Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday Reading

How Obama Went to War — Anne E. Kornblut, Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post report on the decision-making process leading up to the Afghanistan war surge.

President Obama, seated at the head of a conference table strewn with papers in the White House Situation Room, stared at charts showing various options for sending additional U.S. troops into Afghanistan.

He and his top national security advisers had been debating the way forward for two full months. On this day, Nov. 11, the president scanned the choices with a trace of irritation. At a meeting more than two weeks earlier, he had asked for a plan to deploy and pull out troops quickly — a “surge” similar to the one that his Republican predecessor had executed in Iraq, but with a fixed date to begin withdrawals.

What was in front of Obama — scenarios in which it took too long to get in and too long to get out — was not what he wanted.

“I don’t know how we can describe this as a surge,” he said in a tone that others around the table registered as annoyance. “I’m usually more sedate than this,” Obama acknowledged, according to a senior adviser who read from notes he took at the meeting.

By the time Obama returned 10 days later from a trip to Asia, military officials had come up with plans to deploy troops much more rapidly than originally proposed by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan. The new plans also called for fewer U.S. troops than McChrystal had requested and specified that they would begin to come home by July 2011, starting a glide path toward ending a war that, according to opinion polls, only a minority of Americans think is worth fighting.

As described in interviews by more than a dozen senior administration and military officials who took part in the strategy review, the final number of 30,000 more American troops and the timing of their deployment were among the last policy elements to be finalized. Obama’s new strategy, which he announced in an address to the nation last week from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., would push the total U.S. military force in Afghanistan to about 100,000 by mid-2010 and make new demands on America’s NATO and other foreign partners.

After one revelatory discussion about the mission’s goals, administration officials changed their chief objective from trying to eliminate the Taliban to making sure insurgents could no longer threaten the Afghan government’s survival. The new strategy would include a closer relationship with Pakistan, along with a warning that the United States would step up its action against al-Qaeda camps in that country if the Pakistanis did not do it themselves.

Continued below the fold.

Frank Rich — Barbarians at the Gate.

Americans want our country to be secure. Most want Obama to succeed. And so we hope that we won’t get bogged down in Afghanistan while our adversaries regroup elsewhere, that the casualties and costs can be contained, that the small, primitive Afghan Army (ravaged by opium, illiteracy, incompetence and a 25 percent attrition rate) will miraculously stand up so we can stand down. We want to believe that Obama’s marvelous powers of reason can check a ruthless enemy and reverse decades of tragic history in one of the world’s most treacherous backwaters.

That’s the bet Obama made. As long as our wars remain sacrifice-free, safely buried in the back pages behind Tiger Woods and reality television stunts, he’ll be able to pursue it. But I keep returning to the crashers at the gates, who have no respect for our president’s orderliness of mind and action. All it takes is a few of them at the wrong time and wrong place, whether in Afghanistan or Pakistan or America or sites unknown, and all bets will be off.

Paying for War — Charles A. Stevenson asks that if a war is worth fighting, isn’t it worth paying for?

Congress used to raise taxes to pay for America’s wars. Isn’t it time to return to that practice?

In 1798, Congress enacted its first direct tax — on land, houses and slaves — to pay for the naval expansion in what historians now call the Quasi-War with France.

In 1804, Congress levied a 2.5% tax on top of import duties already in effect to create a Mediterranean Fund to pay for additional ships and naval operations against the Barbary pirates.

Eight years later, Congress doubled existing import duties and levied new taxes, then issued bonds when that revenue proved inadequate to pay for the War of 1812 against Britain.

In the case of the Mexican-American War, 1846 to 1848, taxes covered about 40% of the costs, with borrowing required to pay for the rest.

The Civil War, 1861 to 1865, led to the first income tax, but 90% of the Union’s costs were covered by money creation and debt.

In 1898, Congress enacted excise taxes on cosmetics, chewing gum, playing cards and theater admissions, and doubled tobacco and beer taxes. Lawmakers even voted for a tax on long-distance telephone calls that was not repealed until 2006. These measures wound up covering two-thirds of the cost of the Spanish-American War.

In World War I, Congress enacted a highly progressive income tax and a corporate excess-profits tax that together financed about 60% of the wartime costs.

In World War II, Congress raised income tax rates and lowered the point at which the tax kicked in, requiring almost 90% of U.S. workers to file tax returns. It also imposed a 95% excess-profits tax on businesses, established wage and price controls and rationed some goods. Even so, taxes covered only about 40% of the costs of the war.

In 1950, Congress financed the Korean War entirely by taxation, with no borrowing.

Since then, presidents and Congress have been reluctant to raise taxes to pay for our wars.

Crazy for Cars — For antique auto enthusiasts in South Florida, there’s always time for a get-together.

Robert Hernandez, 41, always dreamed of owning a ’64 Ford Mustang similar to the one his father drove when he was growing up.

Ignacio Ingelmo, 60, compared every car to the ’68 Chevrolet Camaro his father-in-law gave him as a wedding gift until he bought his second one a few years ago.

Carlos Rosa, 51, has been driving muscle cars since the 1970s and wouldn’t have it any other way. His latest beauty: a 1969 Charger RT.

The men might prefer different models and makes, but they have one thing in common: They share a passion for classic cars.

In recent years, that passion for cars — which hundreds more men and women share — has paved the way for a classic car show circuit that only keeps growing with new car shows and cruise nights springing up each year throughout South Florida.

”It’s only getting bigger,” said Rosa at the recent Wings Over Miami car show in West Kendall. ”I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t mess around. But I love muscle cars. And I love hanging out and talking about them.”

November was a busy month for classic car enthusiasts like Rosa with weekend competition car shows in Miami Lakes, Doral and West Kendall.

Dozens turned out for the events. Some showed their antiques. Others came to reminisce as they laid eyes on makes models of all kinds from decades past — mostly from the 1960s and ’70s. There were Corvettes, GTOs and Impalas. Thunderbirds, Grand Nationals and Chevelles.

Aside from the annual car shows, there are weekly car meets called cruise nights where classic car owners park their beauties and sit back to watch people gawk in awe.

Those who are part of the circuit know the drill: The first Saturday of every month is at Betty’s — formerly known as Fuddrucker’s — in Kendall. The second Saturday of the month is at Shorty’s Bar-B-Que in Doral. A big one is TowerShoppes of Davie on Friday nights.

But it’s not all about the shows. Enthusiasts enjoy the load of mechanical and body work that goes into restoring antique cars so it runs and looks nearly as good as new. What they might not enjoy as much: the thousands of dollars it costs to fix these babies.

And today is the annual holiday party of my own car club.

Doonesbury — Is this on?