There may be good reasons to cut the size of our commitment in Afghanistan. The cost of that commitment shouldn’t be one of them.
After all, next year the Department of Defense plans to spend $107 billion on the war effort—which amounts to all of 0.75 percent of the country’s GDP, which is $14.12 trillion. Or, if you prefer, Afghanistan represents 2.8 percent of Obama’s projected 2012 federal budget of $3.7 trillion. Even if the Afghan spending were eliminated completely, it would hardly close a whopping federal deficit of $1.09 trillion. To reduce that sea of red ink, something needs to be done about mandatory spending—Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and others—which will amount to $2.1 trillion this year.
So it is more than a little bizarre to read in the Washington Post that the cost of the war effort could well be the “most influential number” in determining the size of “forthcoming troop reductions,” with “many of the president’s civilian advisers” arguing “that price is too high, given a wide federal budget gap that will require further cuts to domestic programs and increased deficit spending.” One “senior administration official” is even quoted as saying: “Where we’re at right now is simply not sustainable.”
But in point of fact no one suggests indefinitely spending $100-billion-plus on Afghanistan. Gen. David Petraeus’s plan there, as in Iraq, is to stabilize the situation, to improve the quality and quantity of local security forces, and then gradually to stage a responsible drawdown with U.S. troops handing over responsibility to their indigenous allies. That will delay significant cost savings for a few years, but will make the reductions, when they do come, sustainable. That is, an Afghanistan will be left behind that can guard its own soil.
The alternative—a premature withdrawal beginning this summer—risks undoing all of the gains that American and allied troops have fought so hard to achieve. And it will surely cost us more money in the end by allowing Afghanistan to fall back into civil war and possibly turn into a major haven of jihadist terrorists once again. Anyone who remembers the cost of 9/11—in both human and financial terms—should understand that it is less expensive in the end to see our current commitment through rather than abort it too soon and risk the deadly consequences.