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.
After more than a decade of war, thousands of American service members killed, tens of thousands more wounded, and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, it is past time to bring home the approximately 66,000 American servicemen and women still serving in Afghanistan. While we may have entered this war with significant clarity of purpose and moral authority, we have lost sight about what our goals are in that nation. The Taliban is no longer in power, bin Laden is dead, and there is almost no presence of al Qaeda left in Afghanistan. After visiting Afghanistan, Sen. Sanders can attest that corruption is rampant, particularly in regards to elections, security and the banking system.
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 supports the troop reductions, but believes the withdrawal should occur at significantly faster speed and greater scope. In Sen. Sanders’ view, it is time for the people of Afghanistan to take full responsibility for waging the war against the Taliban. We have already paid too high a price both in terms of casualties and national treasure.
The war in Afghanistan has contributed significantly to our $14.5 trillion national debt. In 2013 alone, we will spend about $100 billion on the war in Afghanistan. Any serious discussion of how to reduce the national debt and control spending must begin with defense spending instead of talking about cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education and many other essential programs that benefit millions and millions of children, elderly, veterans and working families that truly depend upon them.