Those words came from U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC) speaking at the Center for American Progress and describing a 23-year-old soldier whom Jones visited last Monday at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Before he entered the patient’s room, an Army officer cautioned Rep. Jones:”You need to know his mother is in there, too.”
He wasn’t the only wounded soldier Rep. Jones visited that day at Walter Reed. He met three other soldiers, one a 31-year-old Tennessean whose wife stood by his side.
“None of the three soldiers had any legs left above the knees,” Rep. Jones said.”None.”
“How can we take care of our veterans who have given so much for us?”
The day after President Obama told the nation he would withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan over the course of a year, Rep. Jones and U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) addressed a hushed SRO crowd which spilled out of doorways.
What quality of life are our vets going to have if Uncle Sam is broke? Rep. McGovern asked.
Rep. Jones said he had written more than 10,400 letters of condolence to families in his North Carolina district which encompasses Camp LeJeune. He has talked with soldiers who have completed four and five deployments to the Middle East, and they ask him: “‘What is the end point, congressman?'”
“There is no ‘end point,'” Rep. Jones said. “The American people need to join us.”
“Insufficient” is the adjective Rep. McGovern used repeatedly at the discussion to describe the president’s 33,000 number. It’s “a continuation of our policy that we now have rather than a dramatic change.”
Rep. Jones frequently chimed in: “I agree 100% with Jim.”
“What is the plan? No one can really tell you what it means to win,” Rep. McGovern said.
Throughout the discussion Rep. McGovern asked repeatedly: “What are the bench marks? What’s the date?”
Rep. Jones said that despite President Obama’s pledge to turn over security to Afghan forces by 2014, that year “will become 2015 will become 2016 and we’ll still be there with 20,000 troops.”
Why four more years?
Rep. Jones often relies upon the advice of a Marine general who told him that four more years mean four more years of deaths, eternal wounds, and more family break ups.
Didn’t Osama bin Laden die already?
Rep. McGovern quoted Leon Panetta, the incoming secretary of defense: Just about 50 members of al-Qaeda remain in Afghanistan. Basically, al-Qaeda has left.
Then why does the U.S. keep 100,000 troops there, McGovern asked. “We are looking for clarity. What are we doing there?”
Said Rep. Jones: “We have poisoned so much of the Middle East with our actions” that it will probably take diplomats from other nations to right the U.S. wrongs in the region.
“I’ll regret my decision ’til the day I am buried that I voted go into Iraq,” Rep. Jones said.
The numbers of wounded and dead in Afghanistan keep rising.He brought along two “exit” posters of photographs which stood dramatically alongside him: One showed soldiers carrying a casket from a plane at Dover, MD, and the other was a wounded vet in a wheelchair.
What’s the purpose? What do we tell parents? McGovern asked.
The U.S. is spending $10 billion a month in Afghanistan.
Americans would welcome that $10 billion a month they are spending and handing over to a “bad government” whose president, Hamid Karzai, thinks the U.S. “is an ATM machine,” Rep. McGovern said.
He called Karzai “corrupt” (ditto, Jones) and “incompetent.There’s no nice way to spin it.” Karzai has wasted taxpayer dollars; he has robbed U.S. taxpayers. The Afghan administration is untrustworthy.The U.S. supports a government that is “pretty bad,” said McGovern.Jones called Karzai “unstable.”
Answering a question from a member of the audience, both congressmen agreed that Afghanistan will be a campaign issue in next year’s primaries and in the general election.
Rep. McGovern said it had recently dawned on him that this is a replay of 1968. “Nixon said: ‘Vote for me (because) I’ve got a plan'” to get the U.S. out of Vietnam, But Nixon had no plan and it took five more years.before the U.S. bowed out.
The legislators said several times they were heartened by last month’s vote on their amendment to require the president to present an exit strategy for Afghanistan and bring the troops home rapidly.
Although the measure lost 215-204 in the House, the vote included the support of 26 Republicans when they had expected only 15 or 16.
Very few families in the U.S. are affected by U.S. participation in Afghanistan or make the sacrifices military families do, Rep. McGovern said.
However, when senior citizens can’t get their sandwiches any more at the community center, when government services are slashed even more severely, when U.S. citizens realize they are pouring billions of dollars into a nation which criticizes our presence, where our soldiers die and are maimed, maybe American taxpayers will join the two congressmen and cry out to end the madness.