Obama Administration Witnesses Appear Before Congress To Answer Questions On The Costs Of Afghan War And Say That They Simply Do Not Know The Costs Of The Afghan War

220px-Dana_Rohrabacher090413170658_Mike Dumont Official PhotoThere 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.

There was relatively little coverage of the hearing and this extraordinary moment. It was covered by the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times.

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.

26 thoughts on “Obama Administration Witnesses Appear Before Congress To Answer Questions On The Costs Of Afghan War And Say That They Simply Do Not Know The Costs Of The Afghan War”

  1. Thank you anon posted, for linking to service members names. To our “leaders”, they mean nothing. Afghan civilians mean nothing. These people are stone cold and stone cold nihilists.

  2. All of this was accurately predicted when the government decided to expand the war on a method (terror) into Iraq. The politics employed by all parties, then and now, tend to discourage rational debate. Purposely?

    Last May President Obama gave an in depth speech on the matter and republicans rushed to criticize with comments like:

    “he’s going back to a pre-9/11 mentality …” (Rep. Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee)

    “What do you think the Iranians are thinking? At the end of the day, this is the most tone-deaf president I ever could imagine, making such a speech at a time when our homeland is trying to be attacked literally every day.” (Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina)

    “I see a big difference between the president saying a war is at an end and whether or not you’ve won the war. We can claim it’s at an end but this war is going to continue and we have tremendous threats throughout that are building, not declining, building.” (Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma)

    So now we have moved from imperialism (saving the world) to nationalism (saving ourselves). Both stances make it extremely difficult for a national debate to take place on aligning limited national means with foreign ends.

    Once we decide to drop the partisanship of blame for a war on method by cloaking it with the the jargon of imperialism or nationalism and tackle the real problems of equally significant deficits in education, infrastructure, employment, and innovation we might be able to actually make some strategic progress on all fronts.

  3. I thought the US was originally in Afghanistan to secure oil and gas pipelines and reward war profiteers who make large campaign contributions, and later to provide jobs to the US unemployable and profit from illicit drugs. Terror, hating the US, human lives, public funding have always been irrelevant.

  4. “Military men are just dumb stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy.”

    SOURCE: Henry Kissinger, quoted in “Kiss the Boys Goodbye: How the United States Betrayed Its Own POW’s in Vietnam”

    We all should know by now that the State is unaccountable and incompetent. Why try to win a “war” when you can make war indefinitely?

  5. “This year alone we have lost 118 service members.”

    About the human costs:

    http://icasualties.org/OEF/ByTheatre.aspx

    And then there are the suicides…

    “Veterans are killing themselves at more than double the rate of the civilian population with about 49,000 taking their own lives between 2005 and 2011, according to data collected over eight months by News21.”

    (http://www.publicintegrity.org/2013/08/30/13292/suicide-rate-veterans-far-exceeds-civilian-population)

  6. IMO the lack of any sort of accounting mechanism for the cost of our involvement is a clear indication that either no coherent overall policy exists for our engagement in Afghanistan, or else whatever policy exists isn’t being followed.

    So if the leaders are out to lunch on this, we certainly don’t need to be risking the lives of our servicemembers. Bring my brothers- and sisters-in-arms back home. Now.

  7. This simply makes it even more clear how expendable the poor are to the rulers of this nation. They don’t care about our women and men dying from battle. They aren’t even a statistic worth bothering with. This contempt for others is reprehensible.

    Then of course, more people who are poor, working and middle class will have their income slashed to pay wealthy war contractors in Afghanistan. Our overlords are making profound choices with the money of our citizens. Our money goes to the already wealthy, not to better our society. That is a choice of the powerful. It is not inevitable. We the people need to choose differently. Here is what a liberation theologist had to say. I believe it is applicable:

    “I am firmly convinced that poverty—this sub-human condition in which the majority of humanity lives today—is more than a social issue. Poverty poses a major challenge to every Christian conscience and therefore to theology as well…

    Our context today is characterized by a glaring disparity between the rich and the poor. No serious Christian can quietly ignore this situation. It is no longer possible for someone to say, “Well, I didn’t know” about the suffering of the poor. Poverty has a visibility today that it did not have in the past. The faces of the poor must now be confronted. And we also understand the causes of poverty and the conditions that perpetuate it. There was a time when poverty was considered to be an unavoidable fate, but such a view is no longer possible or responsible. Now we know that poverty is not simply a misfortune; it is an injustice.

