By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
ST. PETERSBURG — As a lawmaker who has been in federal office since the Vietnam War, U.S. Rep. Bill Young has never shied away from advocating American intervention and military power abroad.
At the peak of his 41 year career, he chaired — from 1999-2005 — the powerful Appropriations Committee, directly responsible for allocating trillions of dollars to fund the American government, making his name as a supporter and defender of military interests and combat gear, renewing every Defense Department request for more funding for contingency operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
But despite the battles of yesteryear for which he has constantly lent his support, the 81-year-old congressman has had a change of heart when it comes to the ongoing war in Afghanistan, now the longest conflict in U.S. history that has seen 2,121 American lives lost since 2001, with no clear sign of exit until at least 2014, according to NATO.
“I think we should remove ourselves from Afghanistan as quickly as we can,” Young told the Tampa Bay Times on Sept. 17. “I just think we’re killing kids that don’t need to die.”
This admission from Young is a stark contrast to his voting career and legislative accomplishments, which have been focused on securing massive funding for military contractors around Florida and the rest of the country.
An earlier Florida Watchdog investigation revealed that in 2010 alone, Young earmarked $128.8 million to companies that directly contributed to his campaign, the majority of which were defense and military related, including Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more.
Rather than shifting his support for the Afghan War based on economic arguments, however, Young was most influenced by a death of Matthew Sitton, an Army staff sergeant from Largo who attended the Christian school run by the Young’s church in Indian Shores.
Sitton had recently written letters to Young describing the perilous conditions on the battlefield.
“It’s a real mess,” Young said. “He told me some things I found hard to believe. Being forced to go on patrol on foot through fields that they knew were mined with no explanation for why they were patrolling on foot.”
What made the congressman’s remarks so powerful were the mentions of how this could affect ongoing war operations into the future, describing that many of his senior Republican colleagues also are weary of the continued war in Afghanistan but “ tend not to want to go public” about their concerns.
As the longest-serving GOP congressman, it is expected that Young’s change of heart will inspire serious reconsideration among his peers.
That is, if the veteran congressman can defeat his challenger in the fall.
Young’s Democratic opponent, St. Petersburg lawyer Jessica Ehrlich, who hopes to end his nearly half-century-long tenure in the House, was quick to spin the change of heart in her own favor.
“Now that Bill Young has admitted he was out of touch and wrong on Afghanistan, is he now ready to admit he was wrong on the other failed policies he has supported for our troops in the field and at home?” wrote Ehrlich in a statement to Florida Watchdog.
“Is he ready to admit he was wrong to ignore the conditions at Walter Reed? Is he ready to admit he was wrong to disagree with Secretary (of Defense Robert) Gates and force the military to use the unsafe Humvee?”
Young’s office did not respond to requests for further comment.
Yaël Ossowski is Florida Bureau Chief for Watchdog.org. Contact him at Yael@FloridaWatchdog.org.
— Yaël (@YaelOss) September 10, 2012