Cliff Stearns Shifts After Bin Laden's Death, Calls For Serious Reexamination Of Afghanistan War
WASHINGTON -- Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) wants the United States to seriously reevaluate its commitment in Afghanistan and work on bringing troops home as soon as possible. His new stance is perhaps the strongest opinion shift by a lawmaker in the days following Osama bin Laden's death.
In March, Stearns voted against Rep. Dennis Kucinich's (D-Ohio) resolution to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year.
But a Monday blog post on the website of the Florida Times-Union quoted Stearns as saying, "Most people I talk to say that we need to address our nation's budget deficit, and we are spending a lot of money" in Afghanistan. "Now that bin Laden has been executed we must go home."
But in a statement to The Huffington Post, Stearns said the Times-Union post created a misconception that he wants U.S. troops to come home immediately.
"Our forces have been involved in Afghanistan for nearly 10 years and we need to focus on reducing our presence there and bring our troops home," he said. He also cited the cost of operations in Afghanistan, saying, "We just can’t afford it with a deficit of $1.5 trillion." But he noted, "I do not advocate ending our involvement immediately and any drawdown should be based on conditions on the ground."
When asked whether bin Laden's death was a factor in Stearns' new position, a spokesman confirmed that it was.
"We should reevaluate our commitment there given the death of bin Laden, the toll on our troops, and our budget situation," Stearns added in a second statement. "In other words, we need to come home sometime, and the sooner the better."
During debate over a withdrawal bill in March 2010, Stearns -- who was a strong supporter of the surge -- chastised colleagues who wanted to leave Afghanistan prematurely: "The President of the United States has indicated he wants to stay there for 18 months. Why won't his opponents just allow the President to have the opportunity to fulfill his own commitment that he's made publicly?"
Stearns' call to reexamine the U.S. commitment in the war is significant given his opposition to Kucinich's resolution, but other lawmakers also joined in questioning Afghanistan policy in the wake of bin Laden's death.
House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.), who has spoken out against a withdrawal timetable, said he was impressed by the bin Laden mission, which involved a targeted, limited strategy rather than a large ground war.
"You get a better result by using focused forces in a tactical way like this, and you're able to root out bad actors such as Osama bin Laden," Griffin said.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) has been seriously questioning the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan for some time, and at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Monday, he made some of his strongest comments to date.
"[N]early a decade later, with al Qaeda largely displaced from the country, but franchised in other locations, Afghanistan does not carry a strategic value that justifies 100,000 American troops and a $100 billion-per-year cost, especially given current fiscal restraints," he said in his prepared remarks.
Longtime advocates of withdrawal are also renewing their calls in light of bin Laden's death. On Wednesday, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and five members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus sent a letter to President Obama calling for a significant and sizeable reduction in U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Out of Afghanistan Caucus Chair Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) also sent Obama a letter on Monday arguing that bin Laden's death gives new momentum to ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Bin Laden's death is the beginning of the endgame in Afghanistan,” a senior administration official told the Washington Post. "It changes everything."