A rational foreign policy solution for Afghanistan

RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., March 22, 2012 – As was discussed in Foreign Policy:  A Rational Approach for the U.S. (The Washington Times Communities, March 20, 2012), our Constitution does not provide direct guidance in the area of foreign policy.  It wasn’t until 1936 that the Supreme Court decided that the Federal Government had exclusive and plenary power over the execution of foreign affairs based on the fact that the United States is a sovereign nation.

Building upon that premise, I suggest extending the concept of sovereignty to every other nation as the foundation of our foreign policy. That decision alone will provide a consistency that is sorely lacking in a U.S. foreign policy that is all too often driven by Party politics.

Moving forward, we need to develop a stable foreign policy rather than one that vacillates with any political opportunity that is presented. The impact can be demonstrated by applying the “sovereign nation” concept to our Nation’s plight in Afghanistan and stepping that decision through The FREEDOM Process™ (as was discussed in Presidential policy formation and The FREEDOM Process – The Washington Times Communities, March 12, 2012).

The FREEDOM Process™

Foreign Policy impact:  If we are to respect the sovereignty of other nations as we expect them to respect ours, we must withdraw our troops from Afghanistan.

Our original mission in Afghanistan was in response to the 9/11 attack on the United States. It was to disrupt and/or destroy al-Qaeda’s terrorist operations in that country.  That mission was accomplished several years ago.

There no longer is an immediate or impending threat to the United States that would otherwise potentially justify our continued presence under the “common Defence (sic)” provision of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.

We also need to acknowledge that al-Qaeda and other hostile entities have habitually justified their animus towards the United States on the basis of our occupation of foreign territories. The “sovereign nations” approach eliminates that excuse.

Correspondingly, such hostile entities must be clearly told that we will respond swiftly and disproportionately to any future terrorist attacks on American citizens at home or abroad.  Similarly, as a sovereign nation in our own right, we do not need nor will we seek the world’s permission to defend our country accordingly.

Over the past several years, we have experienced “mission creep” in Afghanistan (an enlargement of the nature and scope of the initiative). Our focus today is one of “nation-building,” which is a politically correct phrase for what used to be viewed as colonial expansion. 

“Nation building” is not a divine right or even a Constitutionally-supported responsibility of the United States. We have no moral authority to impose our form of government or our socio-economic system on another country, particularly without its permission.

Afghanistan’s President, Hamid Karzai, recently stated, “Afghanistan is ready right now to take all security responsibilities completely.”  In response, we should begin to systematically withdraw our troops from Afghanistan.  The primary gating factor should be how to accomplish the withdrawal in the most expeditious manner while still providing for the safety of our troops.

Concurrent with the withdrawal of our troops, the United States Government should also withdraw its foreign aid. First: there is marginal Constitutional support for providing such aid other than an extremely strained interpretation of how it might impact the “general Welfare of the United States” (again, under Article I, Section 8).  Second: if we are to respect the sovereignty of a foreign country, we cannot be selective in that regard.

This would not preclude private citizens from exercising their right to provide charitable contributions to other countries either directly or through the Non-Government Organization (“NGO”) of their choice.  It simply reflects the fact that it is not the responsibility of, or even within the authority of the United States Government to use taxpayer money to support the citizens of other sovereign nations.

In the case of Afghanistan, President Karzai’s government should be given every opportunity to succeed or fail on its own merit. Every country should have the right to evolve at its own measured rate rather than at the rate that we deem appropriate for them.

To some, this may seem to be an “uncaring” approach at a visceral level.  However, if we truly believe as the Declaration of Independence states, “…that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” then we need to respect the “Liberty” of citizens of other sovereign nations to pursue “Happiness” as they choose to define it.  Otherwise, we are arrogantly defining it for them.

This is not a xenophobic approach but rather a celebration of the richness of the world’s diversity.  There are 196 to 258 different countries in the world (depending on one’s definition of the word “country”).  Each one reflects its own unique culture, political structure, and socio-economic system. We should have no expectation of imposing our will on them. In turn, those who reject the United States’ culture, political structure, and socio-economic system have a wide variety of other countries in which they can pursue “happiness” as they personally prefer to define it.

Beyond the foreign policy effect of applying the “sovereign nations” approach to Afghanistan, there is a cascading impact that spans many other facets of our Nation’s issues.  All it takes is a thoughtful, non-partisan assessment of the opportunities that are presented.  We can use the remaining elements of the FREEDOM acronym to briefly explore them.

Resource Policy impact:  The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan would have a direct influence on national energy and environmental issues.

The Department of Defense (“DoD”) is the single largest consumer of fuel in the United States and in the world.  A significant share of that consumption is attributable to troop logistics and the operation of vehicles and crafts in foreign lands.

Withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan would lead to a quantifiable reduction in the military’s carbon footprint and, in that regard, contribute favorably to the environment.

Similarly, a withdrawal would create a noticeable decrease in the DoD’s demand for fuel and consumption thereof.  In turn, this would trigger serious economic savings (as described below).

Economic Policy impact:  A withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan would have a significant economic impact on our country.

The operating cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is rapidly approaching $1.32 trillion.  While we have technically withdrawn from Iraq, we continue to incur costs there on a daily basis.  As an ongoing war theater, Afghanistan accounts for about $512 billion of the total and continues to drain capital from our country at the rate of about $300 million per day.

While not all of that money can be recaptured through a withdrawal, those numbers do not reflect the related costs that are incurred at home (which are estimated to be of the same magnitude).  Therefore, the potential savings to the taxpayer would be considerable barring some fiscally irresponsible act by Congress or the current Administration.

Some of the money could be used to reduce debt, while the remainder could be deployed to build new bases and/or expand existing ones to host returning troops (see Defense Policy below).  The latter utilization would create new construction jobs that, in turn, would lower unemployment costs and stimulate economic growth (i.e., through increased consumption and an expanded tax base).

As has already been discussed, there is an opportunity to achieve a sizeable reduction in fuel consumption by withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan.  The current rate of consumption is roughly 10,000 barrels per day (3.64 million barrels per year).  Any meaningful reduction of that amount would have a significant effect on supply-side economics which would have the potential to measurably impact gasoline prices for the taxpayer.

To provide a perspective for those who are unfamiliar with the logistics cost associated with maintaining a military presence overseas, Pentagon officials testified before the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee that a gallon of fuel costs the DoD about $400 by the time it is delivered to the remote locations of U.S. troops in Afghanistan (and that was in 2009). So, the next time you hear Party candidates pontificating about how Wall Street speculation or fuel taxes are increasing the price of gasoline in the United States, ask them what the impact of the war in Afghanistan has been.

Education Policy impact:  A withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan would also have a potential supply-side impact on our nation’s education system.

Many of our returning troops would be likely to return to school. An increase in student population would help spread university and trade school operating costs across a broader base.  It would also increase the use of infrastructure in a way that would accelerate the payback period and increase the long-term return on investment for the institutions.

A corresponding reduction in the cost of education per student (i.e., as fixed costs would be spread across a broader base) could also occur.  Worst case: the expanded pool of students would serve as a buffer against inflation and the ever-rising cost of higher education.

Defense Policy impact:  Withdrawing troops from Afghanistan would obviously reduce the operating expenses of the DoD. However, there is also an opportunity to redeploy our troops in a meaningful way that would produce collateral benefits for our country.

While some troops will cycle out of the military, others will remain in uniform.  There are two associated realities:  (1) those who remain need to be based somewhere, and (2) they need to maintain a state of readiness.

As our military troops’ sworn oath is to “…support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…,” we have the opportunity to redeploy them along our northern and southern borders.  In turn, they would be in a position to maintain their state of readiness by patrolling those same borders.

This would not only accomplish the DoD’s military imperative, it would help address the long-standing problems associated with eliminating (or at least dramatically reducing) the threats of terrorist infiltration, drug trafficking and illegal immigration. 

