Rutland Herald/Barre Times Argus | Oct 10, 2010 | By Haviland Smith
During the endless deliberations that took place on U.S. policy toward Afghanistan during the summer and fall 2009, it became clear that the U.S. military establishment — as personified by Adm. Mullin and Gen. Petraeus — was vitally interested in proving that it could reach a successful conclusion in Afghanistan. The military seemed disinclined to consider any of the other factors involved in our Afghan commitment.
This entire episode is laid out in minute detail in Bob Woodward’s new book, “Obama’s Wars,” which is a fascinating read on the way the Obama administration builds military policy and the interplay between the White House and the Pentagon.
What is clear is that our military establishment was concerned primarily with its own goals and operations and far less concerned with the many other issues facing the administration and the nation.
In effect, the military leadership told the president that the only viable policy for Afghanistan would involve our commitment to six to eight additional years and almost $1 trillion.
Today’s military is probably correctly described as far more politically aware and attuned to the needs of the nation that it ever has been. After all, many of the military’s general officers have advanced degrees from some of our most prestigious universities.
It is not the purpose here to decide whether our efforts in Afghanistan are in our own national interest or not, good or bad, viable or hopeless. This is designed simply to enumerate some of the more difficult issues facing America right now and whether or not we can afford the costs of our military engagements in the Middle East and Asia.
It is generally conceded that one gallon of gas delivered to our troops in Afghanistan in 2009 cost $400. More recently, that has been revised upward to $800 because of the Pakistani closing of one of our routes to Afghanistan and the blowing up of fuel trucks.
In February 2010, the cost of the Afghan war was running $6.7 billion a month and the cost of Iraq was $5.5 billion. At those rates, the current cost of our military involvement in those theaters is verging on $150 billion per year. In fiscal year 2011, Afghanistan is projected to cost $117 billion, Iraq $46 billion. These figures will ultimately be revised upward by the costs we will be incurring in dealing with the long-term effects of the wars on hardware and, more important, on personnel.
As long as these wars are placing such a burden on our economy, it will be difficult for us to deal with the critical issues that face us at home. Quite simply, our national infrastructure, our public education system and our issues with energy demand a level of investment that will be impossible as long as these wars drag on.
Without major changes, those critical structural elements of our country will not support the kind of economic and political clout that will be required for us to maintain any sort of meaningful influence in the world. In short, our needs at home far outweigh our needs in the Middle East and Asia.
Finally, there seems to be a growing sub rosa debate in our military establishment concerning the appropriate role of the military in the formulation of military policy. A close read of Woodward’s book shows strong evidence of the military attempting to end-run the president on the timing and extent of the commitment of increased troop numbers to Afghanistan.
The role of our military establishment is to carry out the policies of our civilian leadership. It is not to determine policy from the cocoon of the Pentagon, but to do what any administration tells it to do. Such military decisions will and must be affected by other national realities of which the Pentagon should be aware, but should not be concerned. The role of those realities has always been considered by the White House.
The legal pre-eminence of our civilian leadership over and control of the military is completely established. The ongoing argument (http://www.ndu.edu/press/breaking-ranks.html) that an officer is obliged to refuse to carry out orders he finds morally objectionable cannot be supported in our democracy (http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2010/09/breaking-ranks/), yet it apparently persists at all levels of the officer corps.
We are clearly approaching some sort of critical juncture where insubordination may play a role. The behavior of some of our military leadership around the two critical issues of Afghanistan and our well-being at home has no place in this liberal democracy.
There should be no question about the role of the military or the identity of the commander in chief.
Haviland Smith of Williston is a retired CIA station chief who served in Eastern and Western Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff.