Audience members chatted and shuffled around the Simplot Ballroom in the Student Union Building Tuesday, Oct. 16, just before 7 p.m.
They waited for Ryan Crocker, former American ambassador to Afghanistan and 2012 Frank Church Conference on Public Affairs keynote speaker.
The conference titled, “Afghanistan After America,” addressed the current situation Afghan people face and what they can expect in the future when American forces withdraw on schedule at the end of 2014.
Crocker began by reminding the audience the United States invaded a country of historical significance not only to ancient civilization, but America as well. A country we used to defeat the Soviet Union, then promptly abandoned, allowing it to fall into a violent and lengthy civil war where the Taliban eventually took power.
“Afghanistan, that complex bloody country, graveyard of empires, poor, violent, fractious people, of whom was once famously said, ‘whom we now little and care less about,” Crocker said.
Crocker served under four presidents in various ambassador positions, and recently oversaw the roughly 30,000 American troop surge in Afghanistan, a plan President Obama hoped would stabilize the country and help soldiers fight a regrouped Taliban force.
Crocker said the surge was a success, allowing American forces to brace the country and subdue Taliban guerrillas in the region. Crocker also commented on social strides made since the invasion in 2001.
“There have been problems, there have been mistakes, but there has been enormous progress in Afghanistan,” Crocker said. “When I got there in 2002, (there were) 900,000 students, all boys. Today (there are) 8,500,000 students, 40 percent are girls.”
Crocker illustrated his experiences with Afghanistan, Afghan history and the current situation of American occupation, to argue American coalition efforts are effective and continuous military and financial support from America can help maintain a stable, legitimate democracy.
“The Afghans are set with the international community in a way they never have been before. What we have to do, is not lose patience, not lose focus, and not lose interest, because if we do, all the rest of the world will.” Crocker said. “We are the lynchpin in the international coalition. We’ve got it all setup, now what we have to do is maintain it, particularly with support of the Afghan security forces.”
Attendees appreciated the experience and insight Crocker had to offer.
“The tremendous value of an evening like tonight, is you get the impressions of somebody who has actually lived this history, rather than being a part of the Washington elite or part of the American news media that is trying to sway public opinion one way or the other,” said Charlie Conly, a Boise resident.
Conly’s wife Helen also expressed surprise about Crocker’s testimony of social progress made in Afghanistan.
“I felt tonight we got to hear the observations of somebody who had actually lived the history. Its just good to hear that, it sounds like we really are making a difference with the infrastructure, the roads, the schools, the women are going to school, you hope it just doesn’t go backwards,” Helen Conly said.