Monday, April 13, 2009

Junketing around the empire

Congressman Jared Polis, D-CO (he's the gay guy from Boulder and environs, newly elected in 2008) has just been to Iraq and Afghanistan on a CODEL. That's a Congressional delegation. He's got sharp things to say about the two countries -- but more interesting is his candid description of what it is like to travel on one of these trips.

Polis writes in the Huffington Post:

We visited two cities in Afghanistan, Kabul the capital and Kandahar in the south near the Pakistani border. What a mess. What another world. No one can make sense of Afghanistan because it doesn't really make sense.

We hardly glimpsed the real Afghanistan. Through the bullet-proof windows of our van, we saw a few children playing, women in Burkhas, and men going about their daily business as we drove from the airport to the Embassy, but our briefings were all in military bases or government buildings. ...

On this trip to Afghanistan, unfortunately not a single bite of Afghan food passed our lips. We stayed on the military bases and embassy compound, ate in cafeterias, and the only Afghani we even met with was the Minister of the Interior.

Thus, despite traveling thousands of miles and visiting the country itself, my context and understanding of Afghanistan is pretty much the same as the average American's--based on the same information that the Obama administration and US military have given us in making their decisions.

Two questions:
  • Why are we footing the bill for Congresscritters to learn hardly anything but what their military and state department handlers want them to?
  • Do most of those Congresscritters know they are learning so little?
Rep. Polis is to be applauded for his candor.
He was also pretty candid about what he learned during the Iraq phase of this trip.

In the afternoon in Baghdad, we went to the Iraqi Parliament and met with two female members. Both covered their heads and wouldn't shake the hands of men. ...

The two members of parliament were the only Iraqis we formally met with; this visit was skewed toward visiting with our own military and learning about our mission and successes and failures from the American perspective. The few times we talked to Iraqis on their own, they told us only what they want American officials to hear. I learned more about the situation in Iraq on my previous visit [before Polis' election], in November 2007, when I met with Iraqi refugees in Jordan who spoke much more freely about their observations and opinions.

This guy is an incisive obsever. Can he stay that way in Congress?

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