Click here to view video of Murphy’s remarks.
WASHINGTON – One week after President Trump contradicted his own strategy to end war in Afghanistan, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) – a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) – pressed the Trump administration on Tuesday to clarify what their strategy is. In an SFRC hearing with U.S. Department of State Deputy Secretary John S. Sullivan and U.S. Department of Defense Assistant Secretary Randall G. Schriver of Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, Murphy expressed concern about the contradictory statements.
“Things are not going well today in Afghanistan. The U.S. backed coalition controls less territory than ever before, insurgents control more than ever before. At the foundation, I think, lies some pretty significant confusion about what U.S. policy is,” said Murphy. “I appreciated your answer, Secretary Sullivan, that there is a role for the Taliban in a peace process moving forward. Ambassador Haley mirrored that statement earlier this year. But here’s what the President of the United States said a week ago, and he was definitive. He said, quote: ‘We don’t want to talk with the Taliban. There may be a time, but it’s going to be a long time.’ That seems to be in direct contradiction to the position that you just articulated to this committee. There’s enormous amounts of confusion over here. We have directly contradictory statements.”
Murphy is the author of “Rethinking the Battlefield,” a comprehensive proposal containing specific recommendations to dramatically increase the United States’ non-military footprint abroad by nearly doubling the U.S. foreign affairs budget – including the State Department and USAID – with an emphasis on funding for international development, additional foreign service officers, anti-corruption efforts, countering propaganda, crisis response, and humanitarian relief.
Below are highlights of Murphy’s exchange with Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan:
MURPHY: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thank you both very much for being here. I appreciate your service.
As has been mentioned, things are not going well today in Afghanistan. The U.S. backed coalition controls less territory than ever before, insurgents control more than ever before. A series of very high profile attacks, and at the foundation, I think, lies some pretty significant confusion about what U.S. policy is. And I want to explore, as Senator Shaheen did, a few of those areas.
Maybe most significantly is this administration’s position on the peace process moving forward. I appreciated your answer, Secretary Sullivan, in response to Chairman Corker, that you believe – and I think you’re representing the State Department’s position – that there is a role for the Taliban in a peace process moving forward. Ambassador Haley mirrored that statement earlier this year.
But here’s what the President of the United States said a week ago, and he was definitive. He said, quote: “We don’t want to talk with the Taliban. There may be a time, but it’s going to be a long time.”
That seems to be in direct contradiction to the position that you just articulated to this committee, that you believe – the State Department believes – there is room for the Taliban in those negotiations. So, you can see that the world, and those involved in the peace process, may be pretty confused about what the U.S. position is.
What is it? Is it the position that you articulated before the committee, or is it the position that the president articulated a week ago?”
SULLIVAN: Well, I think the President’s position – and I actually had the opportunity to speak with President Ghani shortly after President Trump’s statement – and I think President Ghani’s view and President Trump’s view are fairly well aligned. I think what President Trump was expressing was a reaction to the terrorist activities – the horrible terrorist activities – last month in Kabul. Significant elements of the Taliban are not prepared to negotiate, and it may take a long time before they are willing to negotiate. That was the thrust, as I understand it, of the President’s remarks. And that’s certainly the view that President Ghani has. He’s extremely upset about what happened, and he wants to take a very hard stance against those elements of the Taliban that slaughtered innocent men, women, and children on the streets of Kabul.
MURPHY: But you just said in your response to Senator Corker that you believe there is a role for the Taliban. The president didn’t put conditions on this. He said we don’t want to talk with the Taliban. So do we believe that they have a place at the negotiating table or do they not?
SULLIVAN: They do. I don’t think that there’s a place for those elements of the Taliban that plotted those terrorist attacks last month. They’re not showing an indication that they’re willing to sit at the table. I think that’s what the president was – the sentiment that he was expressing.
MURPHY: I understand that you’re in a very difficult position when the president adds no subtlety to these statements, but that’s not what he said. He said definitively, we don’t want to talk with the Taliban. And you can understand that when the president makes statements, they hold much more water than the statements that the secretary may make.
I think there’s still enormous amounts of – I know there’s enormous amounts of confusion over here. We have directly contradictory statements.