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Weekly remarks: GOP on fragile Afghan war progress; Obama on new federal fees for financial companies

January 16, 2010 |  3:00 am

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Remarks of Rep. Mike Castle, as provided by the Republican Senate Communications Center

Hello, this is Congressman Mike Castle of Delaware.

As 30,000 additional American service-members continue to move into Afghanistan under the counterinsurgency strategy outlined by General McChrystal, Americans are reminded about our important role in this vulnerable region.

The additional troops will bring our military presence there to 100,000 Americans and 47,000 NATO partners.  While this increase is essential to our efforts in the region, also key is ensuring that our men and women in the field have the equipment and support they need to succeed.

Last week I traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan with a congressional delegation to see firsthand the progress we have made in reversing the momentum of the Taliban and the many remaining challenges we face.  

There is a strong professionalism and commitment demonstrated by our men and women in uniform, as well as by those in our civilian institutions who serve on the front lines.

Particularly since the surge in Afghanistan began, we have seen progress toward helping....

...establish a country that can govern itself, defend its borders and be an important ally in fighting terrorism. However, we need to remain focused on our goals and maintain a sense of realism about what is achievable for this region.

Creating stability in Afghanistan requires a multi-tiered approach from the U.S. and our allies in an effort to train Afghan security forces, target insurgency, secure population centers, and strengthen Afghan and Pakistani governments.

Only with significant growth in these key areas, can we expect to prevent this region from serving as a safe-haven for radical Islamic terrorists once again. For this strategy to succeed it is essential that Afghan security forces—Army and police—must grow in numbers and effectiveness which serve to inspire better local governance.

In an effort to improve the training of local military, coalition and Afghan forces are living and working together in many cases and have established a united presence amongst the local populations. The focus on agriculture will hopefully make progress in reducing the rampant opium and narcotics trade in this area. 

While President Karzai has pledged to help eradicate poppy crops, there must be development in Afghanistan of crops and methods other than poppies to sustain the people of this country.

In southern Afghanistan, the U.S. Department of State and Agriculture are working to help this former agricultural hub of Afghanistan regain its potential.

Understanding the realities on the ground in Afghanistan directly from our top military commanders is essential. Republicans are pleased with the decision by Secretary Gates to stay on as head of the Pentagon, and, we urge the President to follow his advice of making strategic decisions based on conditions on the ground.

Delaware Republican representative Mike Castle

Secretary Gates has worked to reaffirm our short and long-term goals to our troops and continues to commend their sacrifice. This outreach is very important and we thank him.

We now know that the U.S. military faces fewer threats involving conventional forces than during the Cold War. Instead, terrorist networks deploy unconventional uses of force that remain invisible until their sudden attack. 

To circumvent and pre-empt this threat, we rely heavily on our intelligence gathering systems and professionals - at home and abroad. The recent suicide attack on the CIA in Khost reminded us of the determination of terrorists. 

The arrest of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab makes clear there is much to be reviewed in the way that intelligence is shared, collected, analyzed, and in our methods of approach.  

At home, a systemic failure within our intelligence analysis and airport security must be corrected to defeat the ever-changing strategy of those who seek to harm Americans. We cannot rest on one pattern or approach to tracking or analyzing threats to our national security.

The Administration should work with Congressional Republicans to review and update our current counterterrorism systems to meet the emerging and multiplying threats from Al-Qaeda. Progress in Afghanistan is also very dependent on having a strong, credible Afghan government and coordination among the international community.

It also falls on the international community to practice vigilance in monitoring areas which appeal to terrorists as we have seen recently in Yemen. 

In meeting with President Karzai our delegation made clear that the commitment of the United States must be met with by equal determination of the Afghan government. The Afghan government needs to resolve the date for Parliamentary elections. This is important to the overall success of our strategy, the legitimacy of the government, and our military commanders.

We can continue to reverse the momentum of the Taliban, help build indigenous security forces just as we did in Iraq, and help the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan with development assistance, but, the governments in both countries must be willing to take on extremists, corruption, and develop confidence in the institutions of civilian government.

There is much to be proud of on the ground in Afghanistan. We should all be very thankful for the men and women who are making such sacrifice away from their own families every day. Thank you for listening.   

