A trillion here, a trillion there

by David Isenberg | February 29th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Recently I debated on television the cost and impact of the U.S. military budget. Predictably, the other panelists, an analyst from the American Enterprise Institute and a veteran Republican consultant said all is well and that there is nothing to worry about. In their view any complaints are just the whining of disaffected, unpatriotic liberals.

Well, perhaps not. In that regard let’s take a look at a new book, The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict  by Nobel Prize winner Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda J. Bilmes. They have built on working papers they previously published in 2006 and this one in 2007.

Assuming that people are not yet totally jaded about Iraq their book should open some eyes. Beyond looking at the predictable, such as the incremental operating costs of the war, they detail expenses that the military likes to downplay, such as replacing military equipment (being used up at six times the peacetime rate), and, more importantly, speaking as a veteran,  the cost of caring for thousands of wounded veterans—for the rest of their lives. 

Trying to grasp the sheer enormity of the U.S. military budget is always difficult, given most news coverage of it is done haphazardly but let’s consider this excerpt from a recent TomDispatch

In the week that oil prices once again crested above $100 a barrel and more Americans than at any time since the Great Depression owed more on their homes than the homes were worth; in the year that the subprime market crashed, global markets shuddered, the previously unnoticed credit-default swap market threatened to go into the tank, stagflation returned, unemployment rose, the “R” word (for recession) hit the headlines (while the “D” word lurked), within weeks of the fifth anniversary of his invasion of Iraq, the President of the United States officially discovered the war economy.  

In other words, in honor of the soon-to-arrive fifth anniversary of his war without end, the President has offered a formula for economic success in bad times that might be summed up this way: less houses, more bases, more weaponry, more war. This, of course, comes from the man who, between 2001 and today, presided over an official Pentagon budget that leapt by more than 60% from $316 billion to $507 billion, and by more than 30% since Iraq was invaded. Looked at another way, between 2001 and the latest emergency supplemental request to pay for his wars (first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq), supplemental funding for war-fighting has jumped from $17 billion to $189 billion, an increase of 1,011%. At the same time, almost miraculously, the U.S. armed forces have been driven to the edge of the military equivalent of default.


Bloomberg Knows When to Fold ‘Em

by Matthew Rojansky | February 28th, 2008 | |Subscribe

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg seems finally to have cleared up any uncertainty about whether he’d run an independent campaign for president this year. In an op-ed in today’s New York Times, the Mayor stated “I listened carefully to those who encouraged me to run, but I am not — and will not be — a candidate for president.”

It almost goes without saying that Bloomberg won’t run because now he’s quite sure he can’t win. Things might have been different if early predictions of a Hillary-Rudy contest had actually panned out, or if Huckabee hadn’t upset Romney’s dominance with the Republican base, and “Mac” had not come back. Instead, we’re looking at a probable Obama victory in the next two weeks, and an all-but guaranteed McCain nomination this summer. In a race pitting McCain’s maverick breed of conservatism against Obama’s anti-establishment, “come together” populism, there just isn’t room for a third party candidate seeking independent votes.


New Abu Gharib Torture Photos Released

by Raj Purohit | February 28th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Wired.Com has just released a set of previously unseen images from Abu Gharib that were recently used in a presentation on torture at the TED conference in Monterey, California. The photos are horrific (viewer discretion is advised) and will certainly reopen the global debate on torture and U.S. actions in Iraq. There is little doubt that the U.S. image in the world will take a further blow at a time when it cannot afford to take too many more.

There is no chance of restoring the U.S. reputation in the world unless we shift course on the issue of torture – unfortunately the Administration and Congress are incapable of dealing with this issue on their own. I have been urging for several years now that Congress moves to create an Independent Bipartisan Commission on Torture and Interrogation; it is past time that the U.S. comprehensively address the scandals of Abu Gharib and beyond.

Some may ask whether it makes sense to wait until we have a new President as there is a good chance that Administration policy will shift dramatically in 2009. My sense is that we actually need more than just a shift in policy going forward. There is a need for all the information on torture to be raised in a public setting and for the facts to be on display for both domestic and global public consumption.

Any Commission that is created should be tasked with bringing together a broad range of experts able to collectively comprehend the totality of the issue, its consequences and necessary policy prescriptions. The experts would be drawn from the intelligence, foreign policy, law enforcement, military, veterans, legal and human rights community. Additional members could include representatives of the faith community, theologians, cultural specialists and historians.

The Commission would publicly air its findings thereby ensuring that the country as a whole can move forward together with an understanding that an “end to torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment” policy is both the morally correct thing to do AND is the best counter-terror approach for the U.S. to take.

