March 8, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Most people's attention is focused on Iraq, where U.S. forces are making progress in subduing enemy resistance. (But for how long?) One thousand miles to the east, meanwhile, the "forgotten war" in Afghanistan is picking up steam as well. The Washington Post reported that NATO troops (U.S., British, Canadian, and Dutch) and some Afghans are attacking Taliban bases in the mountains of Helmand province, northwest of Kandahar. It is one of the areas where poppy cultivation is most widespread, and the drug money fuels the warlords and insurgent movement. Elements of the 82nd Airborne Division only recently arrived in Afghanistan, and they are already part of the attack, which is called "Operation Achilles." The local people seem to be in favor of the government, being tired of all the pointless fighting. Unfortunately, U.S. troops fired back toward a crowd after being hit by an IED a few days ago, and President Karzai sharply criticized them for it. Such things are bound to happen from time to time, but overall our troops are displaying great discipline and professionalism.
China has announced it will spend 18 percent more on its armed forces this year. It seems like a lot, but their total military budget ($44.9 billion, according to standard currency conversion) will still be less than ten percent of ours, which is $623 billion. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte (who just assumed that post) called on the Beijing government to "clarify its plans." Of course, China said it was strictly for defensive purposes. See Washington Post. Personally, I don't think their recent test of an anti-satellite missile system was defensive. So, don't forget where your money is going every time you shop at Wal-Mart or Target, folks! In all seriousness, we will have to get used to China becoming a fully-capable superpower in the next decade or so, and that means making certain accommodations with them so as to minimize points of friction. It all depends on whether they are reasonable in their demands on Taiwan.
The possibility of an armed confrontation with China some day implies that we should be prepared. In Monday's Washington Post, Craig Hooper warned that the Bush administration and the Navy Department are discarding retired ("mothballed") ships with undue haste, using many of them for target practice. That leaves us with precious little reserve in case of war.