We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of the launch of President Obama’s escalated military campaign in Afghanistan, so we here at Brave New Foundation decided we’d mark the occasion with a new Rethink Afghanistan video that will convey the reasons why it’s time to end the war. We put out a call to our supporters to share their photo and the reasons why they think it’s time for the war to end on our “Because It’s Time” wall. Almost 1,000 people responded, and the community created a fantastic collage of images and personal statements to take a strong public stand for peace.
In the coming weeks, we’ll use the best comments left on the site to create a new video that sends a strong message to Washington, D.C. that it’s time to end the war.
Next month will mark the one-year anniversary of the launch of President Obama’s escalated military campaign in Afghanistan. One year later, violence is still getting worse and costs are skyrocketing. After more than nine years, it’s time to end this war.
On February 13, 2010, NATO troops launched Operation Moshtarak in the Marjah district of Helmand Province. It was the first major military action enabled by President Obama’s 30,000-troop escalation, and was supposed to be proof-of-concept for Generals McChrystal’s and Petraeus’ counterinsurgency doctrine. The military hype said Afghan forces would be in the lead as coalition forces invaded Taliban-controlled areas. They’d deliver “government in a box, ready to roll.” Over and over, military officials repeated their mantra that the new troops would enable them to “protect the population.”
What followed was a fiasco that still hasn’t ended.
The pattern of hype and embarrassment repeated itself across Afghanistan all throughout 2010, as U.S. military officials repeatedly asserted that an influx of troops would bring security and protect the population, only to see those areas remain violent hot-spots where civilians were rarely safe. NATO similarly invaded Kandahar in force later in the year, and that area remains hotly contested and violent. In fact, violence in Kandahar and Helmand account for more than half of insurgent-initiated attacks for all of Afghanistan. Worse, areas that were previously relatively secure suddenly saw a spike in the number of insurgent attacks at the Taliban continued their relentless expansion across the country.
So. President Obama has had a full year now to prove that his new strategy is worth the costs. What are the results?
Numerous polls show that opposition to the war is at an all-time high, with 63 percent opposing the war. When you do the math, that’s more than 196 million Americans who want our troops to come home.
While we were wasting $100 billion on this war per year, Americans fought to stay above water in a horrible economy. Unemployment has now topped 9 percent for 20 months straight. Groups like the Salvation Army are reporting an alarming shortfall in resources to help the hungry. And state budgets all across the country are considering huge draconian cuts to their public structures and social safety nets that millions of people rely upon. Not only do most Americans oppose the war, but they rightly worry that it’s making it harder for us to fix these problems here at home.
After a year of escalated fighting across the country–after more than nine years of this war!–it’s absolutely clear that military solutions won’t work in Afghanistan, and they’re certainly not worth the cost. More than 195 million Americans want this war to end, yet their faces don’t seem to be reflected among elected officials to timid to take the morally courageous action of forcing this war to a close. So we’re giving people a chance to put their face and their opposition to the war in full public view.
Today, we’re launching “Because It’s Time” on Rethink Afghanistan to help Americans who oppose this war to make their voices heard. On this page, you can post your photo and a reason why it’s time to bring troops home.
Starting next Wednesday, you’ll have the chance to vote on your favorite comments. Those who get the most votes will get to star in an upcoming Rethink Afghanistan video.
This Monday, January 17th, is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It’s a day for us to celebrate one of the most important peacemaking heroes in our nation’s history, and an appropriate moment to reflect on the power of nonviolent social activism motivated by love and a sense of justice. For the millions of us who oppose the Afghanistan War (and yes, there are many, many millions of us in the U.S.), Dr. King points the way to the end of the Afghanistan War and beyond, to the onset of the Beloved Community.
Just don’t tell the Pentagon.
I was amazed and bewildered to find Pentagon officials and paid military propagandists scrabbling to claim Dr. King as a supporter for war-making. From the general counsel down to the writers at the American Forces Press Service, the military bureaucracy was humming with the asserting that if Dr. King were alive today, he’d “understand” the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and would consider the activities that take place while fighting those wars akin to the actions of the Good Samaritan from the Christian gospel story. It was one of the most shameful attempts to cover these brutal, futile wars in humanitarian wallpaper I’ve seen in years.
Of course, Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson and the American Forces Press Service are wrong. As our new Rethink Afghanistan video shows, virtually every reason given by King in his “Time to Break the Silence” speech for opposing the Vietnam War would damn the Afghanistan War as well.