I strongly believe that this is an issue where we can build bipartisan support. Maybe Powell could chair the Commission?

Perhaps a national reporter could ask Senator Obama, Senator McCain and Senator Clinton whether they would ensure that such a Commission would be formed during their first 100 days as President.

Taking the long view in Pakistan

by Brian Vogt | February 26th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Last week Raj Purohit wrote that now that the Pakistani electorate has clearly rejected the status quo that it is time for Musharraf to step aside.  While I agree that the long term outlook for Pakistan would be much improved if Musharraf were listen to the will of the electorate, I think that we all must admit that the likelihood of him stepping down is fairly remote.  Although Musharraf’s party lost the parliamentary elections, thanks to his stacking of the court, he claims that he still legally can remain in power.  Until Musharraf loses the confidence of the military, we’re likely to see him in power for the foreseeable future.  No, I’m not happy with that reality, but I also recognize that US policy towards Pakistan is unlikely to force Musharraf from power.  If we focus our attention primarily on the removal of Musharraf, I fear that we are setting ourselves up for failure. 

No, the most encouraging result I heard from the Pakistani elections came not from Nawaz Sharif nor from President Musharraf, but rather from Senator Joe Biden when he called on the US to get serious about its long term Pakistan policy.  He called on the US to:

  1. The U.S. must triple non-security aid, to $1.5 billion annually for at least a decade.  This aid would be unconditioned.  It would be the U.S.’s pledge to the Pakistani people.  Instead of funding military hardware, it would build schools, clinics, and roads.
  2. The U.S. must condition security aid on performance. We should base our security aid on clear results.  The U.S. is now spending well over $1 billion annually, and it’s not clear we’re getting our money’s worth.
  3. The U.S. must help Pakistan enjoy a “democracy dividend.”  The first year of democratic rule should bring an additional $1 billion – above the $1.5 billion non-security aid baseline.  Sen. Biden supports tying future non-security aid – again, above the guaranteed baseline – to Pakistan’s progress in developing democratic institutions and meeting good-governance norms. 
  4. The U.S. must engage the Pakistani people, not just their rulers.  This will involve everything from improved public diplomacy and educational exchanges to high impact projects that actually change people’s lives.  (more…)

The Clinton-Obama Exchange You Might Have Missed

by Matthew Rojansky | February 25th, 2008 | |Subscribe

I’d like to highlight a very tense, and–I believe–revealing exchange between Senators Clinton and Obama that took place during last week’s CNN/Univision Democratic debate in Austin, TX. In case you didn’t notice, it was a surprisingly explicit evocation of the difference between each contender’s approach to the policymaking process, whether in the US Senate or in the White House in 2009. Unfortunately, it happened right in the midst of the much more superficial, but apparently more memorable, back-and-forth over Obama’s “change you can Xerox,” so this angle has gotten approximately zero media coverage.


Bush’s Legacy in Africa

by Jonathan Wallace | February 20th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Bush African Dance

By any measure, George W. Bush’s foreign policy has been a disaster. However, one of the few bright spots during his seven years in office has been his policy towards Africa, particularly in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The President raised development aid by 30% from 2001 to 2003 and raised total HIV/AIDS funding by 36% in his first years in office. In Africa, his foreign policy is not seen solely through the prism of failed militarism. People recognize the strides that Sub-Saharan Africa has made in combating disease and poverty during his term. To be sure, there is still tremendous work to be done and the Bush administration should not strain themselves patting their own backs. However, for a President searching in vain for a foreign policy legacy, Africa offers an opportunity to enhance the presidency in the eyes of the historians, and to help millions of people who still ache for a better life. With this in mind, I believe now is the right time for President Bush to make the bold moves and take on the politically risky challenges that the continent presents.

He could start in Darfur, where the (much like other parts of his foreign policy) the rhetoric has been strong, but the action has been timid. President Bush could do much to help the UN peacekeepers that are just now being deployed there. He could lease helicopters to the UN so that the peacekeepers can track movements of the militias and travel quickly from camp to camp. While he has been forceful in his use of the word genocide, there needs to be more state level engagement in order to isolate the Bashir regime in Khartoum. These efforts could begin with our allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia and perhaps even extend to China, which holds financial influence over the country. Finally, he could float the idea of a NATO enforced no-fly zone (as seen in the PSA statement on Darfur) in the region, at least for some more diplomatic leverage. Not only would progress in Darfur be a monumental foreign policy achievement, but it would also be a boon to the moral credibility of the United States (something Bush has done plenty to hurt over the last six years).

