Searching for the Exit?
The scuttlebutt that’s coming out now in Washington is that President Obama doesn’t much like the plans for Afghanistan offered by his advisors:
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team, pushing instead for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government, a senior administration official said Wednesday.
That stance comes in the midst of forceful reservations about a possible troop buildup from the U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, according to a second top administration official.
In strongly worded classified cables to Washington, Eikenberry said he had misgivings about sending in new troops while there are still so many questions about the leadership of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Despite his having campaigned for two years on the urgency and necessity of the war in Afghanistan, it’s not difficult to see why President Obama would have misgivings on doubling down there. Victory at a cost and in a timeframe acceptable to the American people is far from assured and may even be impossible. And then there’s domestic criticism along the lines of Nicholas Kristof’s column in the New York Times today:
So if President Obama dispatches another 30,000 or 40,000 troops, on top of the 68,000 already there, that would bring the total annual bill for our military presence there to perhaps $100 billion — or more. And we haven’t even come to the human costs.
As for health care reforms, the 10-year cost suggests an average of $80 billion to $110 billion per year, depending on what the final bill looks like.
Granted, the health care costs will continue indefinitely, while the United States cannot sustain 100,000 troops in Afghanistan for many years. On the other hand, the health care legislation pays for itself, according to the Congressional Budget Office, while the deployment in Afghanistan is unfinanced and will raise our budget deficits and undermine our long-term economic security.
So doesn’t it seem odd to hear hawks say that health reform is fiscally irresponsible, while in the next breath they cheer a larger deployment of troops in Afghanistan?
Meanwhile, lack of health insurance kills about 45,000 Americans a year, according to a Harvard study released in September. So which is the greater danger to our homeland security, the Taliban or our dysfunctional insurance system?
It seems to me that similar criticisms could be made of all of our military spending, our overseas military bases, our foreign aid, of supporting embassies in other countries, and so on. Are those really the alternatives or is it a false choice? Might we withdraw from Afghanistan only to find ourselves spending even more on defense a couple of years down the road?
I think I’ve made my own views pretty clear. I think that there are tactical, strategic, legal, and moral reasons for not simply withdrawing from Afghanistan but, following the lead of Afghanistan authority Rory Stewart, I think that we need to take a longer, more modest, and less military view. I think that we’ll need what Ralph Peters has described as a compact, lethal force in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future but I’m skeptical of any large force of ours in Afghanistan whether for counter-terrorism as has been suggested by Vice President Joe Biden or counter-insurgency as Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s plan that’s on the president’s desk now provides.
What will the president do? What should the president do?
Please leave your policy prescriptions in the comments including the strategic objectives, how you’d accomplish them, the relationship between your preferred approach and the strategic objectives, and how you would mitigate the risks of your approach.