Skip to main content

Boehner: Don't repeat Iraq mistakes in Afghanistan

By John Boehner
May 5, 2014 -- Updated 0247 GMT (1047 HKT)
A U.S. soldier patrols outside FOB Shank In Afghanistan.
A U.S. soldier patrols outside FOB Shank In Afghanistan.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • House Speaker John Boehner says the U.S. needs to finish the job right in Afghanistan
  • The progress, he says, has been significant, but the country will continue to have setbacks
  • He argues that there is a shared, bipartisan legacy in Washington for Afghanistan
  • Boehner: History will judge us not on whether we ended wars, but how we ended them

Editor's note: Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been Speaker of the House since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @SpeakerBoehner. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Three weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting our civilian leaders and military commanders, as well as our troops, in Afghanistan. It was my fourth trip to the country and a vastly different one than my first visit in 2007.

Flying over Kabul at night, I was struck by the changes: Electric lights and even traffic are visible throughout the valley. I was encouraged by what I saw and by what I heard from Ambassador James Cunningham and General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr.

The Afghans are taking the lead for their own security, and now they are poised to successfully transition to a new government for the first time in their history.

After 13 years, I am often asked why Afghanistan still matters. The world is growing more complicated by the day, and, in my view, more dangerous. The responsibility is on leaders in Washington to remind the American people why finishing the job right in Afghanistan remains important.

Rep. John Boehner
Rep. John Boehner

The explanation is straightforward: Not only was it the location from which the 9/11 attack that killed 3,000 Americans was planned, but the country also remains uniquely vulnerable to becoming a terrorist stronghold again if we don't complete our work to empower the Afghan people, security forces and government to protect their own country.

Our mission quite simply is to prevent another terrorist attack.

And, there's another reason we don't talk about much, but it remains equally important. Both friends and foes are watching to see whether America has the resolve to complete its task or if we will fall short of our mark out of fatigue or political expediency. This has ramifications not just for Afghanistan but other critical areas where America has strategic national security interests.

Make no mistake, Afghanistan remains a tough fight. The progress has been significant, but the country will continue to have setbacks. Violence, like the recent tragic shooting at a Kabul hospital, is going to continue. Terrorist organizations will continue to attempt high-profile attacks to break our resolve.

But because of the courage and sacrifices of our deployed men and women, both military and civilian, I am optimistic that we can achieve our mission successfully if Washington doesn't squander this progress.

At the time of my visit, I said that I hoped Washington and Kabul would always be worthy of the shared sacrifice and effort that our troops, the international community, and the Afghan people have made. The biggest takeaway from my visit is that of all the challenges facing our strategy for Afghanistan, the most potentially damaging and completely avoidable is quitting just short of the goal line.

3 Americans killed in Afghanistan attack
Amputees find new hope with prostheses
Racing to honor her husband

It's essential that we do not repeat the same mistakes in Afghanistan that we made in Iraq. Before the end of this year, the Obama administration must reach a bilateral security agreement with the Afghan government that reinforces our commitment to the Afghan people and its security forces.

With input from our commanders on the ground, this will likely require retaining a credible, residual troop presence to help continue to thwart terrorist networks as well as provide appropriate levels of training and advice to the Afghan security forces as they continue to grow and mature into an effective, independent fighting force.

As a former small business man, I like an analogy I heard on our efforts to train and assist the Afghan Security Forces: we've helped them open for business, and now we need to ensure they have the processes and logistics in place to stay in business. Our military has a clear, understandable plan to put themselves out of business at the end of this process.

There is a shared, bipartisan legacy in Washington for Afghanistan. I am convinced history will judge both the executive branch and the legislative branch not on whether we ended wars, but how we ended them.

It is increasingly apparent that the United States left Iraq too soon, and it is with heavy hearts that we see the black flags flying in areas of Iraq where the United States expended our most precious treasure, the blood of our fellow citizens. We cannot let that happen in Afghanistan. A bilateral security agreement is critical if we're going to successfully complete the work that has been accomplished to date and to help ensure that the gains we have made are not jeopardized like they have been in Iraq.

America's foes, both state and non-state actors, are watching with great interest how we leave Afghanistan, watching to see whether we leave after securing our interests and honoring our commitments, or if we just leave.

And over the last year, our commander-in-chief has often talked more about leaving Afghanistan than how we are going to achieve our mission. We all want to bring our remaining troops home as soon as possible, but succeeding in Afghanistan is vital to our national security interests and it must take priority over any calendar dates. The President has an obligation to better make that case to the American people. And if he does, I will support him.

For more than a decade, our troops and civilian personnel have fought to bring peace and security to Afghanistan -- and to ensure it can never again be used as a safe haven for terrorists to attack the United States. Many Americans have sacrificed to secure these goals, and far too many have lost their lives or suffered life-altering wounds.

Washington and Kabul must work together to secure the gains we have made together and complete our mission.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2248 GMT (0648 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2049 GMT (0449 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT