Banker, Biden pal dismayed by U.S. Afghan build-up
by Joseph N. DiStefano, Posted: December 22, 2008
Richard W. Vague, chief executive of Philadelphia electric-power marketer Energy Plus Holdings LLC, was pumped when Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., Vague's old friend from his former career as head of two of Wilmington's (and the nation's) biggest credit card banks, was elected Barack Obama's No. 2. Last year, Biden put Vague on the U.S. Advisory Committee for International Economic Policy.
Last year, Biden put Vague, who was organizing public-policy forums critical of the Iraq War long before that was fashionable, on the U.S. Advisory Committee for International Economic Policy, and it wasn't too much for him to hope his ideas might matter. But Vague told me today he was "very discouraged" to read over the weekend that the Joint Chiefs plan to send up to 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan in the first half of next year.
"My sense is that the last thing we need to do is escalate in Afghanistan," Vague said. "Obama said in his campaign that he would escalate in Afghanistan, but I had hoped he was saying that as a way to deflect questions regarding Iraq without appearing soft, and when the time came he would exit Iraq but resist escalating in Afghanistan. No such luck, it seems.
"The trouble is that we could defeat the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the warlords in Afghanistan again and again, but unless someone provides a viable economic path forward for the broad citizenry there it won't matter. They'll just come back." Analysts estimate the U.S. could buy all of Afghanistan's opium crop for $5 billion a year -- a lot less than the war cost, he noted. "If true it could constitute an inexpensive beginning to an economic solution there--far cheaper than continued war." It's probably not more expensive than hiring Iraqi insurgents -- "our former Sunni antagonists" -- to reduce tensions, as we have in Iraq.
"Of course this all seems absurd in the context of our current economic crisis," Vague concluded. "Spending the huge sums we continue to spend in Iraq and Afghanistan--estimated somewhere between $1 trillion and $3 trillion--seems even more ludicrous now than ever. One of the primary reasons I came out so strongly in 2003 against the war was the damage it would do to our economy--directly or indirectly. I cut my teeth in business during the post-Vietnam "stagflation" era, and it was miserable. The current situation seems far worse, and while the war has not been the main cause of the war, it has made us far, far more vulnerable to economic calamity than we would have been otherwise."
Vague hopes the 30,000 will be the last troops we'll need to send -- or "I'm afraid...we'll remain mired ther for years and years."
Posted: December 22, 2008 - 4:39 PM
Joseph N. DiStefano
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