The stay-the-course vs. cut-and-run argument that once characterized the American dialogue on the war in Iraq has since moved eastward. The first half considers it irresponsible for U.S. troops to exit Afghanistan until their military can take the lead; the second half considers it irresponsible to spend billions of dollars on a seemingly endless mission. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) may have answered both concerns with his proposal to establish permanent military bases in the country.
Graham provided Meet the Press with a more detailed definition of an “enduring presence” in Afghanistan than President Obama has presented. In Graham’s view, a number of permanent air bases would ensure that the Taliban never regains control of the country, and also give support to the Afghan army. This has been the end goal of drawing down U.S. combat operations for the length of the Obama administration.
Permanent air bases would certainly provide consistency after the mission officially ends, and it would ensure a greater supply of jobs for military personnel and their civilian proxies. Such a strategy has worked when trying to protect countries from foreign invasion, namely that of Soviets after World War II. The government would have to make it explicit that the retooled mission is to protect Afghanistan from its own insurgents.
However, if Graham wants to make his proposal a reality, he will need to answer for the costs. In 1956, operations at the former Pepperrell Air Force Base in Newfoundland cost $2 million per month. In today’s terms, adjusted for inflation, that’s over $15 million. Not that a majority of Americans or fellow members of Congress will mind – defense is the one area in which it’s largely considered acceptable to spend big. But when fiscal responsibility is the recurring motif in current politics, it may be time for an attitude adjustment, in that respect.
Thinking back on major legislation, if this makes it past the Sunday news stage (yes, that’s a stage now), it will probably take anywhere from a year to 18 months to have a final floor vote on the subject, after months upon months of partisan debate and consultation with military brass. That will leave another 18 months to two years to set up the base by the combat deadline. Graham has the next three years cut out for him.
I personally hope this turns out successfully for him. With enemies foreign and domestic continuing to threaten the Mideast, as this weekend’s attack in Egypt proved, one more in the region won’t hurt anyone but American taxpayers. Graham may need to determine who takes priority.