Sunday, October 14, 2007

Pay Any Price? Supplemental War Spending Set at $190 Billion for 2008

Today's opinion section over at the Los Angeles Times asks "The $190 Billion Question":

The Bush administration will request $190 billion for fiscal year 2008 for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates. Opinion asked four national security experts whether this was a wise use of U.S. resources. If not, we asked, how would they propose spending $190 billion to reduce the strength and appeal of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda?
The experts are listed in alphabetical order: Anthony Cordesman, James Dobbins, Frederick Kagan, and Winslow Wheeler.

Their comments are brief, but revealing. Here's Kagan's response, "
Spend Whatever it Takes on the War on Terror":

Victory in Iraq and Afghanistan is vital to U.S. national security, and we must spend whatever it takes to win in both places. The $190 billion requested for this year is still less than 1.5% of our gross domestic product, a small burden given the enormity of the stakes. We are in a desperate war against terrorists who have vowed to destroy us, yet our military remains about the same size as it was in the 1990s.

America's top priority for weakening Islamist terror groups should be to defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq, which is the increasingly important offshoot of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. It cannot be allowed to grow stronger. Already, Al Qaeda has used the Soviet failure in Afghanistan and U.S. retreats from Somalia and Lebanon as proof of the strength of its ideology. Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, head of Lebanese Hezbollah (whose agents are supporting Shiite extremists in Iraq), has said that the U.S. will withdraw in shame from Iraq as we did from Vietnam. We must not allow that prediction to come true.

Some people say we must get out of Iraq immediately because our presence there serves only to recruit more people to the ranks of theradical Islamists. But honestly, the presence of American forces in any numbers in a Muslim land can serve as a recruiting tool. It doesn't matter to the terrorists if there are 160,000 Americans in Iraq or 160 -- the propaganda about "U.S. occupation" will be just the same. It does matter if they can claim to have defeated us again.

Other critics would abandon Iraq and shift resources to Afghanistan. Current efforts to fight Al Qaeda inside Afghanistan must be stepped up. But how would we actually rout Al Qaeda from its bases in the tribal areas of Pakistan? Shall we invade Pakistan, a nuclear weapons state with 125 million people? Using American forces to defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan would be extremely difficult and dangerous, but we are already defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq. It makes no sense to abandon a critical effort in Iraq that is going well to start a riskier campaign from scratch in Pakistan.

Moreover, Iraq is a potentially wealthy country in the heart of the Middle East; Afghanistan is an isolated land with few resources and central to nothing. Al Qaeda would happily trade Afghanistan for Iraq -- indeed, it has done so, funneling its own resources into Iraq to fight us where we are strongest. Ceding either Iraq or Afghanistan to them would be a tragic mistake.
Cordesman and Dobbins also see a continued U.S. presence in Iraq as crucial to American national security, but they're both critical of the wisdom of the war, and they seem resigned to a prolonged deployment rather than heartened by the improved situation on the ground (the credentials of both Dobbins and Cordesman are impeccable). I've never heard of Wheeler. His comment is no more than an antiwar rant. I'm surprised he was even included in the symposium.