May 15, 2017
The U.S. military-industrial complex is not some conspiracy theory, but a living creature on the verge of dashing hopes President Donald Trump will deliver on his “America First” credo and resist ordering a troop escalation in Afghanistan. The United States has achieved little after pouring some $1 trillion into the Afghan war, but a troop surge seems inevitable because of the ubiquitous tentacles of the defense industry. After all, these very forces helped persuade Trump’s peace prize-winning predecessor to boost troop levels in Afghanistan, hence the tycoon-in-chief is likely to follow suit, even in the face of the dreary assessment of the situation delivered by his own top intelligence official.
“The intelligence community assesses that the political and security situation in Afghanistan will almost certainly deteriorate through 2018, even with a modest increase in military assistance by the United States and its partners,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in a Senate hearing on May 11. “We assess that the Taliban is likely to continue to make gains, especially in rural areas. Afghan Security Forces’ performance will probably worsen due to a combination of Taliban operations, combat casualties, desertions, poor logistics support and weak leadership.”
U.S. military leaders just delivered Trump a proposal to send another 5,000 troops to Afghanistan, a decision reportedly to come before the president leaves for the May 25 NATO summit in Brussels. And one can bet Trump’s calculus will include financial implications of key stakeholders in the Beltway.
It costs American taxpayers around $2.1 million per year to deploy a soldier to Afghanistan, which is why the U.S. is unlikely to reduce its 8,000-troop footprint, which amounts to around $16.8 billion in total annual expenditures, not to mention the 26,000 military contractors that would be affected by a decision to withdraw.
Consider that Trump has already signed a number of executive orders that have catered to corporate interests in the telecom, prisons-for-profit, and financial services industries – and there is little reason to believe he will be any less accommodating to military contractors. Although he ridiculed military adventurism and nation-building on the campaign trail, during his short time in office Trump has subverted these sentiments to the will of America’s generalissimos.
“Since taking office, he [Trump] has effectively ceded not only military strategy but essential elements of U.S. foreign policy to a small group of current and former generals, including James Mattis, the recently retired Marine general who heads the Defense Department, and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, his national security advisor,” Bill Van Auken argued at the World Socialist Web Site.
Trump has also been pressured by lawmakers in both houses of Congress who have been heavily influenced by defense industry lobbyists – and not only with respect to increasing involvement in Afghanistan. In the first four months of 2017 alone, consider that 630 defense lobbyists doled out some $32.8 million to influence politicians, with many cleverly targeting members of key panels like the armed services committees.
U.S. foreign assistance is also part of the military-industrial nexus, more than $100 billion of which has been obligated or dispersed to rebuild Afghanistan, with $1.9 billion set to be spent in 2017. A bigger troop commitment will certainly entail more state-building projects. Although this White House will most certainly cut a large percentage of aid, we are still talking a significant amount of money to be once again abused by contractors. As the U.S. continues to break stuff in Afghanistan through its military escalation, expect reconstruction dollars to follow.
Of course, if one dares to oppose a surge one is accused of suggesting that it is permissible for the Taliban to continue destabilizing Afghanistan. One is accused of being naïve, even dangerous, because the Taliban will provide sanctuary to terrorists to plot more 9/11s, the argument goes. Daniel DePetris of Defense Priorities captures the absurdity of the notion that the plan on Trump’s desk will lead to this desired end state.
“If 140,000 U.S. and NATO troops could only buy a couple of years of relative security, why does U.S. commanding Gen. John Nicholson believe that a few thousand extra American trainers will be enough [to] produce a miracle?” DePetris wrote in an op-ed piece published in U.S. News & World Report on May 9. “And even if the security situation did change for the better, how long would U.S. troops have to stay in Helmand to maintain the peace? Indefinitely?”
Another reasonable question to pose is: Who is to ultimately benefit from a troop surge in Afghanistan? The Afghan people? The American taxpayer? The international community because American troops on white horses will finally after 16 years stabilize the country and rid the world of global terrorism? I think, nay. The real answer comes from the tried-and-true process of “following the money,” for therein lies the truth.