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Grijalva: We got Osama bin Laden—Now let's get out of Afghanistan

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Grijalva: We got Osama bin Laden—Now let's get out of Afghanistan

The news of Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of a small group of Navy SEALs, after hiding in plain sight for years, reminds us that we spent a generation deploying ever more troops to fight an enemy that doesn’t have an army, or a country, or a government. President Bush told us a decade ago that we’d prevent al Qaeda and the Taliban from committing more attacks, no matter what it took. After our recent successes, we know what it took, and it wasn’t a ground force still scaled for the Cold War. The rationale for the decade-long battle in Afghanistan is gone. It ended in Pakistan, a nation where we have no combat soldiers on the ground. This is a new chapter. It’s time to bring our troops home.

Several leaders in the Congressional Progressive Caucus—Rep. Barbara Lee, my co-chair Rep. Keith Ellison, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, Rep. Mike Honda, Rep. Maxine Waters and I—sent a letter to President Obama May 4 urging him to order "a near-term and significant drawdown of U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan beginning no later than July of this year." The logistics of bringing approximately 100,000 troops home should be an incentive, not an impediment, to getting started as soon as possible. Our soldiers deserve to come home to an honorable reception, be reunited with their families, and begin thinking about the rest of their lives.

It's important to put this moment in the right context. Foreign policy is often thought of as an isolated issue, or divided from "domestic" policy as though the two have nothing to do with each other. This division has always done more harm than good. We make policy as a nation of voters, not as separate interest groups. The CPC introduced its People's Budget proposal last month because how we spend our money as a country is too big a question to split into small categories. Our budget not only creates jobs, improves our infrastructure and creates a fairer tax system, but saves $2.3 trillion in military spending over the next 10 years. One of the Budget's central goals is bringing our troops home and reducing wasteful spending on bloated, multi-billion-dollar military contracts. This is the time to have that conversation.

It’s also time to have a conversation about how we relate to the rest of the world. There are popular democracy movements spreading throughout the Middle East and elsewhere; we need to build positive relationships with these movements. We also need to maintain a military we can afford that’s designed to protect our nation from harm, not fight simultaneous land wars in Europe and Central Asia. Diplomacy and counterintelligence are often a lot cheaper and more effective than building another tank division.

If anyone doubts this, let them take a look at the headlines. Having defeated Osama bin Laden, we can say with certainty that 100,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan is not what's going to make us safer from terrorism. We need to continue what got us this far: forensic work with small teams and a lighter footprint. We need to be realistic about our goals -- right now, and always, our highest priority has to be using our financial and manpower resources as wisely as possible. Continuing an unsustainable military presence overseas doesn't meet those criteria. If anyone has evidence to the contrary, I haven't seen it. That's why the People's Budget fully funds our withdrawal and puts the rest of the savings into reducing the deficit and rebuilding America.

The president already knows the majority of the American people want our troops home. We've had a generation of costly war and bloodshed, and it's time we put our house back in order. Voters say so in huge numbers every time, no matter who's asking. It's the right thing to do, it's practicable, it’s popular, and it would mean the end of the longest war in American history. If you're reading this at home, it means you already know this. So what now?

Well, now is our chance to make Congress really listen. In times of war and peace, there are few moments when a single person's fate can change the tide one way or the other. This is one of those moments. The death of Osama bin Laden is what this war was always supposed to be about. There’s no new reason for our soldiers to remain in Afghanistan. We need to bring them home -- for their sake, for the sake of our country, and for the sake of our economic future. I don't use those words lightly. Our presence there has already cost us too much in lives and contributed significantly to our national debt. If we remain in Afghanistan out of habit or political timidity, it will cost us more than we can afford.

Please let your members of Congress know how you feel. Please tell them this is the moment when America turns the corner and plans for the future. If we speak with one voice, as we’ve done so long, eventually no one can ignore it. That’s why I joined my colleagues in signing the recent letter to the president, and that’s why I’m coming to you now. The road of peace is a long one, but it leads in the right direction. I think we’re at a crucial point on that road. The question now is how we keep going. Please support our soldiers, and the rest of the country, by pushing to bring them home today.

U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva represents Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District.

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