The Obama Administration just unveiled a huge Defense Department budget for next year shaped by the Afghanistan war. War spending is exempt from the president’s proposed spending freeze, despite President Obama’s statement at West Point that, “we can’t simply afford to ignore the price of these wars.”
The Obama administration plans to unveil a defense budget on Monday that pours billions into drones, helicopters and special forces, reflecting a focus on fighting Islamist extremists rather than conventional armies.
The Pentagon’s spending priorities as well as its strategic vision — which is also due to be unveiled this week — are a product of the counter-insurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan that have severely stretched the military.
The proposed 2011 defense budget comes to more than 700 billion dollars, a modest two percent increase, and unlike last year avoids sweeping cuts to major weapons programs, according to Pentagon officials and draft documents.
President Barack Obama’s new budget, to be released Monday, forecasts two consecutive years of near $160 billion in war funding, far more than he hoped when elected and only modestly less than the last years of the Bush Administration.
In 2011 alone, the revised numbers are triple what the president included in his spending plan a year ago. And the strain shows itself in new deficit projections, already hobbled by lagging revenues due to the weak economy.
We can’t afford to keep spending huge amounts of blood and treasure on a war that’s causing massive human suffering and that’s not making us any safer.
Next Wednesday, President Obama will give his first State of the Union address. It’s a safe bet he’ll discuss the Afghanistan war. You probably recall that the President recently committed to start drawing down troops in Afghanistan in July 2011.
Setting a target date for the start of a withdrawal is a good step, but if we are going to make the president’s commitment into a reality, we need a concrete exit strategy.
In your State of the Union address on January 27, 2009, I want you to provide a concrete exit strategy for our troops in Afghanistan that begins no later than July 2011 and which completes a withdrawal of combat troops no later than July 1, 2012.
A concrete exit plan will lay the groundwork that will help make President Obama’s commitment to a draw-down a reality. Our country cannot afford to keep spending billions of dollars on a war that’s not making us safer. Staunching the flow of American blood and treasure into the Afghanistan war will be essential to the success of the Obama presidency and to getting our economy back on track. We need more than a date. We need a plan.
Please sign the petition today. If we get 10,000 signatures, we’ll deliver them to the White House on Monday. Your signature will help put us on a defined path to the end of the war in Afghanistan.
Afghan protesters were killed today when a tense protest erupted in response to rumors that foreign forces desecrated a copy of the Koran during a night raid in Afghanistan. Reports indicates that the protesters may have been goaded by local Taliban into throwing stones at foreign forces and their local allies. In response, pro-Kabul-government forces opened fire, killing eight.
The Afghanistan war is a breeding ground for corruption, and today McClatchy Newspapers reports that it’s not just the corrupt Afghan government that’s feeding at the trough. The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) says about three-quarters of its active corruption investigations involved Westerners.
The U.S. agency overseeing the multibillion dollar Afghanistan reconstruction effort is investigating 38 criminal cases ranging from contract fraud to theft – most involving non-Afghans, officials said Tuesday…Just 10 of the criminal cases under the microscope involve Afghans only, while the rest involve U.S. and other foreigners, according to Raymond DiNunzio, the agency’s assistant inspector general for inspections.
Progressive journalist Robert Greenwald has produced strong documentaries about everything from big box stores (“Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price”) to the excesses of Fox News (“Outfoxed”).
Through his Brave New Productions company, Greenwald has created a new template for up-to-the-minute, ever-evolving non-fiction filmmaking that combines traditional edited material on DVD with links to brand new interviews on his website and Facebook.
Greenwald’s latest project, “Rethink Afghanistan,” is a sobering and timely look at the chaos in that country just as President Obama has committed tens of thousands of troops for what he says will be a strictly limited military action.
The documentary deals both with the continuing breakdown of order in Afghanistan and the fact that Obama may be setting the stage for his own political demise in a quagmire strikingly similar to the one in Vietnam that ended Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.
The U.S. populace is so caught up in its own economic chaos that it is has given Obama a pass on Afghanistan for the time being, the film asserts. When the huge financial and physical cost of the war begins to be felt, the public could turn on the president as quickly as it did on Johnson.
Progressives are so thrilled by Obama’s sophistication and intelligence that they seem to be looking the other way when it comes to Afghanistan. There is pretty strong evidence that things have gotten worse in the country with American involvement — suicide bombings were unknown before we arrived and they are now escalating.
