One line in that rather somber, passion-lacking dose of realism from the President at West Point carries with it a funky dose of irony:
"That is why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended - because the nation that I am most interested in building is our own."
The funkiness comes with the chalkboard scratching left-to-right hypocrisy of the price tags floating about. Man in charge wants to publicly cap it at $30 billion - but, those of us familiar with budget and appropriations cycles understand that figure is confined to the current fiscal year for 2010, from October 1 till September 30 of the following year. Basically, the money is already there. One could stretch it a bit and argue that the White House budget hacks are preparing to use the over $200B in leftover Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds to help pay for this. That's a bit of a radical jump in political theory. But, it's plausible. We'll save that for another blog …
FY 2011 negotiations, wrangling and pork-twisting - mixed in with typical Hill escapades, Charlie Palmer lunches and steakhouse back-slaps from lobbyists - commence as early as before the 1st session of the 111th Congress starts wrapping up … which is right about now. Hence, the $30 billion is a bit disingenuous from the get; it's not even included in the Pentagon's current budget and it's separate from the 2010 Defense Budget Supplemental awaiting spring rush (supplemental as in cash on top of what DoD already secured). Once it's all said and done (if you honestly believe folks will deploy, lock-and-load, search-and-destroy and get it done in 18 months, you need to drop the PS3 sun, sun), you'll not only find the $30B evaporated, but additional cheese cut from the FY 2010 supplemental and more loot sucked from the veins of the FY 2011 budget. We'll see new figures totaling close to $200B by the time the "Change" campaign machine gets churning for his second term bid in 2012. But, voters will get it all in sequential White House data dumps over the next 18 months, so by the time we hear the next $100B we'll forget about the sticker shock felt when he announced the seed money at West Point a couple years back.
The comedy in the President's statement above is where he insists he's not into nation building - insertion of the " … I am most interested in building … our own" offers the permeating odor of a paradox. If you were concerned with building your own, you wouldn't be engaging in what really amounts to the re-shifting of battalions from one country to another. Focusing this new Bushian "surge" strategy on Afghan urban centers - although the real fight is in the rural, mountainous areas - while propping a corrupt and inept Karzai regime suggests playbook U.S. nation building. Instead, shouldn't you be focused on pressing issues back home? But, there's a hunger for the full cake, a "Great Society" redux where some in the White House are oddly convinced (in defiance of history) that war can be maintained during domestic economic crunch.
Certainly, the argument of inheritance from the previous Administration (and, perhaps, the Gatsby-like bubble boom of the Administration before that) is a strong one. We don't discount that. But, in the end, President Truman's buck-stopping dogma rules the day. What ultimately matters is how this President responds to it. For his advisers to suddenly pull back, yank away the "Hope" euphoria of last year and subtly blame the public for expectations the campaign set causes pause amongst the believers.
On the eve of the Afghanistan troop surge announcement, MSNBC.com Senior Writer Allison Lin pens a series of articles surveying the disastrous impact of the recession on Black workers. Writes Lin in the first piece "Black workers' crisis may linger after upturn" (11.30.09):
"The recession has compounded a decades-long problem for black workers, who began the downturn facing a far higher jobless rate than the general population and have fared worse since. Now experts are worried that many blacks will remain in crisis even as the economy begins to recover, largely because the recession has eliminated so many working-class jobs in sectors like manufacturing and retail that are likely to come back slowly, if at all."
Additional observations are made in Lin's second piece "Blacks fear path to middle class blocked" (12.1.09):
"On a broader level, blacks long have faced a much higher unemployment rate than the population as a whole and are now facing a much deeper employment crisis than the entire work force. The unemployment rate for blacks hit 15.7 percent in November, compared with 10.2 percent for the nation as a whole. The long, deep downturn is raising concerns that the recession could cause permanent economic damage to blacks who have reached middle-class status."
Back home, while foreign adventures rage on, it appears Black believers will get the short end of what they thought would be some sort of golden life stick. Despite our inherently cynical political outlook and savvy, let's be honest with ourselves about the emotion of the moment. With recession looming at the time, Black support for then Candidate Obama was buoyed by the hope that, with a brother and former grassroots organizer in the White House, he'd be the most uniquely qualified to sort it all out. There's something somewhat farcical about that at the moment, as the first African American in the White House presides over a recession that's decimated over a quarter of the Black middle class. Listening to chatter on the streets, some folks make awkward comments about a grand set-up. And as the President prepares to drop $100B plus into an insurgent battle front, some will argue about Executive detachment from matters back home. Capitol Hill's oxygen is already sucked up by the health care reform debate and now this. Polls and openly revolting Congressional Black Caucus Members show folks just want jobs - can't pay house notes with a public option and you can't eat artillery shells. A bit interesting that neither White House or Congress is paying enough attention to this rather significant detail.
by Charles D. Ellison
Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and a contributing editor at The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, a frequent contributor to The Hill, the weekly Washington insider for WDAS-FM in Philadelphia and host of The Ellison Report, a weekly public-affairs magazine broadcast and podcast on WEAA 88.9 FM Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter.