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.
Today is Afghanistan Exit Action Day. As Congress prepares to authorize $550 billion in military spending along with an additional $130 billion to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan–more federal dollars than Bush ever requested–Rep. Jim McGovern is proposing a bill that requires Defense Secretary Gates to establish an exit strategy. McGovern intends to propose it as an amendment to the House Armed Services Committee wartime spending bill making its way to the House floor today.
I realize how hard it may seem for Congressional Democrats to require the Obama administration to develop an exit strategy as a condition for continued funding. After all, this is our guy, right? The last thing our guy needs is a Democratic Congress second guessing, making demands, and putting conditions on the war.
But this is exactly what we and the administration need precisely because he is our guy.
Unlike Mr. Limbaugh, we want and need President Obama to succeed. The very real prospect of the United States embedded in an endless war in Afghanistan would undermine everything this administration is trying to do while imperiling the very Congressional Democrats President Obama needs to move his agenda.
Though McGovern currently has 91 co-sponsors, we can get that number to over 100 and give this bill real visibility by the time the House votes on it later today or tomorrow. Call your Representative at (202) 224-3121 and:
1. urge her/him to co-sponsor Rep. Jim McGovern’s Afghanistan Exit Strategy bill – H.R. 2404
2. vote for Rep. McGovern’s amendment to the Defense Authorization bill (H.R. 2647)
$100 billion more in wartime spending. That’s what Congress is hellbent on approving despite valiant efforts from a growing number of Progressives led by FireDogLake’s Jane Hamsher to derail this legislation’s passage in the House. $100 billion, and for what? To bring more troops to Afghanistan without an exit strategy? To further US foreign policy that fails to address the humanitarian needs of the world’s third poorest country? To escalate military operations that directly result in Afghan civilian casualties?
Recently, Anand Gopal, who has been covering the war in Afghanistan for The Christian Science Monitor, dispelled the myths about troop escalation at the America’s Future Now Conference in Washington, DC. The reality, Gopal grimly assessed, is that more troops will mean more incidents of violence. More troops will also mean the need for more airstikes, which, as you can see in the sobering trailer for part four of Rethink Afghanistan, will mean more civilian casualties.
Gopal’s logic follows that of the Carnegie Endowment’s Gilles Dorronsoro, who has said for months that the increased presence of US forces in Afghanistan is the single greatest reason for the Taliban insurgency. And the more they surge, the more Congress will fund more war. To see exactly how US foreign policy is perpetuating this cycle of violence, read Ralph Lopez’s recent blog post and watch the accompanying al Jazeera video. Taliban extremists are using US airstrikes as a recruiting tool, preying upon the survivors, particularly children, who have lost everything in these bombings and suddenly have a chance to act upon their hatred toward the United States.
Fortunately, there are ways to take immediate action and address Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis.
Jane Hamsher was on the Washington Journal this morning to discuss the war supplemental, which the House is debating and voting on right now. This video though (part two of which is here) offers a particularly insightful breakdown of how we got to this point, how the war supplemental suddenly included a massive European bank bailout, and how Rahm Emanuel and the White House started making deals and pressuring members of Congress to gain their support.
Want to know what 21,000 more US troops and $96.7 billion more in wartime spending will go toward? Gen. Petraeus says insurgent attacks in Afghanistan are at their highest level since 2001; there were 400 attacks in the last week alone. Both Generals Petraeus and McChrystal expressed the desire to keep civilian casualties to a minimum, but how can they possibly achieve that lofty goal with more troops on the ground? It stands to reason that more troops will mean more incidents of violence, increasing calls for more US airstrikes, which in turn will mean more civilian casualties.
If Congress approves this wartime funding, there is a good chance we will see more families like the one in the above video, forced into an Internally Displaced Persons camp in Kabul and left to starve in the wake of recent bombings. “The children are crying and asking for food from me,” a helpless father cries. “It has been five nights, we haven’t eaten anything, I don’t know what to do. How can I feed them or get them medication? …Death is better than this kind of life, to be hungry and thirsty.”
There won’t be anyone to pick up the phone at congressional offices this weekend, but you can write letters to the editor in time for the Sunday edition, urging members of Congress to vote against the Supplemental Appropriations Act.
The war supplemental shouldn’t be held hostage to a $100 billion European bank bailout
Four billion in “Cash for Clunkers” is being added to the bill to force progressives to vote for it
Let’s separate these bills and talk about them honestly
The administration has committed itself to transparency. This is not transparent.
Rahm Emanuel is threatening Democratic freshmen if they don’t vote for the bill. We need 39 Democratic votes to defeat it. Already 32 have committed to oppose it. Please write your local paper and urge them to support your member of Congress in voting against the supplemental. (If you don’t know who your member of Congress is, you can look them up here.)