Here are just a few examples:
King decried the awful willingness of his country to spend $500,000 per each killed enemy soldier in Vietnam while so many Americans struggled in poverty. Yet last year, a conservative figure for the amount we spent per killed enemy fighter in Afghanistan was roughly $20 million.
King spoke of the “monumental dissent” that arose around the Vietnam War. “Polls reveal that almost 15 million Americans explicitly oppose the war in Vietnam,” he said. But today, 63 percent of Americans oppose the Afghanistan War, and when you do the math, that’s 196 million people, give or take the margin of error.
Dr. King also spoke of the “demonic, destructive suction tube” yanking resources and lives out of the fight to get Americans on their feet. That tube is still demonic and destructive: we’ve spent more than $360 billion on this war so far and it will cost us roughly $3 billion per week in the coming year. Add to that the 10,000 people, including about 500 U.S. troops and countless civilians who died last year alone, and you can see exactly what he’s talking about. The hope of our getting out of this abysmal economic vice is burning on the roadsides of Afghanistan every day we refuse to start bringing troops home.
No, it’s safe to say that Dr. King would not regard any conflict that killed 10,000 people in a year as a humanitarian exercise. Nor would he “understand” how a nation in the grip of an economic meltdown like this one could again throw lives and resources away for almost a decade. It’s safe to say that he would move beyond the “prophesying of smooth patriotism” and stand up to end this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost.
A mine clearing line charge detonates on Route 611 in Sangin district, Helmand province, Afghanistan as U.S. Marines clear road for travel. (photo: DVIDSHUB, Dec. 4, 2010)
written by Robert Greenwald and Derrick Crowe
On Thursday, December 16, 2010, the White House will use its December review to try to spin the disastrous Afghanistan War plan by citing “progress” in the military campaign, but the available facts paint a picture of a war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost.
Let’s take a look at just the very broad strokes of the information. After more than nine years and a full year of a massive escalation policy:
And yet, we are told we can expect a report touting security gains and “progress,” and that there’s virtually zero chance of any significant policy change from this review. It sort of begs the question: just what level of catastrophe in Afghanistan would signal that we need a change in direction?
Last week I wrote about the fanciful “progress” talk about Afghanistan coming out of General Petraeus’ shop, showing that the security situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate even in areas held up by the military as positive examples. One of the facets of this drivel with which I took particular issue was the assertion of a “comprehensive civil and military effort” in Kandahar. A new report (.pdf) out today by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) further deflates that false narrative.
“Unlike the Marja operation, [military and other administration officials] say, the one in Kandahar is a comprehensive civil and military effort that is changing the public mood as well as improving security.”
As I pointed out last week, military officials repeatedly described Marjah (yes, that Marjah) as a “comprehensive civil-military campaign,” so it’s laughable that we should buy that kind of description as an assurance that the push into Kandahar won’t a) fail spectacularly, or b) turn out like Marjah. But the association of the phrase “comprehensive civil and military effort” with Marjah isn’t the only reason we should be really, really worried.
SIGAR’s latest report audits the implementation of the “civilian surge” meant to accompany the military troop increase. The report raises several concerns about the civilian side of the “civil and military effort,” including:
* the effectiveness and quality of training for field personnel;
* the level of agency guidance for field work;
* the application of models for civilian-military integration;
* civilians’ ability to oversee implementing partners;
* the civilian surge’s long-term sustainability; and
* the Embassy’s lack of a formal and systematic mechanism for collecting and implementing best practices and lessons learned.
Reading between the lines of report, we can also see that the civil/military partnership is, shall we say, a bit rocky (emphasis mine):
“improvements were needed in such areas as agency-specific procedures, working within an interagency setting, field conditions, and civilian-military dynamics.”
“Both civilian and military personnel have stated that they would benefit from further training on the precise dynamics and best practices of the civilian-military relationship, as well as more integrated civilian-military training. For example, one official stated that training should include more exercises and scenarios requiring conflict resolution between civilian and military personnel.”
“…an IPA summary of conclusions reached from interviews with approximately 50 State, USAID, and USDA personnel stationed throughout Afghanistan concluded that civilian-military integration is occurring because of personal tenacity rather than institutional planning. The summary added that there are no clear lines of communication for civilians in the field on how to act with the military portion of their PRTs, or how to delineate “taskings” from their military partners.”
This audit is just the latest in a string of reports indicating real trouble not just with the relationship between the civilian and military personnel but with the entire civilian “uplift” itself.
