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TEXT OF INTERVIEW
KAI RYSSDAL: The broad outlines of the president’s Afghanistan speech tonight have been generally known — troop levels and a basic timetable. Our Washington Bureau Chief John Dimsdale is covering the speech for us. He’s here with more.
JOHN DIMSDALE: Hello, Kai.
RYSSDAL: Thirty thousand troops, as the president said, John; $30 billion as he also said. Where’s he going to get the money?
DIMSDALE: Well, it’s going to have to be tacked on to the overall cost of the war, which is already $120 billion this year. Much of it is borrowed money. There are some congressional opponents of this troop increase who will try to block funding because of that. But Republicans and most moderate Democrats will support the extra spending.
Still, you could tell Obama know there’s little public taste for the additional costs of the war.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Years of debate over Iraq and terrorism have left our unity on national security issues in tatters, and created a highly polarized and partisan backdrop for this effort. And having just experienced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the American people are understandably focused on rebuilding our economy and putting people to work here at home.
RYSSDAL: That $30 billion, John, though, is just direct military spending, right? There is going to be more to add to the tab.
DIMSDALE: That’s right. There’s a big effort to train the Afghan army to handle their own security. Five thousand of the 30,000 new U.S. troops are trainers for the Afghan army. There’s also a program to appeal to the hearts and minds of local citizens — job creation, infrastructure projects — to keep the Afghan people from gravitating to the Taliban. Plus there’s more help for Pakistani troops next door, to keep Taliban insurgents from attacking in Afghanistan and then running across the border to hide.
Lawrence Korb, who dealt with defense budgets as a Pentagon official in the Reagan administration, says the extra troops will create a lot of extra expenses.
LAWRENCE KORB: You’ve got to have facilities. You’re going to have to have contractors there that are going to feed them and, you know, do the repairs. And a lot of times when we’ve had these surges, they haven’t counted completely all the support troops that you need.
RYSSDAL: On the topic of costs, John, Rep. David Obey from Wisconsin, chairs the House Appropriations Committee, he has been talking about a tax, a war tax to pay for this. Is that going to go anywhere?
DIMSDALE: You know, it doesn’t really have much of a chance, for several reasons. Not least of which is the fragile economy. And there’s another idea to tack on an extra gasoline tax. That would also be a tough sell, especially if gasoline prices go up. Supporters of these taxes say the rest of the country, beyond the military, should be contributing to the war to spread the sacrifice. But taxes are definitely not popular with lawmakers who are headed for reelection in less than a year.
RYSSDAL: John Dimsdale on the president’s Afghanistan speech tonight. Thank you, John.
DIMSDALE: My pleasure.