Senators say it is time to bring the troops home
When Colorado’s moderate Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet joins liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and archconservative Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to sign a letter to the president asking him to begin a significant withdrawal from Afghanistan, it is fair to say they reflect something of a national consensus.
These three, along with 22 of their Democratic, and one other Republican, colleagues, signed on to a letter expressing their “strong support for a shift in strategy and the beginning of a sizable and sustained reduction of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, beginning in July 2011.”
Their letter came as the date approaches Obama set to begin bringing home the 30,000 troops he committed to the “surge” 18 months ago.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and some high-level military leaders are advocating a gradual withdrawal to assure that gains made during the last year and a half are not put at risk.
They point out that, since the surge, the military has secured footholds in some provinces, and set Afghan security forces on a path toward taking the lead in combat operations by 2014.
A rapid withdrawal of troops, the military argues, could jeopardize these gains.
However, the New York Times reports, “In their more candid moments, Mr. Obama’s aides acknowledge there is little evidence that the Afghan government will be able to control the fought-over territory … by the end of 2014, the date set for withdrawal of all NATO forces.”
The senators’ letter, on the other hand, reminds Obama, “From the initial authorization of military force through your recent State of the Union speech, combating al Qaida has always been the rationale for our military presence in Afghanistan. Given our successes, it is the right moment to initiate a sizable and sustained reduction in forces, with the goal of steadily redeploying all regular combat troops.”
The country as a whole seems to agree. A recent Washington Post-ABC poll reveals “nearly three in four Americans say the administration should remove a ‘substantial number’ of troops from Afghanistan this summer.”
The poll also shows a solid majority of Americans, despite the death of bin Laden, say the war in Afghanistan is “not worth fighting.” Much of Obama’s bounce in the polls after the death of bin Laden has eroded.
The senators who signed the letter to Obama speak for Americans of all political persuasions who believe that, after ten years, $455.4 billion, over 1,500 American lives and another 12,000 wounded, it is time for Americans to come home.
“There are those who argue that rather than reduce our forces, we should maintain a significant number of troops in order to support a lengthy counterinsurgency and nation-building effort. This is misguided,” the senators wrote. “We will never be able to secure and police every town and village in Afghanistan. Nor will we be able to build Afghanistan from the ground up into a Western-style democracy.”
Nor was this ever the purpose of the surge, they argue. “While it is a laudable objective to attempt to build new civic institutions in Afghanistan, this goal does not justify the loss of American lives or the investment of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars.”
American intelligence officials report al Qaida no longer has a large presence in Afghanistan, the senators claim. Last year, CIA Director Leon Panetta reported, “I think at most, we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100, maybe less” al Qaida members still operating in Afghanistan.
According to the New York Times, “briefings Mr. Obama has received in recent days” have told him that “Al Qaida is now too crippled to … strike” the United States from either Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Building on the successes of killing bin Laden and virtually destroying al Qaida in Afghanistan, the senators advise the president, “it is the right moment to initiate a sizable and sustained reduction in forces, with the goal of steadily redeploying all regular combat troops.”
It is time to disengage from Afghanistan. As the senators told the president, “the costs of prolonging the war far outweigh the benefits. It is time for the United States to shift course in Afghanistan.”