President Obama will unveil his plan tonight for pulling out the roughly 30,000 troops sent to Afghanistan during the December 2009 troop surge. While all kinds of factors go into foreign policy decisions, especially when it comes to putting troops in harm's way, it's worth noting that the Afghanistan operation has been the subject of intensive lobbying, has been prone to fraud, waste and abuse in federal contracting and raises issues of government accountability.
While Obama will cover a number of issues raised by the ongoing war in Afghanistan, the following topics most likely will not make it into the speech:
- Lobbyists representing foreign governments have contacted lawmakers and their staff regarding Afghanistan related policies and security issues several times in the last few years, records show. Lobbyists for the Pakistani embassy contacted Congress to discuss the Afghanistan-Pakistan Security and Prosperity Enhancement Act in 2008; the Turkish embassy hired lobbyists to discuss Turkey's contributions to Afghanistan's development; and the Afghani government lobbied to discuss 9/11 litigation. See the whole list here.
- Domestic criticisms continue to mount against the Defense Department's use of independent contractors. According to a new report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Congress' nonpartisan research group, as of March 2011, there were about 98,800 uniformed troops in Afghanistan and about 90,339 contracted employees. As recently as December 2008, contractors made up 69 percent of the combined uniformed/non-uniformed personnel in Afghanistan. About half of the contracted employees in Afghanistan are local nationals. CRS used contractor census reports to come to that conclusion, however, this data has been criticized for its inaccuracies, particularly when it comes to counting the number of Afghan nationals serving the Department of Defense. The Commission on Wartime Contracting discussed these problems at length during a 2009 hearing.
- Other problems existing with defense contracts include payments made to Afghan warlords, according to a 2010 House investigative report. A 2010 Governmental Accountability Office report also pointed out a general lack of oversight when it comes to tracking who receives military contracts.
- According to the CRS report, some reforms to military contracting have been made, including creating a Joint Contracting Command group designed to improve military communication and a plan to increase management training for those who oversee contract workers. According to CRS, the Department of Defense is working on creating an online course for military higher-ups to take prior to deployment to help them work better with contractors. Obama promised to reform the military contract system and to create transparency standards for military contractors, but such legislation is still pending.
- Another promise the president made — to clarify the legal status for contracted defense workers so that they may be disciplined for misconduct — has stalled, according to the fact-checking website Politifact.com. The Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Enforcement Act to accomplish this goal made it through the House in 2007 but not through the Senate.
- The President's decision could have domestic repercussions as well. Large defense contractors, for example, could be affected by the emerging future plan in Afghanistan. These organizations tend to have a great deal of lobbying clout and their political action committees, employees and their family makers are prolific donors to federal campaigns. Earlier this month, we highlighted the Pentagon's release of its top 100 department of defense contractors, which includes deals with Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman — all of which had spent millions of dollars in campaign contributions and tens of millions on lobbying during the 2009-2010 election cycle. For example, Lockheed Martin, who manufactures high tech military equipment including jets and missiles, gave $2.3 million to members of Congress in 2010, according to OpenSecrets.org. Top donations included $52,000 to Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif. and $48,500 to Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. McKeon is chair of the House Committee on Armed Services, and Schumer is on the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security for the Senate Judiciary Committee. The airplane manufacturer Boeing gave $2.4 million to lawmakers in 2010. Boeing's top donations included $85,860 to Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and $32,900 to Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan. Murray is on the Defense Subcommittee for the Senate Appropriations Committee, and her home state is the birthplace of the Boeing company. Tiahrt is on the Defense Subcommittee for the House Appropriations Committee.
The president's White House address airs tonight at 8 p.m. ET on most major networks.