Iraq & Afghanistan
In 2003, President Bush began the war in Iraq against the advice of many military experts and despite calls for restraint from the American people and members of Congress. Then-Rep. Sanders was among those to voice strong opposition to the war at that time, and thereafter.
President Bush told the American people that the war was necessary because Saddam Hussein was hoarding weapons of mass destruction. He insisted the war would be short and that his strategy would insure a smooth and rapid transition to a stable, democratic government in Iraq. President Bush was, as we all know now, wrong on all counts. Sen. Sanders voted against the war, which he believed would be costly, not easily successful and was not justified by the facts on the ground.
Years later, thousands of American soldiers are dead and tens of thousands have been wounded. No evidence that weapons of mass destruction existed after the first Gulf War has been found. President Bush's imprudent actions left our service members and the Iraqi people mired in violence, chaos and civil war for eight years.
With the withdrawal of all U.S. troops in December 2011, the continuing casualties for American troops and a major drain on our Treasury - much of the national debt accrued in the past decade is owed to this unnecessary, costly and unpaid-for war - have been put behind us. The war put us deeper and deeper in debt as we rebuilt Iraq's infrastructure, government and economy, while we ignored the urgent need to rebuild our aging infrastructure, reduce high unemployment and other unmet needs here at home.
George W. Bush's misguided war in Iraq had an alarming toll on the people of Iraq. According to U.N. estimates, millions of Iraqis were displaced by violence. The Iraqi refugee diaspora included more than a million people in Syria and many more in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and elsewhere. Unfortunately, civil unrest and Iraqi casualties continue.
Time and again, Sen. Sanders voted for legislation to bring an end to the war and safely redeploy our troops. Additionally, he introduced a resolution in the Senate which affirmed the sole authority of Congress under the U.S. Constitution to declare war.
Following the tragic events of 9/11, the United States asked Afghanistan to eliminate al-Qaida and its leader Osama bin Laden from that nation, since bin Laden had planned the 9/11 attacks from his base in Afghanistan. When the Taliban government was unresponsive, the American government moved into Afghanistan to find bin Laden and other high-ranking al-Qaida leaders, to destroy the whole organization of al-Qaida and to remove the Taliban regime which supported and gave safe harbor to al-Qaida. Sen. Sanders supported this effort, believing that when a nation allowed, enabled and encouraged an attack on the United States and its citizens, America had the right to defend itself.
Sen. Sanders was thereafter highly critical of President Bush who, in going to war against Iraq, removed the military's attention from the need to capture bin Laden and eliminate his terror network. Years of a needless Iraqi war allowed bin Laden to escape to a safe haven, and to continue his hatred of our nation. It took many years before special military operations located and killed bin Laden on May 2, 2011 in his hiding place in Pakistan.
In those intervening years when the military paid more attention to Iraq than Afghanistan, the possibilities of dealing successfully with the source of terrorism, and with the Afghan "problem," were greatly reduced. Today corruption in Afghanistan is rampant, with elections, security and the banking system there marred by highly corrupt practices. After visiting Afghanistan, Sen. Sanders reaffirmed his belief there must be serious Senate discussion and debate about what our goals in that nation are, how to achieve those goals and how to withdraw our forces when our mission there is concluded.
NATO has committed to withdrawing from combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Although President Obama has said, "I will not keep Americans in harm's way a single day longer than is absolutely required for our national security," he has also added that "we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan, and end this war responsibly."
Sen. Sanders is committed to bringing our troops home as soon as possible. "This country has a $14.5 trillion national debt, in part owing to two wars that have not been paid for. We have been at war in Afghanistan for the last 10 years and paid a high price both in terms of casualties and national treasure. This year alone, we will spend about $100 billion on that war. In my view, it is time for the people of Afghanistan to take full responsibility for waging the war against the Taliban.
"While we cannot withdraw all of our troops immediately, we must bring them home as soon as possible. I appreciate the president's announcement [of troop reductions], but I believe that the withdrawal should occur at significantly faster speed and greater scope."