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.