08/19/2011 02:09 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Tom Coburn: 'Best Way' To Get Out Of Afghanistan Is To 'Grow Our Economy, Change The Regulations'

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) isn't quite sure how much longer the United States will be fighting in Afghanistan, although he does have an idea about how the country could withdraw -- by reducing the number of government regulations.

"If in fact we were energy independent, if in fact we had our economy going again, our foreign policy would be different than what it is today. The best way to get us out of Afghanistan is to grow our economy, change the regulations, have a vibrant, growing America where people are afraid to come against us," Coburn told about 350 attendees at his town hall meeting at Oklahoma City Community College on Thursday.

"It is not an easy answer. You should be frustrated. I am frustrated. But I'm not ready to say I know enough that now's the time to get out, given the other complications -- 200 nuclear weapons in Pakistan."

Much of the discussion at Coburn's town hall meeting centered around energy issues. They discussed federal regulations -- such as fuel efficiency standards -- put in place by "idiot bureaucrats" at the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies, and the need for energy independence to decrease reliance on countries in the Middle East.

Coburn is a vocal opponent of the Clean Air Act, voting to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

It's not entirely clear how fewer regulations would get the United States out of Afghanistan. Coburn's office did not return a request for comment.

The senator has gained a reputation as a fiscal hawk, often calling for spending cuts that few other lawmakers are willing to consider.

On Thursday, he acknowledged the high cost of the war, in terms of both money and human lives.

"We went into Afghanistan to clean out a group of people that killed over 3,000 Americans, and we paid a big price for that," he said. "Our young people paid a big price. Our military has paid a big price. ... We borrowed the money, which is unfair to both the troops that are there, and their children who are going to have to pay for it in the future."

Coburn's discussion of Afghanistan came in response to a man who stood up and asked, "I wanted to ask you a question about a topic that I think, in my opinion, is not talked about enough, and that's the war in Afghanistan. After 10 years of war, after thousands of lives killed or wounded, how much longer are we going to be in Afghanistan? And what's the exit strategy?"

The audience applauded his question.

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