A bipartisan group of senators is racheting up pressure on President Obama to begin drawing down U.S. forces in Afghanistan. One member of that group, longtime Sen. Patrick Leahy, has gone so far as to compare the ongoing war there to the failed conflict decades ago in Vietnam.
Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and 24 other senators sent a letter to President Obama Wednesday calling for a shift in strategy in Afghanistan ahead of next month’s announced deadline to begin an accelerated transition to Afghan security forces. In the letter, the senators urge the President to use the deadline as an opportunity to begin a “sizable and sustained” drawdown of troops that puts the U.S. on a path toward removing all regular combat troops from the country.
Meanwhile, Leahy (D-Vt.) also clearly signaled an even higher level of frustration over the decade-long operation in Afghanistan Wednesday when he sent a tweet which read: “I asked Secy Gates and Adm Mullen today about ending the war in Afghanistan. I got the same answers in 1975 about Vietnam.”
Robert Gates is the soon-to-be retired secretary of defense, while Mike Mullen is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gates and Mullen both appeared Wednesday before a defense subcommittee on the proposed 2012 budget for the Defense Department.
Now in his seventh term in the Senate, Leahy was a young freshman in 1975.
Leahy is among those who sent the letter to Obama. The senators note that the primary objectives for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan have been largely met -– including the removal of the Taliban government that sheltered al Qaeda, the killing of Osama bin Laden and the disruption of terrorist networks allied with Al Qaeda and those who planned the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Noting the successes and the ability to pursue counter-terrorism and humanitarian goals without a massive nation-building effort, the senators write, “the costs of prolonging the war far outweigh the benefits. It is time for the United States to shift course in Afghanistan.”
Once in office, Obama not only continued combat in Afghanistan, but widened it with a surge of new troops. At the time he announced that escalation, the president also promised to begin withdrawing troops in July.
Once the view largely of progressives on the left, the bipartisan nature of Wednesday’s letter indicates that opposition to the war in Afghanistan is widening.
Republican Jon Huntsman, who is expected to soon join the GOP race for president, reportedly is making an end to current operations in Afghanistan a significant part of his campaign for the nomination to oppose Obama in 2012.
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.