President Obama’s speech in Cairo last week shows that he’s taking the advice of folks urging the U.S. to drop the us-versus-them “War on Terror” rhetorical frame in favor of one that reinforces the idea of a conflict within Islam about the use of violence in political conflict. For quite some time, proponents of “strategic communications” have warned that our way of talking about the conflict between the United States and violent extremism aides Al-Qaida’s efforts to radicalize Muslim populations and recruit new terrorists. By wading into the Koran in his speech, the president seems to be taking their advice. The problem, of course, is that the consequences of our own use of violence, including high numbers of civilian dead, undermine efforts to improve our relations with the Muslim world through better messaging.
Here is a face of the war in Afghanistan. Najibullah, an air raid victim from the Malwand district of Kandahar, points to where three bombs shattered his home during a recent US airstrike. His message to President Obama: Withdraw US forces from Afghanistan at once. “They’re going to leave anyway,” Najibullah says. “It’s better for them to leave Afghanistan on their own terms now rather than later. To leave our country voluntarily. We’re all deformed, people are missing fingers. Look at my finger.” He points to a missing index finger on his right hand. “Some people are missing eyes, some people are missing legs. Some are missing their arms. They destroyed the whole nation.”
This exclusive footage, which Brave New Foundation released today as part of the soon-to-be-released fourth segment of Rethink Afghanistan, stands as an unflinching testament to the rampant devastation wrought by recent US airstrikes in Afghanistan. It should be seen by everyone who attempts to write off the civilian casualties of this war with the dehumanizing phrase “collateral damage.” It should be seen by everyone in Congress considering whether to escalate this quagmire with $96.7 billion in supplemental wartime spending. And it should be seen by Gen. Stanley McChrystal as he submits his review of US strategy in Afghanistan–the fifth review this year–and tries to pretend the war in Afghanistan is not a quagmire that’s destroying the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians like Najibullah.
Congressional leaders are cooperating with the Obama administration in quashing any serious criticism of growing military escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Indications are that there will be no benchmarks or conditions set on the more than $85 billion supplemental appropriation before Congress beginning this week. The administration, which once promised no more rushed supplemental appropriation, is rolling funds for war and swine flu into one package, while not yet disclosing how much is earmarked specifically for Afghanistan.
Rep. David Obey says he wants to give the Obama administration a one-year deadline for results, which likely means making it more difficult to withdraw from a deepening quagmire.
The only current congressional vehicle for dissent is a proposed amendment by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass) that requires the Secretary of Defense to report on an exit strategy from Afghanistan by this December, six months after Congress has appropriated funds for escalating the war. Even that modest measure, with fifty co-sponsors at present, has met with administration resistance to an exit strategy with benchmarks.
Imagine if, on the day in early April when Jiverly Voong walked into the American Civic Association Building in Binghamton, New York, and gunned down 13 people, you read this headline in the news: “Binghamton in shock as police investigate what some critics call ‘mass murder.’” If American newspapers, as well as the TV and radio news were to adopt that as a form, we would, of course, find it absurd. Until proven guilty, a man with a gun may be called “a suspect,” but we know mass murder when we see it. And yet, in one of the Bush administration’s lingering linguistic triumphs, even as information on torture programs pours out, the word “torture” has generally suffered a similar fate.
The agents of that administration, for instance, used what, in the Middle Ages, used to be known bluntly as “the water torture” — we call it “waterboarding” — 183 times in a single month on a single prisoner and yet the other morning I woke up to this formulation on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition: “…harsh interrogations that some consider torture.” And here’s how Gwen Ifill of the News Hour put it the other night: “A tough Senate report out today raised new questions about drastic interrogations of terror suspects in the Bush years.” Or as USA Today typically had it: “Obama opened the door for possible investigation and prosecution of former Bush administration officials who authorized the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ that critics call torture.” Or, for that matter, the New York Times: “…the Bush administration’s use of waterboarding and other techniques that critiques say crossed the line into torture…”
Torture, as a word, except in documents or in the mouths of other people — those “critics” — has evidently lost its descriptive powers in our news world where almost any other formulation is preferred. Often these days the word of choice is “harsh,” or even “brutal,” both substitutes for the anodyne “enhanced” in the Bush administration’s own description of the package of torture “techniques” it institutionalized and justified after the fact in those legal memos. The phrase was, of course, meant to be law-evading, since torture is a crime, not just in international law, but in this country. The fact is that, if you can’t call something what it is, you’re going to have a tough time facing what you’ve done, no less prosecuting crimes committed not quite in its name.