by Bruce Webb
Davis Obey asks some hard questions that should have been asked long ago. My eye was caught by question one which prompts the title of my post. Why insist that Health Care be budget neutral and come in below some arbitrary target? Why did we even allow these wars to be funded with Supplementals and never received a ten year score? Why not Score the War?
“There are some fundamental questions that I would ask of those who are suggesting that we follow a long term counterinsurgency strategy:
1. As an Appropriator I must ask, what will that policy cost and how will we pay for it? We are now in the middle of a fundamental debate over reforming our healthcare system. The President has indicated that it must cost less than $900 billion over ten years and be fully paid for. The Congressional Budget Office has had four committees twisting themselves into knots in order to fit healthcare reform into that limit. CBO is earnestly measuring the cost of each competing healthcare plan. Shouldn’t it be asked to do the same thing with respect to Afghanistan? If we add 40,000 troops and recognize the need for a sustained 10 year or longer commitment, as the architects of this plan tell us we do, the military costs alone would be over $800 billion. And unlike the demands that are being made of the healthcare alternatives that they be deficit neutral, we’ve heard no such demand with respect to Afghanistan. I would ask how much will this entire effort cost, when you add in civilian costs and costs in Pakistan? And how would that impact the budget?
2. Do we really believe that there is an international consensus for such a long-term endeavor, or will we in fact, with the exception of some tokenism, be going it alone? Are we really prepared to “go it alone”?
3. What policy is in fact achievable? We should be asking not what policy is theoretically the most intellectually coherent, but which policy is actually achievable given the only tools we have in the region; the Afghani and Pakistani governments. Is there sufficient leadership, popular support, and political will, not in the United States but in Afghanistan, necessary for effective governance to take hold?
4. What makes us think that a much more aggressive and expansive role for U.S. troops will not harden elements of the Taliban and make them a more potent force, forcing them to stand up to the “occupier”?
5. Does it all add up? The so-called COIN, or counterinsurgency strategy, calls for a certain number of troops and police based on a country’s population. In Afghanistan that equates to 600,000 people in uniform. But the Afghani government has never maintained more than 200,000 before. Can they really sustain a three-fold increase?
6. Do we really have the tools to overcome language, culture, history and a 90% illiteracy rate to sufficiently transform such a country?
There are many things we could do to “provide for the common defense” and more that we could do to “promote the general welfare”, and maybe this one is so vital that we have to do it come what may. But if the Generals tell us this is going to be a ten year war why not be adults and have an open discussion of what that means in dollars?