Admiral Mullen: "More Troops and More Time"

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.

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Mixed Signals on Iran

Speaking on ABC's This Week, Vice President Joe Biden had this exchange with George Stephanopoulos concerning possible Israeli military action aimed at taking out the Iranian nuclear program.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu has made it pretty clear that he agreed with President Obama to give until the end of the year for this whole process of engagement to work. After that, he's prepared to make matters into his own hands.

Is that the right approach?

BIDEN: Look, Israel can determine for itself -- it's a sovereign nation -- what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Whether we agree or not?

BIDEN: Whether we agree or not. They're entitled to do that. Any sovereign nation is entitled to do that. But there is no pressure from any nation that's going to alter our behavior as to how to proceed.

What we believe is in the national interest of the United States, which we, coincidentally, believe is also in the interest of Israel and the whole world. And so there are separate issues.

If the Netanyahu government decides to take a course of action different than the one being pursued now, that is their sovereign right to do that. That is not our choice.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But just to be clear here, if the Israelis decide Iran is an existential threat, they have to take out the nuclear program, militarily the United States will not stand in the way?

BIDEN: Look, we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination, if they make a determination that they're existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You say we can't dictate, but we can, if we choose to, deny over-flight rights here in Iraq. We can stand in the way of a military strike.

BIDEN: I'm not going to speculate, George, on those issues, other than to say Israel has a right to determine what's in its interests, and we have a right and we will determine what's in our interests.

No one disputes the sovereign rights of Israel to act in its own interests. However the Vice President missed an opportunity to unequivocally warn that there would be consequences. As the New York Times notes the Vice President's remarks went "beyond at least the spirit of any public utterances by President Barack Obama, who has said that diplomatic efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program should be given to the end of the year." And given the Vice President's penchant for sometimes imprecise language, it was not immediately clear was whether Mr. Biden was sending an officially sanctioned message. More likely, he simply failed to convey the serious geo-political repercussions an Israeli attack on Iran is likely to bring. Alternatively, Vice President Biden may have been trying to send a message to Tehran, engage and be serious about it or watch out.

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