Who’s paying attention to Djibouti and Niger and Afghanistan?

Not the fools “negotiating” the big “continuing resolution” in Washington

By Lucian K. Truscott IV


Published January 20, 2018 8:00AM (EST)

U.S. Marines at Task Force Southwest military field in Shorab military camp of Helmand province, Afghanistan. (AP/Massoud Hossaini)
U.S. Marines at Task Force Southwest military field in Shorab military camp of Helmand province, Afghanistan. (AP/Massoud Hossaini)

Let’s see: They have spent the last four or five days negotiating a so-called “continuing resolution” that was supposed to keep the government funded until February 16, which is exactly 28 days from now. You could make an argument that the negotiations began earlier, as far back as last week, when a solution to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was discussed at a meeting between President Trump and lawmakers in the White House. But that went south the next day when Trump changed his mind, and even further south the day after that when he made his infamous “shithole” comment about countries he didn’t think we should be taking immigrants from. But let’s just say they’ve been at it this week only. That’s enough, don’t you think? That means they spent about one day negotiating the funding of the government for each week it was supposed to stay open. But it isn’t just one week. They’ve been at this bullshit for months.

Back in September, right after the August break, they spent a week of brinkmanship negotiating the continuing resolution of Sept. 8, which kept the government open through Dec. 8. Then they spent days of touch-and-go negotiations yapping about the Dec. 7 continuing resolution, passing it only hours before the government would have shut down, funding the government for a great big two weeks through December 22. And they spent several more tense days negotiating the Dec. 21 continuing resolution, which kept the government open until yesterday, Jan. 19 -- a whole month that time. That one was passed exactly one day after they rammed through a $1.5 trillion tax bill which gave huge tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy.

So all during those government funding negotiations last fall, they were preparing to vote to strip it of $1.5 trillion in tax funds over the next 10 years. That threw them into frantic machinations trying to fund the various parts of the federal government with money that wasn’t really there. They threw a few bucks to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to keep it barely alive. They ponied up some disaster relief money for Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Puerto Rico. In December, they stole $15 billion from the off-budget Overseas Contingency Operations account — that’s the slush fund of borrowed money that’s been paying for our wars since 2001 — and threw it into the Defense budget to make up some kind of alleged shortfall. You’d say it looks like they’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, but that doesn’t quite get it. It’s more like a three-card monte game. Where’s the ace? That card? No? How about that one? Oooops! It’s not that one, either! We’ll give you another chance. See, here’s the ace right here. So put down your money and let’s turn them over and move them around the table and have another look. Which one’s the ace? That one? Oooops! Wrong again!

They love this shit. Right now in the background, I’ve got MSNBC on the TV and I can turn and look over my shoulder and see Sen. Chuck Schumer getting out of a big black SUV at the Capitol, having just returned from more negotiations with the president. He’s got his reading glasses pushed down on his nose, and he’s peering over them at a scrum of reporters pushing and shoving and firing questions at him, and he’s saying negotiations went “pretty well,” and they’ll be “continuing,” and meanwhile, they’ve got a doomsday clock ticking away in the lower right hand corner of the screen showing nine hours and 20 minutes until the big shutdown, and things are getting tense, man! A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just reported that “we’re in constant contact with the White House.”

Isn’t that great? Right now, our boys Chuck and Mitch and Donald are the most important men in the world, and they are just loving it. Yesterday, it was Paul Ryan’s and Nancy Pelosi’s turn, and they were the most important people in the world along with Trump, and they were loving it. Ryan gave a big press conference, so he could throw around some completely bogus budget numbers and impress everyone with his command of big-time fiscal matters like the “budget” and the “deficit.” This was the guy who spent the last eight years insisting that every single bill proposed by Obama had to be “paid for” by counterbalancing budget cuts because he was so dreadfully concerned about the deficit. Then he gets Trump in the White House and promptly passes a tax cut that balloons the deficit by $1.5 trillion — many economists say the real cost is closer to $2.4 trillion — because suddenly he’s discovered that deficits aren’t so bad after all, especially when they are used to pay for enriching his millionaire and billionaire pals.

