Rep. Mike McMahon has just returned from a three-day fact-finding mission to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he met with big wigs like Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Given McMahon’s staunch support for our operations in that theater of war, and how much we can’t wait to run a picture of the freshman Bay Ridge rep in a flak jacket, it was clearly time to get McMahon on Line 1.
Gersh Kuntzman: Three days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, huh? This sounds like a classic Congressional junket where you stay in the Ritz-Carlton Kabul and dine exclusively on Champagne, roasted squab and Persian caviar. Am I even close?
Mike McMahon: You have to go over there; there ain’t no Ritz-Carlton in Kabul. We stayed on the grounds of the American Embassy in converted shipping containers. I’m not complaining. It’s better than a tent because it had electricity and a cot. We ate cafeteria food.
GK: So why go? You already support the war in Afghanistan.
MM: Seeing things is better than reading about them or seeing them on TV. I now have a better sense of why we are there. For example, I did not know the extent of the recent cooperation between the Pakistani army and the Americans. Also, I didn’t realize the difficulty that the border presents. We can’t go into Pakistan, yet it’s a porous border for the fundamentalists and the terrorists.
GK: So, break down this fact-finding mission for us.
MM: It was two days in Afghanistan and a day and a half in Pakistan. We spent half our time having briefing meetings with the military personnel. In Afghanistan, we met with Gen. McChrystal and his staff, and also with civilian leaders on our side and the coalition. And then we met with President Karzai.
GK: Whoa, so what was he like?
MM: I don’t have full confidence in him. But he did express that he wants to be a good ally of the coalition. He is too dependent on allied forces. He needs to step up to the plate, as does the rest of the leadership in that country. But consider this: Afghanistan has not reached the Middle Ages. The main building medium is mud bricks. There is dust everywhere. It is truly a place with very little electricity, no bathrooms, no running water, no infrastructure. It is totally a different world. Any of the pre-existing thoughts and notions that we have about local infrastructure or a system of government or basic services does not exist. There is no school board, no city council, no community board, no Fire Department, no Sanitation Department. And we’re trying to build the Police Department. Amid all this, everyone wants to know how this guy can govern better. What exactly can he do? How can he do an agricultural program without a functioning Department of Agriculture?
GK: Who paid for this trip?
MM: The United States government.
GK: Oh, you’re welcome.