Remember that the U.S.’s idea of a “comprehensive” civilian/military effort is a ratio slightly above one civilian for every 100 military personnel. SIGAR says that the January 2012 personnel target for this uplift is 1,500 personnel. That’s fewer people than live in my little hometown in Texas, and it’s expected to be a “comprehensive” partner for a 100,000+ military force in a country larger than California. Those 1,500 people will face a “lack of clarity from their agencies on various aspects of their work in the field,” unrealistic training for their partnership, and massive logistical challenges. And, as the SIGAR report makes clear, they will also face a lack of respect from military colleagues who deride them as unreliable and ineffective because the arrangement of the civilian presence leaves them out of the information loop even when it comes to civilian-led projects happening in their area of responsibility. This is not a recipe for success, and it certainly cannot be described as a “comprehensive civilian and military campaign.”It’s a military campaign with a civilian fig leaf.
“Comprehensive civilian and military effort” is the new “government in a box.”
We should replace these and other junk phrases with a new counterinsurgency motto: “Over-promise, under-deliver.”
The Afghanistan War isn’t making us safer, and it’s not worth the cost. If you’re tired of the spin, join the tens of thousands of others working to end the war at Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.
Follow Derrick Crowe on Twitter: www.twitter.com/derrickcrowe
Drunken shootouts and debauchery, meaningless death and mayhem — the “Wild West” atmosphere created by the Bush Administration’s criminal initiation and execution of the Iraq War is the gift that keeps on giving. Thanks in part to the rapacious greed injected into war-fighting by the liberal use of for-profit armed “security” companies, a brutal, unaccountable and unreliable swagger is increasingly the face of the U.S. in conflict zones around the world. The latest Wikileaks dump adds a sickening granularity to what Brave New Films showed in our documentary, Iraq For Sale: the use of private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan makes a few people very, very rich, but it’s making the rest of us — Americans and local civilians alike — much less safe.
Summarizing the logs released by Wikileaks, the New York Times on October 25 made it clear that fat cat war junkies like Blackwater/Xe’s Erik Prince have sold the American people a toxic bill of goods:
For all the contractors’ bravado — Iraq was packed with beefy men with beards and flak jackets — and for all the debates about their necessity, it is clear from the documents that the contractors appeared notably ineffective at keeping themselves and the people they were paid to protect from being killed.
In fact, the documents seem to confirm a common observation on the ground during those years in Iraq: far from providing insurance against sudden death, the easily identifiable, surprisingly vulnerable pickup trucks and S.U.V.’s driven by the security companies were magnets for insurgents, militias, disgruntled Iraqis and anyone else in search of a target.
Shorter version: people died, are still dying, because of these Humvee-chasing war tychoons’ ineptitude and brutality, and the toll includes their own employees. Worse, even when we know that these Gordon Geeko’s of the war industry oversee a machine that’s killing and maiming innocent people (including U.S. soldiers!), our governments seem unwilling to do anything about it:
…But whatever the constellation of reasons — from war-zone jumpiness to outright disregard for civilian lives — the security companies are cited time after time for shootings that the documents plainly label as unjustified. This has blackened their reputation, even if it has not lessened the military’s dependence on them.
…Many of the companies apparently felt no sense of accountability. Contractors with a Romanian company called Danubia Global killed three Iraqis in Falluja in 2006, another report said, then refused to answer questions on the episode, citing a company policy not to provide information to investigators.
Some of these gun-wielding mercenaries seem to be doing their best to give the Cowboy gang from Tombstone a run for their money in alcohol-fueled carnage:
…And still more recently, in July 2009, local contractors with the 77th Security Company drove into a neighborhood in the northern city of Erbil and began shooting at random, setting off a firefight with an off-duty police officer and wounding three women, another report said.
‘It is assessed that this drunken group of individuals were out having a good time and firing their weapons,’ the incident report concluded.
I’m sure the women injured by the bullets didn’t have a very good time.
Because the U.S. has utterly failed to reign in the hired guns under their authority in Iraq, the saloon-and-pistols atmosphere has spread unchecked to Afghanistan. Remember Wackenhut? If you don’t remember the name, I’m sure you remember the photos of the great job they’ve done “protecting” the U.S. embassy there:
I’m fed up with being humiliated — of seeing our troops in combat zones humiliated! — by the behavior of these unaccountable, brutal mercenary companies. That’s why today, I called 202.224.3121 and told my representative that I want them to support the Stop Outsourcing Our Security Act and phase out the use of armed security contractors. I hope you’ll do the same.
You can learn more about the danger posed by these war profiteers by watching Brave New Foundation’s documentary, Iraq For Sale.
