by Charles Lemos, Tue Sep 15, 2009 at 12:04:32 PM EDT
The building of a case more troops for Afghanistan continues to be built unabated by officials of the American national security state. Today it was the turn of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, whose reconfirmation hearing turned into a spirited discussion of US policy in Afghanistan. Admiral Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee chaired by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan that success in Afghanistan would require more troops and certainly much more time.
Admiral Mullin might have added more money, though perhaps that is an underlying and unspoken assumption. It is, however, dangerous politics to ignore the financial costs of the Afghan War (pdf). The war in Afghanistan has cost US tax-payers $171.7 billion as of year 2008. The cost of the Afghan war this year alone will reach $77.1 billion. Projected costs over the long term are likely to total more than half a trilliondollars when future occupation and veterans' benefits are taken into account. Interest payments could add another $200 billion to that figure. This financial aspect of the Afghan war remains largely absent from the debate. The question of whether we can actually afford the massive outlays that the counter-insurgency strategy advocated by the Obama Administration needs to be considered.
The story from the New York Times:
Admiral Mullen said that no specific troop request had yet been received from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan.
"But I do believe that -- having heard his views and having great confidence in his leadership -- a properly resourced counterinsurgency probably means more forces, and, without question, more time and more commitment to the protection of the Afghan people and to the development of good governance," Admiral Mullen said.
"We will need resources matched to the strategy," he added.
Broad as they were, Admiral Mullen's comments were his most specific to date in a public setting on whether more troops would have to be sent to Afghanistan, and they and seem certain to frame the debate facing the White House, Congress and the nation in coming weeks.
The hearing officially was called to consider Admiral Mullen's nomination to serve a second term as chairman, but it immediately turned into an analysis of the administration's broader policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, in particular whether more American combat forces should be sent rapidly or whether it would be wiser to immediately begin shifting the bulk of the fighting to local forces.
A range of officials have said that the White House hopes to have several weeks at least before being faced with dealing with any requests for more forces for Afghanistan -- and the political implications of such a request here at home.
It is to Senator Levin' credit that he is insisting that accelerated efforts to train and equip Afghan security forces should precede any deployment of American troops beyond those already committed by the Obama administration. Nonetheless, it is clear that neither American military leaders nor much of the American political establishment is fully leveling with the American public on the true costs of this war. Each dollar spent on war in Afghanistan is a dollar not spent on human needs here at home. It is time to put country first.