Undoubtedly, the death of Osama bin Laden is a pivotal moment in our nation's history, one that carries with it the opportunity to bring much-needed closure to the thousands of families who lost loved ones on 9/11, as well as an opportunity to bring much-needed closure to the war in Afghanistan. The attacks orchestrated by bin Laden are what took us to Afghanistan. Now, given his death, we must seize this moment to heal from the past harm done to our homeland and ensure that no further harm is done to our troops, by bringing them home.
Pursuant to these aims, the co-chairmen of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the CPC's Peace and Security Taskforce, which I co-chair, sent a letter to President Obama urging the swift, safe and responsible withdrawal of U.S. troops and military contractors from Afghanistan. We asked for plans for a significant drawdown, beginning no later than July of this year.
Our letter was a sequel to a similar request sent in March: a bipartisan letter signed by 81 members of Congress that stressed the need for significant and sizeable reduction in troop levels, cited the urgency of creating economic opportunities at home, and noted that a minimal reduction would not meet the expectations of Congress or the American people.
This is a reflection of the momentum building in Congress to act. Even Republicans, like Sen. Dick Lugar, are surprising their party by calling for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
This is indeed our moment to draw down; if not now, when? While bin Laden's death does not indicate the end to security threats, it does allow for political protection (within both parties) to change the modus operandi of this war. Bin Laden's death reminds us that when tackling threats to U.S. security by actors who are increasingly agile, mobile and amorphous, a heavy military, air and navy footprint is not only ineffective in dealing with guerrilla-like warfare but also financially unsustainable.
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.
The way forward, then, is to recognize, as The RAND Corporation has researched and reported, that policing, intelligence and negotiations -- all critically underfunded and underdeveloped in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- are what work best in undermining and dismantling threats of this nature. We must also recognize that in order to protect vulnerable populations from further instability, particularly the populations at the receiving end of bin Laden's recruitment strategies, we must make every effort to address their basic needs -- a priority made pointedly clear as protests continue throughout the region over the lack of basic services, corrupt political leadership and non-inclusive government.
We have an incredible opportunity to redirect funds and efforts into what is working (like democracy movements), to refuse to prop up autocratic leaders and to help nations build state capacity on the previously mentioned point about policing, intelligence and negotiations. All of this comes at a fraction of the cost of the heavy military, air and navy operations that currently characterize our security strategy, and is the sort of move discouraged by the defense industry, which prefers big-ticket military equipment like the multibillion-dollar Joint Strike Fighter.
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.
Rep Michael Honda is co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus's Peace and Security Taskforce. Follow Rep Honda on Facebook and Twitter.
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