Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and US Army General Burwell. (Photo: US Army Korea - IMCOM / flickr)
This past Wednesday, Adm. Mike Mullen (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) announced that the Pentagon will seek additional war funds for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in 2010. While he did not give a firm dollar amount, The New York Times reported that defense budget analysts are kicking around the number of $50 billion. The Times also reported that Jack Murtha, chair of the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, indicated on October 30 that he expects the supplemental spending bill for 2010 to be in the range of $40 billion. The final dollar amount won't be known until the White House submits its "emergency" supplemental spending request to Congress, most likely around February 2.
In the immortal words of Coach Vince Lombardi: "What the hell is going on out there?"
We should be so lucky if it were a simple matter of the Green Bay Packers screwing up the power sweep.
Instead, it's a matter of the Obama administration now leading us down the path of the most expensive year in war funding since President Bush began the so-called "Global War on Terror" (now morphed into "Overseas Contingency Operations" under President Obama).
You read that correctly. War spending in 2010 will exceed $190 billion if indeed the Pentagon seeks - and Congress approves - $50 billion in "emergency" funding. That's more than the $179 billion spent under President Bush in 2008, the previous high-water mark for war spending. War spending in 2010 will also far exceed spending in 2009 (which is about $145 billion).
While Admiral Mullen did not announce a new war strategy for Afghanistan, it is difficult to conceive for what this additional $40 billion to $50 billion will be used if not used to expand the war in Afghanistan (and to perhaps continue the occupation of Iraq at near current troop levels without the substantive reductions promised earlier this year).
Let's compare the numbers from 2009 to 2010 for three key areas of spending: Personnel costs; Operation and Maintenance costs; and Procurement costs.
Funding levels in 2009 were: Personnel - $19.9 billion; Operation and Maintenance - $80.4 billion, and Procurement - $31.9 billion.
Current funding levels in 2010 are: Personnel - $14.1 billion; Operation and Maintenance - $80.3 billion, and Procurement - $22.2 billion. (With all the talk about building Afghanistan's army and police forces, it is worth noting that spending on the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund increases from $5.6 billion in 2009 to $6.6 billion in 2010, so it's not likely that the "emergency" supplemental will include significantly more funds for this category).
Total funding levels in these three main areas are approximately $15.6 billion less in 2010 than in 2009. While Procurement funding declines in 2010 compared to 2009, this decline is most likely the result of returning to a more normative definition of what constitutes "emergency" war spending than the very expansive definition that was implemented under President Bush, which resulted in the explosion of Procurement spending to approximately $45 billion in both 2007 and 2008 (Procurement spending in 2005 was $18 billion and in 2006 it was $22.9 billion before this expansion).
The Congressional Research Service notes in a September 2009 report that the president's budget for 2010 includes both the increase in troop levels in Afghanistan to 69,000 ordered by President Obama earlier this year and the anticipated reduction in US troop levels in Iraq through August 2010.
Which leads one to ask the question:
In announcing that the Pentagon intends to seek additional war funding for 2010, did Admiral Mullen tip the hat that President Obama intends to dramatically increase the level of US troop levels in Afghanistan - edging toward that 40,000 additional troops that General McChrystal seems to be requesting?
Or that the US intends to otherwise dramatically increase the level of combat operations in Afghanistan and into Pakistan, which would carry the potential for significant increased costs in Operations and Maintenance as well as in Procurement funds?
Or that the US intends to maintain troop levels in Iraq near current levels for the remainder of 2010?
Mullen's statement comes within the context of Obama's speech to service members in which he said that the US would not send members of the military into harm's way without adequate resources. It comes within the context of Obama assuming personal responsibility for his decisions as commander-in-chief when he became the first US president in decades to personally participate in the ceremonies at Dover upon the return of US service members who died in war. The sequencing of events seems to be preparing the way for President Obama to issue the order to dramatically increase US troop levels and combat operations in Afghanistan.
Somehow we must reinvigorate the antiwar movement that seems to have largely gone missing over these past several months.
One campaign under way to rise to the challenge is the Peaceable Assembly Campaign (www.peaceableassemblycampaign.org).
From January 19 through February 2, the PAC will maintain a two-week vigil at the White House and engage in regular acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, starting on the day President Obama enters his second year in office, continuing through his anticipated State of the Union address to Congress, and concluding on the day he is to submit his budget for 2011 to Congress.
Then after February 2, the Peaceable Assembly Campaign will focus its work upon Congress. Similar to the Occupation Project effort of 2007, the PAC will organize lobbying - both legal and extralegal (i.e., civil disobedience) - in the home offices of representatives and senators who do not commit themselves publicly to oppose additional funding for the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
You can become involved with the Peaceable Assembly Campaign at www.peaceableassemblycampaign.org.
Now is not the time to equivocate in our opposition to the continuing and expanding wars. The die is being cast by the Obama administration. It is our choice on how we respond. And rather than being directed at the administration, perhaps we should direct Coach Lombardi's challenge to ourselves. After all ...
What the hell IS going on out there?