Conway spent an afternoon at the Pentagon on Tuesday undermining the president’s deadline for significant withdrawals starting in July 2011. He started by relaying the admonition of a lance corporal: “Sir, don’t let our country go wobbly on us now.” Then, he let it be known in no uncertain terms that none of “his” Marines would participate in a July 2011 drawdown:
“Finally, though I certainly believe some American units somewhere in Afghanistan will turn over responsibility to Afghan security forces in 2011, I do not think they will be Marines. …I honestly think it will be few years before conditions on the ground are such that turnover will be possible for us.”
The caveat given by Presidents Bush and Obama ad nauseum–”conditions on the ground”–has been widened so far that it threatens to totally neutralize the drawdown portion of the president’s Afghanistan strategy. The entire general officer corps seems to be comfortable openly deriding or dismissing the idea of a significant drawdown in July 2011. President Obama has no one to blame but himself that this keeps happening.
By allowing a string of major administration officials, from General Petraeus to Secretaries Clinton and Gates, to equivocate about July 2011 on Sunday morning talk shows immediately after the West Point speech, Obama, intentionally or not, telegraphed a lack of enthusiasm for the deadline to every stakeholder paying attention. In so doing, he let a narrative develop that the reason he included a deadline was because he had to speak to “multiple audiences.” Among military officials and Washington, D.C. power-holders, a interpretation took hold that the president was placating restless voters with assurances that we shouldn’t take too seriously.
Now, generals under his command openly deride the deadline as a political move. Conway is only able to show such open contempt for a meaningful deadline because Obama sat back and watched while this process took place. The general went so far as to say that the deadline is giving the insurgents “sustenance,” but that’s okay, because they’ll be shocked and demoralized when he and “his” Marines don’t go anywhere.
Just who is running the show here?
President Obama needs to come out right now and reiterate that there will be a drawdown that begins no later than July 2011 and that it will involve significant numbers of U.S. troops. In fact, he should go further: He should set a hard end-date for the combat mission that occurs no later than December 2011.
Right now, there are at least three generals–Petraeus, Conway, and Caldwell–working hard to frame the president’s July 2011 drawdown as something they can essentially ignore when it comes to extending a brutal, costly war that’s not making us safer. If the president doesn’t take the situation in hand and counter the Pentagon’s in-your-face campaign to neuter the drawdown component of the time-limited escalation plan, he risks getting outmaneuvered in the press just like he did when General McChrystal played hardball on last year’s strategy review.
Worse, he’ll have demonstrated to the generals that they, not he, run the show in Afghanistan. If the president doesn’t want this war to devour his legacy and corrode civilian control of the military further, he needs to act swiftly and decisively to get his generals back in line and get our troops home.
If you’re with the almost 60 percent of Americans who oppose the war in Afghanistan, join the tens of thousands of others fighting to end it at Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook.
Follow Robert Greenwald and Derrick Crowe on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AfghanistanDocu
While a stain of insecurity and violence spreads across Afghanistan, General Petraeus is on a media blitz, disingenuously trying to sell the idea of “oil spots” of “progress” in Afghanistan. Petraeus’ goal is clear: Despite overwhelming public opposition, he wants more time to experiment with counterinsurgency in other people’s homelands, and he’s putting the half-billion-dollar public relations machine of the Pentagon into high gear to hammer his message into our heads. The first journalist on his media blitz, NBC’s David Gregory, utterly failed to sufficiently challenge Petraeus on his easily disproved spin, reminding one of the media’s negligence during the Iraq War debate. CBS’ Katie Couric is next at bat. We need her to do better.
All of the information Couric needs to blow apart Petraeus’ happy talk is already in the public domain, just as it was during the run-up to the Iraq debacle. For example:
* The recent (and Orwellian) Report on Progress toward Security and Stability (.pdf) in Afghanistan from the Pentagon discloses that violence is up 87 percent over the same period last year, and that despite the massive increase in troops over the reporting period, the insurgency continues to grow in size and capability. More alarmingly, the report discloses that the Afghan government is falling further behind in “sympathy” or “support” from populations in the key districts of the country.
* IED attacks roughly doubled over the past year.
* Civilian deaths are rising precipitously, and Afghans blame Petraeus’ forces not only for the deaths they cause directly, but for bringing the conflict with them as they press into new areas and failing to protect civilians from insurgent violence.
* The Afghan NGO Safety Office says that the single biggest threat to aid workers in Afghanistan is the armed gangs backed by the Local Defense Initiative, an ISAF/Afghan government program to create local “security” forces.
Any of these facts would blow a major hole in Petraeus’ spin campaign, and we need journalists on the media tour to confront the general with them. Unfortunately, in the past decade, when it’s come to accountability journalism aimed at military (or militarist) spin, the American media doesn’t exactly have a sterling reputation.
