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.
2009–a challenging year for us all. Thanks to your help and support, we were able to make a difference in the fight for social justice and take meaningful strides toward a more equal America for everyone.
With Rethink Afghanistan, we raised awareness about the realities of the war in Afghanistan and the need for new non-military solutions. Some 830,000 online views of Robert Greenwald’s documentary and over 100,000 petition signatures presented to Congress later, Brave New Films has become a major voice for the movement to question the Afghanistan war and our campaign has had an impact in the mainstream media and the national public discourse surrounding this war. Join us today as a Peacemaker as we step up our efforts and our demands to congress next year.
With Sick for Profit, we were able to expose the obscene profits of the healthcare industry’s worst villains: UnitedHealth Group, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Wellpoint. These CEOs raked in millions of dollars while denying ordinary people necessary health care. The fight’s not over yet. We need to stand up for real healthcare reform and against the corporate greed of health insurers.
We also launched two exciting new series:
Brave New Conversations features progressive opinion leaders and celebrities talking about the most pressing topics of the day. Subscribe and find out what Amy Goodman, Shepard Fairey, Tom Hayden, Billy Bragg, and former Afghan prime minister (and bravest woman in Afghanistan) Malalai Joya had to say about art, music, and war. Slated for the coming year: Jane Fonda, Oliver Stone, Tim Robbins, Tom Morello, and Janeane Garofalo.
Hundreds of thousands nationwide viewed Senator Sanders Unfiltered in its first season and heard from the senate’s most progressive member on up-to-the-minute topics every week. Senator Sanders called out the ways the Fed coddled Wall Street, which enjoyed a flood of enormous bailouts while credit to consumers, ordinary homeowners, and small business owners continues to be a trickle.
We couldn’t have brought you these important stories without your help.
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.
On Tuesday morning, your voice was heard in the United States House of Representatives.
Over 100,000 people signed the petition from Brave New Foundation, Credo Mobile and True Majority calling on Congress to vote against any bill to fund troop escalation in Afghanistan. Yesterday, Congressman Alan Grayson read the petition aloud from the House floor, asking his colleagues to vote NO.
Rep. Grayson’s action was a step forward in demonstrating to Congress our opposition to the war. But we’re far from achieving the groundswell we need to bring the war to an end. Let’s keep the momentum going.
The first step to ending the war is explaining to our friends and family why we need to bring the troops home now. We’ve created a new tool to allow you to send a video to your friends that matches to a specific concern about the war. Send a video to five of your friends today.
I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan…To abandon this area now – and to rely only on efforts against al Qaeda from a distance – would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies.
But, take note of this:
The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 – the fastest pace possible – so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers.
At this point, no one should take any policymaker or armchair general seriously when they argue that the U.S. is fighting a war of necessity to defeat an existential threat unless they propose:
a draft; and
steep war taxes.
Of course, that little duo is a non-starter after 8 years of inconclusive killing and dying during which Americans outside the military were only asked to go shopping [although, to his credit, Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.) has proposed a war surtax]. American politicians’ unwillingness to do so, however, shows that the war in Afghanistan is not, in fact, a war of survival.
But if the war in Afghanistan is not a war of survival, then American political leadership also lacks justification to squander $100,000,000,000 to send 100,000 troops to chase 100 al-Qaida thugs around someone else’s homeland.
The press is getting it wrong regarding the president’s announcement of the newest of his escalations in Afghanistan, which said:
I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home…Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.
We now have resourced, properly, this strategy. It’s not going to be an open-ended commitment of infinite resources…Just because we needed to ramp up from the greatly under-resourced levels that we had, doesn’t automatically mean that if this strategy doesn’t work that what’s needed is even more troops.
The way out of Afghanistan for the U.S. begins by refusing to add more troops. Despite any number of headlines to the contrary, this is not an exit strategy nor a withdrawal timeline. It is, at best, an intention, and one which is undermined by adding 30,000 troops. Here’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a hearing today:
After several back-and-forth exchanges, Gates concedes that there will be a “thorough review” in December 2010 and that if the strategy is not working, “we will take a long look” at the July 2011 date. This seems an important concession, and McCain declares that is this is the case.