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Weekly Remarks by President Obama, as provided by the White House

Over the past two years, more than seven million Americans have lost their jobs. Countless businesses have been forced to shut their doors. Few families have escaped the pain of this terrible recession. Rarely does a day go by that I do not hear from folks who are hurting. That is why we have pushed so hard to rebuild this economy. 

But even as we work tirelessly to dig our way out of this hole, it is important that we address what led us into such a deep mess in the first place. Much of the turmoil of this recession was caused by the irresponsibility of banks and financial institutions on Wall Street. These financial firms took huge, reckless risks in pursuit of short-term profits and soaring bonuses. 

They gambled with borrowed money, without enough oversight or regard for the consequences. And when they lost, they lost big. Little more than a year ago, many of the largest and oldest financial firms in the world teetered on the brink of collapse, overwhelmed by the consequences of their irresponsible decisions. This financial crisis nearly pulled the entire economy into a second Great Depression. 

As a result, the American people – struggling in their own right – were placed in a deeply unfair and unsatisfying position.  Even though these financial firms were largely facing a crisis of their own creation, their failure could have led to an even greater calamity for the country. That is why the previous administration started a program – the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP – to provide these financial institutions with funds to survive the turmoil they helped unleash.  It was a distasteful but necessary thing to do.  

Many originally feared that most of the $700 billion in TARP money would be lost. But when my administration came into office, we put in place rigorous rules for accountability and transparency, which cut the cost of the bailout dramatically. We have now recovered most of the money we provided to the banks. That’s good news, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s not good enough. We want the taxpayers’ money back, and we’re going to collect every dime.

That is why, this week, I proposed a new fee on major financial firms to compensate the American people for the extraordinary assistance they provided to the financial industry.  And the fee would be in place until the American taxpayer is made whole. Only the largest financial firms with more than $50 billion in assets will be affected, not community banks. And the bigger the firm – and the more debt it holds – the larger the fee.  Because we are not only going to recover our money and help close our deficits; we are going to attack some of the banking practices that led to the crisis.

That’s important. The fact is, financial firms play an essential role in our economy. They provide capital and credit to families purchasing homes, students attending college, businesses looking to start up or expand.  This is critical to our recovery. That is why our goal with this fee – and with the common-sense financial reforms we seek – is not to punish the financial industry. 

Our goal is to prevent the abuse and excess that nearly led to its collapse.  Our goal is to promote fair dealings while punishing those who game the system; to encourage sustained growth while discouraging the speculative bubbles that inevitably burst. Ultimately, that is in the shared interest of the financial industry and the American people.

Of course, I would like the banks to embrace this sense of mutual responsibility. So far, though, they have ferociously fought financial reform.  The industry has even joined forces with the opposition party to launch a massive lobbying campaign against common-sense rules to protect consumers and prevent another crisis.  

Now, like clockwork, the banks and politicians who curry their favor are already trying to stop this fee from going into effect.  The very same firms reaping billions of dollars in profits, and reportedly handing out more money in bonuses and compensation than ever before in history, are now pleading poverty.  It’s a sight to see.

Those who oppose this fee say the banks can’t afford to pay back the American people without passing on the costs to their shareholders and customers. But that’s hard to believe when there are reports that Wall Street is going to hand out more money in bonuses and compensation just this year than the cost of this fee over the next ten years. If the big financial firms can afford massive bonuses, they can afford to pay back the American people.

Those who oppose this fee have also had the audacity to suggest that it is somehow unfair.That because these firms have already returned what they borrowed directly, their obligation is fulfilled. But this willfully ignores the fact that the entire industry benefited not only from the bailout, but from the assistance extended to AIG and homeowners, and from the many unprecedented emergency actions taken by the Federal Reserve, the FDIC, and others to prevent a financial collapse. And it ignores a far greater unfairness: sticking the American taxpayer with the bill.

That is unacceptable to me, and to the American people.  We’re not going to let Wall Street take the money and run.  We’re going to pass this fee into law.  And I’m going to continue to work with Congress on common-sense financial reforms to protect people and the economy from the kind of costly and painful crisis we’ve just been through.  Because after a very tough two years, after a crisis that has caused so much havoc, if there is one lesson that we can learn, it’s this: we cannot return to business as usual. Thank you very much.   

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Photos: Associated Press (top two); Ron Edmonds / Associated Press

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