We now know that officials in the Bush administration built a case for the U.S. invasion of Iraq that was open to serious challenge. We also know that evidence disputing ongoing official claims about the war was often available to the mainstream press in a timely fashion. Yet the recurrent pattern, even years into the conflict, was for the official government line to trump evidence to the contrary in the news produced by mainstream news outlets reaching the preponderance of the people.
Part of the reason the Iraq story was written much as the Bush administration told it is that nearly every installment was well staged and fed expertly to reporters… [P]lenty of other sources and bodies of evidence outside official Washington power circles could have been elevated to challenge the administration’s stories, but those challenges either did not emerge aggressively or were reported only in passing…
David Gregory’s treatment of Petraeus (“Look! The general is physically fit and press savvy!”) contained alarming echoes of the dynamic described by Bennett, Lawrence and Livingston. All the information Gregory needed to challenge Petraeus was available before the interview, yet he failed to press Petraeus on the patently false claims of “progress,” if “progress” refers to any widespread trend strategically relevant to counterinsurgency doctrine. For all the apologies we heard from the press after their failures on the Iraq War, Gregory’s failure on Meet the Press this past Sunday shows we’re in danger of seeing a repeat. Couric must ask tougher questions during her interview.
The list above includes just the few easily accessible bits of the mosaic of disaster created by the U.S.’s troop-heavy, military-centric policy in Afghanistan. Couric could do us all a real service by bringing just a few of these facts with her when she interviews Petraeus and setting a real example for accountability journalism for her peers rounding out the media tour. In her preview piece on her interview with Petraeus, she mentions the general’s “oil spots” comment. Couric should ask Petraeus about the real “oil spots” spreading across Afghanistan: American blood and treasure seeping into the landscape of a war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost.
Sign our act.ly petition to Couric to push her to challenge Petraeus on his claims of “progress” and on his attempt to extend the Afghanistan War.
The movement to rethink the Afghanistan War is picking up steam. In response to the waste of hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives on a disastrous policy, public opinion has turned decisively against the war. People are making their opposition heard in communities all over the country. We’re proud to see that Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistandocumentary has become an organizing tool for everything from local screenings of the film, to hundreds of Meetups to Rethink the Afghanistan War and other public demonstrations.
The Aug. 8 demonstration in Santa Barbara, California, organized by the local chapter of Veterans for Peace, is just one example of the growing discontent and the creative actions put together by local activists to express it. From the KEYT story:
The recent wave of violence and rising American deaths in Afghanistan are causing many people in Santa Barbara to rethink their attitude toward the Afghan War.
That was the theme of a major demonstration at the beach today.
More than 1,200 crosses were set up on the beach next to Stearns Wharf. And the strong public reaction to the memorial may be an indication that more and more Americans are actually beginning to rethink Afghanistan.
This powerful action and the public response to it shows that people understand that the Afghanistan war isn’t making us safer, and it isn’t worth the costs. We’re extraordinarily proud of the Santa Barbara Veterans for Peace chapter, just as we’re proud of the more than 42,000 people working together and organizing on Rethink Afghanistan’s Facebook page.
This week’s Newsweek cover leads with the title, “Rethinking Afghanistan” and features an essay from Richard Haass at the Council on Foreign Relations, warning that the war isn’t worth the cost and the current policy isn’t working. It’s gratifying to see the message that Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan campaign has pushed for a year on the front pages of such a mainstream publication. To Haas and the Newsweek team: we’re glad to have you with us.
Newsweek’s cover is just the latest sign that opposition to this brutal, costly war is now the norm, and American policy-makers had better take notice. Public opposition for to this war has exploded.
According to Newsweek’s latest poll, 53 percent of those surveyed disapprove of the way President Obama is handling the Afghanistan War, and only 37 percent approve.
60 percent want to “stick to the plan to start withdrawal of forces in July of next year, even if the country is still as unstable as it is today.” Only 37 percent are “open to keeping the current number of forces in Afghanistan–or even adding more–if the country is still unstable in July of next year.”
A whopping 58 percent of those surveyed think the war is a lost cause, compared to 36 percent who think that winning is even a possibility.
And finally, Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection’s poll on July 8-11 found that a whopping 42 percent of people surveyed want to remove troops ASAP, up ten points since February.
But politics aside, our elected officials should end this war for the most basic of reasons: it’s a brutal policy that’s not working and that’s not worth the costs. It’s not worth the life of one more American troop or one more Afghan civilian. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once noted about an earlier counterinsurgency in someone else’s country: “The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.”