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ThePlumLIneGS whorunsgov plumline
Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 06/15/2011

Twenty-seven Senators sign bipartisan letter calling on Obama to speed up Afghan withdrawal

Ever since the killing of Osama Bin Laden, it has seemed inevitable that his death would provide the hook for a major change of course in Afghanistan, and now Dems are about to escalate the pressure on the White House to hurry up and get our combat troops out of the country.

I’m told that twenty seven Senators — including Dem leaders, moderates, and even two Republicans — have now signed a letter calling on Obama to initiate a “sizable and sustained reduction” of military forces in Afghanistan. The letter argues that Bin Laden’s death means the U.S. has accomplished a principle goal of the invasion, that Al Qaeda no longer is a sizable presence in that country, and that there’s no clear rationale or set of achievable goals that justify delaying withdrawal any longer.

The letter had already been made public, but the final range and number of signatories — which you can view after the jump — is new. The letter’s chief sponsors — Jeff Merkley, Tom Udall and Mike Lee — will officially go public with the full list of signatories later this morning. From the letter:

From the initial authorization of military force through your most recent State of the Union speech, combating al Qaeda 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.

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. 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...

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...

Mr. President, according to our own intelligence officials, al Qaeda no longer has a large presence in Afghanistan, and, as the strike against bin Laden demonstrated, we have the capacity to confront our terrorist enemies with a dramatically smaller footprint. The costs of prolonging the war far outweigh the benefits. It is time for the United States to shift course in Afghanistan.

We urge you to follow through on the pledge you made to the American people to begin the redeployment of U.S. forces from Afghanistan this summer, and to do so in a manner that is sizable and sustained, and includes combat troops as well as logistical and support forces.

The letter seems intended to pressure the President to hurry the pace of withdrawal while simultaneously giving him maneuvering room to set that pace. It doesn’t call for immediate withdrawal or a major shift in strategy — the President, too, agrees on the need to draw down — but it does represent a pointed demand that Obama clearly demonstrate his intention to dramatically reduce our commitment to the war, and fast.

Any time nearly a third of the Senate speaks on anything, it’s a significant statement. And the range of signatories — it includes Dem leaders Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin, as well as a host of moderate Democrats and Republicans Mike Lee and Rand Paul, hinting at a right-left alliance against the war — clearly demonstrates that the mainstream position is for speedy withdrawal.

Full letter and signatories after the jump.

June 15, 2011

The President

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We write to express our 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.

In 2001 the United States rightfully and successfully intervened in Afghanistan with the goals of destroying al Qaeda’s safe haven, removing the Taliban government that sheltered al Qaeda, and pursuing those who planned the September 11 attacks on the United States. Those original goals have been largely met and today, as CIA Director Leon Panetta noted last June, “I think at most, we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100, maybe less” al Qaeda members remaining in Afghanistan.

In addition, over the past few years, U.S. forces have killed or captured dozens of significant al Qaeda leaders. Then, on May 2, 2011, American Special Forces acting under your direction located and killed Osama bin Laden. The death of the founder of al Qaeda is a major blow that further weakens the terrorist organization.

From the initial authorization of military force through your most recent State of the Union speech, combating al Qaeda 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.

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. 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.

Endemic corruption in Afghanistan diverts resources intended to build roads, schools, and clinics, and some of these funds end up in the hands of the insurgents. Appointments of provincial and local officials on the basis of personal alliances and graft leads to deep mistrust by the Afghan population. 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.

Instead of continuing to be embroiled in ancient local and regional conflicts in Afghanistan, we must accelerate the transfer of responsibility for Afghanistan’s development to the Afghan people and their government. We should maintain our capacity to eliminate any new terrorist threats, continue to train the Afghan National Security Forces, and maintain our diplomatic and humanitarian efforts. However, these objectives do not require the presence of over 100,000 American troops engaged in intensive combat operations.

Mr. President, according to our own intelligence officials, al Qaeda no longer has a large presence in Afghanistan, and, as the strike against bin Laden demonstrated, we have the capacity to confront our terrorist enemies with a dramatically smaller footprint. The costs of prolonging the war far outweigh the benefits. It is time for the United States to shift course in Afghanistan.

We urge you to follow through on the pledge you made to the American people to begin the redeployment of U.S. forces from Afghanistan this summer, and to do so in a manner that is sizable and sustained, and includes combat troops as well as logistical and support forces.

We look forward to working with you to pursue a strategy in Afghanistan that makes our nation stronger and more secure.

Sincerely,

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM)

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA)

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD)


Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND)

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL)

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA)

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ)

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)


Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY)

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

By  |  11:00 AM ET, 06/15/2011

 
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