THE BLOG

If We Wait for Afghan Forces to Take Over, We Are Waiting For Godot

07/08/2010 11:26 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The war in Afghanistan goes on with U.S. casualties mounting. The month of June was the deadliest yet with 102 deaths, the highest since the war began nine years ago. The war is supported by the Republican leadership, with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in the lead. They denounced the Republican National Chairman, Michael Steele, for referring to the war as "not winnable" and a war of "Obama's choosing." President Obama by increasing the number of our troops in Afghanistan and making it clear that we are not committed to withdrawing beginning with July 20111, is deepening our involvement in a war we can't win. If the Taliban were to surrender today, President Karzai would welcome them into his cabinet, just as he is doing now while we are losing.

Dexter Filkins of The New York Times reported on July 5th,

Almost every phase of the war is going badly. In June, 102 Americans and NATO troops lost their lives, more than any month since the war began. The major offensive in Kandahar, the most important city in the Taliban heartland, has been slowed because of worries over the lack of local support. The Afghan government and army show few signs of being able or even willing to take over. In the United States, public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans have turned against the war.

General Petraeus, on assuming command, told "Afghan leaders and American and NATO officers at a ceremony here...we are in this to win." He also told them, according to The Times, "success here would be likely to take much longer than the July 2011 date set by President Obama to begin a withdrawal of American forces."

If we wait for Karzai's Afghan army to be ready to take over the security of their own country, we are waiting for Godot, and we will never leave. Surely, at this point, we have given enough blood, lives and treasure to achieve the unachievable. Our soldiers have suffered enough for that unattainable goal, which some American military experts have estimated would take 10 to 15 more years of war to achieve. I believe it cannot be achieved because when we leave, whether now or 15 years from now, Afghanistan will become a satellite of Iran because of proximity and fear, even though Afghanistan has a Sunni majority. When we leave Iraq next year as promised, its Shiite majority will ensure that it, too, will become a satellite of Iran.

The Shiites and Sunnis - divisions of Islam - have been killing one another from time immemorial. Since we invaded Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Shiite and Sunni civilians have been blown up by one another as a result of their 1,300-year-old religious war. Are we to sacrifice our young soldiers in a fruitless effort to restrain this religious warfare? Mr. President, admit error or declare victory and bring our troops home.

Those Americans who have concluded the war is undermining our security rather than protecting it, raise your voices so Washington hears them. The antiwar activists should focus their efforts on a march on Washington. We have sacrificed enough dead, wounded and treasure in a failed cause. Enough is enough.

***

Elena Kagan, Solicitor General of the United States, acquitted herself superbly before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee during her confirmation hearings. What does that mean? It means she basically told the Senators nothing that would reveal how she will vote. Of course, we know she will vote as a liberal would and should. Conservatives, while upset with her liberal orientation, are resigned to her confirmation because she is replacing a liberal - Justice John Paul Stevens - and therefore would not tip the Court in a liberal direction.

To pacify her questioners, Elena Kagan paid proper lip service to the doctrine of giving great respect to legal precedents. The New York Times in an editorial this past week pointed out how Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her confirmation hearings had similarly reassured the questioning Senators. The editorial stated, "Sonia Sotomayor said last year that she understood the individual right to bear arms had been determined by the Supreme Court in 2008, but this week she joined a blistering dissent that said the 2008 decision was wrong."

Most gun control supporters - and I am one - are distressed with the huge victories that the National Rifle Association has had before the U.S. Supreme Court and the Congress, on the right to possess guns, particularly hand guns. Most New Yorkers probably don't know that it is relatively easy in New York State, except for criminals and the mentally impaired, to obtain a permit to keep a handgun in one's home or place of business. New Yorkers don't have the right to carry that gun outside of their home or business; to do that one needs a special carriage permit which requires in New York City the consent of the New York City Police Commissioner under the Sullivan Law, which goes back to 1911. When Washington, D.C. and Chicago banned all handguns and the Supreme Court ultimately ruled on that issue, it decided that such total bans violated the Second Amendment. The Court has not ruled on New York State's law requiring a special permit for carrying a handgun through the streets. Undoubtedly, such limitations will ultimately come before the Court. I would be shocked if the Court were to strike that limitation down. But this is an unpredictable Court that has shown that it is capable of consistently surprising us.

The most recent shock was its decision, as The Times described it, "to allow unlimited corporate spending in elections." The Times neglected to mention that the Court's decision also allowed unlimited spending by unions, as well.

***

During the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe and its aftermath, FEMA purchased and made available 120,000 mobile homes to the homeless. The Times in an article of June 30th reported, "The trailers were discovered to have such high levels of formaldehyde that the government banned them from even being used for long-term housing again." After the trailers were removed, the government spent $130 million a year to store and maintain them, but then decided to auction them off. According to The Times, beginning in 2006, the feds unloaded 100,000 of them at public auction.

Now, apparently, the federal government has sold some trailers to those assisting in the Gulf cleanup who need housing. The feds tell purchasers not to use them for housing, as though that takes the sellers off the hook.

Our government's actions are shameful. Rather than suing the manufacturers and distributors of the trailers for a refund of the purchase price - some $2.7 billion -- our government is putting more people in harm's way. Are those responsible still working for the government?

***

A July 4th New York Times article reported that "[a]ccording to the most recent study by the Congressional Budget Office, released in 2005, capital investments like oil field leases and drilling equipment are taxed at an effective rate of 9 percent, significantly lower than the overall rate of 25 percent for businesses in general and lower than virtually any other industry." According to The Times, "[t]he American Petroleum Institute, an industry advocacy group, argues that even with subsidies, oil producers paid or incurred $280 billion in American income taxes from 2006 to 2008, and pay a higher percentage of their earnings in taxes than most other American corporations."

Wouldn't it be nice to know the truth? We know that oil companies are extremely profitable. According to Fortune magazine, the most profitable company in 2009 was Exxon Mobil with a profit of $45 billion. We also know, as mentioned in The Times, that "[t]he oil and natural gas industry has spent $340 million on lobbyists since 2008."

Having served in Congress, I can tell you that the members of oil states were the most effective. The famed Charlie Wilson, Congressman from Texas and subject of the movie Charlie Wilson's War, was a friend of mine. I trusted him. On one occasion, I rushed to the floor to vote - 15 minutes was allotted - and not having been on the committee that debated the bill, I looked to a friendly face - in this case, Charlie Wilson's - for guidance on how I should vote. Wilson gave me a thumbs up, so I voted yes with my plastic card.

Fortunately, a fellow New Yorker saw my vote on the flashing board, came over and said, "Wrong vote, Ed," explaining it was providing subsidies to the oil industry. Of course, I changed my vote. I went over to Charlie and said, "Charlie, how could you do that to me?" He replied, "Ed, you can trust me on anything else but oil." Charlie was a great Congressman and I treasured our friendship. However, I never fully trusted him again, as nice as he was. Trust once breached is rarely ever fully restored.

The oil industry has taken the U.S. taxpayers to the cleaners. We should demand of Speaker Nancy Pelosi that an independent, fairly-composed committee of experts be appointed to examine the oil and gas industry and recommend to the Congress what subsidies, if any, should be available to that industry, which tax loopholes should be closed and what taxes should be paid, including, if the committee found it appropriate, an excess profits tax.

Many in Congress, myself included when I was there, favored a tax ranging from a quarter to a dollar per gallon as far back as 1973 when our then Arab allies of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states imposed their oil embargo. The same amounts could probably be raised if the oil companies paid their fair share of taxes. Those monies should be used to identify and implement alternate forms of energy. China is way ahead of us on creating wind energy and other alternatives.