Saturday, October 17, 2009

McChrystal's 40,000 Troup Hoax

    It's a time-honored Washington tradition. If you want to bully the government into doing something unpopular and the public into accepting it, manufacture a false emergency. Iraq war? If you don't approve it, mushroom cloud. Banker or IMF bailout? If you don't approve it, financial collapse. Social security privatization? If you don't approve it, the system will go "bankrupt." Our brand is crisis, as James Carville might say.

    General McChrystal says that if President Obama does not approve 40,000 more US troops for Afghanistan, and approve them right away, "our mission" - whatever that is - will likely "fail" - whatever that is.

    But even if President Obama were to approve General McChrystal's request, the 40,000 troops wouldn't arrive in time to significantly affect the 12-month window McChrystal says will be decisive. So, McChrystal's request isn't about what's happening in Afghanistan right now. It's about how many troops the US will have in Afghanistan a year from now and beyond.

    There is no emergency requiring a quick decision by President Obama. The current situation in Afghanistan is being used as a bloody shirt to try to lock America into to an endless war, and, as Andrew Bacevich argues in The Boston Globe, lock the Obama administration into the continuation of military force as the main instrument of US foreign policy.

    The Washington Post reports:

In his 66-page assessment of the war, McChrystal warns that the next 12 months will probably determine whether US and international forces can regain the initiative from the Taliban.

    But as The Wall Street Journal notes:

... a recent study by the Institute for the Study of War - a Washington, DC, think tank headed by Kimberly Kagan, a military analyst who worked on Gen. McChrystal's assessment team - suggested it would be difficult to move enough troops from other posts to deploy anywhere close to 40,000 troops before next summer at the earliest.

The military agrees with the institute's overall findings, although [it] has identified different units it could deploy over the course of the next year.

    Let's plot these two facts on the same graph.

    Let's say that "12 months" equals 12 months. So, McChrystal's window is between now and next October.

    Let's say that "next summer at the earliest" equals June.

    We're in October now, so June is eight months away.

    That means that for two-thirds of McChrystal's window that will "probably determine" whether we "win" or "lose" in Afghanistan, the 40,000 troops that Obama is being pressured to approve will be mostly irrelevant.

    There is no crisis demanding a quick decision on McChrystal's troop request, and plenty of time to explore alternatives, including dramatically reducing our list of enemies, and dramatically increasing the role of diplomacy, negotiations and deal-making in Afghanistan and in the region.

    In particular, if it's true that 70 percent of the insurgency consists of "$10-a-day Taliban," as a Senate report estimates, that suggests that we could make deals with (at least) 70 percent of the insurgency. Suppose that these deals cost us $20 per day, per fighter, and that there are 15,000 Taliban fighters overall. Then a deal with 70 percent of the insurgency would cost $210,000 per day. The war, on the other hand, costs $165 million per day.

    If you assume that fighting this 70 percent of the insurgency has average cost, then fighting these 70 percent of Taliban fighters costs $115.5 million per day. So, if we made a deal with them, instead of fighting them, we'd save $115.3 million dollars, every day, for an annual savings of $42 billion dollars. By comparison, if the 10-year cost of health reform is a trillion dollars, then the annual cost is $100 billion. So, making a deal with 70 percent of the Afghan insurgency would pay for roughly half of the cost of health care reform.

    In addition, at the current rate, about 23 American soldiers are being killed in Afghanistan every month. Assuming, again, average costs, that means that making deals with instead of fighting with 70 percent of the insurgency will save 16 American lives a month, or 194 American lives a year.

    In what is surely an undercount, in the first six months of 2009, the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan recorded 1,013 civilian deaths. If we use this figure and assume average costs, removing 70 percent of the insurgency would save 118 Afghan civilians every month, or 1,418 per year.

    And this analysis doesn't even consider the benefit of avoiding the wounding of American soldiers and Afghan civilians, nor the many other benefits of less fighting, including less trauma for American soldiers in Afghanistan - many of whom are depressed and deeply disillusioned, military chaplains tell the Times of London.

    Nor does this analysis consider the benefits of less fighting in terms of less trauma to Afghan civilians and the economic benefits of less fighting for Afghan civilians.

    In other words, there is at least one alternative to military escalation that would save more than a thousand lives and tens of billions of dollars every year, among many other benefits over military escalation.

    Now, tell me again that there is an emergency requiring President Obama to approve sending 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Robert Naiman is senior policy analyst at Just Foreign Policy.

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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