The Clinton-Gates Axis
by Charles Lemos, Mon Oct 12, 2009 at 09:20:29 PM EDT
Mark Landler and Thom Shanker have an article in the New York Times on the emerging alliance between Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Gates casting them as "two moderate pragmatists" who are likely to advocate a middle ground between the "minimalist" Biden approach that focuses on counter-terrorism and the full-on counter-insurgency approach advocated by General McChrystal among others. The article suggests that the two secretaries are expected to carry great weight as they begin to express specific advice.
The problem is that the Vice President is right in his view that a larger military presence in Afghanistan will breed resentment among Afghans especially the Pashtuns and is likely politically untenable at home. As I've noted before, a growing Pashtun nationalism is fueling the growing Taliban insurgency. A "Pashtunistan" is now a part of the Taliban platform. Recent Taliban communiques all make appeals to driving out the foreign occupiers.
Beyond this stark reality is the economic cost of the Afghan war. Since the invasion of Afghanistan eight years ago, the United States has spent $223 billion on the Afghan war-related funding, according to the Congressional Research Service. Aid expenditures, excluding the cost of combat operations, have also grown exponentially, from $982 million in 2003 to $9.3 billion in 2008. The cost of fighting the war in Afghanistan will overtake that of the Iraq conflict for the first time in 2010. Even before General McChrystal's troop increase request, the Pentagon had requested $65 billion for Afghanistan on top of the basic defense budget of $533.7 billion. An escalation of any size will only add to the financial burden.
The economic cost of an escalation in Afghanistan needs to be a part of this discussion even if the seemingly influentially ascendant Clinton-Gates axis seems to ignore it.