Remember what we said earlier about the pitter-patter — that sound of lawmakers running away from the administration’s strategy in Afghanistan?
Way back then, all of three hours ago, we were noting that Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) had become the latest Democrat to call for a new plan.
Boy, did we move too fast on that item.
A group of 27 senators — 25 Democrats, two Republicans and the independent Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — announced today that they had sent a letter to President Obama calling for a shift in strategy. By our math, that’s more than a quarter of the Senate.
In the letter, the senators assert that the original goals of the mission have been met, and that given “our successes, it is the right moment to initiate a sizable and sustained reduction in forces.”
“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 counter-insurgency and nation building effort,” the senators say. “This is misguided. 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.”
That’s a message Defense Secretary Robert Gates did not need to read in a letter today. Over with the Senate Appropriations committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, one of the letter’s signatories, was giving Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen an earful, arguing that it’s time to identify “achievable goals” in Afghanistan and to reduce the U.S. military footprint.
Gates’s response was a robust one, and worth reprinting in full:
“We are not in the business of nation building,” he said. “What we are trying to do is build the Afghan national security forces to the point where they have the ability to defend that country and so that the Taliban and al-Qaeda cannot reconstitute themselves in that country.
“And I think we are making considerable headway in that respect. So I think that -- I know people are frustrated. The country's been at war for 10 years. I know people are tired. But people also have to think in terms of stability and in terms of the potential for reconstitution. What's the cost of failure?”