Archives: 11/2009

If We Don’t Admit That Taxes Are an Issue, Can We Make the Issue Go Away?

The Washington Post devotes most of a page to summarizing the views of Virginia gubernatorial candidates Bob McDonnell and Creigh Deeds on the major issues of the election. (The article seems to have no real headline online, and isn’t linked from anywhere obvious, but in the actual paper, it dominates page C4 under the headline “Where do they stand on the issues? A Rundown of Competing 4-Year Agendas for Virginia.”)

And what are the issues the Post thinks are important? Education, transportation, energy and environment, abortion, gun control, health care, and labor. All fine issues to debate.

But what about taxes? Or government spending? Or the size and scope of government? McDonnell’s television ads focus heavily on Deeds’s apparent willingness to raise taxes, and he’s been rising in the polls as those ads have run. Could it be that the voters think taxes are an important issue?

Turn to a front-page story on New York’s special congressional election, and you’ll find Todd Harris, who has been a media adviser to John McCain, Jeb Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and now Marco Rubio, making this point: “A lot of the establishment Republicans underestimated the grass-roots anger across the country about spending and the expansion of the federal government.”

The Post wishes that taxes weren’t an issue in Virginia. In fact, the Post wishes that voters wanted their taxes raised. But wishing won’t make it so.

Afghanistan: A Run-Off with One Candidate?

It appears that opposition candidate Abdullah Abdullah won’t contest the run-off which the U.S. forced on President Hamid Karzai after the latter’s supporters stole votes with great fanfare in the initial poll.  But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says don’t worry, be happy.  Reports Reuters:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Saturday that a decision by Abdullah Abdullah not to contest a second round of the Afghan presidential election would not affect the vote’s legitimacy. Asked at a news conference in Jerusalem about reports that aides to the first-round runner-up said he would not run, Clinton did not make clear whether she was confirming that Abdullah would not run but she said: “I think that it is his decision to make.” She continued: “I do not think it affects the legitimacy. There have been other situations in our own country as well as around the world where in a run-off election one of the parties decides for whatever reason that they are not going to go on.”

If Secretary Clinton believes this, she is not only smoking but inhaling.  The U.S.-supported president in a nominal democracy at the center of a concerted nation-building campaign committed massive electoral fraud.  Only under extreme pressure did he agree to a run-off (when is the last time a candidate’s agreement was required to hold a run-off set by law in the U.S.?).  Now the leading opposition candidate has given up the contest, doubting its feasibility and fairness.

This doesn’t affect President Karzai’s (fast dwindling) credibility?

The Obama administration needs to narrow U.S. objectives, focus on counter-terrorism rather than counter-insurgency, and begin withdrawing American combat forces.  I make these arguments in a new article on the Huffington Post.

The Rising Cost of War in Afghanistan

As Iraq collapsed into sectarian fratricide, the primary victims were Iraqis.  As combat rises in Afghanistan, Americans and other allied personnel are the primary targets.  And the casualty toll is rising.

Reports the Washington Post:

More than 1,000 American troops have been wounded in battle over the past three months in Afghanistan, accounting for one-fourth of those injured in combat since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

The dramatic increase in amputees and other seriously injured service members comes as October marks the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Expanded military operations, a near-doubling of the number of troops since the beginning of the year and a Taliban offensive that has included a proliferation of roadside bombings have led to the great increase in casualties. U.S. troops in Afghanistan are suffering wounds at a higher rate than those who were serving in Iraq when violence spiraled during the military “surge” two years ago. In mid-2007, 600 U.S. troops were wounded in Iraq each month out of about 150,000 troops deployed there. In Afghanistan, about 68,000 troops are currently installed, with about 350 wounded each month recently.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell acknowledged that the casualties in Afghanistan have surpassed Iraq surge proportions and noted that the violence in Afghanistan is directed more against U.S. and other coalition forces, whereas it was heavily sectarian in Iraq. “It shows you how we are the targets and how effectively they are targeting us,” Morrell said.

President Obama should ponder well the rising costs as he considers U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.  First, what is Washington hoping to achieve, and are the benefits worth ever more American deaths and injuries?  Second, whatever he thinks is the best strategy, are the American people likely to support it over the long term?  There would be nothing more foolish than to escalate and plan for years of war only to be forced into a speedy and unplanned withdrawal as the public demanded an end to what it saw as a useless conflict.

Defending America should be the administration’s top priority.  That means a strategy of counter-terrorism rather than counter-insurgency.  However much we might want to transform Afghan society and government, we are not likely to be able to do so at reasonable cost in reasonable time.  We should step back from the brink rather than take the plunge into the potentially bottomless Afghan abyss.