As President Barack Obama prepares to address Americans tonight to mark the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq, more attention might turn to Afghanistan, where the U.S. military is struggling to battle a resurgent Taliban with an increase in U.S. forces.
There are 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq compared with 100,000 in Afghanistan today.
In Nevada, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid's Republican opponent, Sharron Angle, isn't letting voters forget that the Senate majority leader opposed a 2007 troop surge in Iraq, which helped turn around the conflict, nor his open questioning of Gen. David Petraeus, who was running the war.
That was then, and this is now.
Reid's Senate campaign notes that even as he and other Democrats pushed to set a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, he always supported the men and women on the ground and repeatedly voted for "funding to ensure the troops have the resources they need to carry out their mission."
As for Angle, the former Reno assemblywoman's campaign said her national security strategy boils down to listening to and following the advice of military leaders.
"Sharron knows that expertise is best left to our military commanders and not the political elite in Washington that works to second-guess and politicize our nonpartisan armed forces," her campaign said when asked what makes Angle qualified on war and national security issues.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal asked both campaigns questions about U.S. policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terror, which began after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, and about the differences between the candidates' philosophies and priorities. And we asked them about Reid's controversial comment that "the war is lost" in Iraq, a remark the senator believes has been misconstrued.
Here are their answers:
IRAQ: Now that combat troops are out, what next for U.S. involvement and for how long?
REID: At this point, the overwhelming effort should shift from combat missions with the U.S. maintaining a presence in Iraq to helping civilians with technical assistance, training, and diplomacy. In addition to those efforts, American troops will have a role in training Iraqis and targeting terrorist groups.
ANGLE: Sharron believes that these questions are best answered by our military commanders and does not advocate a “time table” that places an artificial deadline and would encourage the Islamic extremists in the area seeking to destabilize the region.
AFGHANISTAN: How do you think the war is going now that President Obama has stepped things up? Do you agree with Gen. Petraeus, who has argued against any precipitous withdraw of forces in July 2011, the date set by Obama to begin a gradual reduction of 100,000 troops on the ground.
REID: The decision by President Obama to provide a coherent strategy and the resources to implement that strategy is critical. We are just now getting all of our troops into Afghanistan, but Sen. Reid is encouraged that the coalition has regained momentum in going after the Taliban. It is important that our commitment not be open-ended. However, the administration has built in periods of review of our progress, and Sen. Reid believes we should determine how soon we bring home our troops based on those reviews.
ANGLE: Again, Sharron has full faith in our military commanders – including Gen. Petraeus.
WAR ON TERROR. Does U.S. policy have the right mix of military, diplomatic and political measures in place for success or should there be adjustments? What is the definition of success?
REID: When it comes to fighting the war on terror, the Obama administration has done the right thing by shifting emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan, the central hub of terrorism, to go after the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. We must continue to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat terrorist networks around the world. This administration has done that by working with international partners to decimate terrorist organizations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Indonesia and many other countries.
ANGLE: There will always be room for adjustments. Insofar as the terrorist elements are active: our militaristic, diplomatic and political efforts will always need to modified on a case-by-case basis until said elements are no longer active. Militaristic decisions are best left to our military commanders, while diplomatic efforts (in terms of success) are measured by cooperation of the various leaders in the affected regions. By describing this as a “war on terror,” success would mean that concerted acts of terrorism by religious or political groups would no longer be involved in efforts seeking to destabilize nations and their freedom to govern their respective independent states.
BORDER SECURITY. The president recently added more than $600 million to shore up border security, but does more need to be done? Should U.S. military involvement be increased at the borders?
REID: Sen. Reid believes comprehensive immigration reform is the next logical step. The problem needs to be fixed in a comprehensive fashion that secures our northern and southern borders, goes after unscrupulous employers, and makes those here illegally get right with the law, learn English, pay taxes and fines, and go to the back of the line.