But it’s not just Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. It’s the whole damn Republican party. All of these deficit hawks who sat there and demanded that the Affordable Care Act be “fully funded,” and then refused to give it even one Republican vote; all of these “fiscal conservatives” who wouldn’t discuss spending even a nickel to repair roads and bridges and railroads, even as bridges collapsed, roads crumbled and trains careered off aging rails. And they’re loving every minute of these “negotiations” over this “continuing resolution.” The fourth negotiation over the fourth continuing resolution in four months.

Let me tell you who’s not loving it. The 200,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines we have deployed overseas at this very moment, that’s who’s not loving it. They’re playing three-card monte with the budget in Washington, D.C., and meanwhile, we’ve got military bases and outposts of various sizes in more than 140 foreign nations. We’ve got 40,000 troops serving in Japan; 35,000 in Germany; 12,000 in Italy; 9,200 in Afghanistan; 5,000 in the United Kingdom; 6,300 in Kuwait; 5,500 in Iraq; 5,500 in Bahrain; 3,000 in Qatar; 2,000 in Djibouti; 800 in Niger.

Anybody remember Niger? Remember last October, about a month after they negotiated the September “continuing resolution,” four American soldiers were killed in Niger. They were Staff Sergeant Dustin M. Wright, 29; Staff Sergeant Bryan C. Black, 35; Staff Sergeant Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39; and Sergeant La David Johnson, 25. These four special forces soldiers were on a mission doing something — we’ve never really been told what — when they were killed in an ambush by ISIS insurgents, or somebody anyway — we’ve never really been told who. Remember that? There was a big dispute between President Trump and the Florida congresswoman close to the family of Sergeant Johnson that went on for a while, and charges of racism flew around. Then the whole thing just went away.

But our troops serving in harm’s way didn’t somehow disappear in a puff of smoke. They’re still fighting some kind of war in Afghanistan, and they’re still fighting some kind of war in Iraq, and we just learned last week that American troops will be “staying” in areas of Syria that have been re-taken from ISIS fighters. We don’t know what they’ll be doing while they are “staying” in Syria, but I think it’s safe to assume they will be heavily armed, and they will be in danger of being shot at, or like the four soldiers in Niger, ambushed by somebody, for some reason anyway. Maybe just because they’re there.

We’re not told what many of the 200,000 troops we have serving overseas are doing over there. Why do we have some kind of military outpost in Belize? Are we defending American tourists on the beaches? What are our troops doing in Bangui, Central African Republic? How about Mombassa, Kenya? We’ve got them in Al Mussanah, Oman, and Deveselu, Romania, too. What the hell are they doing in these places? Oh, that’s right. “Protecting American interests.” Whatever the hell those are.

Whatever they’re doing over there, nobody is paying any attention to them. When was the last time you saw a major piece about our forces in Afghanistan? We have had thousands of troops over there for 17 years. More than 2,000 of our troops have been killed in Afghanistan, 17 of them last year alone. Who’s paying attention to their sacrifice?

There were about eleventy-seven television cameras outside the Capitol recording every whisper of wisdom from Chuck Schumer this afternoon, and another eleventy-seven positioned outside the White House in case Mitch McConnell decides to flap his jowls under the North Portico and bring us news of the big “negotiations” over the big “continuing resolution,” at least some of which will fund those 200,000 troops we’ve got risking their lives for us in 140 countries around the world.

And just think. We’ll be right back at it again with yet another “continuing resolution” to keep the government up and running. I don’t know about you, but this one has been so exciting, I just can’t wait for the next one. Playing three-card monte with the lives of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines is so much fun, isn’t it?

By Lucian K. Truscott IV

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. You can read his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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Afghanistan Afghanistan War Djibouti And Niger John Kelly President Trump Rex Tillerson