Something else surprising has occurred in recent days: Congress is restoring funds to missile defense. You may recall that, during his presidential campaign, Obama pledged to cut $10 billion from missile defense – a rather large percentage of the total which, at that point, was roughly $9 billion. In his first year in office, $1.2 billion was hacked off and it appeared that missile defense was being seen as a salami that, year after year, would be sliced over and over.
But on June 4th, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to increase missile defense spending. The committee added $363 million to the FY 2011 missile defense budget. The full House passed similar amendments. The FY 2011 National Defense Authorization Act is currently on the Senate calendar, awaiting a vote by the full Senate. Once Congress passes a final bill, this additional funding, combined with Obama's budget request of $9.9 billion, will bring total 2011 missile defense spending to $10.3 billion – around where it was during the Bush years.
That represents progress -- though it still will not get us close to what missile defense proponents believe we urgently need: a comprehensive system, one capable of preventing any enemy missiles from reaching their targets. That was President Reagan’s dream at a time when the technology to achieve it did not yet exist. Now it does. As the threat from Iran and North Korea grow the case for delay shrinks.
One more item: President Obama has assigned General David Petraeus to take command of the conflict in Afghanistan. Petraeus, of course, was the soldier President Bush put in charge of Iraq when the battle there seemed all but lost. Petraeus had strong Republican support then and he will have strong support from Republicans and moderate Democrats now. Far-left groups such as MoveOn.org probably will not accuse the commander of “betrayal” for refusing to embrace defeat -- as they infamously did in 2007.
Which reminds me of the scene in which Charlie Wilson asks Gust Avrakotos, the rumpled CIA operative: “What is U.S. strategy in Afghanistan?” Avrakotos replies: “Most strictly speaking, we don’t have one. But we’re working on it.” “Who’s ‘we’?” asks Wilson. Avrakotos: “Me and three other guys.”
If Obama will now assign three other guys whom Petraeus trusts on the diplomatic side, and give them adequate time and resources, the chances for a successful outcome in Afghanistan -- and Pakistan and the broader war -- will be a whole lot higher in the days ahead.
Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism and Islamism.
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