…Graham then bores in hard on the July, 2011 date. He asks if the president has locked himself into that date, and Gates and Mullen try hard to say that as commander in chief, Obama obviously retains all options to change his mind. But, Gates argues, the date Obama offered Tuesday night as the starting point for withdrawing troops is a “clear statement of strong intent.”
Gates only got to this point in the hearing after getting kicked around like a soccer ball between senators who got him to first say the withdrawal starting in 2011 would not be tied to conditions on the ground, and then got him to retract and revise that statement.
If the president has an exit strategy, he didn’t tell you about it last night. He painted a picture of intentions after telling you he was sending 30,000 more troops to kill and die in Afghanistan. And you know what they say about the road to Hell.
I wrote this last night after I learned that the President had already given the orders to implement a second escalation. It’s a little more personal than I usually get in items for wide distribution, but after tonight’s announcement by the president, I thought I’d go ahead and share it with you. –DC
The orders have been given. All that’s left is to give the speech before a bunch of strapping young cadets and install the procurator Augusti. Thirty-six thousand more troopsThirty thousand more troops, $1 million a piece, per year. More IEDs in response. More bombs. More night searches. More economic damage. Hope. Change.
We’ve seen planes in the windows of buildings crumbled in
We’ve seen flames send the chills through London
And we’ve sent planes to kill them
But some of them were children
And still we crumbling the building
–Flobots, “Stand Up”
This evening, the Austin Peace and Justice Center organized a vigil to mourn the escalation outside of the offices of Senator John Cornyn. I decided to attend the vigil, even though I’d have to be late because of work. I drove down to 6th and Lavaca. I didn’t have a sign, but if they had candles, I’d gladly join in. No luck. When I drove past, I saw between a half-dozen and a dozen participants, some in costume, most with signs, but no candles. At most, I could stand there with them and hope not to be mistaken for a pedestrian waiting for a light. Maybe it was a cop-out, but I decided I could do more here at my kitchen table on my laptop to voice my opposition to the war than by standing without a sign on a street corner.
From Lavaca, I turned right on 7th to make my way to I-35, which would take me home. As I rounded the corner, a flock of black birds swooped and circled above. This is that strange time of the migratory birds in Austin, when thousands upon thousands of dark, screeching shapes fill the air, swarm the telephone poles, perch on the the power lines. I’ve never lived anywhere that was such a gathering place for this many birds in the fall. Tonight at dusk they were particularly agitated, diving and jerking in mad formations, the air thick with them. They thinned enough as I drove toward I-35 that I could pay more attention to my surroundings. That’s when I saw the intersection of 7th and Neches.
The Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, ARCH, sits on that street corner. Tonight, the homeless were as thick as the birds, crowding all the way around the block. The sound of the crowd’s chatter temporarily blocked that of the birds as I drove by with my window cracked. Some talked, some shouted, some sang, all while they waited for help to get through a chilly, rainy night. One million dollars per troop, per year, I thought. Guns or butter.
This time they wont be tears of joy.
The hope, belief and passion that Obama inspired,
The dreams for the future,
The visions of change.
All that will be become a memory as Obama embraces and escalates a war.
A war that will do nothing to protect our security,
A war that will result in th death of thousands of Americans and Afghans,
A war that will spend billons.
A war that will eat up resources that should be going to jobs, homes, schools, health care.
A war that will hurt rather then help the people of Afghanistan.
A war that will hurt our moral standing and strategic goals.
A very sad day.
Different kind of tears.
Join us in the work ahead to hold our elected officials accountable.
Join us in spreading the films that tell the story with Afghan voices.
Join us in spreading the films that tell the story with Afghan vets.
Join us in spreading the films that tell the story with the CIA.
Whatever our hopes and beliefs and dreams for and with Obama, we cant remain on the sidelines anymore.