June 28, 2011

How long should U.S. troops be overseas? | Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — U.S. armed forces have been in Afghanistan for nearly 10 years, sparking some to question the wisdom of staying.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., sparred with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on the Senate floor last week about the issue.

Manchin has visited the region both as governor and, more recently, as a member of the Senate.

“I believe it is time for President (Barack)?Obama to begin a substantial and responsible reduction in our military presence in Afghanistan,” Manchin said in a Senate speech.“I believe it is time for us to rebuild America, not Afghanistan.”

McCain rebuked Manchin by saying his comments “characterize isolationist withdrawal, lack of knowledge of history attitude that seems to be on the rise in America.”

“In case the senator from West Virginia forgot it or never knew it, we withdrew from Afghanistan one time. We withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban came, eventually followed by al-Qaida, followed by attacks on the United States of America,” he said.

“I view the senator’s remarks as, at the least, uninformed about history and strategy and the challenges we face from radical Islamic extremism,” McCain continued.

Manchin argued by saying if 10 years of war in Afghanistan is not long enough, what is?

The senators’ exchange crystallizes the debate about the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

Obama has ordered a drawdown of 30,000 troops by next summer. When complete, the U.S. will still have 70,000 troops remaining — more than when President George W. Bush left office. About 1,600 U.S. troops have died since the fighting began in October 2001.

During Manchin’s tour of Afghanistan, he met Afghan President Hamid Karzai and spoke with Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry on the U.S. military and civilian mission. The senator was also briefed on U.S. and NATO involvement in advising Afghan governmental agencies and the progress of reconstruction projects.

After an air strike that killed nine civilians in May, Karzai described U.S.-led NATO forces as an “occupying force” if they continue to use such tactics.

During Manchin’s speech to the Senate, he laid out a common-sense case for withdrawal.

“The truth is impossible to ignore. After 10 years we face the choice of whether we are going to continue to spend tens of billions of tax dollars, not on fighting and killing al-Qaida, but by policing and building a state where the leaders seem indifferent to the difficulties of their people, and the people seem indifferent at best, if not hostile to our presence.”

That was a position shared by James Saunders of Fairmont.

“I agree 100 percent. The truth is hard to ignore, but the truth is the only thing you can go on,” he said. “I kept thinking, ‘Way to go, Joe. Way to go.’”

Saunders said though Manchin supports the president on this issue, he is not a “yes” man.

“I think Joe took a beating when he supported the health care bill and everybody thought he was a ‘yes’ man for President Obama when he is not,” Saunders said. “I think the fact that Manchin has challenged the president proves that he is fighting for West Virginia and the United States.”

Andrew Sabak, chairman of the Marion County Republican Party, supports McCain’s position. He reflected about what happened after the U.S. forces pulled out of Vietnam when many people were killed in retaliation by the new government. He also cited the violent reprisals when the French pulled out of Algeria.

“My perspective is that there will be retaliations if we leave,” Sabak said. “I support and approve of McCain’s position that if we leave, radical Islam will grow stronger.”

Chuck Haney, a Vietnam veteran, is the new commander for VFW Davis White Post 7048.

“Personally, I support drawdown,” he said. “We have been there for 10 years. How many have been killed? How many more wounded, and what have we done? Have we won? No. Why should we stay? So let’s bring them home.”

That was a point echoed by Denise Rice, a special education aide at North Marion High School.

“I think we should bring people home. We need to concentrate on our own country for a change,” she said. “We’ve lost our soldiers over there. Let them come home so they can be with their families.”

By:  J. Miles Layton