The Fair Political Practices Commission is an embarrassment, engaging in a full investigation, convicting Sunder Ramani of 33 direct campaign violations ("Report: Ramani campaign erred, Sept. 3) and simply slapping him on the hand and saying don't do it again. Come on.
I wonder how Ramani will engage in state legislation when he or his treasurer can't seem to understand campaign finance. The fact remains, Ramani had 33 violations and he "won" the Republican primary simply because he was the only person on the ballot. Even when concealing his contributions he lost the runoff.
What will he try to cover up next? Where he lives? That's right, he's probably has done that, too!
Afghanistan is lacking rule of law
A few years ago, during one of my visits with American troops in Afghanistan, a lieutenant colonel told me that Afghanistan felt "like the third front in a two-front war." This statement captured the mood in Kabul in the middle of the last decade: Having routed the Taliban and smashed Al Qaeda's infrastructure, American commanders were left to hold the fractured country together with few troops and little in the way of coordinated assistance, while attention and resources were lavished on Iraq.
Iraq has since taken steps toward stability, and American troops are withdrawing from the country. The situation in Afghanistan is much more tenuous. Resistance has spiked as Taliban leaders have sought to exploit growing discontent with the Afghan government. Now, as Afghanistan has eclipsed Vietnam as our nation's longest war, Americans are growing increasingly concerned about whether we will ever see light at the end of this tunnel.
I have long supported our efforts in Afghanistan. We could not allow the Taliban to remain in power after the 9/11 attacks, nor could we tolerate the continued Al Qaeda threat there. But our presence in Afghanistan was never intended to be open-ended and, with a host of other challenges competing for resources, we need to set realistic objectives.
There are really two missions in Afghanistan, one military and the other civilian. I have no doubt that our military can defeat Taliban forces. My concern is over the civilian mission — that we may not be able to sustain security gains made by American forces unless we can help the Afghans put in place a form of governance capable of keeping the Taliban out once we leave.
Recently, I raised this concern with Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, then commanding all our forces in the country. He acknowledged the problem and expressed his view that the civilian mission, while difficult, was nevertheless doable. But he also made it clear that "there is no Plan B" — we might succeed or we might not, but there was no better strategy to overcome the challenges we faced.
In my view, the gravest threat to success in Afghanistan is the lack of a rule of law. Corruption is omnipresent — running the gamut from large-scale fraud that saps the international donor effort to petty bribery that confronts ordinary Afghans daily, while contributing to contempt for the Karzai government. Although we are pressing the government on the corruption issue and have increased oversight of assistance provided to Afghanistan, breaking this tradition may be a generational undertaking.
Corruption also slows international assistance and prevents Afghans from taking greater ownership of their country's reconstruction, since significant amounts of the aid cannot be routed through the government itself.
Corruption also impedes the government's ability to assert control throughout the countryside, especially the southern part of the country, which remains a Taliban stronghold. Efforts to train the Afghan national army and police forces have been successful in turning out large numbers of men with rudimentary training, but the police force in particular remains riddled with bribery, graft and double dealing.
By next summer, the president said, we will begin drawing down our troops in Afghanistan at a pace that will no doubt be determined by conditions on the ground. Let us hope that those conditions are favorable, and that the civilian mission is far enough advanced that the Taliban can be kept at bay by an Afghan government that can deliver services to its own people and protect itself.
Editor's note: Schiff is the congressional representative for the Greater Glendale area.