The survival of the Iran nuclear agreement in Congress sent countless members of Congress scrambling for new ways to demonstrate their opposition to the deal and to throw sand into the gears required to carry out the agreement. One of the more preposterous ideas put forward was to send Massive Ordnance Penetrators (or MOPs) to Israel. MOPs are essentially really, really big bombs that have the capacity to penetrate up to 200 feet into the ground.
A recent New York Times article revealed that the Obama administration is considering withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan ahead of the planned 2014 withdrawal date, raising questions about what the country might look like after foreign forces exit – whenever that may be. The answer is critical, as the future of post-withdrawal Afghanistan has implications for the entire Asian continent.
On April 28, the New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg reported that for years, the CIA has been sending money to the office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai – sometimes in the form of actual shopping bags full of cash. According to Rosenberg’s story, the money is meant “to maintain access to Mr. Karzai and his inner circle and to guarantee the [CIA]’s influence at the presidential palace.” (The Guardian reported separately that Britain’s MI6 has been sending smaller payments to Karzai as well).
The revelation of a regular flow of “ghost money” between a US agency and Karzai is all the more surprising given Karzai’s apparent penchant for defying and insulting his American “partners.” Indeed, Karzai’s unwillingness to cooperate with the United States despite the payments corroborates Spencer Ackerman’s conclusion: influence is easy to purchase, but leverage is not.
Speaking to CNN’s Jake Tapper about the story, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation fellow Ambassador Peter Galbraith noted that this episode is symptomatic of the larger problems that the United States faces in Afghanistan. The money and lives we expend in Afghanistan, whether by delivering cash to the President, fighting counterinsurgency battles that are often futile, or pouring money into failed infrastructure projects, doesn’t seem to be buying us anything. In fact, it’s likely that our payments are actually making the situation in Afghanistan worse: in a fragile economy with a poor capacity for cash absorption, injections of money like this tend to end up in the wrong hands, fueling corruption and instability.
When asked by Tapper if the U.S. was getting what it was paying for with Karzai, Amb. Galbraith pointed out that the price of our war in Afghanistan is far more than what’s contained in those shopping bags: “What we’ve been paying for in Afghanistan is not the millions of dollars that have been channeled to Mr. Karzai personally” – rather, the real cost has been the “5 or 6 hundred billion [dollars] and the lives of Americans and also the effort of our allies.”
Moneybags from the CIA are, as Galbraith notes, the least of our worries in Afghanistan, but they should still serve as a powerful reminder of how much has gone wrong in the war, and how little influence we retain in a region that we have tried in vain to control.
A little-noticed provision in the Senate budget resolution is an interesting example of setting political priorities through budgeting.
Due to the protracted showdown over sequestration and the federal budget, this year the House and Senate budget committees drafted budget resolutions before the White House did (usually the President’s budget comes first). These congressional budgets can be an important reflection of congressional priorities and sentiment – particularly this year, when there was no presidential budget from which to take cues.
For Fiscal Year 2014, the Senate’s budget provides $50 billion for the war in Afghanistan, through an account known as ‘Overseas Contingency Operations’ or OCO (which is separate from the base budget, since war is treated as a special contingency rather than a standard expenditure).
Several weeks later, the Obama administration’s budget requested a much larger sum for FY 2014, asking for $88.5 billion as a placeholder until it settles on its withdrawal plans.
For 2015, the Senate halves the 2014 amount to $25 billion. After that, the Senate budget provides no war funding at all.. The budget resolution does clarify that reserve funding may be provided after 2015 as needed, but it seems that the preference is for any post-2015 war funding to come out of the base budget.
This is a telling provision, signaling the Senate’s rejection of the “endless war” that has become an American norm over the past decade. The fact that a special ‘contingency’ account for war has become a standard part of the defense budget shows that the federal budget takes war for granted – just like, unfortunately, much of the American public. Now, however, the Senate is using its budgetary priorities to indicate a welcome shift in political priorities.
For its part, the Republican-led House budget provided $90 billion in OCO funding for FY 2014 and $35 billion annually through FY 2023. The $35 billion is likely a placeholder, but it does suggest that the House is willing to continue to provide large sums for war funding for the foreseeable future.
It’s clear that the move to zero out OCO funding after 2015 reflects the Senate’s desire to end the war in Afghanistan, and its frustration with the lack of clear strategic objectives for our mission, as well as with the way that the war has been fought largely on ‘autopilot.’ Last year, the Senate voted 62-33 to accelerate the withdrawal from Afghanistan, with 13 Republicans voting aye, showing that it had the political will to support an end to the war. Since funding affects policy just as policy affects funding, the Senate’s latest action on the budget may show that there is now a will and a way to finally bring our involvement in Afghanistan to a close.
Let’s hope the White House is listening.
Published in The Gilmer Mirror on March 7, 2013. Article summary below, click here to read full article. By John Isaacs and Usha Sahay The U.S. war in Afghanistan is beginning to wind down. As President Barack Obama promised in his State of the Union address, half of the U.S. troops there will return home […]