U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy entered Congress in 2007 as an anti-Iraq War candidate, but a lot has changed since then. The focus moved from Iraq to Afghanistan where the battle has dragged on for 10 years.
At the Avon Senior Center Sunday, Murphy talked about his recent trip to Afghanistan, days after one of his Democratic opponents, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, attacked him on his position.
Bysiewicz called for the “immediate withdrawal” of U.S. Troops from the region.
“I think it’s a little bit early for political attacks,” Murphy said Sunday. “I’m going to focus on doing my job and building a consensus in this state to end the war in a way that’s logistically realistic and in a way that’s safe for our troops.”
“Susan believes we need to bring our troops home immediately not keep a long standing presence in the country,” Mark Bergman, Bysiewicz’s spokesman, said in a press release earlier this week. Bysiewicz’s sent out no fewer than three statements on the issue last week, one of which tried to paint Murphy’s position on the Afghan War as similar to views held by U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman.
“We need to redefine the mission in Afghanistan and bring our troops home. Connecticut Democrats deserve a replacement to Senator Joe Lieberman who will consistently be progressive on removing US troops from Afghanistan,” Bysiewicz said.
Murphy told the approximately 30 residents who attended Sunday’s event at the Avon Senior Center that he believes it’s reasonable to begin withdrawing some combat troops as early as this summer, but doesn’t believe an immediate withdrawal will be possible if the goal is to maintain stability in the region.
Murphy, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said his recent trip to the region reinforced his belief this timetable is reasonable and withdrawal is necessary. He said he doesn’t want to see “mission creep” in Afghanistan as it did in Iraq. He said the focus in Afghanistan was to get rid of Al Qaeda and its influences. Now that Osama Bin Laden is dead he doesn’t want the focus of the war in Afghanistan turn toward the Taliban, which the United States is trying to include as part of its coalition in rebuilding the local Afghan government.
He said the death of Bin Laden weakened Al Qaeda give Obama further justification to reorient his strategy and begin withdrawing the troops.
Murphy’s trip to the region was about a week before Bin Laden’s death and the Congressional delegation included four Republicans and two Democrats. He said it was important to ask tough questions of the military because, otherwise, “it’s a 48 hour sales pitch.”
He told the small crowd about walking through a field of poppy as the delegation made their way into Herat Province in western Afghanistan. He wondered why the military would take them through a poppy field, then realized there’s nowhere in the country that doesn’t grow poppy.
“So, with one hand we’re building up an Afghan police force to repel the Taliban, and with the other, we’re building them irrigation canals to help them grow poppy which raises money for the Taliban. This couldn’t be more backward,” Murphy wrote in his travelogue of the trip. The story was similar to the one he recounted for residents Sunday when one woman pointed out how poor Connecticut’s infrastructure is and why there’s not more focus on domestic concerns.
There were also concerns by audience members about the reluctance of Republicans to raise the debt ceiling when the country is spending about $2.5 billion a week on the war.
Murphy said the Republican Majority in Congress is still struggling with this issue. He said a freshman Congressman, whom he refused to name, seemed to “have his eyes opened,” by the trip. However, it’s unclear how much that will translate into support for withdrawal.
Murphy’s campaign said an online survey that more than 1,000 Connecticut residents’ have taken shows support for withdrawal, but results of the survey were not immediately available.
It’s possible Bysiewicz is trying to make the war an issue because it’s something Connecticut Democrats feel strongly about, but her campaign spokesman said she hasn’t done any polling on the issue.
“Susan has no idea about the polling on this issue but deeply believes it’s the right thing to do to bring our troops home now,” Bergman said Sunday. “And she disagrees with Congressman Murphy when he said we are going to need a “long standing” commitment in Afghanistan and disagreed with his vote in Congress against a resolution that would bring all of our troops home by December of 2011. This is an area of disagreement between the candidates and Susan is the only candidate that supports bringing our troops home immediately.”
Rep. William Tong, who officially entered the U.S. Senate race last week, sent out a statement saying “It is time that we stand with President Obama and begin the process of ending our 10-year long commitment in Afghanistan starting with a substantial reduction in our front line combat troops, beginning this summer.“
“As Senator, I will work with the President and military leadership to make certain that we do not leave a destabilized Afghanistan that returns to a breeding ground for extremism, threatening our long-term national security,“ Tong said. “We need to focus on the critical task at hand – safely bringing our troops home from Afghanistan.”
Even though the candidates have all come out of the gate swinging on this issue it’s unclear how many Connecticut voters care about it. About 30 residents showed up in Avon on a rainy Sunday and 75 joined Murphy’s phone call on the issue last week.
Murphy said he doesn’t see the grassroots groundswell of support for the anti-war movement the way he did back in 2006, but he encouraged the crowd Sunday to stay involved and continue expressing their views on the issue to elected officials. Everyone who spoke Sunday supported withdrawal.