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Budget Problems, America? Try Ending Your Many Wars

William Pfaff
Columnist
William Pfaff is known as a globally respected political commentator and author on international relations, contemporary history and U.S. policy. He has been published in five countries and his column was…
William Pfaff

To the wayfaring American citizen, the view of Washington, D.C., from abroad is as bizarre as that of Oz. One cannot believe what is happening. How can Republican leaders have convinced themselves that the way to be re-elected is by doing away with Medicare and Social Security — about all the security that America’s old people have to hang on to these days. (Not the rich ones. There are not very many rich, old people in the United States—look around you.) When the Republicans lose a “sure” Republican congressional seat to a Democrat on these issues, as they did in May in New York state, they display genuine bewilderment.

They think that voters are all single-mindedly obsessed with the national debt and the present fight over the forthcoming budget. I mentioned Oz, but of course the Wizard proved to be a warm-hearted mountebank who knew how Dorothy could get back to Kansas. Mountebanks are aplenty in Washington but they have nothing to offer Dorothy, who was just a poor farm girl from the Great Plains (where, incidentally, the American Populist movement of the late 19th century started, nearly electing president the great orator William Jennings Bryan on a “free silver” ticket).

If the government would like $3 trillion to round out the budget for next year, why not call off the wars that nobody can any longer explain? Afghan operations alone are set to run to $113 billion this fiscal year, according to The Washington Post. The Pentagon is asking for $107 billion in the next fiscal year for Afghanistan alone.

The cost of maintaining a single American soldier in Afghanistan for a year is $1 million. That’s because of the stupefying cost of transporting supplies and the continuing construction of bases there. (But aren’t we supposed to be leaving?) The cost of an Afghan national army, which the country has never felt necessary in the past but that the U.S. now wants it to possess (so that it can execute missions that Washington considers vital, not to them but to us) has cost $28 billion thus far, and the U.S. training effort for 2012 is a requested $12.5 billion.

If we take seriously the claims of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, the U.S., because of its drone and air campaigns there, is on the brink of being identified by the Afghans not as an allied force but a hostile army of occupation. He implies that this new Afghan army might find that its historical role in Afghanistan is to drive the U.S. out. Given the even greater hostility toward America in Pakistan, it is possible that the two countries might cooperate in that effort. In that case, the “terrorist” Taliban would gladly join in. U.S. officials replied mildly to Mr. Karzai’s threat, since they are habituated to assume that he and his Pakistani counterparts can readily be replaced. We made ’em; we use ’em; we can break ’em.

Why do we remain in Afghanistan and Pakistan under these conditions? We went there only to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, and he’s now dead and deep in the blue sea. Last week a U.S. House of Representatives vote for an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan was defeated by only 11 votes (the nays won 215 to 204; a year ago the same vote was 260 against with 162 favoring withdrawal).

When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, saying that Afghanistan was the “right” war to fight and (the still unfinished) Iraq intervention the “wrong” war, he asked the Pentagon what victory in Afghanistan would require. Gen. David Petraeus, then theater commander for both Iraq and Afghanistan, replied at the end of 2009 that it would take a “surge” of 100,000 additional soldiers and an equal increase in civilian contractors. The president asked if the plan would assure victory within 18 months so that withdrawal from Afghanistan could begin in July 2011. The general and his Pentagon staff said yes. Their demands for reinforcement were met.

Last summer, Gen. Petraeus, who had returned to direct command in Afghanistan from his theater command, was again asked about victory in Afghanistan. He reiterated his determination to win and said that by the end of August or in early September 2010, “we will have the inputs about right,” and the campaign plan for victory “perfected,” and he would then launch his march to victory. In interviews on the Sunday television talk programs in Washington in August last year, he hinted that, well, possibly it would take a little longer to win the war than July 2011 — as initially promised to Mr. Obama — but Secretary of Defense Robert Gates intervened to say that if Gen. Petraeus and his colleagues had promised to give the president victory by July 2011, then that is what they would do.

Well, here we are now in June 2011. Has President Obama asked Gen. Petraeus, “Where is this victory?” Are the Senate and House of Representatives demanding appearances by the joint chiefs to explain whether they are following the president’s policy or their own? Congress is afraid to do so. Cowardice on stopping wars, raising taxes, “letting Israel down” and the power of corporations seems to be what runs Washington. Dorothy was never afraid. Dorothy had pluck — spirit and courage! That was in the 19th century.

Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at www.williampfaff.com.

© 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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