U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin
Friday, June 24, 2011

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Thursday said it is time for the United States to “fundamentally rethink” the “so-called” war on terror.

“We need to get out of these large-scale conflicts, refocus our efforts on smaller operations, intelligence-gathering, law enforcement, and cooperating with our allies,” Harkin said.

In a conference call with the Daily Times Herald and other media on Thursday, Harkin said the Obama administration’s planned draw-down in Afghanistan, announced by the president on Wednesday, is too small.

“I don’t think the president’s proposal to withdraw 10,000 troops is enough,” Harkin said.

Making a case that the United States and allies had made significant progress, Obama said 10,000 troops would be pulled from Afghanistan by the end of the year with another 23,000 returning from the conflict there in 2012 — leaving 68,000 in Afghanistan.

Harkin noted that the United States has spent over $1.2 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan, a financial outlay the senator says has challenged the U.S. economy and threatens programs for education, health and seniors.

The mission in Afghanistan as basically set out has been accomplished in Harkin’s view.

“Bin Laden’s dead, al-Qaida is strong outside of Afghanistan and the Taliban is no longer in control so why do we need to keep 90,000 troops there?” Harkin said.

He added, “Yes, we accomplished our purpose in Afghanistan, and now it’s time to get out.”

The United States needs to abandon nation-building efforts and the notion of creating a centralized government in Afghanistan, Harkin said.

“I believe we can consistent with the safety of our troops,” Harkin said.

Harkin’s position on Afghanistan is closer to that of Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, than it is to Obama’s. Huntsman, according to the Associated Press, has said the United States should focus on counterterrorism “which requires fewer boots on the ground than the president discussed.”

During the conference call Harkin also addressed legislation proposed by U.S. Reps. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Barney Frank, D-Mass. — an alliance of one of the more liberal members of Congress and its most outspoken libertarian — that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and allow states to set their own laws with the drug.

Harkin said he would need to study the specifics of the legislation to gain an understanding of the ramifications of it.

“I would say overall, over the last 20 years or so, we’ve had some success in our war on drugs,” he said.

But marijuana remains a major problem for the criminal-justice system, Harkin said.

“They still seem to be coming in here at a big clip and I’m always in favor of looking at it, reviewing it, and seeing what we need to do differently,” Harkin said.

On Monday, Harkin will be in Sioux City and southwest Iowa to assess flood damage along the Missouri River.