The Audacity

The need to address the co-option of Newsweek and the Washington Post was so strong last week that I left hanging President Obama’s decision to send 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize today, Mr. Obama spent a good portion of his speech addressing war in general and the Afghan war specifically.

So, let’s get back to that. What a stupid idea. Just because Gen. William Westmoreland Stanley McChrystal asks for 30,000 troops, doesn’t mean that Mr. Obama, as commander-in-chief, has to give them to him.

I’m not a general or politician, but even after the president’s speeches, I have unanswered questions:

- What are these troops supposed to do? If we’re going to run a classic counter-insurgency campaign, along the lines laid down by Gen. David Petraeus (Gen. McChrystal’s boss), we’ll need between 500,000-600,000 troops in Afghanistan, instead of the 100,000 we’ll have there at the height of the surge and we can’t plan on starting to pull them out in mid-2011.

- What’s with the whole “in and out” strategy anyhow? In the old neighborhood, we used to say, “Go big or stay home.” Mr. Obama does neither. If we start ramping up in January 2010 and ramping down in July 2011, what’s the point, other than to put on a political show to defend Mr. Obama from charges of being “soft on foreign policy”? Memo to the White House: you’re gonna get accused of that anyhow and waste lives, time and money in the process.

- What will all this cost? The first and foremost cost is to our fellow citizens who bear the burden of fighting needless wars. As Bob Herbert pointed out in Tuesday’s Times, it’s the same few soldiers and their families who have been asked to sacrifice more again and again and again for eight years.

- What will this cost in dollars? The cost of the war commonly bandied is one million dollars per year, per pair of boots on the ground. The Washington Post reported Monday that as we pull out of Iraq, the military is authorized to leave as much as $30 million worth of gear behind for the Iraqis at each post. We are leaving 280 posts in Iraq, so the total value of gear we leave behind may approach $8.4 billion. No worries that corrupt Iraqi officials will let any of that stuff fall into the wrong hands and American troops at the six large remaining bases will be killed with weapons purchased by US taxpayers. (“You there! Pay to kill your own kid!”) Of course, we’ll need the exact same gear in Afghanistan. Oh well, I guess we’ll have to buy all new stuff. Bet the defense contractors love this one.

- Are we really leaving Iraq? As I noted above, we’ll still have six large bases and Tuesday morning we woke to learn that over a hundred people died in a series of bombings in Baghdad. Could the terrorists be so uncooperative as to ratchet up the violence in Iraq, just as we’ve made a larger commitment in Afghanistan, thereby straining our overstressed forces even more? Could they be trying to pull us in two directions at once? Damn them! But how could anyone have foreseen this diabolical plot?

- What about the contractors? As of last March, there were 68,000 contractors in Afghanistan – outnumbering the troops at that time. There are 75,000 contractors in Iraq. Shifting the burden from soldiers to mercenaries might look good politically, but to whom are these people responsible? How many are taking drugs in opium-rich Afghanistan? (I’m sure it’s against the rules, but with the contracting companies making a big markup on every warm body they can locate, I’ll bet they’re pretty willing to overlook misbehavior.) Congress has been told we’ll hire local contractors in Afghanistan, but won’t that undermine our ostensible efforts to build up Afghan military and police forces?

- Where’s my war tax? If we accept, for the sake of argument, that Mr. Obama’s war plans need to be enacted, why is he following the George Bush strategy of lulling America into thinking that it all comes for free? Hamid “Where’s My Bribe?” Karzai told the BBC Afghanistan won’t be able to pay for any of its own security for 15 years. Why not ask the rest of us to share the sacrifice of the one in a hundred Americans who have to fight these wars? Why not at least tax the crap out of the bankers and Wall Streeters who party on with their ginormous bonuses?

And oh yeah…. What about Pakistan?

© Mark Floegel, 2009

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