In November, President Obama and NATO proposed a new timetable for the end of combat missions in Afghanistan. The White House has said it will begin a gradual withdrawal starting in in July of this year. According to an Afghanistan Study Group survey, two-thirds of Tea Party voters believe that “Washington should reduce troop levels in Afghanistan or withdraw from the region altogether as soon as possible.” 67 percent of Tea Party supporters worried that the war would hamper deficit reduction.
However, after a weekend trip in Afghanistan to be wooed “away from the Tea Party” by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Tea Party victors Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have all decided to ignore the Tea Party and rebuke the idea of any timetable for withdrawal as “artificial”:
— Toomey: Though a “budget hawk” elected on platform of less wasteful spending, Toomey said that, “despite record budget deficits, a skeptical public and corruption within the Afghanistan’s government, the United States can’t afford to shortchange the war effort.” “This is the country from which al-Qaida launched the most devastating attack on America since World War II. The Taliban wants to take control again. Al-Qaida wants to have a safe haven. And that’s what would happen, I’m afraid, if we had a precipitous withdrawal,” Toomey said in Kabul.
— Ayotte: Supporting President Obama and NATO’s withdrawal date of late 2014 as an “aspirational goal,” Ayotte told reporters that “having now been here and visited, an artificial time line for withdrawal is not something we should have. … We’re making progress here and that [sic] we should obviously continue to assess the conditions on the ground.”
—Johnson: While the trip left Johnson “extremely optimistic” about U.S. progress in Afghanistan, the Wisconsin senator said “it was a mistake to announce a withdrawal timetable of 2014.” “We cannot set artificial deadlines,” he said in a conference call. “We’ve got to be committed to this.”
— Rubio: Though believing the U.S. is “on the timeline this year to have some real good news and make some significant progress” in Afghanistan, Rubio rebuked NATO’s withdrawal timeline for U.S. troops as “artificial.” “I think if you attach a date to it…you are really creating a difficult situation. The bad guys, the Taliban and even al-Qaida, must know all they have to do is wait.”
For all their anti-spending rhetoric, these senators’ desire to stay longer in Afghanistan would significantly expand the deficit. As it stands, both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have cost the U.S. over $1.21 trillion and could top $1.3 trillion in FY2011.