U.S. Must Not Defeat Itself In Afghanistan

June 13th, 2011 at 9:37 am | 20 Comments |

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Say this for Congressional Democrats: When it comes to national defense and foreign policy, no rx they are at least consistent — consistently wrong, see but consistent nonetheless.

For example, they were against the surge in Iraq and noisily demanding a precipitous withdrawal there; and they are against the surge in Afghanistan and noisily demanding a precipitous withdrawal there as well.

But isn’t hindsight supposed to be 20-20? Shouldn’t Congressional Democrats have learned something from Iraq? Shouldn’t their judgment be swayed by our military success on the ground in Afghanistan?

You would think, but you would be wrong: Because despite the utter decimation of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan (Helmand and Kandahar Provinces), Congressional Dems are at it again: stubbornly and stupidly insisting upon large-scale troop reductions in Afghanistan, even though U.S. military leaders say that large-scale troop reductions now simply do not correspond with the larger-scale American strategy.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), for instance, is now insisting upon the withdrawal of “at least 15,000  [U.S. troops] by the end of this year.” That’s half the surge force of 30,000 that Obama ordered into Afghanistan in 2009.

Levin’s right about one thing: Troop withdrawals from Afghanistan are, indeed, “a critically important issue,” but not for the reasons he seems to think. Levin says “there are billions of dollars involved in this decision,” thus suggesting that the big problem with Afghanistan is its cost.

This has become a favorite media and Democratic talking point, but it’s false. Spending on Afghanistan amounts to not even three percent of the $3.7 trillion federal budget, and it accounts for less than one percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That’s hardly exorbitant.

The real reason for the red sea of red ink is not Afghanistan, or military spending more broadly. Instead, the problem is entitlements — spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Indeed, as the Heritage Foundation’s Mackenzie Eaglen notes,

Over the past decade, necessary defense spending increases are responsible for less than 20 percent of all new spending from 2001 to 2009. This does not even include 2009 stimulus spending totaling $787 billion, with almost no money for defense.

Moreover, as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) has observed, entitlement spending has doubled since 1970, to 40 percent of the federal budget. Defense spending, meanwhile, has shrunk from about 39 percent to just under 16 percent — even with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The fact is,” reports Contentions’ Amanda Goodman, “defense consumes a smaller share of the national economy today than it did throughout the Cold War.”

So the cost of winning in Afghanistan is quite modest and quite manageable.

The cost of losing, by contrast, could prove catastrophic. It certainly would embolden the Jihadists in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and likely would lead to the collapse of the Afghan state. Tribal and ethnic civil war would then ensue.

“If we defeat ourselves in Afghanistan now,” explain Kimberly and Frederick Kagan, “we will have to choose later whether to accept likely attacks on the U.S. homeland or to intervene militarily once again—at a much higher price than we could hope to save now. Withdrawal is a penny-wise but pound-foolish approach to an enduring national security problem,” they argue.

In truth, America is winning in Afghanistan after belatedly adopting, not even 18 months ago, a long overdue comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy. To withdraw troops now, prematurely, for base political reasons, would be profoundly foolish and unwise. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates put it:

“Far too much has been accomplished, at far too great a cost, to let the momentum slip away just as the enemy is on his back foot.”

Yes, we can; and yes we must: stay and win in Afghanistan.

Recent Posts by John Guardiano

20 Comments so far ↓

  • ottovbvs

    So the cost of winning in Afghanistan is quite modest and quite manageable.

    Afghanistan is costing $120 billion a year. A couple months ago the Republicans were threatening to shut down the US government if budget cuts of $39 billion were not passed. What is wrong with this picture?

  • valkayec

    I no longer take Guardiano seriously. He’d take the nation down the same fiscal path as the USSR. As for his financial stats, I’ve just seen a a pie chart that shows all defense spending consumes 59% of the federal budget. With every program and policy that supports middle income workers, from jobs to education to unemployment, on the chopping block and being severely cut, it just seems wildly irresponsible to spend billions in Af-Pak.

  • LFC

    Didn’t Guardiano essentially write this same article 10 or 20 times already?

