DEBORCHGRAVE: America ‘s uncertain trumpet

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/jul/7/americas-uncertain-trumpet/print/

DEBORCHGRAVE: America ‘s uncertain trumpet

There is no better proof of a dysfunctional – and broke – system of government than Congress passing additional funding for the Afghan war – $300 billion thus far – while simultaneously denying the unemployed an extension of benefits – and then taking a 10-day Independence Day vacation. With the jobless rate hovering just under 10 percent of a 158-million-strong U.S. labor force, including 1.3 million who didn’t get their benefits reinstated and an additional 200,000 a week who have been without a job for at least six months and stand to lose their benefits each week until Congress acts, about 15 million Americans are out of work.

One million Americans dropped out of the job market over the past two months as they gave up a fruitless search for work. They lack the skills needed for a high-tech economy. And companies have slashed payrolls as automation has helped them get along with fewer employees. The ranks of the unemployed who no longer receive any compensation are climbing to 10 million.

The headline in Britain‘s conservative Daily Telegraph read, “With the U.S. trapped in depression, this really is starting to feel like 1932.” For those who do find jobs, the search averaged 35.2 weeks.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard‘s story reported, ” California tightening faster than Greece,” as 200,000 state workers were reduced to the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to cover a state deficit of $19 billion. Illinois , with a deficit of $12 billion, owes $5 billion to its schools, nursing homes, child care centers and prisons.

Europe, in America ‘s footsteps, is looking anemic, and a double-dip recession for 2011 is the new consensus.

Canada‘s Globe and Mail said our friendly neighbor to the north is perplexed and disturbed as it watches “the most gifted President in several generations,” with a majority in both houses, be swamped “by the doleful legacy of the Bush years, a worldwide recession and its parlous aftermath, and a ferocious Republican opposition bent on a search-and-destroy mission of his presidency.”

To make matters worse, says the Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson, “the war in Afghanistan, into which President Obama has poured thousands of additional soldiers and billions of borrowed dollars, is going poorly. As The Economist belatedly recognized this week, ‘ America and its allies are losing in Afghanistan.’ ”

It’s now up to Gen. David H. Petraeus to “somehow salvage something from the Afghan mess, at a time when Americans are growing increasingly weary of that war, now in its ninth year.” One of only five (out of 44) nations authorized to engage in kinetic operations, Canada lost 150 killed, most of them by improvised explosive devices, and Parliament ordered the return of its 2,500 troops next year.

The Globe and Mail echoed the widespread sentiment among Afghan cognoscenti at NATO headquarters in Brussels, in Pakistani military circles and in the U.S. Congress that the best the U.S. and its allies “might hope for is to inflict sufficient damage on the Taliban in the next year that some insurgents might be inclined to negotiate inclusion in an Afghan government. To say that this is a long shot understates the odds.”

The Pakistani military, with the approval of President Asif Ali Zardari and the government, is keeping lines open to some of the groups in the Taliban coalition and to President Hamid Karzai in Kabul. The Pakistanis remain convinced that the U.S. will not stay the course for another five to 10 years, the estimated time required to prevail over the nationwide Taliban insurgency.

The deadline for the beginning of a U.S. withdrawal next summer, set by Mr. Obama, is the evidence cited on both sides of the Atlantic, and in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, for what is seen as Washington’s quixotic resolve. Can the U.S. really stretch gargantuan borrowing requirements into an indefinite future without collapsing the dollar?

Can anyone change the Afghan equation in favor of the U.S. and its allies before the harsh winter freezes operations until next spring? No one knows as much about the history of insurgencies since World War II as Gen. Petraeus. Following his victorious surge in Iraq , he is best qualified and equipped to pull it off. But he needs a minimum of three to five years. Mr. Obama needs dramatic results for his re-election campaign by the spring of 2012.

At London-based Ladbrokes bookmakers, Mr. Obama is odds-on favorite at 10/11 for a second term. Mitt Romney is next at 8/1. Then Sarah Palin (12/1); Mike Huckabee (20/1); Hillary Rodham Clinton (25/1), even with Bobby Jindal; Gen. Petraeus (33/1), even with Michael Bloomberg and Jeb Bush.

There’s no Ladbrokes betting on Afghanistan, but important questions are yet to be answered. How does Afghan nation-building benefit the U.S. economy and its security? Are we less or more vulnerable to another Sept. 11? Is al Qaeda less or more of a threat? There is no question both Iraq and Afghanistan have weakened America ‘s economy. Al Qaeda, with its multiple websites, has radicalized Muslim youth from Mindanao in the Philippines to Meknes in Morocco .

The estimated average of $1 million a day ($365 million a year) taken out of Afghanistan legally on the four daily Kabul-Dubai flights by civilian workers, most of them American, is the kind of war profiteering that can only hurt the allies – and benefit the enemy.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor-at-large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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