There was an interesting and disturbing moment in a hearing this week on Afghanistan before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Appearing for the Administration to answer questions on the costs and status of the war were James F. Dobbins, State’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan; Donald Sampler, assistant to the administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development, which provides civilian foreign aid; and Michael Dumont, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia (right). In the middle of the hearing, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (left) asked what should have been a rather predictable question: how much are we continuing to spend on the war annually? None of the Administration witnesses could answer the question. He then asked how many Americans have died in battle? Again, a collective shrug from the witnesses. Even Democrats appeared stunned by the Administration’s inability or refusal to answer the questions. In the meantime, Hamid Karzai has shown the Administration a better way to dealing with pesky congressional questions: you bar them from entering the country.
We have been discussing the continuing gushing costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq while we cut basic programs and services. I was happy to even see a member ask about the costs. Most politicians have refused to risk the political costs of being blamed for a withdrawal or a perceived defeat. As a result, our personnel were left in harm’s way, even as the country’s president called us “demons”, our allies denied basic rights to woman and religious minorities, and polls showed intense anti-American sentiments. Hundreds of billions were spent to provide political cover for leaders who needed to show that they were tough on terror. Of course, many were made millionaires off the war while others paid the price on the ground.
The failure to answer the questions could be explained in one of two ways: both bad. First, there is the stated reason that the Obama Administration sent three experts on the war who could not answer the most obvious questions of the costs of war. That would be the incompetence option. Then there is other possibility that the Administration simply does not want to publicly acknowledge the costs. The majority of deaths in Afghanistan have occurred under Obama. Obama continues to publicly act as if he has pulled out troops in the conflicts when we are still losing people and billions in two wars that show little progress for our investment. The Taliban is on the rise in Afghanistan and we are trying to cut a face saving deal with the group. In Iraq, the government is increasingly anti-American and the Iranians and Chinese have growing influence. Like chumps, we are still pouring hundreds of billions into the wars. Indeed, while publicly acting as if it is trying to pull out of the wars, the Obama Administration has been pressuring the governments to allow us to stay. Indeed, Karzai has publicly complained that the Obama Administration is bullying him into signing an agreement to allow U.S. troops to stay in the country and continue military operations.
The Administration witnesses from both State and Defense simply shrugged and said that they would have to get back to the Committee. Rohrabacker was rightfully confused in noting “Nobody knows the total budget, what we’re spending in Afghanistan. It’s a hearing on Afghanistan. Can I have an estimate?
The witnesses stared at him like “Wow, where did that question come from?” They looked around to see if anyone could answer such a bizarre question from the branch that controls the purse strings of government.
Even Democrat Rep. Gerald Connolly, Virginia Democrat, said “I say to the panel, Mr. Rohrabacker is right. How you can come to a congressional oversight hearing on this subject, with your titles and not know how much we”re spending every year and not know how many casualties we incur this last year, I will say to chairman of this committee, is actually a stunning, stunning development.”
For the record, we are spending roughly $88 billion this year to wage the war in Afghanistan. The State Department budget allocates $4.6 billion in aid and operations. That is at least $92.6 billion on one war that the public has long opposed and shows little evidence of success. This year alone we have lost 118 service members.
By the way, Karzai has declared that, after accepting hundreds of billions from Congress, he will not allow Rohrabacher back into the country. Regardless of what one may think of Rohrabacher, he is a leading member of Congress and, yes, a critic of Karzai. Once again, Karzai has demonstrated a contempt not only for the United States but basic values of free speech in taking this latest action. Karzai as usual appears entirely clueless in asking a reporter: “A democratically elected congressman of the United States of America should not be talking of an ethnic divide in Afghanistan, should not be interfering in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. If an Afghan did that from Afghanistan, how would you react to him in America?” Well, Hamid, we would call it free speech and react with more free speech. Perhaps we should include a copy of the Constitution in the monthly bags of cash that we drop off with Karzai for his growing hope chest.