At Banking Committee hearing, Senator Reverend Warnock questioned foreign policy and international law experts on the importance of Congress asserting its duty to provide oversight on U.S. military actions
Senator Reverend Warnock: “It’s wonderful to talk about this on the first hearing on Afghanistan in this Committee 20 years later. But these questions clearly are not centered around August 15, when Kabul fell to the Taliban, but the 7,264 days we had American soldiers on the ground, engaged in war, when many in this committee, frankly, we’re not paying much attention”
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***WATCH FULL VIDEO OF SENATOR WARNOCK’S EXCHANGE HERE***
WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Tuesday, during a Banking Committee hearing on Afghanistan’s future, U.S. Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA) questioned foreign policy and international law experts on the importance of Congress asserting its right to oversight when the United States is engaged in war. Senator Warnock noted that over the 20 years the United States was involved in Afghanistan, the Banking Committee did not convene one hearing to specifically inspect America’s progress in what became America’s longest war.
During his questioning of Mr. Adam Smith, Partner at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and Sue Eckert, Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, Senator Warnock inquired about Congress’ lack of oversight of progress in Afghanistan’s economic development and how the country and Congress can prevent a similar blind spot from developing again in the future.
Watch video HERE and see below a transcript of Senator Warnock’s exchange with Mr. Smith and Ms. Eckert:
Senator Warnock: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you for holding this critically important. Hearing the war in Afghanistan is America’s longest war. And by its conclusion, two decades after it started, we were deploying men and women who weren’t even alive when the conflict started. Although Afghanistan has been mentioned before, mentioned in this committee, in the context of terrorist financing and Iran sanctions. Today is the first time since 2001 that the Senate Banking Committee has held a hearing specifically focused on Afghanistan. And so I’m grateful to Chairman Brown and Ranking Member Toomey for holding this hearing. One of the key components of U.S. strategic failure in the war was an inability to develop reliable and preferable options for Afghans to build an economy that’s not based on illicit drugs or minerals that other foreign powers like China and India seek. Failure was also due to an inability to stem the widespread corruption that crippled the ability of the national government to govern effectively and build trust among the people. We saw that play out at the end, but it was the reality long before August 15. Mr. Smith, and Ms. Eckert, I would like to hear from you regarding this question, recognizing that the U.S. war effort was a whole of government endeavor, not just what’s happening with soldiers on the battlefield, and knowing how critical Afghanistan’s economic viability was to success and failure, what questions should this committee and Congress have been asking over the last 20 years? And what can we learn from this lack of oversight to prevent a similar blind spot from happening again, elsewhere?
Mr. Adam Smith: Thank you, Senator. If what we’re asking is how could we have built a better system in the past 20 years, which I think is really the fundamental sort of question here, I think we can learn a lot from the military, and the failures of the Afghan military, which I understand stemmed, in part, from the U.S. trying to build a military in our image, as opposed to a military that the Afghans could actually sustain on their own. They built sort of structures, but not institutions. And I think that’s true throughout the society. And so we built quite a lot of structures with respect to terrorism, financing, banking systems, payment systems, even in Afghanistan. But my concern is we haven’t built the institutions, we haven’t built with the foundations and with the roots that can be self-sustaining. And so I think that’s the real question. With respect to nation building, I don’t think it’s the word we’re using anymore. But really, the building of societies, the assisting of societies, how do we make sure that we build something that’s sustaining and not something that just has a structure on top of no foundations? So that’s really, I think that’s throughout the system, and not just in the military, but the economic system, the humanitarian system, social system, and otherwise?
Ms. Sue Eckert: Thank you. Thank you very much for the question. And I agree with you that we really do need a serious assessment of the last 20 years of U.S. policy, not the last, two months of US policy visa vis Afghanistan. And in order to do that, I think we really seriously have to look at what we put in and why it went wrong or why it didn’t achieve the goals that we wanted. I do think that Congress through SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction), has done an enormous amount of research to follow what has happened to U.S. programs and international programs that we’ve tried to put in place. But as Adam said, the committee has oversight for a number of these financial programs, sanctions, etc. And it is something that too often I believe the Congress provides a general authority and doesn’t do as much oversight on implementation. There are undoubtedly and very clearly we can see unintended consequences of some of these policies, some of the sanctions etc. So I do think from a systemic perspective, I really do think we need to look forward using the example we’re dealing with right now in terms of the humanitarian and economic crisis. To try to retool our system. So we don’t have to go through these kind of emergency situations of authorizing humanitarian assistance. I think the committee has a big role on reestablishing the exemption that it put in in 1977 in the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which has been routinely waived. So I look forward to the committee undertaking some of these efforts. And thanks very much for your thoughtful question.
Senator Warnock: Well, thank you so much. And it’s wonderful to talk to you about this on the first hearing on Afghanistan in this committee 20 years later. But these questions clearly are not centered around August 15, when Kabul fell to the Taliban, but the 7,264 days we had American soldiers on the ground, engaged in war, when many in this committee, frankly, we’re not paying much attention.