With the hunt for Osama bin Laden over, the United States is turning its eye to the U.S. military's 10-year engagement in Afghanistan, and many lawmakers are questioning whether it is worth continuing now that the al Qaeda leader is no longer a threat. President Obama's July 2011 date to start withdrawing troops from the country is just around the corner, and bin Laden's death has emboldened antiwar Democrats, and many skeptical Republicans, to renew calls to end the war.
The killing seems to confirm many critics' arguments. Not only does it show that America has already dismantled the al Qaeda network, they say, but it also shows that much of what's left of the terrorist organization is in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.
[See photos of reactions to Osama bin Laden's death.]Some lawmakers also argue that it indicates lighter counter-terrorism operations, instead of costly nation-building projects, are the best way to fight terrorists. On Monday, eight representatives from both parties sent Obama a letter urging him to change strategies and end the war. "In combating extremism, the combination of actionable intelligence and highly mobile Special Forces has proven most effective against an enemy that is not limited to a single geographic location," stated the letter, penned by Republican Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Democrat Peter Welch of Vermont. Rep. James McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, has proposed legislation to force a "concrete strategy and timeframe" for withdrawal.
With a divided Congress, and with many Republicans and Democrats still behind the president on the war, measures such as McGovern's have a slim chance of passing. And there won't be a legislative battle over spending on the conflict for a while, either. Congress has approved funding for the war in the past, and the recent budget compromise passed last month will secure funds for military operations until the end of the fiscal year on September 30. But, although direct action to end the war is unlikely, Congress may step up its oversight of the conflict. A Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week—already scheduled before bin Laden's death—gave a preview of the type of bipartisan skepticism Obama is likely to face in the coming months. During the hearing, Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, ranking member of the committee and one of the GOP's most respected foreign policy voices, questioned whether the war in Afghanistan is "a rational allocation of our military and financial assets," and said that the administration hasn't set clear goals for the conflict.
Many foreign policy experts question whether bin Laden's death has really changed the merits of the Afghanistan war, from either a pro or con perspective. "The larger story, al Qaeda, is, in my judgement, fundamentally unchanged," says Paul Pillar, a former CIA analyst and a security studies professor at Georgetown University. "Most of the role that he's been serving, as a source of ideology, he will unfortunately continue to serve as a dead man." Even if Osama's death doesn't really change the merits of the war, it has already changed how Americans look at it, and it is forcing Congress to take more than a second glance.
- Check out editorial cartoons about Afghanistan.
- Check out photos of the reactions to Osama bin Laden's death.