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.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is showing his Bush Administration credentials by tossing around any and all justifications for continued U.S. military action in Afghanistan to see what sticks. Lately, he’s been pushing the goofy idea that we have to maintain or expand our military presence in Afghanistan so that extremists can never brag to their friends.
There have been plenty of reasons given for keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan: denying Al Qaeda and their allies a sanctuary, saving the locals from some rather ruthless theocrats, preventing another 9/11. To that Defense Secretary added a different rationale Monday night. He wants to keep Osama’s legions from scoring a propaganda win.
…Defining al-Qaeda as both an ideology and an organization, Gates said their ability to successfully “challenge not only the United States, but NATO — 42 nations and so on” on such a symbolically important battlefield would represent “a hugely empowering message” for an organization whose narrative has suffered much in the eight years since 9/11.
Though the Pentagon finally took responsibility for the Afghan civilian deaths in last month’s Farah province airstrikes, we’re only seeing minor adjustments toward a deeply flawed military strategy in need of a complete overhaul.
Late last week, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said US troops were responsible for civilian casualties in the May 4 airstrike, during which B-1 bombers unleashed three 2000 lb bombs and five 500 lb bombs on a village compound, killing up to 140 Afghan civilians. Following Mullen’s admission, Gen. Stanley McChrystal announced plans to limit the use of these deadly airstrikes in populated areas. Meanwhile, McChrystal will also issue orders in the coming days to disengage from combat whenever possible in order to reduce the number of civilian casualties. According to McChrystal’s spokesman, Rear Admiral Greg Smith, “Even if you are receiving fire from a structure, the first question you have to ask is: ‘Can I de-escalate the situation by removing my force or relocating it’?”
Shouldn’t commanders on the ground have been asking themselves this question all along? And why has it taken military leaders this long to restrict airstrikes to more uninhabited areas? Either limiting airstrikes and calling for disengagement signals a genuine shift in military strategy, or this is just a PR maneuver on McChrystal’s end–an attempt to save face because the soaring civilian death toll could quickly become inversely proportionate to the war’s popularity. I’m betting on the latter, considering McChrystal’s predecessor, Gen. McKiernan, tried a similiar tactical shift last year when US airstrikes resulted in an inordinate number of civilian deaths. As I noted last week, this could easily be part of the Pentagon’s plan to take greater control of the media narrative regarding the war.
Either way, you can take action and ensure the Pentagon takes further steps to disengage from the war in Afghanistan altogether. By becoming a Peacemaker, you’ll be alerted whenever there are civilian casualties to call our government and protest the current US foreign policy. Then, support Rep. Jim McGovern’s calls for an exit strategy.
The national anti-war group Peace Action has released a new briefing paper titled “Afghanistan and Pakistan: Myths and Facts” that looks at some of the commonly cited arguments in support of the Afghanistan War.
Unfortunately, after seven years of war, we’re still at the stage where a lot of educational work is needed on Afghanistan before there will likely be a successful push to curtail the war and end the U.S. occupation (after all, we’re still in Iraq and there was much more significant opposition to that war), to that end, we are reprinting Peace Action’s factsheet below:
1. MYTH: Expanded US military activity furthers national security and upholds our national values.
FACT: Widening the war will be counterproductive both to our national security objectives and to our national values. As is already evident, it will de-stabilize the region, including Pakistan. Americans will also be increasingly causing the deaths of many women, children, elderly and other innocent civilians and disrupting the efforts of thousands of Afghan villagers to flee their villages in order to escape the spreading violence.
2. MYTH: Winning the war in Afghanistan requires a military victory for US forces.
FACT: Secretary of Defense Gates, Secretary of State Clinton, National Security Advisor Jones, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mullen, and even President Obama, himself, each have acknowledged that the internal conflict in Afghanistan cannot finally be won by military means. They have publicly agreed that it will have to be won, if it can, by dramatic improvements in the economy, the political system, government services, and the courts.
All along there were two US wars in Iraq. There was the public war, in which the Pentagon tried to manipulate the mainstream media into being a “message amplifier,” while some intrepid reporters and bloggers fought back. Then there was the secret war carried out by the Special Operations forces, whose existence was denied even by the Pentagon.
Now the secret operations threaten to completely compromise what remains of the public war in Afghanistan and Pakistan with the ascension of Gen. Stanley McChrystal to top commander from his classified role in running Special Ops in Iraq for five years.
When questioned by the media or senators presiding at his confirmation hearing in a few weeks, Gen. McChrystal may have a simple answer to anything troubling: sorry, that is classified.
The mystique of secrecy may come to shroud all public inquiry about Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are questions to be answered, however.
The war in Afghanistan has been overshadowed in recent weeks by the crisis next door in Pakistan, but no more. Secretary of Defense Gates has fired the US commander there, General David McKiernan, and replaced him with a counterinsurgency specialist with a spotty track record, General Stanley McChrystal. It’s the first time a wartime commander was fired since Harry Truman got rid of General Douglas MacArthur in the Korean War.
Don’t expect any quick improvement on the battlefront.
