WASHINGTON -- The war in Afghanistan is reaching a "critical juncture," according to Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), a former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and American taxpayers are going to have to decide they want to continue spending billions of dollars for many years to come.
"For ordinary Americans looking at all this, they wonder, where does this stop?" said Lugar told reporters at an event sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor on Tuesday. "Here, American taxpayers have been generous. Billions of dollars are going to Afghanistan to try to improve the standard of living of people, apart from the military side. But we're running into real problems with regard to Afghan law and administration, and even humanitarian matters."
Lugar has argued before that the administration needs to more clearly outline what would qualify as success in Afghanistan, but he resisted taking a position Tuesday on what that means for the U.S. withdrawal from the country.
"Well, this is constantly being rephrased by the president, as to how much withdrawal or whether we think about it then," Lugar told The Huffington Post. "This is a debate we're going to have the next five months or so. No definition right now."
Lugar also broke down the changing U.S. politics on the war, saying that the country was moving toward a "critical juncture" with an increasing proportion of Americans looking for it to end. More and more Democratic lawmakers are calling for withdrawal, Lugar said, and even some Republicans are eyeing defense issues as a prime target for spending cuts. The Indiana senator said it remains to be seen whether there's a "preeminence of the budget questions as opposed to the war question."
But even withdrawal has its drawbacks, as Lugar noted, and what Congress will have to look at is whether the tradeoff is worth the price:
This is not going to just be an Afghan problem. In the event that we are not able to establish a broader sequence, at some point, our own resources -- that is, the United States budget -- will not be able to support the degree of foreign aid, military assistance, or the replication of an Afghan army over the course of many years. [...]
So however this winds up, a good many people are going to charge that Americans let the Afghans down, in terms of our idealism. ... In other words, withdrawal even partially or largely is going to mean acceptance of certain conditions that Afghans choose, and sometimes not by the ballot, but simply by the force of whoever happens to be in charge at that point. And that's going to be disappointing to the world, to us, to many in Afghanistan.
But when we have these hearings, we're going to try to probe, I think, really how long, how expensive -- these are tough questions that we all have to face. Because after all is said and done, the Afghans have no army that they can finance. The revenues of that central government are totally inadequate for any of the large ideas that we have of 100,000 or 200,000 people -- people equipped, people in training, people prepared to resist others.
Lugar's comments come as The Washington Post reports that a "U.S.-backed plan to hire an additional 73,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers has raised concern among diplomats in Kabul about the quality of recruits and the sustainability of an increasingly costly security apparatus financed almost entirely by international donors. ... It would cost the United States an additional $6 billion next year, roughly twice as much as previously planned, and could saddle the United States and other countries with heftier Afghan security costs for years, if not decades, to come."