No wonder we wish the Anthony Weiner follies were still around. Reading real news can be depressing.
Consider these two numbers: $120 billion and 28,000.
The first, The New York Times reports, represents what the United States is spending this year alone on the 10-year battle to rid Afghanistan of …. what exactly? The second figure? It represents the number of jobs local governments cut because of tight budgets in May alone. That’s right, in a single month.
The juxtaposition of these figures has the United States Conference of Mayors so mad that, for the first time since the Vietnam War, it meddled in foreign policy yesterday, calling on the Obama Administration to redirect the billions now being spent on wars — and Afghanistan is just one of three — to rebuilding America.
Meanwhile, on the Senate floor, a Democrat, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III, put it this way: “The question the president faces — we all face — is quite simple: Will we choose to rebuild America or Afghanistan? In the light of our nation’s fiscal peril, we cannot do both.”
Tonight, President Obama is scheduled to give a major policy speech on Afghanistan. Aaccording to a Los Angeles Times headline, “Obama [is] expected to announce [a] major Afghan drawdown.” But that word, “major,” apparently is in the eye of the beholder.
Quantifying its characterization, The LA Times reports the president plans to withdraw up to 10,000 troops by the end of this year; I heard 5,000 on NPR.
Neither figure comes close to being enough. The United States surge added 30,000 troops in Afghanistan in 2009. Under Obama’s plan, the same LA Times article reports, the administration won’t withdraw that many troops in total until the end of 2012 at earliest.
That’s a “major” drawdown? Two years from now we’ll have only the same 70,000 troops in Afghanistan we had in 1999 before the surge? Just how long will they be left to twist in the wind and spend billions on bombs that, among other things, eviscerate the country’s civilian population?
Once more time: Osama Bin-Laden is dead. Al-Qaeda is centered in Pakistan and Yemen, among other places, not Afghanistan. Afghani President Hamid Karzai rules one of the world’s most corrupt governments. And no one dating back to Alexander the Great, more than 2,000 years ago, has managed to “win” a war in his country.
If Obama Administration continues to spend billions dropping bombs while Americans stagger under the twin burdens of rising debt and stagnant, high unemployment, he will, I fear, lose the next election. And though it pains me to say so, perhaps he should.
Barack Obama has the intelligence, the steadiness, the focus and the political acumen to survive the tepid economy. The weak Republicans field and the party’s track record of nothing but obstructionism aren’t lost on the American public. But I don’t think he can survive the weak economy while continuing to sink hundreds of billions into wars that have lost their purpose years ago.
Yes, Obama was dealt an awful hand coming into office. But he has missed opportunities — most recently the chance, in announcing Bin-Laden’s death, to also announce an orderly but swift pullout of American troops from Afghanistan.
The United States is broke, in large part because of the $1 trillion plus that George W. Bush threw at Iraq and Afghanistan without ever asking for the shared sacrifice or additional taxes to pay for these protracted wars. Sadly, Barack Obama has continued the same tack, even as he has shifted troops out of Iraq — which we never should have invaded — to Afghanistan.
Bloodshed has a way of spawning bloodshed long after anyone remembers what started it all. That seems to be the case in Afghanistan today. As a student of history, Barack Obama should put Lyndon Johnson’s biography on his summer reading list. To this day Johnson is remembered at least as much for the quagmire of Vietnam as for the sweep of his domestic accomplishments.
The same could happen to President Obama if he fails to disengage from our three wars with a significantly greater sense of urgency.