Anti-war lawmakers in the House and Senate were remarkably silent Monday in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, with few seizing on the historic opportunity to amplify their long-running call to end hostilities in Afghanistan.
Leading members of the “peace caucus,” including Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) — who on Saturday accused President Barack Obama of signing off on assassinations — not only did not put out statements on bin Laden’s death, they refused to respond to requests for comment.
While some now wonder how many troops are still needed, war proponents sought to make clear that bin Laden’s death doesn’t mean military action is no longer necessary.
“I don’t support that at all,” Homeland Security Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) said. “This is a major victory ... but al-Qaida is still a force.”
Likewise, House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) argued that to use the death of bin Laden at the hands of U.S. special operations forces in Pakistan as a reason to expedite withdrawal of troops would be a mistake given a looming U.S. offensive.
“For anyone to try and mix up this success with what I think will be a success in this spring offensive jeopardizes the long-term health of our national security,” Rogers said.
Similarly, in the Senate lawmakers were also standing solidly behind the administration’s war plans.
“The president has a timetable to begin withdrawal of — out of Afghanistan. He has indicated that he’s going to stick with that. I think that’s appropriate,” Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said.
Of the most vocal opponents of the war in Afghanistan, only Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Walter Jones Jr. (R-N.C.) were willing on Monday to call for ending the war in the wake of bin Laden’s death.
“These developments should help escalate the end to the war in Afghanistan. ... Everyone is breathing a sigh of relief,” Lee said, adding that the historic death should “compel us to really look at our strategy in Afghanistan.”
“We need to have a smart security strategy,” Lee said, adding that she hopes bin Laden’s death opens a window for Congress to discuss “how we address the root causes of terrorism and how we implement a smart security strategy.”
Jones praised Obama’s handling of the situation and the military and intelligence assets behind the attack.
“I certainly do want to commend the president and his team,” Jones said, noting, “I was here in Washington on 9/11 and I remember the sadness and tragedy of that day.”
But Jones argued rather than a validation of how the Obama and Bush administrations have pursued the war on terror, the successful killing of bin Laden “proves there’s another way to fight the war on terrorism.”
Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), a former Marine, took a much more moderated approach, saying the administration and military officials should assess what effect the death has on the realities on the ground in Afghanistan.
“I think that conditions on the ground should always play a major, major role in our decisions,” Grimm said.
“I think it has to be a factor in how we re-evaluate what we’re going to be doing in Afghanistan. What is the endgame going to be? If it’s nation-building, then we’re in it for the long haul. If it’s not and we’re looking at a more expedited timeline, then the conditions on the ground have to dictate the decision by the administration,” Grimm added.
But for now, GOP leaders in the House are toeing the line in support of the current war effort.
“Our fight for freedom and liberty around the globe continues. We face a complex and dangerous threat even today. It’s important that we remain vigilant in our efforts to defeat terrorist enemies and protect the American people. This makes our engagement in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan more important, not less,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Monday afternoon.
Likewise, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) bluntly said Republican leaders remain behind the White House in its efforts.
“It is our commitment to continue to do all we can to support those in our armed services and our intelligence community and this president in his quest and theirs to defend the American people against the spread of radical Islam and the threats it continues to pose to our country,” Cantor said.
Jessica Brady, Emily Pierce and Anna Palmer contributed to this report.