A smart commentary on the dual crises in Afghanistan and Pakistan came from Selig Harrison, a longtime expert on Asia at the Center for International Policy, in yesterday’s Washington Post. He raises the critical issue of ethnic Pashtun support for the Taliban. Pashtuns make up about half of Afghanistan’s population and dominate the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan. Even though most Pashtuns don’t support the Taliban or their extremist ideas, the Taliban are nearly entirely Pashtun in both countries. The US war effort, including air strikes in Afghanistan and drone attacks in Pakistan that kill civilians, are inflaming Pashtun sentiments, and driving Pashtuns and Taliban together.
No matter where you stand on escalation in Afghanistan – whether you agree with me that Afghanistan no longer threatens our national security and therefore more troops are not necessary or not – it is hard not to agree that we need an exit strategy for the Afghanistan war.
This is not to say we need a withdrawal timetable, as much as I’d like to see that. Simply, it means that our military leaders should articulate an achievable, measurable blueprint for ending the war in Afghanistan. It’s only common sense. America does not and should not fight never-ending wars. Afghanistan is no exception.
Remember all those promises from US commanders in Afghanistan, the promises made after each killing of large numbers of Afghan civilians, sometimes by air strikes, sometimes by ground forces during raids? After each incident – at least as far back as July 2007 – the commanders issue new pledges that US forces will change their rules of engagement, will take more care, will be more cautious to avoid more murders of Afghan civilians. In fact in April, Defense Secretary Gates said:
“General McKiernan has taken some significant steps in terms of changing the way we go about our operations in Afghanistan, including by the Special Forces, to try and take even further measures to avoid civilian casualties and to avoid antagonizing the local population. This is something I worry about a lot. If we lose the Afghan people, we have lost the war,” he said.
Of course, he made the same pledge back in September when he said that “While no military has ever done more to prevent civilian casualties, it is clear that we have to work even harder.”
Where is the Change President when it comes to Afghanistan? In President Obama’s first 100 days, we have seen more U.S. raids and air strikes that kill innocent Afghan civilians, fueling animosity toward the U.S. as violence is up 79 percent across Afghanistan when compared to the same period last year. We have heard calls for 21,000 additional troops and tens of billions more in war funding. What we haven’t heard are clearly defined goals, an exit strategy, benchmarks to measure progress, and a timetable for withdrawal. What we haven’t seen is a President willing to break with his predecessor on Afghanistan by prioritizing regional diplomacy and humanitarian aid above military escalation. Here’s why Obama gets a ‘D’ for his first 100 days in Afghanistan.
President Obama made his intentions for this war known even before taking office. He referred to Afghanistan as the “good war” and the “central front to the war on terror.” Even more alarming than this rhetoric was Obama’s decision to surround himself with hawkish holdovers from the Bush era: Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Adm. Mike Mullen, Gen. David Petraeus, Gen. David Kilcullen, and Gen. David McKiernan. This team has thus far dashed any hopes of a more sophisticated approach toward Middle East foreign policy as they continue to militarize a political problem.
President Obama’s stated goal of escalating this war in order to prevent Afghanistan from regressing into terrorist “safe haven” is highly dubious. As John Mueller, an Ohio State Political Science Professor and author of Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them, recently suggested, the Obama administration is greatly overplaying the dangers posed by al Qaeda and militant Taliban members in Afghanistan. If and when we negotiate with moderate elements of the Taliban, they will be unlikely to allow al Qaeda to operate within Afghanistan and risk another U.S. military intervention. And a negotiated settlement, as foreign policy experts like Leslie Gelb have argued, seems to be our best option in Afghanistan, as long as it arrives with strong international pressure and economic incentives. What’s more, according to Carnegie Endowment’s Gilles Dorronsoro, the increased presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is the primary reason for the Taliban insurgency, while withdrawing troops would enable us to focus on capturing al Qaeda terrorists in the region. In other words, a broad counter-insurgency will negate legitimate counter-terrorism efforts.
This week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee. They will try to make a case for an additional $83 billion in supplemental war funding. All over the country, people are raising pressing questions about the war that must be answered before Congress votes on this supplemental bill. Watch some of the ones submitted to us that we sent to Congress, then call your Senators and urge them to ask Secretaries Gates and Clinton the imperative questions:
Why are taxpayers funding a prohibitively expensive war that will jeopardize economic recovery?
Why are we militarizing a political problem when more troops will only fuel anti-American sentiment?
Won’t escalation further destabilize an already precarious situation in Pakistan?
Call your Senator on the Appropriations Committee to make your voice heard. Tell them all of the critical questions that they should ask this Thursday. Use Rethink Afghanistan and be creative when expressing your questions about the war, but also please be polite on the phone so we can ensure your voice is heard! Then, let us know you made the call. If your Senator is not on the Appropriations Committee, contact Chairman Daniel Inouye.
Keep in mind this war funding bill will bring the running tab for Iraq and Afghanistan to nearly $1 trillion in upfront costs. It will create, as Tom Engelhardt wrote recently, “a vast financial hemorrhage, an economic sinkhole.” An email petition won’t do it, your voice must be heard — call now!