JUDY WOODRUFF: The long-running effort to stabilize Afghanistan may be doing more harm than good -- that was the warning heard in Washington today, as a deadline loomed for U.S. forces to start leaving.
The future of Afghanistan after U.S. troops withdraw was very much in question today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The immediate subject was the nomination of Ryan Crocker to serve as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. He drew on his previous posting as ambassador to Iraq.
RYAN CROCKER, former United States ambassador to Iraq: We're not out to clearly create a shining city on a hill. That's not going to happen. But there needs to be progress. We went through the same thing in Iraq. We chipped away at it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But senators from both sides wanted to know what the U.S. has to show for $19 billion in aid to stabilize Afghanistan over the last 10 years.
Virginia Democrat Jim Webb:
SEN. JIM WEBB, D-Va.: How much do people want to achieve that may be above what we need to? And we're getting into this -- this area of nation-building. How much can we achieve? It should only be done if we can articulate a vital national interest, because we -- we, quite frankly, need to be doing -- doing a lot more of that here.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Similar skepticism came from Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the committee's ranking Republican.
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR, R-Ind.: Despite 10 years of investment and attempts to better understand the culture and the region's actors, we remain in a cycle that produces relative progress, but fails to deliver a secure political or military resolution. In Afghanistan, measuring success according to relative progress has very little meaning.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The doubts were fed by a report from the committee's Democratic staff. After a two-year review, it concluded that, "Evidence that stabilization programs promote stability in Afghanistan is limited," and that,"The unintended consequences of pumping large amounts of money into a war zone cannot be underestimated."
The report suggested, in fact, that U.S. aid is only encouraging Afghan dependency and corruption. The renewed discussion over progress in Afghanistan comes at the same time as the debate over how quickly to begin withdrawing 100,000 U.S. troops.
The pullout is scheduled to begin next month, although President Obama has not given any firm numbers.
This past Monday, on ABC News, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned against a premature move.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES: What I have said is that it is important, as we did in Iraq, to have a strategy behind the numbers, not to just pluck a single number out and say, OK, that's the number. As -- as I have been talking about with the budget, that's math, not strategy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Gates also urged withdrawing support troops, and not combat forces, but some White House aides have cited the killing of Osama bin Laden as reason to expedite the pullout.
President Obama himself addressed that point in an interview with Hearst Television this week.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We're not going to do anything precipitous, but what I have already said to the American public and what I have said to the Afghan people is that it's time for the Afghans now to take responsibility for their own security. We are training their security forces up.
That transition will take place over the next couple of years. But, by killing bin Laden, by blunting the momentum of the Taliban, we have now accomplished a lot of what we set out to accomplish 10 years ago.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Obama also spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai today for an hour by videoconference. The president will make his decision about the size of the initial U.S. pullout later this month.
For his part, Ambassador Crocker cautioned today against moving too fast.
RYAN CROCKER: Osama bin Laden's death is an important step, but much work remains to be done to ensure that al-Qaida can never again threaten us from Afghanistan, with the Taliban providing safe haven.
JUDY WOODRUFF: If he's confirmed, it will fall largely to Crocker to oversee the U.S. aid program in Afghanistan as the troops leave. He said today the goal must be good enough governance in Kabul, and not perfection.