Richard W. Vague

is cofounder of Energy Plus, a Philadelphia-based energy company, and is a founding member of the Afghanistan Study Group (www.afghanistanstudygroup.org)

My fellow fiscal conservatives are letting me down. At a time when we desperately need to cut the deficit, they are standing by while the Obama administration spends $119 billion per year in Afghanistan, which is a country with a gross national product of only $14 billion a year.

Conservatives fought tooth and nail against the health-care program, which costs far less than our occupation of Afghanistan. Yet when our military plans for a multiyear commitment in Afghanistan - a trillion-dollar commitment even with a gradual drawdown - fiscal conservatives barely raise an eyebrow.

In 2000, the U.S. military budget was $370 billion. For 2011, it is $707 billion. And that's before any unforeseen emergency supplements. And much of this is for a war where even a cursory review reveals that al-Qaeda is largely gone from Afghanistan - and where the underlying conflict is a civil war in which negotiation among all the relevant parties will get us further, faster, and at a much lower cost.

Defining Afghanistan as a military problem rather than a political one has led us to mistakenly conclude that it requires a military solution. A negotiated political solution is a much more effective and much less expensive approach.

I had mistakenly hoped that President Obama and the Democrats would be able to reverse the runaway increases in military spending - and lent them my support in that hope. Instead, Obama - acquiescing to the generals - has dramatically escalated troop levels in Afghanistan to a point where it can now rightly be called an occupation, Obama's Occupation.

A purely economic calculus does not take into account the tragedy of the deaths and disablements that happen there every day - but have largely disappeared from media coverage. Nor does it take into account the debilitation to our military apparatus and the distraction to our other foreign-policy priorities.

I only want to speak of this war with the proper respect and gravity, but the cost and benefit are egregiously out of balance, and the solution being pursued won't work. I respectfully submit that if Obama and Gen. David Petraeus can't successfully handle a largely political problem in a country with a GNP of $14 billion for far less than $119 billion a year, let's find someone who can.

Conservatives got us out of Vietnam and Korea. My hope now is that they can do the same in Afghanistan.

E-mail Richard W. Vague at richard@govwoods.org.