Obama's priorities

President Obama tonight will make the case for pouring more resources into the sinkhole that is Afghanistan. He will argue that this action is a national security priority, worthy of many more lives and billions of dollars. But by all accounts, he will not devote any of his polished rhetoric explaining how we will pay for it.

On the matter of health care reform, where millions of uninsured Americans may get access to quality care, Obama has been adamant: reform must be budget neutral. On the matter of continuing military intervention to prop up a corrupt government halfway around the world, he'll be mortgaging our children's futures, just like his foolish predecessor.

Will Obama insist on a war tax to pay for the surge of troops in Afghanistan? Don't hold your breath. After all, it's just money. A whole lot of money.

For a view of what that money could mean for North Carolina, visit the National Priorities Project and calculate your own trade-offs. See, for example, a comparison like this:

Taxpayers in North Carolina will pay $6.2 billion for total Afghanistan war spending since 2001. For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided 127,974 elementary school teachers for one year.


One million dollars...

...is what it takes to support one "troop" in Afghanistan for one year. That equates to $30 billion additional spending every year that the 30,000-strong "surge" is in effect.

And a pet peeve of mine is the news media's stumbling over what to call the individual soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine. Hence my improper and awkward use of the word "troop." When I was young, I belonged to a Boy Scout troop. I watched the sitcom "F Troop." I did both midshipmen cruises on "troop carriers" (actually LPDs). Imagine calling a singular dancer a "troupe"?


The measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. - FDR


For each "troop" there is likely a private contractor.


If I could have convinced more slaves that they were slaves, I could have freed thousands more.

Harriet Tubman (1822 – 1913)

Contractors vs mercenaries

I hope we can establish a clear line of distinction between contractors and mercenaries. Many DoD contractors provide technical support for equipment and systems and other essential functions. And then there are the mercenaries.


The measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. - FDR

For me that isn't a hard line

Mercenaries carry them, contractors don't.

Some contractors carry weapons out of necessity. It is a war zone, after all. For me, you are mercenary if the use of a weapon is considered a normal part of your job duties.

Essentially, if you are hired to fight, you are a mercenary. If you are hired to perform a job and have to fight to defend yourself, you are a contractor. Reliance on the former is problematic, IMO.

No necessity

If we are bringing private contractors into a war zone, our armed forces should be the ones doing the protecting. Said another way, there is no inherent "necessity" for contractors to be armed. If our military can't protect them ... if we have spread our forces so thin that we can't do the job ... then contractors shouldn't be there in the first place.

This distinction needs a bright line, not fuzzy logic that allows for anything goes.


You are correct, but at this point we don't have the manpower to do that and even if we did, having such a massive troop presence would undo the 'hearts and minds' efforts that contract work should be used for.

The nature of the conflict is one where the most vulnerable are the natural targets. Unarmed contractors would be providing too many opportunities for bad things to happen.

Waste of Everything

It's hard to believe that this is the best way to use our resources to protect ourselves from Al Qaida. It's hard to believe this is the best way to keep Pakistan from blowing up India and the rest of us. It's just hard to believe that this intelligent man truly believes that more death and more dollars is the best course of action. Yes, I know Obama always called this the good war, but it really never was. I kind of doubt he thinks so, too. But I can't know that. I've been around enough politicians to know the jujitsu Obama employed to look both tough and sophisticated. Now, that calculus is asking for an answer, and this seems to be a decision in search of a rationale. The elaborate number of meetings, which I really thought was a precursor to making a rationale decision, now turns out to be just a bunch of Kabuki to mask an already, all-political, decision. I am sad, as sad as I've been for the world in, well, a year. George Carlin stopped voting after 1980 after he realized that it all always came out the same. He was ashamed that it took him into his mid-forties before he could stop himself from voting. Every bit of me says to keep voting but a strange signal in my head keeps popping up and saying, "There's a sucker born every minute."


We Must Start with Where We Are Now

Greg, I appreciate and understand your sense of futility with the situation in Afghanistan. In an ideal world, we would have captured Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora in November 2001, thereby taking the steam out of al Qaeda and the previous administration's war lust in one fell swoop.

Yet, we broke Afghanistan when we invaded that country, just as we broke Iraq when we invaded there. From all indications, and despite the rhetoric from many detractors, the "surge" in Iraq has at least served to drastically reduced bloodshed all around -- including the loss of American lives there.

It seems to me that the only chance we have of "fixing" Afghanistan, to the extent that Afghanistan is ever to be fixed, is to somehow try to provide enough order and security on the ground to allow some chance for a basic Afghan government to take root. That takes boots on the ground to direct traffic, allow people to go to the market and school in relative peace, solve petty crime, and reestablish civil institutions like police.

This President is stepping into the breach to make the tough decision that should have been made at least seven years ago. He is attempting to make the best way forward, when even the best way is difficult at best. He is finally deciding to fulfill our obligation under international law as an occupying power, an obligation that Rove/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Perle/Bush felt comfortable ignoring, to our peril and especially that of our men and women in uniform.

The commitment of more troops to Afghanistan does not necessarily equate to more death for Afghans or Americans. That's what the President must believe, and I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.


The measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. - FDR

Your response is appreciated yet I can't get to your conclusion

There are many ways to go but, sadly, back is not one. Yes, you broke it you fix is one way. Or, more precisely, because Rove/Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/etc. committed this country now this country owes Afghanistan order and security. Those Afghanis hooked up to US Dollar IV's may think so, but my understanding is that long term occupation hurts. Seeing a US soldier everywhere you go, shouldering military might and sometimes pointing it at you or sometimes bombs from the sky hurting you or your family, well, it doesn't take much to lose the hearts and minds. Yours is a moral and honorable way to frame the issue. I don't deny that. I just believe the right move is to leave.

Finding bin Laden and bringing him and his cohorts to justice can't be the mission of tens of thousands of US troops. It seems to me it is a mission for intelligence officials and special forces units and international cops and so on -- but I freely admit I am not an expert. What I do believe I know is this. James says we could could more than 100,000 teachers for our dollars --right her in our state. For me that means priorities. I'd rather find other ways to protect myself from terrorists than billions down a death-hole.

Well, I have no say, really. I understood what Obama said during the campaign. This was one idea I wished he had discarded; sadly, he did throw away others I wished he hadn't.


"Moral and honorable" versus "right"

Greg wrote: Yours is a moral and honorable way to frame the issue. I don't deny that. I just believe the right move is to leave.

It seems to me that the "moral and honorable" move is the only "right" move. Yes, that's going to cost money -- money that can always be spent in arguably better ways.

But this is not about protecting ourselves from terrorism. This really is about fulfilling our obligations under international law to the people who call Afghanistan home. If we "find other ways to protect ourselves from terrorists," we are then condemning the Afghan people to the tyranny that existed before 9/11/01, on steroids. If, however, we succeed in establishing civil order sufficient to allow an effective Afghan government to stand up, providing basic services and guaranteeing basic human rights, I argue that is our best defense against terrorism.

It is true that tracking down al Qaeda and other international terrorist kingpins is indeed a job for special forces and international law enforcement and intelligence. I have no doubt that is exactly the strategy the President is pursuing to provide that type of security to our nation. The mission of tens of thousands of troops, on the other hand, is the same as the mission of hundreds of thousands of troops in Germany and Japan in the immediate aftermath of WWII. And remember that neither West Germany nor Japan achieved "full sovereignty" until the early 1950s.


The measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. - FDR

A sucker's bet

Let's say the Obama Surge works and that we suppress Taliban activity for a couple of years, despite continuing corruption among the country's leadership. Then let's say we start pulling out in 18 months as Obama has already said we will.

Does anyone think that the men who currently form the Taliban, the men who are already preparing for the next front of domestic terror in their homeland, will not rise again and again and again? THEY FREAKIN' LIVE THERE. We cannot outlast them.

These people are fighting over tribal disputes that have endured for thousands of years years. Do we really think that all will be goodness and light in the next year and a half? That they'll magically forget their grudges and blood feuds. They can hold their collective breath longer than we're willing to stay there. Our involvement will be a blip on the radar screen of their culture.

Obama is making a trillion dollar bet on being able to fundamentally alter the trajectory of history. If he wants to make that case, let him also pay for it up front and honestly ... with a war tax.

More than meets the eye

Most folks do not realize that Afghanistan is made up of a group of tribal regions and it is not a situation where there is a "central government" or some single element there that controls the country. For centuries, that has been the case and it has "worked" for them somehow. We have a tough road to hoe if we are intent on doing anything but going after bin Laden and/or the Taliban and al Qaeda. This is a FAR different situation than we had in Iraq.

In my considered opinion

We should have been involved in Afghanistan from the very start (as was proposed by Pres. Obama from the very beginning of his political involvement in America). We could have had a great impact if we had done that in the first place. I know that accusing Bush of being the cause of many of our ills has become unacceptable in some venues, but this one belongs to Bush and I don't care who questions it.

Now, Obama has to try to resolve the Afghanistan/Taliban/Al Queda situation all over again.

There is no magic wand

We cannot continue the status quo indefinitely. Furthermore, we cannot simply pull our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines out of Afghanistan next week. The first achieves no purpose, and the second leaves an incredibly dire and dangerous situation in Afghanistan and that part of the world.

Cleaning up the mess left by Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Rove/Perle/Feith and all the rest of the GOP version of McNamara's golden boy technocrats means fulfilling our basic obligations under international law as an occupying power. We are obligated to provide basic civil order in the occupied country, until such time as a government can stand up and function. The wave of reinforcements Obama will propose will be more police than soldier.


The measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. - FDR

Couldn't agree more

But, usna77, Obama's decision will create a division within the democratic party. I hate that this will be the case because Obama will need all the support he can get to achieve the goal of ridding the Taliban of its control in Afghanistan (and, of course, their impact in Pakistan who has nuclear weapons)and to help the Afghanistan people have a government that can defend itself against the radicals and be a viable, progressive country in their own right if the various tribes can come together.

I keep wishing that Obama would just

say he is adding 30,000 troops while quietly subtracting 30,000 troops. I think they call it strategery.

Anyway, I can't stand to look at our President right now.


I don't buy it.

The plan and its goals are based on a flawed model. The "cancer of terror" he wants to attack is not country-bound. Fighting in Afghanistan is like radiation therapy on a person's liver while the disease is sprouting in the lungs.

Nice speech though.

The "war on terror"

Great name for a war; kinda like the deforestation initiative called "Clear Skies". There was a pretty good SciFi novel (oops I mean SyFy) written some 35 years ago by Joe Haldeman called The Forever War.

Just sayin'



There cannot fail to be more kinds of things, as nature grows further disclosed. - Sir Francis Bacon