The Obama administration must heed to Democratic National Committee's (DNC') resolution of last Saturday in favor of domestic job creation and speeding up substantial troop withdrawal from the Afghanistan war by or before July of 2011. This is a remarkable prescription at this time of high unemployment and Afghanistan's quagmire.
Ostensibly the great recession of 2007-2009 is continuing with an unemployment rate of 9% which must be brought down to below 6%. This can be done without additional borrowing that would run up the budget deficit of $1.1 trillion or without raising taxes. Raising taxes during recession is not a good idea in spite of current anti-debt mania raging. Instead taxes should be lowered in recessions. More importantly, to create employment, resources can be reallocated from the military to the civilian sector.
Such an approach is politically feasible as secretary of defense Robert M. Gates has hinted towards cuts in some military budget and avoidance of future U.S. military involvement in wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, the U.S.' current military budget, at approximately 4% of the GDP, is larger than the combined sum of all other nations' military budgets.
Parenthetically, DOD's budget should be reoriented and reexamined to determine its optimal, and affordable level in consonance with the national security interest, create a flexible defense capacity that can readily respond to national security demand. For every percentage point reduction of the DOD budget relative to GDP, more than half a trillion dollars could be transferred into the civilian sector with a higher multiplier and job creation than military expenditures. For instance in the Persian Gulf War the economic stimulus from defense spending was -- 1.3% in terms of real GDP growth and it was 0.5% in the first quarter of the Iraq war. Creating employment through wars is old economics and no longer can be legitimized. Prosperous methods of job creation that are politically attractive include building new sources of energy, taking care of deferred public infrastructure, creating purchasing power through productive employment and responding to compelling economic issues such as high unemployment (currently 13.7 million) and national debt (currently at $14+ trillion). It follows that creating more jobs per the DNC resolution requires a creative, technocratic and non-ideological approach.
The DNC's resolution to speed up military withdrawal from Afghanistan rests with President Obama's decision as his vice president and 72% of the American public agree with DNC's resolution. Currently, the United States is engaged in three wars, the Iraq war that is winding down, the Afghanistan war that is expanding and the war against Bin Laden/al Qaeda in Pakistan which is not a conventional war and the U.S. is being constrained by Pakistan's claim of protecting sovereignty and its inability to close down insurgent hideouts. President Obama identified the Iraq war as the wrong war and the Afghanistan war as the right war, but in reality, both wars were the wrong wars. The United States should not have gotten into either of these wars. It should have pursued bin Laden/al Qaeda directly in Pakistan. Our military operations in Afghanistan have turned into a war against the Pashtun tribes (the largest tribe in Afghanistan) instead of al Qaeda, since there are no longer al Qaeda in Afghanistan since 2001.
The recent rise in U.S. casualties in Afghanistan appears to be consistent with the experience of the last ten years of U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, i.e., there appears to be a direct correlation between the number of U.S. soldiers and U.S. casualties and worsened security. Why has the security situation not improved with additional NATO forces? It can be explained by looking at the genesis of the conflict that has evolved over time. In 2001, U.S. bombing in Afghanistan started in the northern regions of the country, it moved to the central regions and western regions. But bin Laden and Al Qaeda were residing in the eastern region (Jilalabad) of the country giving him time to slip out through Tora Bora into the Northwestern region of Pakistan. Bin Laden and his top deputy have not been captured ever since. However, the conflict in Afghanistan continued as U.S. forces routed the Taliban and dismantled their government.
To counter the danger of Al Qaeda returning to Afghanistan and using it as a base of terrorist operations and to prevent the return of the draconian Taliban regime onto the helm of power again, the U.S. assisted Afghanistan in establishing a democratic government in line with its traditional democracy promulgating a constitution and an elected government in 2004 and 2009. However, President Hamid Karzai lost legitimacy when he stole the second election, corruption reigned and the Kabul government failed to extend its reach to the countryside. The Taliban regrouped and over time they have been able to create shadow governments in many provinces and launched attacks against NATO forces, including roadside bombing and suicide explosions. Now the conflict is characterized by stalemate with no victory or defeat in sight. And as DNC has pointed out, the conflict in Afghanistan does not lend itself to a military solution. Moreover, the Taliban characterized NATO forces as occupiers and infidels triggering jihad or holy war against them.
President Hamid Karzai has not been an effective strategic partner over the last ten years in spite of $100 billion dollars/yr. of U.S. expenditures. Corruption, nepotism, warlord and drug dealings are pandemic which has demoralized the general populace. The U.S. should shift its support to educated, sophisticated, secular and nationalistic Afghans who have been kept on the sideline thus far. Moreover, there is a great uncertainty about the effectiveness of U.S. counterinsurgency strategy largely because of Karzai's failure to reach to the villagers. The Pashtun tribes share the same religious sect and share cultural and traditional affinities and loyalties. The former Soviet Union's counterinsurgency during 1979-89 failed.
A negotiated settlement is possible as the Pashtuns traditionally settle wars through negotiations. It follows that President Obama should seriously consider shifting the current military strategy fighting the Pashtun tribes. There are 30 million Pashtuns on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border pointing to a protracted war including unlimited supply of insurgents which will make a victory cost-prohibitive as the British realized through three Anglo-Afghan wars and the Russian ended in Soviet retreat after 10 years of occupation.
Prof. Nake N, Kamrany is on the faculty of economics, director of program in law and economics at the University of Southern California and a member of California Bar.