In light of Senator Obama’s statement (via Jim) “We’ve got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we’re not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there.”, I thought these two questions and answers from a recent press conference with Presidents Bush and Karzai were appropriate. The first is on civilian casualties, the second on al Qaeda use of children as suicide bombers:
Q Thank you, Mr. President. President Karzai said yesterday that he believed Iran was playing a helpful role in Afghanistan. Was he able to convince you in your meetings that that was the case, or do you still have concerns about Iran’s role? And I have a question for President Karzai as well. Just wondering if the President was able to give you the assurances that you sought about the effort to reduce civilian casualties in Afghanistan?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Let me comment on the civilian casualties, if I might. First, I fully understand the angst, the agony and the sorrow that Afghan citizens feel when an innocent life is lost. I know that must cause grief in villages and heartbreak in homes. Secondly, I can assure the Afghan people, like I assured the President, that we do everything we can to protect the innocent; that our military operations are mindful that innocent life might be exposed to danger, and we adjust accordingly.
Thirdly, it is the Taliban who surround themselves with innocent life as human shields. The Taliban are the cold-blooded killers. The Taliban are the murderers. The Taliban have no regard for human life. And therefore, we’ve spent some time talking about — as the President rightly expressed his concerns about civilian casualty. And I assured him that we share those concerns.
Secondly, it’s up to Iran to prove to the world that they’re a stabilizing force as opposed to a destabilizing force. After all, this is a government that has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon. This is a government that is in defiance of international accord, a government that seems to be willing to thumb its nose at the international community and, at the same time, a government that denies its people a rightful place in the world and denies its people the ability to realize their full potential.
So I believe that it’s in the interests of all of us that we have an Iran that tries to stabilize, not destabilize; an Iran that gives up its weapons ambitions. And therefore, we’re working to that end. The President knows best about what’s taking place in his country, and of course, I’m willing to listen. But from my perspective, the burden of proof is on the Iranian government to show us that they’re a positive force. And I must tell you that this current leadership there is a big disappointment to the people of Iran. The people of Iran could be doing a lot better than they are today. But because of the actions of this government, this country is isolated. And we will continue to work to isolate it, because they’re not a force for good, as far as we can see. They’re a destabilizing influence wherever they are.
Now, the President will have to talk to you about Afghanistan. But I would be very cautious about whether or not the Iranian influence there in Afghanistan is a positive force — and therefore, it’s going to be up to them to prove to us and prove to the government that they are.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: I had a good discussion with President Bush on civilian casualties. I’m very happy to tell you that President Bush felt very much with the Afghan people, that he calls the Afghan people allies in the war against terror, and friends, and that he is as much concerned as I am, as the Afghan people are. I was very happy with that conversation.
Q Mr. Karzai — can I ask my question in Dari first?
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Please, yes.
Q (Speaking Dari.) You have recently become a father, and also, you have recently pardoned a teenager who suicide himself, and you said he washed — he was brainwashed.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Brainwashed, yes.
Q Yes. What do you think about the future of Afghanistan in view of this problem?
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Well, ma’am, the man — the boy, I should say, that I pardoned, was a 14-year-old boy from Pakistan’s South Waziristan agency. He was sent by his father to a madrassa to get education because he could not any more afford to have him in school, because his mother had a heart ailment, and they had to spend money on her treatment.
Having sent the boy to a madrassa, he disappeared from there. After a few months his father heard that he was arrested in Afghanistan, and then he came to Afghanistan. And having seen that this was a teenage — rather, legally underage innocent boy, used by terrorists to kill himself and to kill other innocent people, I felt that it was the right decision to pardon him to give him a new opportunity for education and a new life, and to send a message to his mother that your child is going to be back with you. I am very glad I did that.
But this gives us a lesson about those who are the enemies of all of us, the enemies of people who use young children, who brainwashes them, and who forces them to kill themselves.
The message should be clear to the rest of the world about the evil that we are fighting: The heartless people that we are fighting, who don’t even have any feeling for young children, for babies, for teenagers. Most of that, we know today, that the terrorists are buying and selling suicide bombers. We have received calls in our government offices by handlers of suicide bombers that they want to sell them to us. So it’s become a trade, a mean trade; merchants of death are around there. So it’s our job to get rid of them.
Maybe it’s a surprise to Senator Obama that al Qaeda resorts to using civilians as shields?