The Afghanistan deficit

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Federal deficit commission co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, and some other "experts," are telling us we have to make a raft of cuts that will hurt working-class people, in order to reduce the deficit.

On Tuesday, the White House unveiled an Afghanistan plan that sees U.S. troops remaining there until at least the end of 2014. The U.S. will introduce the new plan at the NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal, which begins on Friday.

The New York Times estimates a federal deficit of $418 billion by 2015. The yearly cost of the U.S. war in Afghanistan is currently at least $65 billion - some say over $100 billion. Over the next four years, if we don't start winding this war down, that adds up to a cost of anywhere from $260 billion to $400 billion - more than half, or nearly all, of the projected deficit.

When President Obama announced his 30,000-troop surge last winter, he said withdrawal from Afghanistan would begin in July 2011. But he did not offer a timetable for how the pullout would proceed.

The new four-year plan does for the first time present a kind of timetable for extricating the U.S. military from Afghanistan. Under the plan, the U.S. and NATO next year are supposed to begin handing over responsibility for security to Afghan forces in some areas. That will continue through 2014. U.S. forces will remain in Afghanistan through that period.

But there are many "ifs," and the 2014 date is subject to change. McClatchy News reports that the administration is de-emphasizing the 2011 withdrawal starting point. And this appears to be a military-only plan. What about the regional relationships that have to be built, especially the highly delicate ones such as with Iran, Russia and China?

Back to the deficit.

We have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. If we stick to the plan to begin bringing the troops home next July as the president has previously vowed, and we keep bringing the rest of them home on a clear, short timeline, that will wipe out half or more of the projected budget gap! Think about it!

But Republicans emboldened by the Nov. 2 elections are already ratcheting up their militarism. A key GOP senator says Republicans will block ratification of the new START nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia. President Obama will face heightened pressure to keep pouring American blood and money into warfare, in Afghanistan and elsewhere. It's up to us to make the economic as well as political and moral connections and build the counter-pressure to bring our troops home.

Photo: U.S. Army CC 2.0