ANGLE: More needs to be done in regard to border security. The $600 million Congress recently authorized for the border, will not fully secure the border. (If that were the case, the money already allocated for the purpose would have resolved the current crisis, and it hasn’t.) Nor will it be enough to combat the many elements taking advantage of our current immigration system. Sharron has always stated the need to secure our borders first: that means additional personnel (such as National Guard members deployed in border-states by their respective governors), a physical barrier – anything to stop the undocumented influx of unidentified illegal aliens from entering our nation.
DEFENSE SPENDING. Is it time to reduce defense spending? What should be priorities?
REID: Our budget deficit forces us to look at all areas of the budget for opportunities to cut government spending to ensure we’re spending the taxpayers’ dollars responsibly and efficiently. When it comes to defense spending, we need to make sure we are not cutting in areas that will put our troops at risk. One example of this can be seen in a recent announcement by Secretary (of Defense Robert) Gates that a joint forces command center will be closed because it was comprised almost entirely by contractors who were providing very limited value to war fighters.
ANGLE: One of the few constitutional obligations is to the defense of our nation. Defense budgets are again best known to our military commanders. Sharron will work to ensure that the Pentagon has what it needs in terms of resources to efficiently and effectively do its job.
REPUBLICANS versus DEMOCRATS: What are the main differences between Democrats and Republicans on defense and national security?
REID: Republicans have gone out of their way to use fear tactics and divisive rhetoric to politicize our national security. They should be working with us to deal with serious security issues like the war in Afghanistan, terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation, and climate change.
ANGLE: Sharron’s priority is the security of our nation, and is more concerned that the Pentagon has the resources it needs to operate – and not drawing distinctions with political parties.
REID versus ANGLE: What are the main differences between Reid and Angle on defense and national security?
REID: Sen. Reid has spent his entire career in Congress working to provide our servicemen and women with the support and resources they need to defend our nation. Further, he has been a leader in ensuring we keep our promise to our vets. Sharron Angle has made it very clear that she favors cutting spending at every government agency and in some cases, eliminating entire agencies, including the Veterans Administration.
ANGLE: Sen. Reid voted for and supported the Iraq war in 2002. But when public opinion against the war began to turn and he learned that opposing the Iraq war could be a winning issue for Democrats, Reid began to criticize the war. Reid voted over and over again to set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. He voted to begin removing troops in 2006, and he voted to remove almost all of the troops from Iraq in 2008. If these measures had been successful they would have had a crippling effect on the young democracy and surely given a victory to al-Qaida in Iraq. Furthermore, Reid stood with the far left of his party in criticizing Gen. Petraeus. Reid famously declared that the “war is lost” in 2007 and joined the MoveOn crowd in basically calling Gen. Petraeus a liar. Reid also opposed the “surge” strategy that has proven to be so successful. At a critical time during the Iraq war, Sen. Reid chose to not support our generals in the field and advocated a withdrawal from Iraq. If Sen. Reid had been successful, the Iraqis would surely be in a far worse position today, and al-Qaida would have gained a foothold in Iraq.
On REID’S COMMENT THAT THE IRAQ 'WAR IS LOST’
REID: At the time Sen. Reid made this comment, President Bush had been pursuing a failed, stay-the-course strategy that had cost thousands of American lives and billions of taxpayer dollars. Iraq appeared to be on the verge of a sectarian civil war. He was simply pointing out what our military leaders, including Gen. Petraeus, had been saying for months: that we could not win by staying the course; the war needed to be won diplomatically, politically, and economically. Sen. Reid and his colleagues were successful in forcing President Bush to finally abandon his failed approach and refocus on political reconciliation. This is what ultimately paved the way for the Iraqi government to take greater responsibility for Iraq’s future. Sen. Reid’s comments were directed at President Bush and his following of misguided policymakers, not at the heroic troops who continue to serve our country with incredible courage.
ANGLE: His remarks were blunt and are difficult for anyone to misconstrue. They were seriously inappropriate, and risked the lives of our military personnel. He owes an apology to our servicemen and servicewomen serving – that their lives and sacrifices are worthy of more respect than current opinions of politicians and observers. His comments send the message that his military prowess is limited to taking advice from prime-time pundits and not our military commanders.
Contact Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919.