I have an important question about the president’s gravely mistaken decision to commit thousands American troops for at least 10 more years in Afghanistan: How much is it going to cost? Incredibly, one of the reasons for this deployment is to maintain the conditions in which we can continue to provide $4 billion in financial assistance as well.

This means spending $100 billion in Afghanistan over the next 10 years, on top of the $600 billion already spent.

I do not understand how the president can propose this while advocating that we reduce the cost of living adjustments to elderly Americans whose income is $1,500 per month.

I voted for the war in Afghanistan because I believed it was legitimate self-defense to stop the Afghan government from sheltering Osama bin Laden. George Bush did not launch that war, nor did we in Congress vote for it because Taliban rule in Afghanistan was intolerable. Until bin Laden’s mass murder of Americans, we made no effort to overthrow that regime. Even after 9/11, had the Taliban been willing to allow us to stop bin Laden from his rampage, there would have been no American interference with them running their country.

This rebuts one remaining argument for continuing America’s presence: that we have the responsibility for helping Afghanistan become a coherent, somewhat democratic society. And even if we do, there is no evidence that this is something we can bring about.

This is not a case of us going to the aid of nation beset by an outside enemy. What is going on in Afghanistan is a tragic civil war, and our record of intervening in these conflicts to keep one side from losing to the other is not very good.

If there was any realistic prospect of our achieving what we have set as our goals in Afghanistan, I would be conflicted. But the fact that there is little chance of success makes this an easy question to answer, given the cost we are being asked to bear to prolong a failed process.

I voted to get bin Laden, not for an indefinite American presence in that country. Having spent $600 billion there already, over an 11-year period, what possible basis is there for believing that spending additional sums for 10 more years will significantly alter the internal balance of forces?

If the Afghan security forces still cannot sustain themselves, with all that we have done, what argument is there that somehow this situation will be transformed if we only do some more of what we have been doing for the next 10 years?

The other argument made on behalf of this enormous expenditure is that it is important for us to keep Afghanistan from becoming a haven for terrorists.

Part of the answer to that is a continuation of the drone program, which I am prepared to support if it is conducted with great care. I do not favor giving impunity to those who would murder innocent people. But the claim that we have to keep thousands of troops in that country to keep the terrorists from re-establishing a base there has one major flaw: If not there, then it will happen somewhere else. Do we take on the same role in Yemen? Somalia? The Sudan? The part of Nigeria where Islamic extremists have gained power? There is no way we can plug every potential terrorist rat hole in the world.

Our main defense against terrorist attacks on the United States is the vast budget of the Homeland Security Department, which was nonexistent on Sept. 11, 2001. Our major defense will have to continue to be what we do here.

We faced a similar question recently in Iraq, when many in the American military wanted us to maintain a troop presence there after our combat role ended. In this case, the Iraqis saved us from our own bad judgment. By refusing to sign an agreement that allowed American troops immunity from Iraqi legal processes, the Nouri Maliki government forced the president into a complete military withdrawal. He should thank them on a regular basis. I am aware of no harm that has come to American security as a result of that decision.

If I had the power to decide who would govern Afghanistan, I would get rid of the Taliban. But I don’t, and neither do we as a country. The notion that $100 billion over the next 10 years can accomplish what $600 billion has not been able to do over the previous 10 makes no logical sense. And the fact that we are now in the position of imploring President Hamid Karzai to let us try is hardly an argument in favor of that position. We are told that Karzai’s term will expire and he will be replaced by a president much more willing to cooperate with us.

I remember when I was told that our reliable in all this would be none other than Karzai himself. I wish the decent people of Afghanistan well, but I am entirely unconvinced that thousands of America’s military personnel and $100 billion or more of American money can transform Afghan society, and resolve the deeply rooted internal conflicts there.

President Obama deserves great credit for having the courage to resist those who wanted to keep us in Iraq indefinitely. I earnestly hope he will follow his own example in Afghanistan.

Barney Frank is a retired congressman and the author of landmark legislation. He divides his time between Maine and Massachusetts.

Twitter: @BarneyFrank

— Special to the Telegram