Politics
1:22 pm
Wed June 22, 2011

In Congress, A Bipartisan Push For Afghan Drawdown

Originally published on Wed June 22, 2011 7:30 am

Growing numbers of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are balking both at the length of the war in Afghanistan and its cost.

Late last month, a few weeks after U.S. forces killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the Republican-run House voted on a bipartisan amendment aimed at hastening an end to the war in Afghanistan. To the surprise of many, it fell just six votes shy of passing.

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) was one of 26 members of his party who joined nearly every Democrat in voting for the measure.

"I was never one, even when George Bush was in the White House, to say we should be engaged in nation building," Garrett said. "I never thought that was the appropriate role of the United States."

Others have recently shifted their stance on Afghanistan.

Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), the top House Democrat on the defense spending panel, was once a strong supporter of President Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan. But now he's hoping for what he calls a substantial reduction of U.S. forces in that country.

"People are ... having real concerns that this is going to go on for too long and then we're going to be there for another 10 years after 2014," he said. "And I just don't think that's sustainable."

Letter From Senators

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the No. 2 Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, shares that view.

"This is a massive nation-building effort, and ... I don't think that's an effort that is sustainable nor one we should be involved in," Corker said.

Last week, 27 senators sent Obama a letter calling for a shift in strategy in Afghanistan and, as they put it, "a sizeable and sustained reduction" of the U.S. forces there. Freshman Tea Party favorite Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is one of two Republicans who signed that letter.

"I'd like the president to be more like the candidate," Paul said, referring to when Obama was running for president.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama advocated ending the war in Iraq. His GOP rival in that race, Arizona Sen. John McCain, bemoaned Tuesday the trend of more and more Republicans now opposing the war in Afghanistan.

"We are succeeding," he said. "They should listen to Gen. [David] Petraeus, just as we did in 2007, when then Sen. Obama and then Sen. {Hillary] Clinton said that we had to withdraw immediately from Iraq. We stayed the course; we succeeded."

On the Senate floor Tuesday, Joe Manchin, a freshman Democrat from West Virginia, said the U.S. should by all means declare success in Afghanistan — and go home.

"I believe it is time for President Obama to begin a substantial and responsible reduction in our military presence in Afghanistan," he said. "I believe it is time for us to rebuild America, not Afghanistan."

Accusation Of Isolationism

McCain, who was also on the floor at the time, lashed out at Manchin.

"I feel compelled to respond to the statements by the senator from West Virginia, which characterized the isolationist, withdrawal, lack-of-knowledge-of-history attitude that seems to be on the rise in America," he said.

But Manchin was not backing down.

"We are a very hawkish state, as you know, and we're a very patriotic state," he said. "But if 10 years is not enough, how long is enough?"

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, says he wants Obama to announce a significant drawdown on Wednesday — at a minimum, 15,000 troops by the end of the year.

"The Taliban use our presence there to both recruit and to build up support for their attacks on people because they claim they're going after foreign occupiers," he said. "And if we have a significant reduction, we take away that argument of the Taliban, which has helped them, which means it has hurt us."

Levin says he'll wait to hear what the president has to say before deciding whether more congressional action is needed to spur a U.S. withdrawal. But this much he does know: War fatigue has become more bipartisan on Capitol Hill, just as it has nationwide.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We now go to Capitol Hill to look further at the politics of a war that began under a Republican president and continued under a Democrat.

As NPR's David Welna reports, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are baulking at both the length of the Afghan War and its cost.

DAVID WELNA: Late last month, a few weeks after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the Republican-run House voted on a bipartisan amendment aimed at hastening an end to the war in Afghanistan. To the surprise of many, it fell just six votes shy of passing.

New Jersey's Scott Garrett is one of 26 Republicans who joined nearly every Democrat in voting for the measure.

Representative SCOTT GARRETT (Republican, New Jersey): I was never one, even when George Bush was in the White House, to say we should be engaged in nation building. I never thought that was the appropriate role of the United States. So now we've sort of checked I don't know if it's simple to say we've check off that box, but it is a pretty important box that we checked off as far as getting bin Laden.

WELNA: Others have recently shifted their stance on Afghanistan.

Representative NORM DICKS (Democrat, Washington): You know, up here we have to kind of decide what the priorities are.

WELNA: As the top House Democrat on the defense spending panel, Washington's Norm Dicks was once a strong supporter of President Obama's troop surge. But now he's hoping for what he calls a substantial reduction of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Rep. DICKS: People are just are having real concerns that this is going to go on for too long and then we're going to be there, you know, for another 10 years after 2014. And I just don't think that's sustainable.

WELNA: Nor does the number two Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tennessee's Bob Corker.

Senator BOB CORKER (Republican, Tennessee): This is a massive nation-building effort, and I'm not sure - I don't think that's an effort that is sustainable nor one we should be involved in.

WELNA: Last week, 27 senators sent President Obama a letter calling for a shift in strategy in Afghanistan, and as they put it, a sizeable and sustained reduction of the U.S. forces there. Freshman Tea Party favorite Rand Paul of Kentucky is one of two Republicans who signed that letter.

Senator RAND PAUL (Republican, Kentucky): I'd like the president to be more like the candidate.

WELNA: And say what?

Senator PAUL: What he did as a candidate, that he'd like to end the war in Afghanistan.

WELNA: It was actually the war in Iraq that candidate Obama advocated ending. His GOP rival in that race, Arizona Senator John McCain, yesterday bemoaned the trend of more and more Republicans now opposing the war in Afghanistan.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): We are succeeding. They should listen to General Petraeus, just as we did in 2007, when then Senator Obama and then Senator Clinton said that we had to withdraw immediately from Iraq. We stayed the course; we succeeded.

WELNA: On the Senate floor Tuesday, West Virginia freshman Democrat Joe Manchin, said the U.S. should, by all means, declare success in Afghanistan and go home.

Senator JOE MANCHIN (Democrat, West Virginia): I believe it is time for President Obama to begin a substantial and responsible reduction in our military presence in Afghanistan. I believe it is time for us to rebuild America, not Afghanistan.

WELNA: At the time, McCain, who was also on the floor, and he lashed out at Manchin.

Senator MCCAIN: I feel compelled to respond to the statements by the senator from West Virginia, which characterized the isolationist, withdrawal, lack-of-knowledge-of-history attitude that seems to be on the rise in America.

WELNA: But Manchin was not backing down.

Senator MANCHIN: We are a very hawkish state, as you know, and we're a very patriotic state. But if 10 years is not enough, how long is enough?

WELNA: Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, says he wants President Obama to announce a significant drawdown tonight at a minimum, 15,000 troops by the end of this year.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): The Taliban use our presence there to both recruit and to build up support for their attacks on people, because they claim they're going after foreign occupiers. And if we have a significant reduction, we take away that argument of the Taliban, which has helped them, which means it has hurt us.

WELNA: Levin says he'll wait to hear what the president has to say tonight, before deciding whether more congressional action is needed to spur a U.S. withdrawal. But this much he does know: War fatigue has become more bipartisan on Capitol Hill, just as it has nationwide.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.