Today, we will spend roughly $325 million fighting in Afghanistan. Twenty million dollars was spent just during Gen. David Petraeus’s testimony to Congress this morning.
This month, we are on track to spend more than $10 billion in Afghanistan. This year, we expect to spend $120 billion fighting the war there.
And for what?
In the last year, we had the highest number of U.S. casualties, the biggest single-year spike in insurgent attacks, the most devastating of Afghan civilian deaths (an air strike on nine kids gathering wood), an Afghan majority that says their basic security and basic services have worsened substantially and majority populations in the United States and Afghanistan that want the troops to leave.
Ten years into this war, what do we have to show it? Every two or three years, the Pentagon comes up with a new strategy to justify another round of funding and forces.
Their latest strategy arms local villagers with cash and weapons. We are calling it the “Afghan Local Police.” But it’s nothing more than a U.S. commander handing out guns and cash at his or her discretion. We’re rolling this out nationally there, with potentially disastrous consequences — pitting tribe against tribe and filling the coffers of some former, existing and future warlords with more ways to fight each other and us.
It is a recipe for disaster, not success.
Is it a surprise, then, to learn that psychological operations were used on U.S. senators during their visits to Afghanistan, as revealed by Rolling Stone magazine? Was the Pentagon’s war strategy so ineffectual that a propaganda war was required?
The Defense Department is likely to counter by saying that we are finally finding the right strategy, we finally have the right general in charge and we finally have more troops on the ground. Petraeus is likely to suggest that now is the critical moment where we can tip the balance in our favor; that we are winning the locals hearts and minds, and we need time to give the latest strategy a chance to work.
Others in Washington chime in with commitments to keep troops in Afghanistan long after 2014.My Republican colleagues on the Senate side are likely to offer plans for permanent bases.
Amid this absolute ambiguity of goals and objectives, there is remarkably little oversight and evaluation of war strategy and war spending that justifies any of this. This is particularly appalling at a time when the Republicans are cutting every possibly dollar of domestic spending and killing critical education, health care and workforce programs that cost pennies compared to the billions wasted in Afghanistan. This double standard is indefensible.
The way forward, for those who are serious about tackling U.S. security threats — by actors who are increasingly agile, mobile and amorphous — must include some reflection of best practices (what’s working, what’s not) and some recognition of limited financial and human resources.
In doing so, we must come to realize that a heavy military, air and navy footprint is ineffective in dealing with guerrilla-like warfare and financially unsustainable if we want address threats in more than two countries — which is likely, given the unrest in North Africa and the Middle East.
We must come to realize, as the Rand Corporation has pointed out that policing, intelligence and negotiations — all critically underfunded and underdeveloped in Afghanistan — is what works best in undermining and dismantling threats of this nature. But this is just the sort of move discouraged by the defense industry — which prefers big-ticket military equipment, like the Joint Strike Fighter.
We must recognize that to protect vulnerable populations from further instability we should address their basic human needs. The fact that Iraqis are protesting the lack of basic services, corrupt political leadership and non-inclusive government, shows how little priority we gave to this in the last eight years.
We leave Iraq not much better than we found it — after spending hundreds of billions of dollars on an ill-begotten war and an ill-guided strategy.
We are making the same mistake in Afghanistan, at a price tag that makes Republican CR cuts pale in comparison. When will we learn? After we’ve completely broken the bank, spent trillions of deficit-funded dollars, and drilled deeper into debt?
If Republicans care about the fiscal sustainability and economic security of our country, then these wars must not be protected from their pernicious purview. Because these wars are making us less secure, not more.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was right: The biggest threat to our national security is our debt. Now if the Pentagon would just be willing to do something about it, we might actually see a different defense strategy abroad and a different defense budget here at home.
Rep Mike Honda (D-Calif.) is the co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s Taskforce on Peace and Security. This article was first published in Politico. Follow Rep Honda on Facebook and Twitter.