Passport

Can NATO really get 5,000 troops?

Referring to the United States's NATO partners, President Obama last night asked, "that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we're confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead." A conference will be held in London in January to discuss international contributions to the effort.

NATO Chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen promised 5,000 troops, but it's a little unclear where he's going to get them:

Reacting to Obama's call for more help, a Polish official said the government will likely send 600 combat-ready reinforcements, mainly for patrolling and training, to beef up its existing 2,000-strong contingent.

Albania pledged to increase its 250-member unit by 85 troops, army trainers and medical workers, Prime Minister Sali Berisha said.

Spain's El Pais daily said the defense ministry was considering adding 200 soldiers to its 1,000 contingent. Italy declared it would do its part and Finland confirmed that it had been asked to consider sending more troops and would do so next week. [...]

Britain announced before Obama's speech it is sending 500 more troops to Afghanistan, bringing its numbers there to 10,000.

France and Germany are holding off on any troop decision until an international conference in January, though French President Nicolas Sarkozy has previously pledged that he "won't send an additional soldier."

The other big question is the Netherlands, whose parliament voted for a non-binding resolution in favor of withdrawal when the Dutch mission ends next August. If the Dutch government follows through and pulls out its 2,160 troops, that would more than negate the 1,385 troops already pledged by Britain, Spain, Poland and Albania. Canada has already passed a withdrawal plan for 2011 as well and seems unlikely to add more troops. 

Even in a best-case scenario in which the Dutch keep current troop levels and the countries mentioned are able to follow through through on their commitments, NATO will still need get more than 3,500 troops from the Italians, the Australians, the deeply ambivalent Germans and a hodge-podge of smaller nations, none of whom currently have more than 1,000 troops in the country. 

It doesn't seem too likely. 

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Passport

The cost of war

Yesterday, I wrote about the brief life and presumed death of Rep. David Obey's "war tax," also known as the "Share the Sacrifice Act of 2010." Obey and his cosponsors hoped to make the Afghan war pay-go from here on out, with an income tax surtax (one percent for most earners, and higher for high earners) linked to the cost of war. 

I liked the idea precisely because so much of this war (around 40 percent) thus far has been funded with deficit spending during very good economic times, from 2001 to 2006, when high-income Americans certainly could have afforded higher taxes (which were cut by George W. Bush).

Commenters here and elsewhere asked: Why raise taxes during a recession, when the government has been deficit-spending wildly to boost the economy? Tax dollars are tax dollars, not earmarked for one use or another. Raising taxes is raising taxes. Isn't this precisely the time we're supposed to deficit spending? 

Well, yes, but not all deficit dollars are created equal, I fear. If we spend an additional $60 billion on the Afghanistan war, it does do some good for the American economy. It goes to American companies to build things like planes and armor, to hiring new soldiers, to American contractors working in Afghanistan to build roads and schools. But, down the road, the United States doesn't get those roads and schools. Soldiers stop fighting in Afghanistan, but continue to collect salaries and benefits. This means the deficit dollar spent in Afghanistan isn't as effective as the deficit dollar spent in, say, Detroit.

For some data on this phenomenon, Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research produced a paper showing that war spending (rather than domestic spending) ultimately costs jobs and GDP.

But all of this might be moot. It seems that Congress is considering extending the estate tax, which was due to expire for a year before coming back into force in 2011. The tax only hits estates worth more than $3.5 million. I say extend it, and expand it to include less, erm, ample estates as well. That seems even better than the Obey plan.