    Of course, there always remains the practical question: what must we do in order to abolish poverty? Theology does not pretend to have all the technical solutions to poverty, but it reminds us never to forget the poor and also that God is at stake in our response to poverty. An active concern for the poor is not only an obligation for those who feel a political vocation; all Christians must take the Gospel message of justice and equality seriously. Christians cannot forgo their responsibility to say a prophetic word about unjust economic conditions…

    The poor person is someone who is treated as a non-person, someone who is considered insignificant from an economic, political and cultural point of view. The poor count as statistics; they are the nameless. But even though the poor remain insignificant within society, they are never insignificant before God… God’s love excludes no one.”

    http://americamag– azine.org/node/146366

  8. Isn’t transparency wonderful, what does one expect from the most corrupt administration ever, the truth?

  9. “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?”

    “Too much” and “too many” are the easy responses to those questions.

  10. The RepubliCons started this back in the McCarthy Era when they invoked the Soft On Communism Label and stuck it on Democrats. So, Democrats, when they got into the White House, had to be tough on Communism. So we got the Vietnam War. After 9/11 we had to be tough on Terrorists. So, we have the Afghan System. The “AS” involves spending as much as conceivable on the Military Industrial Complex. Few questions asked in the Halls of Congress or the Halls of the Cathouse. Bring back Ike. He is the one who warned us about the Military Industrial Complex on his last day in office.

  11. The administration officials could have said: “The war is costing as much as possible” and that would have been a truthful answer.

  12. Michael Lehnert: Here’s why It’s long past time that we close Guantánamo

    December 12, 2013 |

    http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013312120025

    Excerpt:

    In 2002, I led the first Joint Task Force to Guantánamo and established the detention facility. Today, I believe it is time to close Guantánamo.

    Even in the earliest days of Guantánamo, I became more and more convinced that many of the detainees should never have been sent in the first place. They had little intelligence value, and there was insufficient evidence linking them to war crimes. That remains the case today for many, if not most, of the detainees.

    In retrospect, the entire detention and interrogation strategy was wrong. We squandered the goodwill of the world after we were attacked by our actions in Guantánamo, both in terms of detention and torture. Our decision to keep Guantánamo open has helped our enemies because it validates every negative perception of the United States.

    When I was the Joint Task Force Commander in Guantánamo, I spent many nights visiting the facility and talking to the guards. I did this because I wanted to be sure that my guidance for humane treatment was being carried out. Many of my young Marines and soldiers were clearly troubled by my insistence on humane treatment, pointing out that “the terrorists wouldn’t treat us this well.” My answer to each of these young service members was always the same: “If we treat them as they would treat us, we become them.”

    It is time to close Guantánamo. Our departure from Afghanistan is a perfect point in history to close the facility.

    Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert, USMC (Ret.), was the first commander of the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He lives in Traverse City.

  13. Isn’t there some mechanism for removal such as misfeasance or malfeasance….. If a CFO, CEO or COO answered in the same way…. I think there might be some repercussions ….. Unless of course it’s a bank….. Or someone in politics…… What does it take….l

  14. If Karzai won’t let a congressman in Afghanistan, perhaps we should oblige and keep all our troops out of Afghanistan. And if Rohrabacher had any balls, he’d get off the fence and oppose any more intervention in a Afghanistan.

    Pull the troops out NOW.

  15. I met a contractor on R&R down in Pattaya back in spring of 2006 ( confesion: I am married to Thai woman, live in Thailand and have no desire what so ever to return to the Corporate Police State of Amerika) that told me then we had already lost the war in Afghanistan. He said we had no policy then or in the past, the government/military didn’t have a clue as to what they were doing with or how to do it. Like the Iraq Vets I have spoken with, just change the words Afghanistan and Iraq for Vietnam and they sounded just like we did.

  16. It won’t take long for the regulars to switch tracks.
    The train driven by this administration is for the greater good, right?

  17. They say “elections have consequences” but that requires accountability.

    After disclosing the following, the Pentagon budget doubled over the next years:

    “According to some estimates we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions,” Rumsfeld admitted.

    $2.3 trillion — that’s $8,000 for every man, woman and child in America. To understand how the Pentagon can lose track of trillions, consider the case of one military accountant who tried to find out what happened to a mere $300 million.

    “We know it’s gone. But we don’t know what they spent it on,” said Jim Minnery, Defense Finance and Accounting Service.

    Minnery, a former Marine turned whistle-blower, is risking his job by speaking out for the first time about the millions he noticed were missing from one defense agency’s balance sheets. Minnery tried to follow the money trail, even crisscrossing the country looking for records.

    “The director looked at me and said ‘Why do you care about this stuff?’ It took me aback, you know? My supervisor asking me why I care about doing a good job,” said Minnery.

    He was reassigned and says officials then covered up the problem by just writing it off.

    (Getting Caught Is The Only No-No). Deja Vu all over again.

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