Coming out of the just-concluded NATO Summit in Lisbon, it’s clear that the 2014 date for withdrawal of combat forces from Afghanistan is more aspirational than substantive, and that President Obama’s promised drawdown of troops in July 2011 will likely be more symbolic than a genuine shift in strategy. What is striking is that the decision to essentially stay the course in this failing war comes at a moment when a majority of Americans believe the war isn’t worth fighting.
The reason for this disconnect may be that Members of Congress say they’ve heard few concerns about the war from their constituents. Until Americans voice their opposition to the war with the same kind of intensity that they talk about jobs and the economy, Congress and the Administration have little political incentive to change direction.
"Another four years of war—at the current rate—we’re talking about 2400 more coalition and American soldiers dying, thousands more Afghans killed, and a price tag of about a half trillion dollars,” said Matthew Hoh, a former US Marine who resigned his Afghanistan post in protest last year and now serves as director of the Afghanistan Study Group. And the question remains—what does this sacrifice buy us? How does this benefit the US? How does it impact Al Qaeda? How does it help stabilize Pakistan? How is any of this worth it?"
Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes now estimate the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will reach $4 to $6 trillion. There have been approximately 2,200 US and coalition casualties in Afghanistan, and tens of thousands of Afghan civilian deaths. The Christian Science Monitor reports that “softening” the 2011 and 2014 deadlines “could add at least $125 billion in war spending—not including long-term costs like debt servicing and health care for veterans."
One idea which might make the war resonate more with voters is to take responsibility for healthcare for veterans through a Veterans Trust Fund. Proposed by House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner, it would require Congress to appropriate funds upfront whenever they vote to go to war so that when soldiers are injured or wounded they are able to receive the care they need when they return home. Currently, that funding isn’t necessary when we send our troops off to war, so proper care is far from guaranteed.
Consider that last year there were more than 1,800 suicide attempts by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Yet the Veterans Administration is short more than 1,000 counselors, therapists and mental health specialists. Also, 565,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have filed disability claims for combat-related injuries. But the backlog for processing claims at the Veterans Administration now exceeds 500,000.