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Afghanistan and other follies are the key to the entire budget debate

Conservative Review

Republicans are on the cusp of a major budget betrayal. But ending our backwards and aimless involvement in Afghanistan while preventing new interventions not in our national interest could finally give conservatives leverage over the budget.

Solving the Afghanistan dumpster fire is important, and not only because it diverts resources and wastes the lives of our most respected warriors on behalf of terrible human beings in a theater that no longer matters and has no important outcomes for our interests. It is important because ending wasteful missions like Afghanistan and other similar ones while reorienting our priorities towards legitimate threats and conflicts that affect our national interests will serve as the lynchpin to the entire budget battle.

Republicans are planning to bust the budget caps and massively increase spending. The key to this deal is the fact that defense hawks badly want more military spending to rebuild the military after Obama downsized it. However, Democrats are using Republicans’ desperation over military spending as a hostage to demand more non-defense spending. Thus, Republicans are prepared to grow government at a faster rate than in Obama’s final term. This is one of the central reasons why Republicans have always failed to cut spending when in power.

But what if we were able to solve the military problem without paying the ransom on non-defense spending? Too many defense hawks are focusing exclusively on spending figures and are ignoring the policies surrounding the underlying goals of our military. This is a debate we are supposed to have during the defense authorization bill (NDAA) before we decide the level of appropriations, but as always, the NDAA winds up being consumed with debate about spending levels and not policies.

According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report publicly released and declassified a few days ago, we have spent $72.1 billion building up the corrupt and inept Afghan security forces. There is no way to estimate the enormous cost of the broader war and reconstruction and the impending surge, but the direct spending for Afghanistan since 2001 is $877.4 billion, and the request for FY 2018 is $48.9 billion. What if we saved all of that spending and used it to build up the military for actual existential threats, such as the Iranians and North Koreans, rather than for pedophiles in the Hindu Kush who don’t threaten us but have been at war with each other for 1200 years?

We need to reorient our missions away from the expensive and untenable occupations of nonfunctioning nation-states with endless Islamic tribal warfare, such as in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, while preserving our military deterrent for the real threats of Iran and North Korea.

Sadly, this administration is moving in the opposite direction. While failing to use soft power to push for regime change during the protests in Iran, Mattis and Tillerson are now committed to a new unauthorized war in Syria to depose Assad, amazingly and counterintuitively under the guise of preventing a resurgence of ISIS. We were promised this was just an engagement to vanquish ISIS, yet we are now repeating our role of referee in Islamic civil wars in Syria, a strategy that failed miserably in Iraq and Afghanistan. Assad is downstream from Iran, a weak puppet. Yet we won’t use soft power to push out the mullahs in Iran — in a country that would likely sustain regime change — but will use hard power to fight the puppet in a fractured tribal land with no plan for keeping this from turning into Iraq 2.0.

At the same time, we are not even protecting the Kurds in the eastern part of Syria from the Turkish Islamists, which should be the only goal of our involvement there. Once again, our foreign policy is backward.

Let’s reorient our foreign policy and then discuss whether we need to increase spending. Let’s move beyond these aimless and costly long-term occupations in which we referee Islamic civil wars that didn’t originally affect us, but that then come full-circle and bring in refugees from both sides, now endangering our own country. A focus on effective use of soft power and swift strikes of hard power when necessary will be a game-changer for properly determining the hardware needs of our military. I would venture to say that like most issues, as conservatives, we understand that our military concerns are more of a policy problem than a spending problem.

The shame of this all is that, as shown by comments from Sen. Leahy and the New York Times concerning the corruption and human rights issues with the Afghan army, this is truly an opportunity for a bipartisan moment on a major issue. Rather than promote yet another bipartisan amnesty, we should be focusing on how to merge our shared concerns about the endless engagements in Islamic civil wars. The side benefit is that it will free up major funding that we can use for base defense without having to beg Democrats for more spending or grow the already bloated bureaucracies. Is it too much to ask that we don’t fund homosexual pedophilia among the ranks of a phantom army that has been backstabbing our troops for 15 years?

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