Additionally, President Bush could use his profile to highlight on-going conflicts in Africa that have received little, if no attention. He could make a high profile statement in support of the democratic process in Congo. He could put pressure on the government of South Africa to harshly condemn the policies and police state of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. He could use his status as the world’s terrorist warrior to show Americans what is going on in Somalia; not just the fight against extremists, but the failed state conditions that breed them. Finally, he can use his position as Leader of the Free World and chief aid distributor to push for a transition from aid handouts to direct investment, which is a more effective (and more sustainable) development strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa.

While this list is a bit hopeful, it is no more hopeful than President Bush’s attempts to solve the Mideast crisis in a year. By refocusing on Africa, President Bush could score some significant gains for his reputation and that of the United States. But most importantly, he could concentrate the world’s attention on vital issues that seem only to pop in and out of the world’s radar screen.

After Democratic Defeat What Next for Musharraf?

by Raj Purohit | February 20th, 2008 | |Subscribe

I received a call late on President’s day from a Pakistani friend wanting to let me know that the people of his country had clearly rejected the Bush administration’s favorite General in favor of a democratic alternative, simultaneously marking the beginning of the restoration of democracy in Pakistan and leaving U.S.-Pakistani policy in tatters.

As readers of this blog know, I have been focusing a fair bit of time and energy on U.S.-Pakistani policy and in the aftermath of these elections I could not help but wonder what the post-election dynamics would look like.

It did not shock me too much to hear President (former General) Musharraf suggest that he would not be leaving the scene on the basis of these elections — he suggests that he wants to help Pakistan transition.

What is interesting is that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) has agreed to support a Pakistani Peoples Party led coalition government if, it seems, three conditions are met — restoration of the Chief Justice and other Judges fired by Musharraf, the installation of a senior lawyer (and prominent PPP member) as the new Prime Minister and the impeachment of Musharraf.

It is critical that the U.S. administration encourages its friend, Musharraf, to rapidly leave the scene. A game of brinksmanship between the President of Pakistan and the man he deposed, Nawaz Sharif, does no one any good. The new Pakistani government has much work to do — Musharraf must step aside and let them begin the hard work of governing.

Damn those exceptions

by David Isenberg | February 15th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Haven’t you heard the news? Our war in Iraq is going much better than you’ve heard. The trends are up, stability is spreading, Iraqis are returning to the country, and less US troops are getting killed.

It is only due to those damn tofu eating, chardonnay swilling, whale loving, liberal Democrats and hate America first types in the media that you don’t know this.

Yes, everything is going great guns (pardon the pun), except:

Secretary Robert Gates recently endorsed the concept of ordering a pause in troop withdrawals from Iraq this summer,” saying that “the notion of a brief period of consolidation and evaluation probably does make sense.” Gates echoed sentiments from Gen. David Petraeus, who last month indicated that the drawdown may halt after this summer, when troop levels in Iraq reach roughly 140,000.

Except America’s military is hurting. “The surge has sucked all of the flexibility out of the system,” Army Chief of Staff George Casey recently said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “And we need to find a way of getting back into balance.”

“The well is deep, but it is not infinite,” Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We must get Army deployments down to 12 months as soon as possible. People are tired.” (more…)

Hopefully McCain won’t take a lesson from Romney’s playbook

by Brian Vogt | February 12th, 2008 | |Subscribe

If you haven’t already seen Mitt Romney’s “suspension” (aka withdrawal) speech, it’s certainly worth a look.  It’s this speech that confirmed for me that our county, and our hopes of a more bipartisan foreign policy, are better off without someone like Romney vying for the Presidency.  Of course, what I’m referring to is the particular line in his speech when he says, “Frankly, I’d be making it easier for Senator Clinton or Obama to win.  Frankly, in this time of war I can not let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror.” 

Here’s the clip of it 

Yes, you heard it right. 

Certainly Democrats and Republicans have differing view on what to do in Iraq and many other foreign policy issues.  However, to explicitly say that a Democrat winning in 2008 would be a surrender to terror is just plain offensive.  It might energize the base but it does so at the expense a more effective bipartisan foreign policy.  (more…)

Election 2008: Afghanistan in the Balance

by Jonathan Wallace | February 11th, 2008 | |Subscribe

In January of 2009, there will be a new President in the White House. The elections will set the direction of the country on a number of different issues: healthcare, the economy, the war in Iraq, and immigration. However, one of the under-reported issues that will be greatly affected by the administration change is the war in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a mission that is in trouble and hopefully, the next President will take a long look at the current US commitment. (more…)

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All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.