Washington • Sen. Mike Lee says its time for the U.S. to reduce its mission in Afghanistan and bring most of the troops home, but he doesn't base his decision on the killing of al-Qaida's leader.
"Regardless of the Osama bin Laden factor, you've got a lot of people wondering how long we are going to remain there and what the exit strategy really is," Lee told a group of Utah reporters Tuesday.
The freshman Republican said more relevant to the discussion is the nearly 10-year duration of the war started shortly after the 9/11 attacks and the nation's growing national debt made worse by the expensive conflict.
He said that it is time to focus on more targeted counterterrorism missions conducted by special forces such as the one that resulted in bin Laden's death and stop the broader mission to target insurgents and train Afghanistan's police force.
As a Senate candidate, Lee aligned himself with Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, when it came to his position on the war. Chaffetz is now pressing for an end to the conflict, and Lee said he is sympathetic to the argument that a complete troop withdrawal could leave Afghanistan unstable, which wouldn't be in the national security interest of the United States.
Lee, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made these comments on the same day that committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., said bin Laden's death is a reason to seek a new, more limited war strategy.
"It provides a potentially game-changing opportunity to build momentum for a political solution in Afghanistan that could bring greater stability to the region and bring our troops home," Kerry said Tuesday at the start of a Senate hearing.
President Barack Obama and his administration have been reluctant to tie bin Laden's death to the broader war strategy. The military plans to start reducing its forces, which now number about 100,000 troops, later this year. The president and military leaders have not said how big that drawdown will be.
Lee on immigration
Sen. Mike Lee has little in common with President Barack Obama when it comes to the issue of immigration, but they do agree on allowing foreign students studying engineering and computer science in the United States to stay and work here when they graduate.
"Instead of training entrepreneurs to stay here, we train them to create jobs for our competition. That makes no sense," the president said during his speech Tuesday in El Paso. "In a global marketplace, we need all the talent we can attract, all the talent we can get to stay here to start businesses."
Lee didn't hear the president's speech but is familiar with the general idea and he told Utah reporters, "I'm supportive of that kind of idea."
Both Obama and Lee noted that the founders of now iconic technology and Web-based companies such as Intel, Google and eBay are immigrants who first studied in U.S. colleges with student visas.
The two differ, though, when it comes to how Congress should tackle the issue. While the president wants one package of legislation that reforms the way immigrants enter this country, the way companies employ them and how undocumented immigrants can get right with the law, Lee thinks a smarter approach is to focus on one piece of the issue at a time. He wants to start with streamlining the visa program and eliminating the constitutional amendment that gives any child born in this nation automatic citizenship.