Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Miserable 8th Anniversary Of Fruitless War In Afghanistan-- How Obama Plans To Keep Funding It


Late yesterday President Obama met with a gaggle of legislators-- most of them clueless pro-war types-- to tell them he has no intention of ending the disastrous and pointless occupation of Afghanistan. No one watching the cable news shows afterwards would ever have guessed that Ike Skelton, for example, is a Democrat. It was a bit of bipartisan bonhomie: the blind leading the lame. Sorry, but it almost could have been Bush up there. And this morning's Hill is reporting that obstructionist Republicans in Congress say they want to back Obama-- or at least McChrystal-- if he wants to escalate the war and continue the occupation. McCain, in fact, demands they do it with “deliberate haste.” None of the Republicans mentioned tax increases... of course.

Sunday I met with Barbara Lee and then blogged about something disturbing she told me-- basically that the House had already passed a bill introduced by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, H.R. 2920, the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2009. It passed on July 22, 265-166 with Lee and 12 other anti-war Democrats casting "nay" votes. There's an awful lot of verbiage there but what the bill does is exempt defense-related activities from pay-as-you-go budgetary constraints and this is a section that concerned me:
(4)(A) The term `budgetary effects' means the amounts by which PAYGO legislation changes direct spending or revenues relative to the baseline and shall be determined on the basis of estimates included by reference in the PAYGO Act or prepared under section 4(d)(3), as applicable. Budgetary effects that increase direct spending or decrease revenues are termed `costs' and budgetary effects that increase revenues or decrease direct spending are termed `savings'.

As we've discussed before, Bush managed to fund his wars with supplemental budgets, avoiding Pay-Go restrictions. In other words, he just printed up hundreds of billions of dollars for all his misadventures without having to raise taxes or cut programs, in effect driving the country towards virtual bankruptcy and leaving the economy in a complete shambles.

Obama and the Democrats in general campaigned on ending supplemental budgets and going back to responsible and established budgetary procedures that the Bush Regime had disregarded as they showed what they really thought of serious financial conservatism. This however leaves Obama in an awkward situation. Most Americans-- as many as 70%-- oppose the war. Republicans have already shown they want to use whatever action Obama takes as a blunt-edged political weapon to continue their campaign to delegitimize his presidency. Republicans, with a handful of exceptions-- Ron Paul (TX), Tim Johnson (IL), Walter Jones (NC), perhaps a few others-- want to blindly and cluelessly escalate the war come what may. But they refuse to raise taxes to do it and insist on cutting social programs or borrowing money against future generations. War-oriented Democrats are generally afraid to be seen as less tough than the Republicans but are also afraid of cutting the social programs popular with their constituents.

The way Obama wants to get around this is by exempting military spending, a cheap trick that amounts to keeping the irresponsible Bush budgetary procedures without the name "supplemental." Hoyer's bill has now been sent over to the Senate where it's waiting for passage. The Democrats in the House who refused to be taken in by this ruse were

William Clay (MO)
Bob Filner (CA)
Raul Grijalva (AZ)
Maurice Hinchey (NY)
Carolyn Kilpatrick (MI)
Dennis Kucinich (OH)
Barbara Lee (CA)
Jim McDermott (WA)
Ed Pastor (AZ)
Pete Stark (CA)
Bart Stupak (MI)
Anthony Weiner (NY)

That's an even narrower list than the 32 Democrats who heroically voted against the war supplemental itself, one month earlier.

My friend Milt's son is stationed in Kandahar in the heart of Pahtunistan. In a post on his blog he asks the most difficult question the parent of a soldier can ever ask, and that is, "Why is my son (daughter) over there?"
I understood why we went into Afghanistan eight years ago, when my son was starting middle school, although I was against many aspects of it. Some radical assholes, citing their god as the instigator, attacked us in one of the least sophisticated ways imaginable. We knew where they were, they expressed their intent to attack us and others again and again, and a true pacifist has to look at the best way to achieve peace. In this case, it meant taking them out. And frankly, when we took out the Taliban along the way, I can't honestly say I objected that much. But then we pulled out, we didn't finish that part of the job, and we have yet to initiate the other necessary part of any war, which involves diplomacy and overall positive PR. There has never been an end game for Afghanistan.

So, I was sitting there (ironically?) watching football Sunday, and thinking about the son I've raised by myself since he was an infant, and to be quite blunt, I resent the fact that he's in Afghanistan in the first place. We should have taken out al Qaeda in a matter of months, if that was our goal, and pulled our troops out completely years ago. If we wanted a stable Afghanistan that was aligned with us, and we wanted to turn an enemy into an ally, which should be the end game of any war, then we should have pulled out our forces, and put together a "Marshall Plan" of sorts to help the country out. The money we're currently spending on keeping soldiers in their country would go a long way toward helping the Afghan people build a life for themselves. By our standards, it wouldn't take much to help Afghans. The Taliban is recruiting fighters for itself by paying them money; we could easily give the current Afghan government the money to out-bid them, and the equipment to maintain their own security. Instead, we have chosen to fight a "war" against -- who, exactly?

