘It’s going to cost a lot of money and it’s going to cost a lot of lives.’
The US lawmaker said that if the members of Congress had ever realized what Iraq would end up costing America in the number of deaths, in the number of dollars, ‘now trillion dollars,’ they would have been a little more hesitant to approve it.
‘They admit that now – ‘Well, maybe we shouldn’t have.’ But who knows what this is going to end up costing in terms of lives?’ he asked, reminding other lawmakers that the odds of the US policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan working were very slim. ‘This is what my great concern is,’ he added.
Congressman Paul then explained Pakistan’s recent history to other lawmakers, recalling that in 1999 the country had an elected prime minister who was toppled by the military. ‘And (Gen.) Musharraf comes in and we support him.’
Mr Paul then accused the US administration of trying to engineer yet another change in Pakistan, a charge Mr Holbrooke vehemently denied.
‘So now it’s said that we have relationships with Sharif, which everybody knows exactly what that means. It means that we’re involved in their elections. That’s the way that we’ve done it for so many years,’ said the congressman.
‘But, you know, the Pakistani papers report it as ‘US taps Sharif to be the next Pakistani prime minister.’ Now, whether or not we literally can do that — I think we can have a lot of influence — that’s what they believe in.’
He then asked: ‘How do you win the hearts and minds of these people if we’re seen as invaders and occupiers? And here we are, just doing nothing more than expanding our role in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. I don’t see any end to it.’
Addressing Mr Holbrooke, the US lawmaker said he had several specific concerns about the current situation in Pakistan.
‘It has to do with Pashtuns that have been killed by our bombs. What about our national debt? We have $1.8 trillion debt facing us.’
He said that while the administration was currently seeking $3.5 billion to support its efforts in Pakistan, ‘it will turn out to be tens of billions of dollars after this.
‘So I’d like to know where you stand on this, the innocent killing of Pashtuns. Are they all Taliban, or are there some innocent people being killed?’
As Congressman Paul finished, a Pakistani in the audience commented: ‘This American lawmaker has defended Pakistan more eloquently than our ambassador ever has.’
Obviously displeased with the questions the congressman raised, Ambassador Holbrooke said he did not say exactly what Mr Paul imputed to him, but he had thought a long time about the issues raise.
‘And you mentioned Iraq. Afghanistan-Pakistan is not Iraq. The reason we are in this area, notwithstanding its immense difficulties, is because the people in this area attacked our country on September 11th, 2001, and have stated flatly they intend to do it again.’
The militants, he said, not only killed Americans on 9/11 but also killed hundreds of Pakistanis and Afghans and committed gross human rights violations.
‘And therefore, it is not Iraq and it’s not Vietnam, despite the fact that many people say it is. It’s about defending our country,’ he said,
Ambassador Holbrooke said he agreed with the lawmaker that the fight against the extremists was not easy and it was not cheap either.
‘And having seen wars on three continents, having been shot at for my country, I sure don’t feel comfortable in a situation where you ask brave young American men and women to risk their lives and sometimes pay the ultimate sacrifice,’ the ambassador said.
‘However, the president of the United States reviewed everything in regard to this and came to the conclusion … that our goal has to be to defeat al Qaeda. We cannot let them take over an even larger terrain, move into other parts of the world, and then plan what they’re planning,’ he concluded.