Insanity at the House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
Last week’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, “2014 and Beyond: U.S. Policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan,” was revealing for two reasons. First, after a brief nod to public support for the drawdown, the witnesses and representatives discussed at length why we should do exactly the opposite of what the majority of Americans want. Secondly, the entire hearing went by without a single acknowledgment that the policy options under discussion will have fiscal consequences.
Rep. Steve Chabot’s opening remarks set the tone for the hearing.
“Unfortunately, although the 2014 withdrawal date may be politically expedient, it is, in my view, strategically risky…It is unclear what we are doing, when we are doing it, how we are doing it, and even what we are trying to accomplish beyond withdrawal as soon as possible.”
This is the problem with Afghanistan policy in a nutshell. “It is unclear what we are doing” – even after ten years and billions of dollars. Yet Chabot and other drawdown critics want to continue doing the same thing, no matter the cost.
Chabot isn’t the only one who prefers a military solution despite ten years of evidence that troops are not the answer. Carnegie’s Ashley Tellis questioned the wisdom of setting any drawdown deadline:
For an adversary like the Taliban, what the deadline has done is simply given them room to hope that they can run down the clock, not to engage in serious negotiations…to simply hold back the resources in the expectation that the real fight will come not before 2014 but after.
Tellis argued for delaying the withdrawal of surge troops beyond 2012, while Lt. Gen. David Barno (Center for a New American Security) argued for maintaining a presence beyond 2014. “I personally think that force needs to be 25 to 35,000 Americans, who do counterterrorism on the one side and also provide advisers and support for the Afghan forces that continue the counterinsurgency fight,” Barno said. “That shuts the light at the end of the Taliban’s tunnel if that happens.”
Opposition to the drawdown isn’t entirely unexpected. After all, many opinion leaders have consistently advocated keeping troops in Afghanistan. It is concerning, however, to see that support for prolonging the war is still strong among policymakers, at a time when public support for the war all-time low.
Also concerning is the fact that this policy discussion lacked any acknowledgment of budgetary realities. Policy isn’t made in a vacuum. It’s easy to say “we need X-number of troops,” but how are we going to pay for them?
The great military strategist Bernard Brodie once noted that “Strategy wears a dollar sign.” Policymakers should take note. Their decisions have fiscal consequences, and it is irresponsible to pretend otherwise.