The border redeployment might also require new bases to be built and/or existing bases to be expanded. The Federal Government owns sufficient property along our borders to address this issue, and any related construction activity would create job growth, lower unemployment costs and stimulate economic expansion.

In addition, there are certain operating efficiencies that could be gained by having the military defend our borders that go well beyond the supreme advantage we would enjoy relative to surveillance and defense capabilities under that scenario.

Operations Policy impact:  As was referenced immediately above, the redeployment of troops along U.S. borders (made possible by the withdrawal of those troops from Afghanistan) would offer certain opportunities to improve the operating efficiency and cost-effectiveness of our Federal Government.

After 9/11, the Bush Administration created new layers of agencies (e.g., the TSA, DHS, etc.) to help improve communication with respect to domestic threats. These agencies created tens of thousands of new jobs, promulgated tens of thousands of pages of new regulations, cost tens of billions of dollars to implement, and had a relatively modest impact on providing a more secure Nation for the American people.

What it was effective at creating were more jurisdictional issues between agencies (i.e., whose responsibility is it for a particular issue: the DoJ’s, the FBI’s, the ATF’s, the DEA’s, the TSA’s, the DHS’s, the INS’s, FEMA’s, etc.?).  In the meantime, drug trafficking expanded to an estimated $35-$45 billion business in money flowing from the United States to Mexico and our borders remain a revolving door for anyone who wants to enter our country illegally (whether it be for work or for more nefarious reasons).

By positioning our returning troops along the borders, we would have the most sophisticated surveillance capabilities at our disposal and the most effective and efficient defense team on Earth.  The jurisdictional issues would no longer get in the way of creating a secure border, and the alphabet soup of agencies could be re-evaluated for consolidation and right-sizing.

Border-related intelligence gathering and enforcement would be centralized within the DoD, whose various branches have already demonstrated the ability to communicate and work together in an effective and coordinated manner.  The increased safety of our citizens as well as the potential economic savings is almost beyond comprehension.  The economic savings are not only tied to the agency consolidation opportunities, etc. but are magnified by the societal gains associated with gaining control of our borders (i.e., consider: subsequent reduction in law enforcement, judicial, and prison costs; the impact on our health, education and welfare systems; the effect on our job market; etc.).

If you are not already sickened by the enormous waste, consider the taxpayer costs associated with the DoJ’s prosecution of States that are trying to supplement the Federal Government’s failed enforcement (not to mention the waste of taxpayer funds at the state level associated with drafting and defending any associated legislation and providing for auxiliary law enforcement).

All of this could be replaced by what is essentially a fixed cost:  the cost of maintaining the United States military in a state of readiness.

Now, let’s examine the final letter of the FREEDOM acronym, which stands for Medical.

Medical Policy impact:  While “medical” within the context of “FREEDOM” includes all quality of life issues (including Social Security, etc.), for the sake of brevity, I will only address the “medical” consequences of troop withdrawal in the traditional sense of the word.

If you have ever greeted returning troops at an airport or attended a veterans’ event, you already have an appreciation for the favorable medical consequences of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

We have lost the lives of approximately 1,900 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Nearly 16,000 more have been wounded and it is difficult to assess how many more have returned home suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We do know that the PTSD number is likely to be high since more returning veterans commit suicide each year than are actually killed in combat on foreign soil.

I do not recall a time in my life in which I have seen more amputees in our society.  Perhaps it is because prosthetic devices and therapy have improved to the degree that more of the injured are able to return to productive lives than in the past. However, that does not take away from the reality that far too many individuals have had their lives permanently changed by our Nation’s continued presence in Afghanistan.

Consider the cost associated with ongoing care. Consider the cost associated with ancillary medical conditions that might arise in the future.  Most importantly, consider the cost to the individuals themselves and to their families and friends.


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.

This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, A President for the People, in the Communities section of The Washington Times.