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US Is Increasing Its Hegemony As the "Global War Gladiator" Under Obama

What to watch for in 2010 from the country that spends more on war than the next 25 combined.

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Strange, isn’t it, that the debate about hundreds of billions of dollars in health-care costs in Congress can last almost a year, filled with turmoil and daily headlines, while a $636 billion defense budget can pass in a few days, as it did in late December, essentially without discussion and with nary a headline in sight?  And in case you think that $636 billion is an honest figure, think again -- and not just because funding for the U.S. nuclear arsenal and actual “homeland defense,” among other things most countries would chalk up as military costs, wasn’t included. 

If you want to put a finger to the winds of war in 2010, keep your eye on something else not included in that budget: the Obama administration’s upcoming supplemental funding request for the Afghan surge.  In his West Point speech announcing his surge decision, the president spoke of sending 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan in 2010 at a cost of $30 billion.  In news reports, that figure quickly morphed into “$30-$40 billion,” none of it in the just-passed Pentagon budget.  To fund his widening war, sometime in the first months of the New Year, the president will have to submit a supplemental budget to Congress -- something the Bush administration did repeatedly to pay for George W.’s wars, and something this president, while still a candidate, swore he wouldn’t do.  Nonetheless, it will happen.  So keep your eye on that $30 billion figure.  Even that distinctly low-ball number is going to cause discomfort and opposition in the president’s party -- and yet there’s no way it will fully fund this year’s striking escalation of the war.  The question is:  How high will it go or, if the president doesn’t dare ask this Congress for more all at once, how will the extra funds be found?  Keep your eye out, then, for hints of future supplemental budgets, because fighting the Afghan War (forget Iraq) over the next decade could prove a near trillion-dollar prospect. 

Neither battles won nor al-Qaeda and Taliban commanders killed will be the true measure of victory or defeat in the Afghan War.  For Americans at home, even victory as modestly defined by this administration -- blunting the Taliban’s version of a surge -- could prove disastrous in terms of our financial capabilities.  Guns and butter?  That’s going to be a surefire no-go.  So keep watching and asking:  How busted could the U.S. be by 2011?

2. Will the U.S. Air Force be the final piece in the Afghan surge? 

As 2010 begins, almost everything is in surge mode in Afghanistan, including rising numbers of U.S. troops, private contractors, State Department employees, and new bases.  In this period, only the U.S. Air Force (drones excepted) has stood down.  Under orders from Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal, based on the new make-nice counterinsurgency strategy he’s implementing, air power is anything but surging.  The use of the Air Force, even in close support of U.S. troops in situations in which Afghan civilians are anywhere nearby, has been severely restricted.  There has already been grumbling about this in and around the military.  If things don’t go well -- and quickly -- in the expanding war, expect frustration to grow and the pressure to rise to bring air power to bear.  Already unnamed intelligence officials are leaking warnings that, with the Taliban insurgency expanding its reach, “time is running out.”  Counterinsurgency strategies are notorious for how long they take to bear fruit (if they do at all).  When Americans are dying, maintaining a surge without a surge of air power is sure to be a test of will and patience (neither of which is an American strong suit).  So keep your eye on the Air Force next year.  If the planes start to fly more regularly and destructively, you’ll know that things aren’t looking up for General McChrystal and his campaign.    

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