Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who is on the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, is one of five senators who traveled to Israel and Afghanistan this week. He said in an interview from Italy that "it looks like the Afghan security forces are going to be ready, and that's a good thing."

Flake has supported the drawdown in Afghanistan. "I was surprised at the number of security operations being conducted by Afghans," he said. "Part of that is they do believe we're leaving and that's forced them to step up. The flip side of that is, the enemy also recognizes we're leaving and can wait us out, so just as important, or more, is that on the (Afghan) security side, they are ready."

Flake said Afghan forces are leading most security patrols or conducting them independently. "The difficulty is on the government side because the Afghan government under President Karzai doesn't extend much beyond Kabul."

"I've felt for a while that we should be drawing down to a much smaller footprint, and I'm convinced by this visit that we can meet the timetable President Obama has outlined, with a residual force agreement with the Afghan government, not like in Iraq where there was no agreement."

The group spent a day in Israel before going to Afghanistan for two days. Flake said the Israelis are focused, not surprisingly, on the potential threat from Iran, especially as it's not known how close the government is to being able to produce a nuclear weapon. Flake said that tough multilateral sanctions against Iran "seem to be biting a little more than perhaps we thought they would."

Playing on the world stage is part of the Senate's role, and Arizonans are accustomed to our senators having duties that divide their attention. Sen. John McCain has a national profile, stemming from his work in foreign relations and as the Republican presidential nominee, and Sen. Jon Kyl, whom Flake replaced, was a major player in Republican Party politics.

As we begin the congressional term, we expect that Flake will play an important part on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. We also expect, however, that he will retain his focus on the state that elected him to office and the issues, such as changing the broken immigration system, that have a direct and serious effect on Arizona as well as the nation.

Arizona Daily Star