SPECIAL REPORT

Cutting Costs in Afghanistan?

Panel weighs in on White House defense spending

 

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," May 31, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I think t he war is probably going to cost us about $700 billion. If we follow the strategy that military commanders would prefer. And it's going to cost us about $600 billion if we rush out of there starting this summer. And when I think people grapple with that reality and the fact that trying to save, you know, 15 percent of total war cost is going to greatly increase the risk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHANNON BREAM, ANCHOR: Alright, that is about the Afghan war and how much cost will impact the decisions made there. We will talk to panel about that.

But we asked you before the break about this. Is the War Powers Act enforceable? 75 percent of you said yes, 25 percent who weighed in said no.

All right, let's get back with our panel to talk about it. First, let's start with Afghanistan. And Charles we talked about this a little bit last night, how much the cost of the war and the operations there will impact the decisions made on the ground. Ya know everybody points to the defense spending and says, you know, that is something that Republicans are are gonna have to be willing to sacrifice on. How much will it impact what is going on?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, this is an administration that spent $1 trillion on a stimulus which will not leave a trace. And now it's saying that in order to save a few billion, a fraction of a fraction of that, there are people in the White House who want to reduce the war effort.

Now you've got to remember, the reason O'Hanlon is right about the numbers is because the overhead and the bases and the infrastructure is almost a fix the cost. That is not going to be reduced. So all that you can reduce that would save a fraction would be the number of soldiers, which endangers the soldiers and endangers the mission.

Look, you have to be serious about a war. If you think it's worth winning, you do what the commanders think you need. If you don't, you leave and then you save a lot of money and a lot of lives. What you don't do is do half measures in order to save a fraction of a fraction of what you threw away on domestic programs.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: What President Obama has done consistently and what I suspect he will do now is he will listen to his commanders. He's done it every time. But along the way, he will be acknowledging of the arguments of his own base like this war is costing an awful lot of money. So he's gonna say, I'm gonna look at the cost.

But in the end, he's not going to do something that endangers the mission. He is the one who created the surge in the first place. He followed the basic Bush model on this and he's followed the advice of his commanders. I suspect that he'll be able to do that in Afghanistan still while needing the letter of his promise which is to start pulling out some troops in July.

BREAM: Well, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, ya know, the president hasn't been making decisions about Afghanistan, ya know, past or present. When it comes to cost he said it's all about dismantling, disrupting and defeating Al Qaeda. So Bill, how does he balance that with this budget battle?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well I'm hoping, and I am assuming, and a lot of that assumption is a hope, that these two senior, anonymous administration officials who are quoted in the Washington Post story are trying to lobby through the media, that the president is intelligent enough and honestly patriotic enough that having committed to this war he knows we've got to win it. And he's not going to nickel and dime the commanders for a few billion dollars.

And that he didn't -- General Petraeus will now be CIA director and General Dempsey who will be chairman of the joint chiefs, and General Odierno who will be chairman of the army, will be army chief of staff, are not going to sit there I think ya know, sit silently and quietly while the White House deprives the troops of the material they need and deprives commanders of the troop levels they need to succeed in Afghanistan. Now the president will want to draw down a little in July of 2011, he'll want to signal further drawdown during 2012 which I think is doable somewhat, because the surge has been so successful.

What's amazing -- I mean there are these spectacular suicide bombings, which are very unfortunate obviously which capture the headlines, what is amazing is, in the heart of -- in Helmand and Kandahar, the heart of Taliban country where the surge was most in place, where is the spring offensive? It's not happening honestly.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: I mean, they really seem to have broken the back militarily at this point, I think, of the Taliban if they could just stick to it, the president could run in October 2012

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: -- the president could run as a successful war president. Isn't that better than saving $5, or $10, or $15 billion?

KRAUTHAMMER: Perhaps, the president will. I hope he does. But isn't it disturbing, given what Bill is telling us about the conduct and the course of the war that there are officials in the White House, lobbying speaking openly, anonymously but openly about actually nickel and diming a war at a critical stage in order to save, again a fraction of a fraction of what we are spending on everything else?

BREAM: Alright, and the administration also has to deal with the situation now in Libya. Of course, we asked our viewers, they said, 75 percent of them that the War Powers Act is enforceable, which of course requires the president after 60 days to go to Congress either for authorization or to stop the operation that's going on. Mara, ya know, we are hearing from a lot of folks on Capitol Hill that they think he is in violation. Will Congress do anything about it?

LIASSON: Look, this is a perennial debate. When it's the president of the opposite party you want him to come to Congress for permission. If it's the president of your own party you don't seem to mind very much. The president has said that he wants to come to Congress for some kind of a resolution and I suspect he will get that.

BREAM: Bill?

KRISTOL: Yeah. I think he will get support for Congress to continue the mission. It will be better to do it more decisively, but I suspect, I think there too the president will end up being able to say I've gotten rid of Muammar Qaddafi. He didn't do it quite the way some of us would have hoped to, but I'm actually reasonably optimistic that that will work out OK.

BREAM: Charles, do you think --

KRAUTHAMMER: The War Powers Act is a dead letter, always has been. It's a question of the separation of powers, and the Congress and the presidency have always opposed each other over who has the power here. And Supreme Court is loath to actually rule when it's a dispute between the other two branches. Ultimately, if Congress wants to exert its will, it's not in this dead letter act. It's in the power of the purse. Which it has every day -- all it has to do is vote and withhold the funds and the war stops tomorrow.

BREAM: Alright, panel. Thank you very much for weighing in on all the issues. That's it for the panel. But stay tuned. You know the president has chosen General Martin Dempsey to be his new joint chiefs chairman, citing his distinguished military career and combat testing. But there are some other skills that he's bringing to the table as well. Check it out after the break.

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