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      The Drain of Blood, Taxes and Hope in Afghanistan

      A version of this article originally appeared in The Nation on November 12, 2010.

      Persistent waffling on dates for American troop withdrawals has eroded any remaining patience with the Obama White House among peace activists and voters, a majority of whom favors a timeline for US troop withdrawals.  
      Nancy Youssef of McClatchy reports that the White House has decided to de-emphasize its pledge to begin withdrawing US forces by next July, and adopt a new goal of withdrawing by 2014. The New York Times on Nov. 11 described the new policy as “effectively a victory for the military.” Seeming to miss the point entirely, the White House immediately declared it was “crystal clear” that there will be no change to the July 2011 date for beginning the drawdown.
      The credibility problem is that the White House has never defined the scale of its initial drawdown, lending credence to reports that the elusive pursuit of “success” will take years. Filling in the blanks is the only way the White House can repair this image crisis. For example, Obama could promise to withdraw 50,000 US troops between 2011-2012, a number that would dispel the aura of tokenism and weakness which now surrounds US policy. The moderate Afghanistan Study Group, whose members have ties to the White House, has proposed withdrawing 32,000 by next October and another 38,000 by the following July. The ASG has stated, “The U.S. cannot afford to continue waffling on its commitments, lest it lose what little credibility it has with Afghan people. Reneging on the July deadline will also likely have adverse political effects given that war is already very unpopular."

      The president is expected to clarify his goals at a NATO conference this week. America’s leading military partner, the United Kingdom, with some 9,500 troops, has already floated 2014 as the deadline for its troop departure. Canada, France, Italy, Poland, Sweden, and the Netherlands, whose combat troops total a combined 14,850, are all in the process of withdrawing by 2014 at the latest.  
      The projected costs of another three years are staggering and rarely reported. Assuming the current pattern of American casualties and costs through 2012, followed by a fifty percent reduction in those figures in 2013-14, Pentagon data reveals the following:
      Oct. 2001- Nov. 2010: Americans killed, 1,378; Americans wounded, 9,256; direct taxpayer costs, $364 billion.
      2011 projection: 450 more Americans killed, bringing the cumulative total to 1,850; 5,000 more Americans wounded, bringing the cumulative total to 14,800; another $113 billion in direct taxpayer costs, bringing the cumulative total to $503 billion.
      2012 projection: at present rates, the cumulative death toll will become 2,300, the cumulative wounded number will become 15,300; and the cumulative budget cost will become $616 billion.
      2013-14 projections [assuming a fifty percent reduction]: another 450 killed over two years, bringing the total to 2,750; another 5,000 wounded over two years, bringing the total to 20,300; another $113 billion over two years, bringing the total to $728 billion.
      In plainer terms, the projected American casualties and costs in Afghanistan alone will double in the next three years from present levels.

      According to the current Foreign Affairs, the war in Afghanistan is now more than twice expensive as Iraq [Altman-Haass, “American Profligacy and American Power”, Nov.-Dec. 2010, p. 31].

      Those numbers do not include Pakistan, Yemen or tens of billions in the growing US intelligence budget. Nor do the tax dollar figures include rising indirect costs such as veterans’ health care. Nor are the casualties civilians known or estimated.

      Perhaps the greatest policy question is what the American troops are fighting for. According to the CIA, there are no more than 100 al Qaeda militants lingering in Afghanistan. Their sanctuaries have moved to Pakistan and CIA officials have recently said, “the Yemeni cell posed an even more dangerous threat to the United States than the Qaeda headquarters in Pakistan.” [NYT, Oct. 17, 2010]
      Meanwhile in Afghanistan, American troops are fighting and dying to prop up an Afghanistan regime that is riddled with corruption, lacks a sufficient army to defend itself, and maintains power by fraudulent elections.
      The cruel pathos of the American situation is summed up in two options sketched by Gideon Rose, the new editor of Foreign Affairs, the organ of the Council on Foreign Affairs:
      First, “at best, Afghanistan could become another Iraq, with strong late innings gaining the United States the opportunity to draw down its forces gradually” or, second, “it could be a replay of Vietnam, with the White House deciding to pull the plug on a thankless struggle in a strategically marginal country.” A third option is ignored, that of another massive terrorist attack on the US provoked by the drone attacks and night raids in Afghanistan and Pakistan. [NYT, Nov. 5, 2010]
      There is another cost, too. The constant drain in blood and taxes for the long wars may soon become a terminal drain on any hopes for the Obama presidency.

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      Reader Comments (5)

      It is now obvious there are two Obama's: Campaign Obama, who acted very Presidential and President Obama who acts like a Senator. When President Obama extends war in the Middle East, allows the right wing to define and shape his health care reform, praises Israel after Israel ignores his calls for a moratorium on settlement building, seeks to punish people who release real information on the Middle East wars while refusing to investigate exposed war crimes, etc etc etc., I can't help but see the thousands of people standing out in the cold to witness his inauguration. People who never voted before because they felt it didn't matter. People who gave their energy and money because they believed his words. People around the world hoping that finally the United States will come to its senses. Now all these people have are President Obama's excuses, "It's complicated" and "It takes time."
      Mr. Obama has barely two years to step up and be The Presidential Leader for Change he promised us rather than the Senator for back room compromise. If he won't, or can't, then I predict he will be a one term President who will have to live with the legacy, "Never has a President been given such a large mandate and done so little with it."

      November 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLawrence Arsenault

      Not only will we have troops in Afghanistan after the 2012 elections, they'll also still be in Iraq, at the request of the host country, naturally.

      Look, we've chosen our path; perpetual war, paid for with borrowed money, fought by a small, segregated group of Americans and a global army of Hessian mercenaries for the sole purpose of advancing the very corporations who mercillessly destroy the American middle class for ever larger profits.

      This mess has one and only one ending; atop history's ash heap, spooning the late USSR.

      Good riddance

      November 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermichael nola

      Thanks for an article that forces us once again to recognize the uncomfortable truth that this war has no rationally obtainable objective. It is simply a waste and added injury to patriots that have given their lives and paid a heavy price in suffering.

      November 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPeter McNamee

      Americans voted for change, without a definition of what "change" meant.

      The result is we have a guy in the top office, who has no vision for what America should be, no agenda items define him, and he blames other people (Bush and his team) for not seeing to it that the economy is robust, taxes are reduced and people are put back to work.

      it took the agent of change--Obama-- two years before he announced that he would focus on the economy. he still has not done what needs to be done: Hating top income earners is not, My Liberal Friends-- an economic policy. It is fool hardiness that we are all paying for, and as of November's election, Obama is paying for.

      He didn't stand for anything during the election, except winning. Now two years into his tenure, he still does not stand for anything, any principle that will guide his decisions and help define him. hat's why he has no real policy for ending the war, turning round the economy, or dealing with Tea party Activists.

      He just waits until the politicos he's surrounded himself with, tell how to take advantage of the opportunity. Many of us voted for him; many of us made a mistake. That's because he's not an agent of change, but an opportunist looking to take advantage.

      His first election he fooled us and shame on him for that. But if we allow in to do it again, shame on us.

      If in 2012, you are significantly better off than we were two years ago, vote for him again. If you are not better off, there is another choice. Explore it, embrace it.

      November 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHoward Kehew

      Common sense and reasoned arguments make it clear that continuing our military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan is a terrible mistake.These wars are killing men, women and children and destroying the futures of all involved. Our military expenditures are insane. I can't think of any better way to describe what's happening. And it must end.

      November 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterjosephW grant

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