Greenwald shows how U.S. policy in Afghanistan may be as misguided as our terrible venture in Iraq. Support for Muslim extremism is increasing around the world as a result of our military ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the latter country we seem to be lumping the Taliban (above) and al Qaeda together (even though they have little use for each other).
Apparently, our Iraq fatigue and euphoria over the end of the Bush II era have set the stage for another military/political disaster.
In “Rethink Afghanistan” Greenwald (below right with journalist Anand Gopal) has assembled an impressive array of intelligence experts, journalists and people in Afghanistan who point out that U.S. military occupation is destined to make things worse in an intensely nationalistic culture (one politician asks what we would do if a foreign army was stationed in the U.S. to “restore order”).
Early last week, Rethink Afghanistan received the honor of being named Most Valuable Multimedia Activism by John Nichols in his yearly recap of “the most valuable progressive activists and organizations of the year” over at The Nation. Here’s what he had to say about Rethink Afghanistan:
Most Valuable Multimedia Activism: Rethink Afghanistan
No intervention with regard to the expanding war in Afghanistan did more to raise public awareness and opposition than the Rethink Afghanistan project of Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Foundation. Greenwald, Jim Miller, Martha de Hoyos and their compatriots dispatched crews to Afghanistan, interviewed returning soldiers, tracked down retired CIA and Defense Department analysts and forged an ironclad case for bringing the troops home. President Obama did not listen, but nearly a million Americans viewed Rethink Afghanistan videos on the Internet, saw the movie in theaters or attended house parties and meetings where it was shown. Along with “A Tale of Two Quagmires,” the revelatory comparison of the US escalation in Vietnam with the escalation in Afghanistan on Bill Moyers Journal, the Rethink Afghanistan project changed minds, stiffened spines and renewed the movement for a sane foreign policy.
In a midterm election, you live or die by your base. The party that motivates its base to donate, volunteer and vote more effectively than the other will pick up seats in Congress. Unfortunately for Democratic incumbents, their base opposes the president’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan and wants troops brought home faster than planned. Democratic candidates for the House and Senate, then, must fight the president’s escalation if they want to mitigate their losses in 2010. If they don’t, the Democratic base should (and likely will) sit this one out.
Ferreting out the implications of the post-escalation-announcement polling is slightly more complex, but shows a consistent picture of Democratic opposition to escalation in Afghanistan. When asked about the president’s stated policy combining another escalation with a drawdown beginning in 2011, 58 percent of Democrats expressed their support. However, when the same poll bifurcated the two components of the policy, it became clear that Democrats supported the drawdown date, not the troop increase:
A plurality of Democrats (43 percent) believed President Obama was sending “too many” troops.
62 percent of Democrats either agreed with the timetable or wanted the troops to begin coming home sooner.
It may be that while Democrats disagree with the specifics of the timetable as announced, they approve of the idea of having any timetable included. And it may be that while Republicans strongly disagree with the having any timetable included, they approve of the general idea of an increase of troop levels.
Democratic support for the total policy should be heavily weighted, then, toward the drawdown aspect of the plan and not the troop increase. That’s a severe problem for overly optimistic congressional Democrats who want to believe that the president’s speech made political room for them to support escalation. When November 2010 arrives, the only components of the president’s policy in evidence will be escalationand its costs, which the Democratic base loathe. Think about what that will mean if Democrats remain far more concerned with the costs of the Afghanistan policy than with the risk of terrorism (79 percent to 46 percent, respectively).
Pushing policies opposed by your base in a midterm election year is another way of asking to get wrapped in a burlap sack and hit with sticks. James Morone, writing about the health reform fight, explains [h/t Ezra Klein]:
Many Democrats are moving to whittle back health reform in order to win over moderate, fence-sitting, frightened independents.
Go back and look at the midterm tsunami that swept the Democrats out of office the last time. The turnout for that wave was just 36 percent. Moderate, fence sitting independents don’t vote in midterm elections with a 36 percent turn out.
What really happened back in 1994? The Republican base — jubilant, mobilized and angry — turned out. The Democratic base — dispirited, disenchanted and demobilized — stayed home. As Democrats ponder which way to go in this latest round, they ought to read the political lessons more carefully: Short-term electoral success rests with the base, the people who got excited about “change we can believe in.” Long-term electoral success rests in designing and pushing through a program that then grows very popular.
