A look at 'harsh' Mideast

July 5, 2002 

U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge says Afghanistan remains "a nervous place."

The Lillington Democrat, who just returned from a brief swing through the region with several House colleagues, said he was struck by the steep challenges facing the Afghan people and the work that must be done to keep their new government from collapsing.

"If the coalition forces were to pull out, they are not anywhere near ready to sustain themselves and have order," Etheridge said. "The military phase is not over. It's obviously not over."

The congressional delegation met new Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul the day before the United States' accidental killings of Afghan civilians in a central province.

During the hour-long meeting, Etheridge said he found Karzai "an engaging fellow who understands the challenges he faces."

"He said the Afghan people are fed up with war and terror," Etheridge said. "They want an efficient government without warlords."

Among the government's many challenges are getting children enrolled in school, building an army and rebuilding the country's infrastructure, Etheridge said.

"As we rode through Kabul, children were carrying water to their homes," Etheridge said. "It was very crude."

The trip also included a meeting with Lt. Gen. Dan McNeill, who left Fort Bragg in May to lead troops in Afghanistan, and several soldiers and National Guardsmen from North Carolina.

"I'm glad I went," Etheridge said. "It was a quick, hard trip, but you really need to see on the ground how harsh it is."

Common sense?

The North Carolina congressional delegation shows less common sense on issues affecting taxpayers than those of most other states, according to one Washington advocacy group.

On its latest congressional score card, Taxpayers for Common Sense ranked the House and Senate delegations from North Carolina below the national average after examining a series of votes last year related to spending and fiscal responsibility.

North Carolina's House delegation received a collective score of 31 percent, 10 points below the average for state delegations. Meanwhile, North Carolina's pair of senators were given a score of 27 percent, 11 points below the average.

The group examined votes on a wide range of issues, including budget matters, tax cuts, agriculture spending and public works projects.

As individuals, U.S. Rep. Mel Watt of Charlotte and U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre of Lumberton, both Democrats, fared best among the Tar Heel delegation, with scores of 45 percent and 41 percent, respectively. U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, a Farmville Republican, and U.S. Sen. John Edwards, a Democrat, fared worst, with scores of 18 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

Jones, it should be noted, typically does notably better in similar assessments by more conservative groups.

Summer reading

GQ is the latest glossy publication sizing up U.S. Sen. John Edwards' presidential prospects. Look for a piece on the North Carolina Democrat by writer Robert Draper in the September issue, which should appear on newsstands in August.

By Washington correspondent John Wagner, who can be reached at (202) 662-4380 or jwagner@mcclatchydc.com.

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