Afghanistan Withdrawal Good, Say Sanders and Khanna, But Biden Must Do More to End 'Forever Wars'

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ro Khanna on Thursday welcomed President Joe Biden’s announcement to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan but urged the president to take further actions to end “forever wars.”

The planned withdrawal is “a courageous step” that should spark reflection upon “the enormous costs” of two decades of war, Sanders (I-Vt.) and Khanna (D-Calif.) wrote in an op-ed published Thursday at the Washington Post.

Their op-ed came a day after Biden formally announced Wednesday that he would withdraw troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021 and said that “it is time to end America’s longest war”—a declaration met with cautious praise from anti-war activists.

Although some advocates for continuing the war assert that U.S. troop withdrawal would cause the Taliban to hold more power in the country, the progressive lawmakers say that argument falls flat. “Continuing the U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan out of fear that the government might be overrun by the Taliban is the same mind-set that has bogged us down for two decades. If this problem could be solved militarily, it would have been done before now,” wrote Sanders and Khanna.

Instead, the lawmakers said, withdrawal will allow the U.S. to “refocus on diplomacy as our foreign policy tool of first resort.” To that end, the U.S. must “promote protection for women in Afghanistan” including by ensuring they are included in peace negotiations. Civil society more broadly, the op-ed continues, must also be included to strengthen the nation and “to help stamp out the corruption that feeds extremism.”

“Executing a responsible and comprehensive withdrawal from Afghanistan is an essential first step toward Biden fulfilling his commitment to end ‘forever wars,'” wrote Sanders and Khanna. “But more work must be done.”

That work should include the U.S. using its power to pressure Saudi Arabia to end its war on Yemen and blockade and cutting U.S. troop numbers in Syria and Iraq, according to the lawmakers. Other steps should include the U.S. rejoining the Iran nuclear deal, curbing airstrikes and drone attacks, and launching “a much more robust debate about whether the worldwide network of U.S. military bases is necessary for our national security.”

To further reform the notion of American security and foreign policy, Sanders and Khanna call for no further military action unless it’s necessary to “protect our national security” and has been authorized by Congress.

“By ending wars in Afghanistan and around the world, the United States can give our troops the long-overdue homecoming they deserve, usher in a new chapter of American global engagement that prioritizes diplomacy to keep Americans safe, and protect democracy, human rights, and the rule of law,” wrote Sanders and Khanna.

Biden’s call to pull troops out of Afghanistan also met praise from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)—the sole member of Congress in 2001 to vote against the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Lee has repeatedly called the 2001 AUMF “a blank check for endless war.”

In a Wednesday statement, Lee said Biden’s promised troop withdrawal marks “a bold step toward reversing the military-first approach our government has taken for far too long.”

But, like Sanders and Khanna, the congresswoman said the withdrawal must not mark the end of the road.

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“While this is an extremely encouraging step, much work remains to be done,” said Lee. “We must utilize this momentum to rein in executive war powers, repeal the outdated and obsolete 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, and put that power back in the hands of Congress and the people, the way the Constitution intended.”