June 27, 2011

Manchin opposes Chinese profiting | Charleston Daily Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va.--Sen. Joe Manchin's call for a more accelerated exit of American troops from Afghanistan followed a trip to the country, informal polls of roomfuls of West Virginians and months of thought.

But the fact that Chinese mining interests are profiting because of American war spending and sacrifice was "the straw that broke the camel's back," the freshman senator said in a telephone interview late last week.

Manchin said he'd been hearing complaints from American companies about Chinese interests that bid on Afghan mineral reserves. Manchin said the Chinese aren't the ones paying to help secure the country, "but yet China is going to reap the benefits and the profits from it.

"They haven't spent one penny, they don't have one boot on the ground," Manchin said. "It's just ridiculous, totally ridiculous — and that was more than I could bare."

Fourteen West Virginians have died and 78 have been wounded in Afghanistan.

There are a number of valuable minerals in Afghanistan, including reserves of copper, lithium and cobalt, as well as some coal. Chinese mining companies are now getting the rights to develop these reserves.

American officials allege a state-owned Chinese company won a $3 billion contract to mine copper after an Afghan mining official received $30 million in bribes.

Manchin took to the Senate floor last week to unveil his plan for getting out of Afghanistan "well before 2014." His speech came the day before President Barack Obama announced plans to withdraw 33,000 of the 100,000 troops in Afghanistan by summer 2012 and to keep withdrawing troops until the military presence is all but over by 2014.

Manchin said the timing was something of a coincidence.

"I did not know that the president would be doing his the same week and I did not know that John McCain would be on the floor when I did it," Manchin said.

Manchin's main message was that the money spent on Afghanistan — more than $400 billion so far with about a half trillion more to come — would be better spent in America. To highlight this point, he gave his speech next to a sign that said, "Time To Rebuild America."

As Manchin was getting to the heart of his speech, he noticed that Sen. McCain, R-Ariz., had begun pacing.  McCain was on the floor to give a speech about Obama's nominee for secretary of defense, but it seemed he now had something else to say.

Manchin said he expected to get interrupted.

Instead, McCain "kept standing and standing" throughout Manchin's speech.

Then Manchin got berated.

McCain, his party's nominee for president in 2008 and a seasoned military man, accused the former governor of being "uninformed" and having an "isolationist-withdrawal-lack-of-knowledge-of-history attitude" about Afghanistan.

"We withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban came, eventually followed by al Qaeda, followed by the attacks on the United States of America," McCain said.

It was a rare moment in the carefully scripted world on Capitol Hill. It was unusual, indeed, that senators would be on the floor to listen to each other's speeches. Many congressional speeches are given to TV cameras in a nearly empty chamber.

Instead of leaving the floor, Manchin stuck around to hear McCain out.

"I just stayed right there, 'Whatever you're going to bring on, bring on,'" Manchin recalled. "He got a little bit personal. I didn't take it personal. But it was directed toward me."

McCain finished. Then Manchin got up to respond.

"I know that the senator has had much more experience in that," Manchin said. "I can only speak from a sense of common sense and speaking to the people of West Virginia and what they feel. We are a very hawkish state as you know and we're a very patriotic state.

"But if 10 years is not enough, how long is enough? And I think that's the questioning that is being asked, that the sacrifices are being asked by them."

Manchin was able to reach that conclusion in part through a series of informal polls he conducted about Afghanistan during his trips through the state. For instance, during a March 21 stop at the University of Charleston, Manchin asked students in the classroom to raise their hands if they think the U.S. should get out of Afghanistan.

Nearly all of them did.

"I'm getting that reaction all over the state," he said at the time. "I get that from the south to the north to the east to the west."

Manchin said in the telephone interview last week that he'd been working for a while to get his thoughts together about foreign policy. He took a trip to Afghanistan in February.

He isn't unconvinced by the argument that things will fall apart in the country if the U.S. leaves.

"If you think, 'As soon as we turn our back, they'll be back then,' we'll be there in perpetuity," Manchin said.

Manchin argues that the U.S. should focus on counter-terrorism efforts, which are more akin to police actions, than attempts at nation building.

Critics of such an approach, like McCain, argue that Afghanistan will become a hotbed of terrorism unless U.S. troops help make the country secure before leaving.

Manchin's position is similar to those held by both his predecessor, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and the state's senior senator, Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. Byrd and Rockefeller have both used a panoramic view of history to come to the opposite conclusion that McCain did.

In October 2009, just as the Obama administration was weighing whether to "surge" troops into Afghanistan, Byrd, who died last summer, warned the U.S. was at risk of being added to the "long, long list of nations whose best laid plans have died on the cold, barren, rocky slopes of that far off country, Afghanistan."

That same month, Rockefeller said in an interview, "I don't think that in the 4,000 years of the past and the 4,000 years of the future anybody is ever going to get any sense of coherence of a nation called Afghanistan."

Manchin, who was touring Nicholas County on Friday, conducted another informal poll at a senior center there about to do in Afghanistan.

"Maybe 90 percent plus: 'Let's get out,'" Manchin said.

By:  Ry Rivard