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State Dept. Official: Prioritizing Wars Is Like Choosing ‘Which One Of Your Kids You Like Best’

By Amanda Terkel  

"State Dept. Official: Prioritizing Wars Is Like Choosing ‘Which One Of Your Kids You Like Best’"

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Last month, Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said, “In Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must.”

Today in a Senate hearing, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) asked Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher about Mullen’s comment and “whether or not we’ve neglected Pakistan and Afghanistan because of our overemphasis on Iraq.”

Boucher, however, refused to prioritize Afghanistan or Iraq. He instead compared having to choose between Iraq and Afghanistan to Feingold having to choose between one of his children:

Boucher: Sir, I mean, which of your kids do you like best?

Feingold: I’m sorry.

Boucher: Sir, I mean which of your kids do you like best?

Feingold: I think it’s more, I think it’s really more, I don’t, I don’t, think it’s as simple as that. I think — this is the core question of whether we can get our priorities right in this country about this war.

Boucher: Here’s the way I would explain it.

Feingold: These are not identical.

Watch it:

[flv http://video.thinkprogress.org/2008/01/feingobouch.320.240.flv]

Boucher’s equation comparing war with children underscores why this administration can’t pull out of Iraq and focus on Afghanistan — it is so emotionally invested that it views the Iraq war as its baby.

Officials have clearly pushed aside Afghanistan for Iraq, although admitting so isn’t politically popular. “[P]riorities matter and in order to determine priorities one has to determine where is the greater concern,” said Feingold.

A report released this week by the Atlantic Council concluded, “Afghanistan remains a dangerously neglected conflict in a Washington transfixed by Iraq.” Two other reports also put out this week came to similar conclusions.

Transcript:

Feingold: The war in Afghanistan has been called by many experts the forgotten war. The report released yesterday which will be discussed in the next panel notes just now how close we are to failure in Afghanistan yet despite the clear threats emanating from Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen recently said, “In Afghanistan we do what we can. In Iraq we do what we must.” Is that the policy of the Bush Administration? That Afghanistan is of secondary importance to the national security of the United States? [...]

Which of those two situations do you regard as more important to our national security?

Boucher: Iraq or Afghanistan? I think they both are.

Feingold: No, I asked which one do you think is more important? Surely they’re not identical.

Boucher: I would hope we could do both. I don’t see any way of…

Feingold: I do too. I’m asking which one do you think is more important in terms of the threat?

Boucher: Sir, I spend much of my day working on Afghanistan so I’m very much focused on Afghanistan. I find it hard to weigh one against the other, because the problem is if you don’t stabilize both places you’ll never stabilize either one.

Feingold: I guess my comment is, of course you want to succeed in each and every place, but surely in any endeavor including military and war endeavors, priorities matter and in order to determine priorities one has to determine where is the greater concern. And so I’ve tried several times with different people to get an answer to this and I’ve never gotten one and I find it a little surprising in light of the global nature of the threat we face.

Boucher: Sir, I mean, which of your kids do you like best?

Feingold: I’m sorry.

Boucher: Sir, I mean which of your kids do you like best?

Feingold: I think it’s more, I think it’s really more, I don’t, I don’t, think it’s as simple as that. I think — this is the core question of whether we can get our priorities right in this country about this war.

Boucher: Here’s the way I would explain it.

Feingold: These are not identical

Boucher: If you look at the history of 9-11 and how that happened, ungoverned spaces are a threat to us, around the world. Wherever they are that’s where the terrorists are going to go and they are going to plot and plan and come out of there and kill us. You can’t neglect any portion of the planet.

Feingold: That’s absolutely right.

Boucher: And we have in the last several years taken away those ungoverned spaces — sometimes diplomatically, sometimes through our relations with governments, and sometimes with militarily force. If we don’t continue to do that in all the remaining ungoverned spaces there’s always going to be a threat to us.

Feingold: Yeah, and if the question here was neglect I would understand what you said, but the question here, in my view, is whether or not we’ve neglected Pakistan and Afghanistan because of our overemphasis on Iraq. So the question here is relative emphasis.

‹ U.S. military unprepared for homeland attack.

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