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My hardest decision: Saying no to Afghanistan war

By Jason Chaffetz, Special to CNN
  • Rep. Jason Chaffetz says calling for a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan very difficult
  • He says breaking with GOP on Afghanistan was right thing to do
  • Chaffetz convinced that troop-intensive strategy of nation building is unsustainable
  • He says he's proud of troops but believes they should get out

Editor's note: Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican, represents the 3rd District of Utah in Congress and is appearing in's "Freshman Year" series, along with Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado.

Washington, D.C. (CNN) -- Calling for a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan may have been one of the most difficult decisions I made during my freshman year.

Breaking with my party on the issue of Afghanistan was unexpected, but in the end, I felt it was the right thing to do.

After visiting the war zones earlier this year, I had serious reservations about the nation-building side of our Afghanistan strategy, which I wrote about for CNN in April.

In the ensuing months, I have become more and more convinced that our troop-intensive strategy of nation building is unsustainable.

Attending the memorial services at Fort Hood reinforced for me what a difficult decision we faced. If we're going to put lives on the line, we need to be committed to winning. Otherwise, we need to bring our troops home.

At the time I announced my position, I didn't know how committed the president was to winning this war. He hadn't yet announced his plans. But I wanted to make my views known. Because I didn't want my position to be seen as reactionary to the president's position, I made my recommendations on Afghanistan the day before his speech.

For me, it wasn't about opposing President Obama or the Democrats. It was about doing the right thing for our country, our troops and our national security.

I am proud of our troops. There is no question in my mind that they can accomplish any mission, provided they have the resources and support to see it through.

But in modern warfare, the nature of defending and protecting the United States of America has changed. What does victory look like in Afghanistan? There's no peace treaty to sign. No one will surrender.

Prevention is victory. We still have to track down terrorists across the globe. But they aren't limiting themselves to Afghanistan.

According to Gen. James Jones, Obama's national security adviser, fewer than 100 al Qaeda remain in Afghanistan, and those few have no bases or means by which to attack.

We don't need 100,000 troops to track down 100 or even 1,000 al Qaeda. We need those troops only if we hope, in the words of National Review's Andy McCarthy, to "turn Kabul into Kansas." That's a mission I don't believe is in our interest to support.

I recognize that many people, particularly within my own party, disagree with my views. That's OK. Terrorism is a complex issue. It's hard to capture on a bumper sticker.

Unlike many domestic issues, it's not black and white. With the death tax, you're either for it or against it. Likewise, with the government takeover of health care, you either support it or you don't.

But everybody wants to fight terrorism and win. Everybody wants to protect and defend our country from legitimate threats. That's what makes the issue so complicated.

Nevertheless, these are the types of discussions we should be having. With so much at stake, Americans need to talk about and consider what we're willing to support and pay for.

After giving the speech, I got a lot of questions from the audience. Some were skeptical. Others were exuberant. It seems I'm not the only conservative in America who has doubts about the necessity of a nation-building war strategy.

I got a sweet letter from a mother whose son was killed in Afghanistan. She let me know she appreciated my stance on the war. I don't regret taking the risk of announcing what could have been a politically unpopular position.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jason Chaffetz.