Why is my son over there? Al Qaeda is currently in the mountains of Pakistan. We're supposedly running drones over there to take out their camps. What are the troops for? Given the number of civilian deaths over there, it sure as hell can't be for the security of the Afghan people. And can we stop using the word "winning" when it comes to these situations? At this point, we've already "lost." We took out the Taliban once, but then we created conditions that encouraged them to reconstitute and take over the country once again. What can we do at this point, except get out of there, and let the Afghan people determine their own fate?

If anything happens to my son in the next 13 months, I will be left asking, "What did my son fight for?" The easy answer is, "He's fighting for his country." And I do not fault my son, or any other soldier, for fighting for his country, and doing what their commanders tell them to do. In fact, the last advice I gave my son before he shipped out was to do everything his commanding officers told him to do, because he was more likely to come home doing so. I have no doubt that every commanding officer in our military puts the safety of every soldier at the head of his list. But the people at the very top of the food chain have a responsibility to know the point of what they're engaged in. What's the point of this "war" at this point?

I'm happy that President Obama isn't simply following the lead of Gen. McChrystal, who thinks we need more troops in order to "win." More troops isn't going to help in any way. We already have more troops than the Taliban, and the Taliban isn't very popular in Afghanistan, in any case. There is no "end game" here that can be fixed by our soldiers. It's the Karzai government's baby now. If he wants an international security force to help with the transition, surely we can help him find nations to pitch in and help bring security and train Afghan forces.

Bush broke two countries when he was in office, and that’s on him. But if President Obama thinks he's going to fix Afghanistan with a hammer, he'd better think again. He'll need lots of super glue and duct tape to fix this one. As long as our troops are there, resentment will continue to build, the Taliban will continue to strengthen. It's time to bring our "babies" home, so that we can listen to them whine about how "bored" they are in the comfort of an American base, as they train to protect our country.

Eight years is enough. It’s MORE than enough.

Even Charlie Wilson thinks so. If you missed the bookand missed the movieand missed the History Channel documentary, Charlie Wilson was the wily Texas Democrat who pretty-much single-handedly got the U.S. to train and arm the Afghanistan mujahideen so they could fight the Soviets. They're fighting us now and Wilson warns Obama to start phasing the troops outimmediately.
"I'd rather take on a chain saw," Mr. Wilson said. "They're the world's best foot soldiers, best warriors. And they're fearless.

"They're fearless, and they've got nothing to lose. And they have a pretty serious hatred for those who try to occupy their country."

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At 6:16 AM, Blogger Andrew said...

At least Obama's taking the time to put some thought into it.

At 7:17 AM, Blogger Bob In Pacifica said...

I have written in the past, over and over again, that the US was LITERALLY taken over in a military coup with the killing of JFK. After all, if you kill a President you had better be sure you don't get caught and prosecuted for it.


With Obama as President the casual political observer can clearly see how the same military and geopolitical agendas are continued no matter who is in the White House.

I liked the guy who was President in the West Wing too. He didn't actually have any effect on the real world either.

The military is fighting in the Middle East for oil. They are fighting for the benefit of profits of companies such as Exxon, Unocal, Shell. Afghanistan has been where the West have been planning to put a pipeline for years. They've been negotiating this since the mid-nineties. Karzai is both a former oil company exec and a CIA guy. If he becomes expendable they'll plug in someone else.

That's why we're in Afghanistan.

The ratcheting up and legitimatizing of the FISA/NSA nexus, important for spying on Americans, chugged along last summer with Republicans practically unanimous in extending enormous power to the executive branch. Why didn't they fear the executive branch getting these powers? Because the powers accrued to the agencies themselves, not the President.

If politics at times seems surreal and the characters seem to be play-acting, well, they are. They are karaoke singers competing on the deck of the Titanic.

At 7:20 AM, Blogger Milt Shook said...

Andrew, it's good that Obama's taking time and thinking about it, but only of he comes up with an overall strategy that makes sense, and results in a pullout. He has to understand that it's the Afghan people who have to decide what they want. If he take a month or two, and then comes back with basically the same strategy, with no reasonable end game, then the waiting was for naught.

I can support him, as long as there is some sort of end game that makes sense. But I can't support him if he's just going to do what McChrystal suggests, and put together a "surge." There has to be an end result to this.

At 10:14 AM, Blogger House of Brat said...

I can't remember for sure, but didn't Obama decide to do away with the "supplemental" budget earlier this year? Wasn't that one of the reasons why his proposed budget was so large and people complained about it?

If so, it's quite the thing to suddenly backtrack on it.


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