Guns vs. butter, Afghanistan edition

July 6, 2011

Steve Clemons, Washington editor at large for The Atlantic, chatted with Chrystia at the Aspen Ideas Festival about the politics of the deficit debate, the 2012 presidential race, and whether the U.S. is in a trap in Afghanistan. Here’s a transcript of some of the highlights of their conversation:

STEVE CLEMONS: When you’re in a country whose GDP is $14 billion, and we are in this next fiscal year spending $119 billion in Afghanistan — that’s only our dollars; that’s not our allies; that’s not non-military aid.  This is the military expenditure for what we’re doing. You can buy and sell Afghanistan eight times over for what we’re spending. So I’ve been, with Afghanistan Study Group which I helped create, putting on the table that there are better ways to chase al-Qaeda and to keep it from becoming a safe haven–

CHRYSTIA FREELAND: Well, hasn’t the hunt for al-Qaeda worked? Osama bin Laden has been killed, so there you go.

STEVE CLEMONS: The hunt for al-Qaeda has worked. Yeah, exactly. So you can check that box off, and this big, clunky, large-sized military footprint maybe creating other problems for us. In fact, rather than making it look like we’re leveraging and extending American power in the world, this looks like a trap. And Iran and China and other nations in the neighborhood are saying, “Wow, the United State is pretty limited, pretty constrained.” And they look like they’ve got more latitude as long as we’re stuck there. So when you take in this climate where there’s this giant spotlight on spending and people are losing teachers and police and cutting back just on all sorts of programs as we are struggling through our own budget battles here, to look at the fact that we’re spending $120 billion in this slightly irrelevant country abroad has raised a lot of issues. And so what has happened is you see — it was shocking — where Jon Huntsman and Michele Bachmann — we heard Haley Barbour earlier. You have people like Grover Norquist and Ann Coulter — Bing West, who’s no softie on the war — there’s more and more of a Republican voice, and they smell I think —

CHRYSTIA FREELAND: A Republican voice saying what?

STEVE CLEMONS: A Republican voice saying this war makes no sense.


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