Troop Buildup? If It’s Vital, Tax Us For It!

So the hawks circling Obama will get got their troop escalation in Afghanistan.

It galls me how they pose as Brave Thinkers Who (Alone) Understand The Dangerous World We Live In.

I say to them: if a bigger war is so vital to our security, show some political spine and support a thing that would separate patriots from posers — a $30 billion surtax to cover the cost of a troop surge. (Best estimate: $1 million per soldier per year.)

If you can’t do it, then you’re saying the adventure is not vital after all.

The surtax’s proponent, Rep. Dave Obey, makes the sound point that if national health insurance reform and other vital domestic initiatives have had to be “deficit neutral” (yes, they have!), so should this military adventure.

But don’t expect a lot of takers.

In the years I observed DC’s military hawks and deficit hawks (usually the same birds), they lose their tail feathers when the question is — Gasp! Raising taxes! — or making the military live on a pay-as-you-go-basis.

Take war-supporter Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. He said just the other day:

“The government can’t keep spending money it doesn’t have. Thousand-page bills that spend too much, borrow too much and tax too much are wrong . . .”

Okay, McConnell, pony up. We’re at war; tax us! Or do you come by your patriotism on the cheap, content to let military families and future generations bear the sacrifice for this war? (If so, you’re not really against deficit spending; you just oppose government steps to help the old, the young, the middle class and poor — anything that doesn’t shoot bullets.)

Which at lot of us have known all the time.

I’m not going to discuss in detail for the moment the nagging fact that Obama’s decision — to be announced Tuesday — isn’t, for most of us, “change we can believe in.”

Or that the Obama Administration, like the Clinton Administration before it, seems to have decided that it will not at any cost let Republicans “get to the right” of it on national defense issues.

And for the most part, I’m leaving aside the fact that Obama’s troop surge will stretch the overstretched National Guard and reserves whose members are already losing their homes to foreclosure because of repeated mobilizations (and leave the U.S. essentially without a reserve!)

Or that — even if we could “secure” Afghanistan or Pakistan — we would simply shove the slippery al Qaeda into Yemen, or Somalia, or elsewhere.

Time for that later.

For now, it’s worth remembering former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel’s warning about a troop surge. In an essay in The Washington Post last September, he wrote:

“The Sept. 11 commission pointed out that the attacks were as much about failures of our intelligence and security systems as about the terrorists’ success. The U.S. response, engaging in two wars, was a 20th-century reaction to 21st-century realities. These wars have cost more than 5,100 American lives; more than 35,000 have been wounded; a trillion dollars has been spent, with billions more departing our Treasury each month. We forgot all the lessons of Vietnam and the preceding history. No country today has the power to impose its will and values on other nations.”


Hagel referred to a taped conversation between Lyndon Johnson and U.S. Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. LBJ is there, on tape, telling Russell that we cannot not win in Vietnam but that he did not want to pull out and be the first American president to lose a war. [Text of conversation here.]

And so the Vietnam war went on … and on … to its inglorious end. And with it, a Democratic president who had yearned to remake American society. And with him, an era of progressive politics.

What did the man say about those who failed to learn the lessons of history?

When my wife, Sue, and I stumped across Ohio for Obama in the last month of the 2008 election, this was decidedly not our idea of the Change We Need.

Nor is this a military buildup we can believe in.

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