12:00 pm. Representative McCollum's (MN-04) speech today is entitled, "American Foreign Policy: A Focus On Afghanistan." McCollum is a new member to the House Appropriations Committee and is the Senior Democratic Whip. McCollum just returned from a visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
12:10 pm. Congressmen from both sides of the aisle joined McCollum on her trip. Regarding Pakistan, McCollum noted the general concern that that country is not doing enough on the border with Afghanistan, referring to General Musharraf as a 'dictator' (Musharraf ascended to power in a military coup years ago).
12:15 pm. McCollum noted divisions within the Pakistan military between junior and senior officials, as well as Musharraf's dual role as military and civilian leader. McCollum noted Pakistan is moving towards a democracy, but shifts back and forth between more democratic and more military control like a pendulum.
12:20 pm. McCollum summed up Pakistan thusly: economically the nation is doing well, but the country is a hotbed for insurgency. Musharraf has not clamped down on the extremists, and the Congresswoman offered a number of explanations why. McCollum believes the Taliban are alive and well in Pakistan. She claims that the Taliban are preaching an extreme form of Islam in the capitol of Pakistan, building bombs, and running schools for suicide bombers. McCollum demonstrated the (moderate) attire she wore in Pakistan, but claims if she walked in the wrong part of the capitol city she would be in fear of having acid thrown on her by religious extremists.
12:25 pm. McCollum then moved on to discuss Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, McCollum claims citizens welcome the training of police and working in partership with the coalition forces. McCollum has visited Iraq twice and says that is not the case there -- they just want Americans out immediately.
12:30 pm. McCollum says the U.S. has lost its focus in Afghanistan. She says more aid money is needed for this country who want to real control of their own destiny. She says Iraq is draining U.S. resources to the point that the U.S. might be missing this once in a lifetime opportunity to tell the Afghan people we (and the NATO) forces will lead you to success and a sustainable, peaceful government. She stresses we must live up to our promises, and, if we don't, Afghanistan will revert back to what it was -- isolated and a breeding ground for terrorists.
12:35 pm. McCollum's speech lasted about a half hour; whether or not one agrees with her assessment of Iraq, the Congresswoman made a very persuasive argument about the need for an expanded U.S. role in Afghanistan. She engaged the audience, rarely speaking from notes, and peppering her speech with personal anecdotes. The Congresswoman was a natural at the podium.
12:40 pm. McCollum noted the amount of U.S. casualties in Iraq is nearly 10 times that of Afghanistan. Of course - there are also about 6 to 7 times as many U.S. soldiers in Iraq. McCollum says part of this is due to the fact that the Afghan army is shoulder to shoulder with the U.S., British, and Canadian armies.
12:45 pm. McCollum says she was "embarrased" by the lack of aid to Afghanistan. When asked about what the U.S. should do about the booming drug trade in the country, the Congresswoman said the U.S. should do more to give farmers agricultural aid -- alternatives to the poppy fields that are funding terrorists. It appears President Bush's decision to not have the air force destroy these poppy fields was a role of the dice that backfired.
12:50 pm. McCollum says the security is not yet in place in Afghanistan to allow licensing to drug 'farmers' to grow poppies for harvesting for medical use of the drugs. McCollum also gave a sobering view on the human rights situation in Afghanistan - stating women are frequently viewed as property.
12:55 pm. When asked if she was able to go shopping without heavy security, McCollum joked that she didn't go to the region to go shopping, but that, yes, there was fairly heavy security for her when visiting both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
1:00 pm. The McCollum talk ended after an hour -- the Congresswoman represented herself and her case for heavier U.S. involvement in Afghanistan quite well. Now that Democrats are in control of Congress - campaigning in Election 2006 in part on shifting resources and our foreign policy focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, it remains to be seen if McCollum's party takes action on her recommendations.