WASHINGTON -- Sen. Lindsey Graham declared on Tuesday that President Barack Obama's kill strike on al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden was a bold success. But the South Carolina Republican also threw cold water on the idea that it should be used as an excuse to disengage from U.S. military commitments abroad.
"It would be a huge mistake and a catastrophic blunder to think that the killing of Osama bin Laden ends our need to help Iraq or Afghanistan," Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill. "The way to win this conflict over time is allow ... moderation to prevail over extremism."
"What we ought to do is pour it on now -- we've got momentum," Graham said. "Now is not the time to talk about leaving prematurely. Now's the time to make sure you are leaving behind capacity. We won't be judged by the day we left Afghanistan; we'll be judged by what we left behind."
Leaving capacity behind depends on investing in local government and infrastructure, he argued.
"You don't make America safe just by killing bin Laden. That's important, to let terrorists know they have no sanctuary," but, Graham added, "you don't win the war by killing terrorists. Over time, you win the war by investing in those who will live in peace with us."
Similarly, the senator, who sits on the Budget, Homeland Security and Armed Services committees, contended that the United States must stay engaged in Pakistan -- even if preliminary evidence suggests some elements there protected bin Laden.
"One thing that's just not an option to me is [to] sever ties. That to me is a formula for a failed state," Graham said, arguing that the military and development aid must continue to flow into Pakistan and Afghanistan.
He also called for Americans to remain patient.
"This is a long, complicated endeavor; you're dealing with imperfect people," Graham said. "Two choices are pretty clear to me: disengage, and accept the consequences, or stay engaged no matter how hard and distasteful it can be."
"I have learned one thing from 9/11: It is better to be engaged with imperfect people, than to sit on the sidelines and watch crazy people start to control things," he added, referring to the Taliban, who took over Afghanistan after the Soviet Union lost its war there.
"We ought to be candid and and honest and reevaluate our aid packages, but not set them aside," he said.
Graham did offer one way Pakistan could soothe U.S. concerns: Hunt down bin Laden's old protector, the leader of the Taliban, who he suggested is hiding in Pakistan.
"If they want to help us and show good faith, help us find Mullah Omar," Graham said.