  • cporet

    We must get out of Afghanistan, and we must get out now.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    they were against the surge in Iraq

    Oh bullshit. When Gen. Shinseki said the initial invasion was grossly undermanned Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz drummed him out. They were against the surge when it counted, at the initial invasion stages. Having so truly and royally screwed the pooch you can not possibly blame Democrats for having ZERO faith in Bush by 2006.

    And this is hilarious: “In truth, America is winning in Afghanistan after belatedly adopting, not even 18 months ago, a long overdue comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy.” If this is so, how is it that a Democratic President is the one winning the war? And that Bush had screwed the pooch in Afghanistan his entire freaking term in office. Wait, let me guess, Obama is winning in spite of himself…by accident…and that Bush had been winning the entire time…or something.

    Hell, the US can’t win in Afghanistan, EVER, short of nuking Afghanistan and Pakistan and killing everyone.
    As long as there are rogue elements running Pakistan, which has a population of 170 plus million, who have a vested interest in seeing our failure and who will provide safe havens for the Taliban in their own country and who indoctrinate the rural peasants that Allah wants them to blow up Americans, how can we win?

    But winning is not the issue. It is not losing, not allowing the Taliban to take over the country until the day that the ideology of the Taliban burns itself out. This will require Pakistan itself to grow the hell up.

    As to the budget. Guardiano conveniently ignores the under Clinton we had budget surpluses, very low unemployment and inflation, and increasing incomes. Had we not elected junior entitlements would not be an issue at all.

    • COProgressive

      The “World Domination” Neo-Nitwits never give it a break. They have been wrong about everything, all the time.

  • Nanotek

    “‘Withdrawal is a penny-wise but pound-foolish approach to an enduring national security problem,’ they argue.”

    So, too, is the precipitous withdrawal of public funding for college and technical training for the younger; as, too, with defunding Social Security and Medicare for the older … and many others.

    After nearly a decade of Republican rule, we are brought to this. Debating which critical national endeavors must live on or end.

    Forgive any miscount to your prediction rate but history seems awash with the contrary.

  • armstp

    I keep asking over all these years, but can someone define “winning” in Afghanistan? John Guardiano, after all your articles on Afghanistan, can you please give us your defintion of “winning” and how will we know when we are there? It is really just a simple question for you.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    amstp, my definition of winning means sticking around until the jihadist Taliban ideology collapse. It is kind of what we did during the whole cold war, maintain our alliances in Europe until the Communist ideology collapsed (granted, that was not the original intent, it was more to contain Communism, but since it worked I can see the rationale for doing it with regards to Islamic fundamentalism)

    I know this is not a simple answer, but it isn’t a simple question.
    We know we won the Cold war when the Berlin wall came down. There won’t be anything quite so dramatic, more likely we will know we won when Afghan girls go to school and become Doctors and Lawyers and are not killed for being so.

    • armstp


      Given that the “jihadist Taliban ideology” is based on religion, which is essentially a blind faith in magic, it will likely never collapse.

      I also think a rebellion against foreign interference and occupation has been around in Afghanistan for hundreds of years, so I do not think there will be a change or laying down of arms any time soon by the Afghanis and Taliban.

      Throw into the mix a Pakistan that will forever want to keep Afghanistan unbalance so as it does not fall into the influence and/or partnership with India and this will go on forever.

      Only way out is not to “win” but to negotiate a political solution which brings the Taliban into the political process.

      Again I would ask John Guardiano to please give us a defintion of “winning” and how will we know when we are there?

  • nhthinker

    “Yes, we can; and yes we must: stay and win in Afghanistan.”

    We can not win in Afghanistan: only Afghani’s can win.

    We did not win in Iraq: we stood the Iraqis up in Iraq and the win was mostly theirs.
    From 2006 on, seven times as many Iraqis army and police gave up their lives to protect the Iraqi government and people than US/Coalition forces that gave their lives to the cause.

    In Afghanistan, only about as many Afghanis are giving up their lives to protect the Afghan government and people as NATO forces that are giving up their lives to the cause.

    The NATO effort should have focused on having Afghani’s take the lead just as the surge campaign in Iraq was successful doing. The Obama’s surge was too large for the Afghani forces to lead nor hold. The surge in A-stan was an asinine use of American power to prove Obama could “win” the “righteous” war by redeploying troops from the “wrong” war (that was won) to the “righteous” war that was festering. Obama’s escalation made the war even more owned by the US rather than the Afghanis. Complete and utter stupidity.