Klein describes what happens when you jab your thumb in the eye of your base to try to scoop up independents and the spare opposition voter in a midterm cycle:
Dispirited Democrats will stay home. Energized Republicans will press their advantage. Add in that the wave of young voters who were energized by Obama’s campaign probably aren’t going to turn out for the midterm election anyway, and you’re looking at a pretty unfriendly landscape.
Among Republican respondents, 81 percent said they were definitely or probably going to vote, versus only 14 percent who were definitely or not likely to do so…Among Democrats? A woeful 56-40: Two out of every five Democrats are currently unlikely to vote.
“There is no doubt Washington has to worry about how the base is reacting and feeling…It’s incredibly important heading into next year, because the base knocks on doors, makes phone calls and gives money.”
Bottom line: Congressional Democrats and their kindred spirits beyond Washington, D.C. must get over their reluctance to buck President Obama on Afghanistan if they want to get out of this election cycle with their skin on. Midterm elections are base-centered elections. Winning base-centered elections requires actions that energize the base. If the Democrats in Congress want to stanch the bleeding on this part of the electoral contest, they have to run against the president’s escalation in Afghanistan and fight it every step of the way. And if “our” representatives in Congress won’t fight the Afghanistan escalation, we have to be willing to walk away from them. Cenk Uygur:
If that scares you and you start to worry about damaging a Democratic president, you’re never going to win at this game. You’re never going to get the policies you want. They don’t listen to reason, they listen to power…If you don’t have the stomach for being this tough on Obama and the Democrats, well then you don’t have the stomach for politics. And you will permanently be the Republican’s bitches.
Pushing an Afghanistan policy opposed by the base, supported by the opposition and that will send American boys and girls home in body bags is political malpractice, especially going into an election where more than 80 percent of your opponent’s base is ready to charge into the voting booth. Issues exist in this election cycle other than Afghanistan, and reasons to oppose escalation in Afghanistan exist other than the purely political, but if Democrats won’t even act against escalation to save their own skins, they’ll deserve every bit of the political pain they’ll feel in November.
In 2010, I will not donate, block-walk, or phone bank for any incumbent who fails to take forceful action to stop this escalation and bring our troops home. Fair warning, Democrats: I’m not alone.
Below is a message from Congressman Eric Massa, a strong ally on ending the war in Afghanistan:
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, an occasion to gather with friends and family to celebrate the good things in life. This year however, Christmas Eve is a day of great irony and conflict as our nation prepares to escalate the war in Afghanistan.
This year, Christmas Eve falls on the 3,000th day that U.S. forces have been in Afghanistan, as well as the 30th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of the very same nation.
As a retired military officer as well as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I know that we cannot turn a blind eye to the lessons of the past. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a disaster and they proved that you cannot win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people through troop surges, and continued occupation. It is critical to note that while we do not view this as an occupation of Afghanistan, it is clear that the people of Afghanistan view our presence as just that.
If you have a few moments, I ask you to watch this extraordinary video, and then read my blog post on Huffington Post and DailyKos.com. In these blog posts, I explain further how you can help pressure Congress to end this war of occupation.
Have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year – and please keep our service members and their families in your thoughts, and prayers now and always.
-Congressman Eric Massa
P.S. If you agree that we should be taking measures to add real security for our country and our allies, please forward this email to your friends and family.
Expect more civilian casualties as President Obama’s latest escalation sends more troops into Kandahar. Most civilians killed by insurgents die from IEDs and suicide attacks, while airstrikes in support of troops in combat account for most civilians killed by NATO and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. When this summer’s Operation Khanjar pushed into Helmand province, anti-Kabul-government forces responded by laying more IEDs, which led to a severe spike in civilian deaths.
Based on the Helmand experience, we know sending more troops into insurgent-controlled areas will mean IED attacks. We know new IED attacks will mean many more civilian deaths, not to mention the number of civilians that will be directly killed by U.S. forces. We’re doing it anyway. The people who will be killed have a right to life that exists independently of our goals in the region. We’re essentially making a decision for them that it’s better for them to be dead than under the thumb of the Taliban. If they want to make that decision, fine, let them. But that’s not our decision.