After Bin Laden Raid, Some Want Out Of Afghanistan

The death of Osama bin Laden adds a powerful argument to liberal and libertarian lawmakers who say it's time to get out of Afghanistan — and save billions. Some moderates and establishment types are also chiming in that it's time to wind down. Has bin Laden's demise strengthened the out-of-Afghanistan advocates — or is it bolstering those who say his death underscores how sticking with the counter-terrorism effort will ultimately pay off?

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Members of Congress have another big issue on their minds this week: the war in Afghanistan. The killing of Osama bin Laden has emboldened many opponents of the war. They now argue that the al-Qaida leader's death ends a longstanding rationale for the massive U.S. presence there. Those opponents include a growing number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

And as NPR's David Welna reports, they span the political spectrum.

DAVID WELNA: California House Democrat Lynn Woolsey is a co-founder of the 29-member Out of Afghanistan Congressional Caucus. Woolsey was the first lawmaker following the death of Osama bin Laden to make a floor speech demanding a major revamping of U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

Representative LYNN WOOLSEY (Democrat, California): Now that 9/11 - the 9/11 mastermind is gone, it is time to turn a new page. It has to begin with a swift move toward military redeployment out of Afghanistan. We cannot continue down this road of permanent warfare.

WELNA: And Massachusetts House Democrat Barney Frank says the main reason for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan has always been to capture or kill bin Laden.

Representative BARNEY FRANK (Democrat, Massachusetts): I'm not saying that the death of bin Laden is a reason to withdraw. I am saying that it is the elimination of a reason some people would have given against withdrawal.

WELNA: It's not just Democrats saying it's time to get out of Afghanistan. Some libertarian-leaning Republicans feel the same way.

Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz says he's long opposed the U.S. troop buildup in Afghanistan.

Representative JASON CHAFFETZ (Republican, Utah): Now, with the death of Osama bin Laden, which is a great thing, I think that the same public policy reasons for not being there now are even more true today.

WELNA: Yesterday, in the Senate, the Foreign Relations Committee held a previously scheduled hearing on Afghanistan, the first of its kind since last July. John Kerry, the panel's Democratic chairman, noted the major development since then.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts; Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee): With the death of bin Laden, some people are sure to ask, why don't we just pack up and leave Afghanistan?

WELNA: Many posing that question are on the political left. Robert Borosage co-directs the liberal advocacy group Campaign for America's Future. Bin Laden's death, he says, is the political opportunity for President Obama to end the war.

Mr. ROBERT BOROSAGE (Co-director, Campaign for America's Future): I think that people inside the administration and outside the administration realize that at this point, this policy has no clothes and it's going to change.

WELNA: Conservatives meanwhile are questioning the war's expense. Senator Richard Lugar is the top Republican on the foreign relations panel. He pointed out at the hearing that the war in Afghanistan will cost the U.S. $120 billion this year alone.

Senator RICHARD LUGAR (Republican, Indiana): It's exceedingly difficult to conclude that our vast expenditures in Afghanistan represent a rational allocation of our military and financial assets.

WELNA: Even the Senate's number two Democrat, who's considered President Obama's closest ally in Congress, has turned against the war. Illinois' Dick Durbin told the same panel he voted nearly 10 years ago to invade Afghanistan and go after al-Qaida and bin Laden.

Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Indiana): I have to tell you, if you would have asked me whether I was signing up for the longest war in American history which has no end in sight even after the killing of Osama bin Laden, I would have to seriously say that wasn't the bargain. That isn't what I thought I was voting for.

WELNA: One of the hearing's witnesses was Richard Haass who heads the Council on Foreign Relations. He said afterward he'd never heard such opposition to the war from lawmakers.

Dr. RICHARD HAASS (President, Council on Foreign Relations): It was quite striking to me because it was bipartisan, virtually everybody, and the message, I think that people should take from this is that essentially both elite and I believe popular support for this war on this scale is running out.

WELNA: At the same time, those who support the war argued that bin Laden's demise will give that effort new momentum.

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): If you undercut it and think that bin Laden has ended the war, it will be the biggest blunder in American foreign policy history.

WELNA: President Obama does intend to start withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July, but how many is not yet known.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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