Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and former First Lady Laura Bush teamed up Friday to make it clear that it is imperative for the United States to continue investing in Afghanistan, especially when it comes to the education and safety of Afghan women and girls.
"We have to be prepared to make the case why we don't have a choice but to continue in some form and fashion what has worked," said Clinton, the former secretary of state, at a symposium at Georgetown University on Advancing Afghan Women. "And I think that will fall to people like us to try to make that argument to the Congress and to the American public."
Clinton, who would be the immediate Democratic front-runner if she runs for president in 2016, urged, "We can't give up."
President Barack Obama has committed to pulling nearly all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan in 2014. Clinton urged Afghan leader Karzai to sign a bilateral security agreement with the U.S. to set the number of troops that would remain in the country. So far, the U.S. and Afghanistan have been unable to resolve that ahead of next year's deadline. That could have consequences, in particular, for women in Afghanistan if the Taliban are able to once again wrest control of Kabul.
“The No. 1 issue on the minds of Afghan women who are here today is how they can continue their work if they don't have security?" Clinton said, adding that by forming a global coalition, it can “keep that hope and promise alive to women and girls in Afghanistan: That they will not go back, they will not be forced back into their homes, denied education and health care, stripped away their rights to participate in the economic and political systems of their country.”
But Americans are wary of continued involvement in Afghanistan after a decade of war. Clinton faced a backlash when she ran for president in 2008 because she voted for the authorization of use of force in Iraq. That gave an opening for Obama, who had called Iraq a "dumb war."
Clinton warned Karzai, who has resisted, as part of the deal, granting Americans immunity from local arrest and prosecution, not to repeat what she said was the mistake of Iraq, which scuttled a similar deal over the same issue in 2011.
"I understand his sensitivity to this," she said, "but I would want you to ask you to remember that we could not reach an agreement in Iraq, and Iraq is descending into a cycle of terrible violence."
Bush, who serves as a co-chair of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council with Clinton, said she is “so worried that once our troops leave, that no one will pay attention again.”
Secretary of State Kerry, who succeeded Clinton in the high-profile position, said progress for Afghan women since the U.S. toppled the Taliban in 2001 is undeniable. In 2001, only 900,000 Afghan children were in school -- all boys. Today, he said, more than one-third of the children in school are girls. Eighty-percent of women also have access to cell phones, which gives them “access to the world and to their future.”
"When Afghan women move forward, believe me, they never want to go back, not to the days when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan," Kerry said. The achievements and civil rights gained by Afghan women are “remarkable,” he said and it would be a devastating if those gains were threatened.
Clinton seemed less optimistic than Kerry, that a security agreement would come to fruition. Before Clinton spoke, Kerry said the U.S. is “closer than ever” to a deal, to which Clinton reacted by saying she was “impressed," if that is the case.
A national assembly in Afghanistan is set to convene later this month to consider the agreement.
Kerry began his remarks by addressing Clinton as "Madame Secretary-Slash-First Lady-Slash-Senator-Slash-Everything," and joked to the male students in the audience that they, like Georgetown alum Bill Clinton, could "study hard, go to Oxford, become the governor of your state and the maybe you can marry one of the country's remarkable secretaries of state.”