Yesterday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stated that the United States would begin transitioning to an ATA (advise, train, assist) mission in Afghanistan, from our current operations that consist of using U.S. forces to provide security for the population.
When President Obama announced his plans to send more troops to Afghanistan in 2010, he didn't do so as part of an open-ended commitment , meaning more U.S. forces wouldn't be able to provide ample security for the population, almost completely mirroring the same failures of surging forces in Iraq. But unlike in Iraq, there would be no Sunni Awakening to help keep things moving along. I predicted at the time that the strategy in Afghanistan would not work -- that it would take decades and hundreds of thousands of troops for this counter-insurgency strategy to work, and to me and others (apparently including the Vice President) it was a price too high for an unsustainable plan.
Alas, the military could not make it work. Our military has executed the orders it was given very well, but the reality is that bringing Afghanistan from the 15th Century to the 21st century is an impossible goal, and its clear the president understands his success of killing Osama bin Laden was not related to his surge of troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
And so, having now shown incredible success with more limited counter-terror operations including killing other key al Qaeda leaders, as well as freeing hostages in Somalia, the United States will make the slow, deliberate transition to a counter-terror strategy in Afghanistan on the president's timeline. That's the right move. 2012 will be the last year U.S. forces will provide security, and in 2013 we will transition to a mission that advises the Afghan army and provides strategic training to it. The mission in 2013 will look very similar to our operations in Iraq during 2011, which drastically dropped our manpower numbers from 120,000 to 50,000 combat troops.
Of course, it's no surprise that when the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the 2013 mission transition to advise, train, and assist, Mitt Romney challenged the idea the same way he challenged the final exit of U.S. troops from Iraq, despite not having legal immunity from Iraqi courts.
"The president's mistakes, some of them are calculated on a philosophy that's hard to understand and, sometimes, you scratch your head and say: How can he be so misguided and so naive? Today, his secretary of defense unleashed such a policy. The secretary of defense said that on a day certain, the middle of 2013, we're going to pull out our combat troops from Afghanistan," said Romney.
Let's leave aside the fact that the president said no such thing, and the defense secretary didn't say we're pulling out all of our troops in 2013. They said the mission of troops will look more like Iraq in 2011, as the military moves to just training and advising Afghan Forces.
That aside, Mitt Romney just made it clear: While the president will begin to transition us out of Afghanistan, a President Mitt Romney would keep us there in an open-ended commitment. And just like I said in 2010, I'll say it now. Open-ended means decades and hundreds of thousands of troops in Afghanistan.
Besides the fact that polls show Americans have no appetite for that kind of commitment, the pure finances of it paint CEO Romney into a corner.
We are spending around $2 billion a week in Afghanistan. We have spent hundreds of billions in the war since it started just after 9/11. If it's safe to say that there will be no troop drawdowns, and an indefinite commitment under a President Romney, we'll be there for another four or eight years, depending on whether he won a second term. That's hundreds of billions of dollars.
At the same time, the multi-millionaire who thinks his 13 percent in taxes is too high and wants to cut taxes for other multi-millionaires and corporations says he wants to balance the budget and pay down the debt. Well, where will he get the money? It's impossible to do so if you continue the war in Afghanistan and cut taxes for the rich, and absolutely impossible without slashing veterans benefits.
So, a President Romney would positively cut veterans health care, veterans jobs programs, the GI Bill, research into wounds of war like Traumatic Brain Injuries, and so on. At the same time he was deploying hundreds of thousands of men and women to fight a never-ending war in Afghanistan, he would assuredly be cutting -- if not right out ending -- benefits for the troops returning.
In contrast, at his State of the Union, President Obama said, "Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Or do we want to keep our investments in everything else -- like education and medical research; a strong military and care for our veterans? Because if we're serious about paying down our debt, we can't do both."
Now, add "an endless war without marked progress" to the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and the choice between Romney and Obama couldn't be more stark.
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