On the heels of yesterday’s announcement that NATO forces will cease joint patrols with their Afghan counterparts after multiple incidents of Afghan army and police shooting and killing troops, a prominent Republican chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee has flipped on the war, saying that the US should now withdraw as soon as possible.
Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young (R-FL), the longest serving member of the House Republican caucus, made the comments to the Tampa Bay Times editorial board.
“I think we should remove ourselves from Afghanistan as quickly as we can,” Young, R-Indian Shores, said during a meeting with the Times editorial board Monday. “I just think we’re killing kids that don’t need to die.” [...]
Young, who has served in Congress since 1970, said he has been a “stay the course” politician since the days of the Vietnam War. But he has also been an advocate for wounded military veterans. He frequently talks of visiting Veterans Administration hospitals to check on their care. He said he came to his new position over the past three months as a result of talking to veterans about what’s happening in Afghanistan.
“It’s a real mess,” he said.
In particular, the death of one constituent, Staff Sgt. Matthew Sitton, prompted the reversal of opinion. Sitton wrote to Young before he died, dishing on a host of problems in Afghanistan. Sitton said that troops were forced to continue patrols after polluted rivers flooded and soaked their uniforms. He said that troops were forced to patrol known minefields on field without being told why. It turns out that Sitton died from stepping on an improvised explosive device.
I don’t know that this is as big a deal as when Jack Murtha flipped on the Iraq war, particularly because Afghanistan isn’t really prominent in the campaign, and Republicans have been muted in their criticisms of the war. If anything the consensus is to stick it out and fight. But behind the scenes, I suspect there are lots of Republicans in Congress like Young, who simply haven’t come out and expressed their opposition. Right now there’s a group of about 10 or so on the Republican side, led by Ron Paul and Walter Jones, who publicly oppose the war. Young gives them a major new voice, especially in his role as a defense appropriator.
This won’t get litigated in the election, as national Republicans think foreign policy begins and ends with Israel. But in 2013, maybe you will see a left-right coalition question the 2014 transition date set by NATO, and what if any residual force will remain in the country after that. I mean, the war only holds 27% support. Dissent from the party line – of both parties – would be quite popular.
We are wrapping up conventional wars as we shift to drones and covert ops, but the old legacy of Afghanistan remains, and just keeps, in the words of Young, killing kids. Maybe more Republicans like him will ask why.