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WASHINGTON: Mike Pompeo, named by the US president as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s successor, said at his confirmation hearing on Thursday that he believed Washington now had a ‘humble’ mission in Afghanistan: to bring more stability to that country.

Mr Pompeo, a former lawmaker who now heads the Central Intelligence Agency, appeared before the Senate’s foreign relations committee to defend his nomination. He was grilled by both Republican and Democratic senators on his close ties to President Donald Trump and on his views about Muslims, Iran, Syria and North Korea.

Some senators, particularly those from the Democratic Party, suggested that his tough views on these issues raised the chances of America getting more involved in foreign wars.

Senator Rand Paul, a Republican who is leading the campaign for America to leave Afghanistan, asked Mr Pompeo if he believed it’s time to get out of that country.

“I think the course of action that President Trump has taken there is the right one. It is humble in its mission. It understands that we have been there an awfully long time,” Mr Pompeo said.

“It has an objective of leaving, but it’s not prepared to leave until such time that we can put America in a position where we can leave (after) greatly diminishing the threat to our homeland that may emanate from there.”

The future secretary of state argued that to achieve this point, America needs to continue the effort it has undertaken. “An effort alongside that which would be required to achieve that first objective: to create, and I want to be humble, more stability in Afghanistan,” he said.

Senator Paul, however, referred to Mr Trump’s past statements, emphasising that now was the time to leave Afghanistan and ask if there’s a difference of opinion between him and the president.

“The president also said that he was committed to the mission that I outline there. It is consistent with what secretary of state has been trying to do diplomatically. It is consistent with what secretary of defence has been trying to do by supporting Afghan forces.

“I believe that we have a continued role there,” Mr. Pompeo said. “While I want to get out in the same way as you do, we are not at a place yet where it is appropriate.”

Senator Paul, however, argued that now was the time to leave as “all those terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan” who had participated in the 9/11 attacks, had been eliminated and some of the soldiers fighting there were not even born when 9/11 happened.

Senator Cory Booker, another Democrat, referred to a statement Mr. Pompeo had made while he was still in Congress, saying that American Muslims had a special obligation to prevent terrorist attacks and those who remained silent would be considered complicit in those attacks.

Mr Pompeo said he had an exquisite record of treating people of every faith with the dignity they deserve. “I have worked closely with Muslim leaders, with Muslim countries, the CIA has saved thousands of Muslim lives during my 15 months,” he added.

“Do you think that Muslim Americans in this country, who serve in the military, who serve in the State Department, their failure to speak up makes them complicit in terrorist attacks?” Senator Booker asked.

“Each and every human, not just Americans, has an obligation to push back this extremist use of violence from whatever faith,” Mr Pompeo replied.

“So, you don’t create a special class of people, based on their religion, to have a special obligation to condemn terrorist attacks?” the senator asked again.

“No, senator, (but) I also believe that for certain places, for certain forms of violence, there are certain people who are in a better position — folks who are more credible, more trustworthy, have a more shared an experience. So when it comes to making sure that we don’t have terrorists brewing in places where Muslims come, there’s a special place, right? It’s more than a duty, it’s an opportunity, when someone from a faith can get characterised,” Mr. Pompeo said.

“So, you believe that Muslims in America who are in positions of leadership have a different category of obligation because of their religion?” Senator Booker asked.

“It is not an obligation, it is an opportunity,” Mr Pompeo said.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2018

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