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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Case for Afghanistan Drawdown Coming Into Focus

This item by J.P. Green was originally published on May 10, 2011.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA15) has a post up at HuffPo “Why Dick Lugar Wants Drawdown; Why Defense Industries Don’t,” which makes a strong case for accelerating withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Honda, chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Peace and Security Taskforce says:

A drawdown is what the majority of the American people want. They want us to end America’s longest war in history. They want us to stop spending $120 billion a year in Afghanistan, particularly when our heavy military footprint is not making Americans or Afghans safer. In the last year, we had the highest number of U.S. casualties, the biggest single-year spike in insurgent attacks, the most devastating of Afghan civilian deaths (an airstrike on nine youths gathering wood), an Afghan majority that says their basic security and basic services have worsened substantially, and majority populations in the U.S. and Afghanistan that want the troops to leave.

Senator Lugar (R-IN) had made news with this sobering observation about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan:

“Our geostrategic interests are threatened in numerous locations, not just by terrorism, but by debt, economic competition, energy and food prices, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and numerous other forces,” he said in a statement. “Solving these problems will be much more difficult if we devote too many resources toward one country that, historically, has frustrated nation building experiments.”

Honda’s claim about public opinion is affirmed to some extent in the latest Pew Research Center poll, conducted May 5-8, which found that 49 percent of respondents want to “remove troops as soon as possible,” while 43 percent want to “keep troops in until situation has stabilized.” In an NBC News-Hart/McInturff poll conducted 5/5-7, 46 percent of respondents “somewhat disapprove” or “strongly disapprove” of “leaving some American troops in Afghanistan until 2014,” while 42 percent said they “strongly approve” or “somewhat approve.”
Honda advocates transferring U.S. funding for our large occupation force to support “policing, intelligence and negotiations…at a fraction of the cost of the heavy military, air and navy operations that currently characterize our security strategy.” He admits it won’t be easy, but he argues persuasively that it is the right way to go:

Such a shift requires courage, especially for members of Congress, given all the industries that benefit from our footprint-heavy warfare. But now is the time to take that necessary step. Our country has been emboldened, and we must now leverage this unity into a new direction for our defense apparatus — one that will keep us safer in every possible way, from our forces to our finances.

Writing in The American Prospect, Heather Hurlburt, executive director of the National Security Network, believes that that bin Laden’s death may provide an opportunity to open political dialogue:

By dealing a blow to al-Qaeda — and by implication, to its allies in the Taliban and its protectors in Pakistan’s intelligence establishment — bin Laden’s death may have created new opportunities for a political settlement in Afghanistan. While experts across the political spectrum have been calling for talks with elements of the Taliban, opponents have argued that because the U.S. had not turned the tide militarily, now was not the time. It’s hard to imagine a bigger military momentum-changer than the bin Laden operation. Military and regional experts from Gen. David Petraeus on down have said for years that a political solution — one that gives Afghans a stake in their government — as opposed to military intervention is the key to scaling back the administration’s 2009 surge and ultimately ending U.S. combat operations there. But given that the war in Afghanistan was about more than just finding bin Laden, our withdrawal will likely occur independently of his death.

President Obama showed bold leadership in ordering the raid on bin Laden’s compound at considerable risk. His challenge now is to provide equally-strong leadership in dramatically scaling back our military involvement in Afghanistan, while advancing the incentives for a political settlement. In so doing he will strengthen Democratic prospects, as well as our national security.

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