Separate wars in Iraq, Afghanistan

November 30, 2007|By Lawrence J. Korb and Sean E. Duggan

As members of Congress return from Thanksgiving recess next week, they will have a list of unfinished business to confront, most pressing of which will be approving funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While there remains a great deal to debate in regard to funding the war in Iraq, no such disagreement exists in supporting the mission in Afghanistan.

Despite this fact, the Bush administration demands that Congress appropriate war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan collectively - as if they were the same war. This poses a grave dilemma. Despite some recent tactical military success in Iraq, the American people have become disillusioned with the Iraq war and elected the 110th Congress with a mandate to bring U.S. involvement to an end. The debate on conditions Congress wishes to set on the administration's supplemental funding request for Iraq has kept funds from being sent to our troops in both theaters. Consequently, the administration has begun to condemn lawmakers for their ineffectiveness. Some Pentagon leaders have called attention to the delay's effect on military readiness.

It is imperative that lawmakers keep in mind that Afghanistan is not Iraq.

Unlike Iraq, the war in Afghanistan is overwhelmingly supported by the American people, the international community and the people of Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai's government is seen as legitimate domestically and internationally and is representative of its people. The Afghan parliament and security forces are loyal to the Afghan government rather than to any specific sectarian or ethnic group. And most important for long-term success, most Afghans support an international troop presence and reconstruction effort.

To ensure that our troops fighting in the real central front in the war on terror are properly funded and equipped, members of Congress should move to separate funding for the two wars and approve the full supplemental budget request for Afghanistan as soon as possible.

This can be done relatively easily. According to the Congressional Research Service, Afghanistan has received approximately 21 percent of the $610 billion appropriated for the total "global war on terror." Therefore, Congress should quickly approve the approximately $41 billion of the president's $196 billion supplemental war funding request that is slated for operations in Afghanistan.

This move would carry a number of advantages.

First, disbursing funds for operations in Afghanistan immediately would finance a mission beset by chronic underfunding and a lack of urgency. A renewed focus in Afghanistan would give the United States an opportunity to reverse the deteriorating security situation and bolster efforts to build the Afghan government's capacity. Releasing funding immediately would also demonstrate our continued commitment to the Afghan people, who have begun to hedge their bets against the Afghan government and the United States in favor of the Taliban and al-Qaida.

Second, once funding for Afghanistan has been dealt with, Congress can go through the lengthy debate regarding funding for the war in Iraq. With the passing of the Pentagon's $459 billion base budget this month, there is no immediate funding crisis. Should the debate drag on, the Pentagon can move funds from other Department of Defense accounts to finance operations in Iraq in the interim; in fact, the Pentagon has already approved this transfer. Shifting these funds would keep the Army and Marines in Iraq fully funded until April.

Finally, and most important, separating war funding would psychologically disaggregate the war in Afghanistan from the misbegotten war in Iraq. The hidden cost of the Iraq war has been its inexorable connection with Afghanistan in the eyes of the American people. As a result, the widespread disenchantment with the Iraq war and its overwhelming human and financial costs threaten to undermine vital military interventions throughout the world. Put simply, the sinking ship of Iraq threatens to bring the mission in Afghanistan down with it.

Lawrence J. Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense, is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information. His e-mail is Sean E. Duggan is a research assistant at the Center for American Progress.

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