Change of guards in Afghanistan has finally taken place. The reason could be insubordination but the decision to fire the General will yield multiple benefits, including savings of taxpayers money being spent on endless campaign. It seems that the war against terror has finally started taking its toll, now in economic terms. Whatever the reasons of change of command in Afghanistan, the new commander is known for his skills to fight terror as well as he fights costs. Christian Science Monitor, in a recent issue, says that as an officer astute about politics, General Petraeus knows the new politics of austerity in Washington because Congress is in little mood to add to the debt. Afghanistan now costs more than Iraq, or some $70 billion this year, even as a troop surge goes on.
On the other hand, Great Britain, a junior partner in the War has started feeling the heat and has passed on the burden on its economy to masses by cutting the benefits or increasing the taxes. Like the rulers in the Fatherland, the British rulers have passed the buck on to their predecessors for mounting burden of debt. “Today we take decisive action to deal with the debts we inherited and confront the greatest economic risk facing our country.” This is how Chancellor Osborne justified his budget.
Britain’s budget cuts exemplify a Europewide return of fiscal conservatism less than two years after Keynesian intervention (in the form of stimulus programs) was the emergency tonic for the 2008 financial crisis. From Spain to Hungary, millions of government workers are being fired or told to postpone retirement. Projects are being junked in a bid to tame soaring deficits and win approval from investors.
“There is only so much borrowing that governments can do before the markets will say: ‘no more, we can lend you no more money,’ ” says Richard Wellings, an economist at the Institute of Economic Affairs, a right-of-center British think tank that wants deep cuts.
Dr. Wellings argues that European governments have no choice but to trim spending, since fears of sovereign defaults already have investors backing away from government debt.
Even Europe’s economic powerhouse, Germany, has unveiled a fiscal austerity program designed to save nearly $100 billion by 2014 and more than halve this year’s projected deficit of 5 percent of GDP.
On the USA front, Mr. Obama warns he has a budget limit for Afghanistan. “We simply cannot afford to ignore the price of these wars,” he says. He seeks a balance between domestic priorities, especially the economy, and the threat of violence from Al Qaeda or its affiliates in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan.
The president also promises to address the war costs “openly and honestly.” A strategy review is planned for December with a drawdown of forces set to begin mid-2010 – depending on local conditions, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates puts it. “We are in this thing to win,” he says.
Defining victory, however, remains illusive and divisive among Obama’s security team, one reason for McChrystal’s ill-spoken words to a reporter. Rather than wait until December, Obama should use this change of command to give a clear explanation of the current trade-offs between the war’s costs and the evolving security threats.
Is he still set on denying a haven for Al Qaeda, as promised – even if, for instance, the coming offensive in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar fails and drags the war into 2012 and beyond?
The president dislikes an open-ended commitment to the war. And he uses the threat of withdrawal to pressure Kabul to quickly boost its forces and the economy. But squaring his goal of securing that country enough to prevent another 9/11 with the budget pressures back home will require Obama to keep a running dialogue with the American people. Since last year, they have largely found the war not worth fighting.
It takes more than one good general to win a war. The home front is a battleground, too.