    Until we get to 7 times as many Afghani army and police dying as NATO forces, then we are spending too much US resource and are actually delaying when Afghanis can win their own war.

  • midwest guy

    Like most other so-called experts who claim we must “win” in Afghanistan, the author makes no clear statement defining what a “win” would look like. Instead, we get an analysis that would fail any junior high school standards—–effectively, a plea for “staying the course.”

    When will anybody from either party (or no party) give the American people a simple and clear rationale for why we should continue to spend lives and money in Afghanistan. Hint: throwing good money and lives after bad is not an acceptable argument.

  • Nanotek

    “Like most other so-called experts who claim we must “win” in Afghanistan, the author makes no clear statement defining what a “win” would look like.”

    the ambiguity doesn’t resolve in his favor, either

  • Frumplestiltskin

    armstp, I don’t disagree with your analysis except to state that extremely fervent brands of religion burn out over time. For the most part Christianity has evolved to accept Democracy, rationality, science. There are Democratic states in Islam, imperfect but democratic ones nonetheless, like Turkey.

    I also don’t think the Taliban can be brought into the process because they would have to deal with infidels (in their minds), Islam “allows” this but only to trick and deceive an enemy.

    I will be honest and say I have no idea what the winning strategy is, but how could I know. I am a layman who has no military experience, I do not speak Dari or Farsi, what I know of the culture is limited to my exposure to their ethnic cousins, the Uighers.

    My take on winning is simply based on my belief that the Taliban offer nothing lasting to the Afghan people, and because of climate change will offer even far less in the future. In short, without science and progress much of Afghanistan will die.

    • armstp


      “…extremely fervent brands of religion burn out over time.”

      So it might burn out in say 1,000 years or even 100 years. We have to stay that long to get that “win”?

      By the way the Taliban is very very far away from the Muslims of Turkey. However, I do think it is a bad idea to lump all Taliban as the same. There are clearly huge numbers of “Taliban” who are nothing more than rural Afgani folk who just want to be left alone. These are the ones who are being targeted to be peeled off and brought to the negotiating table.

      “My take on winning is simply based on my belief that the Taliban offer nothing lasting to the Afghan people..”

      The majority of the Taliban are the Afghan people themselves.

  • COProgressive

    Johnny wrote;
    “Say this for Congressional Democrats: When it comes to national defense and foreign policy, they are at least consistent — consistently wrong, but consistent nonetheless.”

    Say this for Johnny G: When it comes to national defense and foreign policy, he is at least consistent — consistently wrong, but consistent nonetheless.

    Give it a break Johnny. We’ve been in Afghanistan for nearly TEN YEARS with little to no progress. Our indomitable military has been mired down fighting 17th century tribesmen playing a deadly game of “Whack-A-Mole” to the tune of more than $2 Billion dollars a WEEK!

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again,

    The longterm effect of having US troops in Afghanistan is the same longterm effect your fist has on a bucket of water once you remove it.

    [b]Bring the troops home NOW!

    “Chauvinism is a proud and bellicose form of patriotism…which equates the national honor with military victory.” – Colonel James A. Donovan, Marine Corps[/b]

  • PracticalGirl

    COProgressive- great points. Sure, we’ve been in Afghanistan for 10 years-this time. But let’s not forget the 80s.

    War is not an inevitable result of unsolvable conflict for the Afghan people. It’s a lifestyle for them, complete with winter breaks and the beginning of spring bombing season. The best part of it all are the Fantasy War Leagues that pop up in the off-season as they hunker down for the winter. I’m TOTALLY picking bin Laden this year, as I think he’s still useful.

    My figures may be off, but I heard a couple of days ago that 90% of Afghanistan’s legitimate revenue comes from the “investments” that the US and allies make there each year. And here’s another “90%” truth about Afghanistan: 90% of the world’s opiates still comes out of the country. So the US provides the majority of revenue for a country whose main export is a product that we spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year trying to keep out of our own country. We’re chasing our tails…

    What’s wrong with this picture, and when will you, John, tire of supporting our support of the world’s biggest drug dealers? Such a waste of US money and American soldiers. Out, out OUT.