I understand the concerns about sending more troops to Afghanistan. No one wants to put more of our servicemembers in harm’s way. No one wants to be spending more of our resources abroad when there is so much to be done at home.
After eight years and significant missteps, concern is justified. But the American people should be assured of three things:
This mission is necessary: If we were to leave now, Afghanistan would return to the conditions that allowed us to be struck on 9/11. More importantly, a failed Afghanistan would critically destabilize Pakistan, which currently faces an existential threat from al-Qaida and allied extremists.
If Pakistan collapses we will face an unthinkable situation: a nuclear-armed failed state overrun by the most powerful and most radical jihadist groups in the world. Al-Qaida may organize elsewhere, but there is nowhere on the face of the planet more advantageous to them and more dangerous for the world than where they are right now.
Success is attainable: In Afghanistan, our goal is not ideal democracy, but simply conditions that will be inhospitable to al-Qaida after we depart. The Taliban we face there is not the 250,000-man insurrection that defeated the Soviet Union. The Taliban’s Afghan forces number only around 20,000, and most of those are mercenaries.
Those fighting for a wage or because of political alliances can be brought in from the battlefield. Those ideologically committed — roughly 6,000 in Afghanistan — can be defeated.
The cost is significant, but justified: The president has provided an honest accounting of the cost of this increase — approximately $30 billion this year. This cost is high, but would be higher if we muddled along without a sufficient commitment or, worse, were compelled to return.
This cost should be paid for by reductions in programs elsewhere, closing tax loopholes (such as the $79 billion loophole for fossil fuel industries), and/or by revenues. Unlike the previous administration, we will bring this cost into the budget process and pay for it without adding to the debt.
The president has made a difficult decision. Politically, this escalation will not please some and his commitment to a focused mission with an exit strategy will not please others.
But leaders cannot be worried about political consequences. Leaders should make the decision they feel is just, explain themselves to the people and stand accountable.
Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., is a former three-star admiral and veteran of the war in Afghanistan.