It should not be lost on anyone that Ambassador Holbrooke’s most famous contribution to the mission of global peace was his role as chief architect of the Dayton Peace Accords, ending more than three years of bloody war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It has been said that for Holbrooke, “Bosnia was the ultimate struggle of a dedicated public servant driven by an almost frenzied passion to wrest from the wreckage of Bosnia a peace worthy of America's name and values…”
Make no mistake: Building peace in Bosnia was no easy task. A complex, multiethnic culture marred by deep-seated divisions; an economy torn apart by years of war; a government infrastructure that had to be rebuilt from the ground up.
Despite the encouraging outlook presented in today’s Afghanistan and Pakistan Annual Review, it is abundantly clear that these same challenges complicate our mission in Afghanistan.
Decades of Taliban rule and war have gutted the country economically; centuries of ethnic conflict are being exacerbated by a reconciliation process in which minority groups have been marginalized from the early stages; and an increasingly disenfranchised Afghan population is growing cynical about their fledgling government.
Building a lasting peace in Afghanistan will not be easy, and our job won’t be done overnight. Indeed, even as we marked the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords this Tuesday – one day after Ambassador Holbrooke’s death – our work in Bosnia continues. Ethnic reconciliation, economic redevelopment, and constitutional reform remain key challenges – not to mention the ongoing effort to identify thousands of genocide victims and help surviving family members, including the large Bosnian American community in my home town of St. Louis, find closure.
But the alternative to peace is no alternative at all.
As it stands, we have spent $336 billion on the war in Afghanistan. The total combined cost of spending in Afghanistan and Iraq tops $1.12 trillion.
We know that waste and abuse have inflated this figure, and that stricter oversight of our war spending is necessary. But coming at a time when the federal government is recording the largest budget deficits as a share of gross domestic product since World War II – and poised to add an addition $900 billion with a tax deal that overwhelmingly benefits the wealthiest Americans – oversight alone is not enough.
After all, this monetary price tag cannot begin to quantify the sacrifice made by the almost 6,000 American servicemen and women who have given their lives on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan – and by the friends and families they have left behind.
These are costs that are, quite simply, unsustainable.
So I call on my colleagues in Congress, the president, our military leaders and our international allies to take up the charge issued by Ambassador Holbrooke.
It is time to shift our focus in Afghanistan from war to peace. It’s time to get smarter about how we approach this phase of our operation, to think creatively about how we integrate security, diplomacy and development.
We have fought the war against the Taliban and the extremists. Now we must fight for peace – a lasting peace that is every bit as vital to our global and domestic security.
Let us end this war in Afghanistan.
Congressman Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) is Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight. He represents Missouri’s 3rd Congressional District.