The following editorial appeared recently in the Dallas Morning News:
President Barack Obama's long-delayed decision on Afghanistan isn't a bold strategy, but it's a step in the right direction. Although his quest for a middle ground has left most everyone unsatisfied, he has made a significant commitment to a conflict this nation cannot afford to lose.
In the end, the president wisely agreed to a large percentage of the troop buildup his commanders wanted. Equally important is the fact that Obama made clear that the White House has an exit strategy.
Although this newspaper has some qualms about Obama going public with a specific date, it's notable that he didn't outline a hard-and-fast withdrawal time line. Rather, he outlined a surge designed to create a momentum shift that would allow for the beginning of a withdrawal by July 2011.
As Robert Gates recently said, the administration's approach is not open-ended "nation-building." As Gates put it, "It is, instead, a narrower focus tied more tightly to our core goal of disrupting, dismantling and eventually defeating al-Qaida by building the capacity of the Afghans — capacity that will be measured by observable progress on clear objectives, and not simply by the passage of time."
Now, as the 30,000 additional troops prepare to move into harm's way, it's critical that Congress find ways to pay for this buildup, whether that be — along with spending cuts — through war bonds, an increased fuel tax, a temporary war tax or another dedicated source.
This newspaper urged a similar approach in Iraq so that all Americans, not just those on the front lines, could share in the sacrifice of beating back an enemy that threatened this nation. Instead, the war in Iraq was too long treated as an off-budget item, which obscured the true financial cost of the conflict for too many years.
The idea of a war tax is not new. President William McKinley used it to pay for the Spanish-American War of 1898, and war bonds helped defeat Hitler in World War II. The United States must specify how these war dollars will be spent, something that Obama rightly suggested he would pursue through the regular budgeting process and not through special appropriations.
Republicans who generally have called for more troops and a more open-ended commitment to wage battle in Afghanistan must do their part to be a constructive force on addressing the financial cost of this necessary military mission.
Likewise, the White House must clarify how it will measure success and, in particular, how it will hold Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai accountable for ending fraud and stabilizing his nation.
Despite the questions still to be answered, Obama's strategy seems to be a reasonable approach for the difficult quagmire that is Afghanistan. The Congressional Research Service estimates the war in Afghanistan costs $3.6 billion a month — a little over $43 billion a year — or about $1 million per service member. Here are some ways to finance this expense:
Make spending cuts from other parts of the military or federal budget.
Establish a temporary war surcharge tied to the income tax.
Issue treasury bonds to pay for the troop buildup.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.