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Nation needs to rethink approach on Afghanistan escalation

By Hank Kalet at Central Jersey

“If they really want to help our people, we don’t need more soldiers.” — unnamed member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan in “This War Must End,” produced by Rethink Afghanistan / Brave New Foundation

Robert Greenwald has spent much of the year talking about Afghanistan — with Afghanis, American soldiers and academics and activists in both countries.

The California filmmaker has been capturing those conversations on film and releasing them in sections on YouTube and his Brave New Foundation Web site, hoping to spread the message virally across the Web and through grassroots screenings like the one scheduled for Monroe on Wednesday to influence the debate in the United States.

He wants us, as the title of the film, to “Rethink Afghanistan.”

I spoke with him by phone last week shortly before President Barack Obama officially unveiled his plan to send 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan and before his short video response — “This War Must End” — was completed. He told me something I’d already come to believe — the American presence in Afghanistan is only inflaming the situation there, and the president is working on the “misguided notion this was making us more secure.”

President Obama, he said, “should look at the fundamental issues”: why we are there and what our true security interests are, who the enemy is and what our presence is doing on the ground.

Instead, he said, the internal discussion — described in detail in The New York Times on Sunday — “was a travesty of a debate.”

”It was whether to have 10,000, 20,000 or 30,000 more troops,” he said. “It should have been asking why are we there? What are our security interests? If al Qaida is the enemy, then what is the most effective way to get the less than 100 members who are in Afghanistan?”

Just as importantly, he added, “How do you justify the billions of billions of dollars (on the war) when there is not enough money for health care, for jobs, for housing.”

The Rev. Robert Moore, of the Coalition for Peace Action, who will be speaking in Monroe after the screening, called the president’s announced escalation “reminiscent of Vietnam, so reminiscent in a scary way and in a troubling way.”

The Afghan government lacks legitimacy, he told me last week, and the war’s cost — in both blood and treasure — will make it more difficult for the president to move forward with the more progressive elements of his domestic agenda.

”We’re heading down the same road in Afghanistan,” he said. “I don’t find the president’s arguments convincing. Even the idea that we’ll start withdrawing — there are so many caveats, the conditions on the ground, that it’s only a goal. Once we start on that road, the conditions for withdrawal are never met.”

That’s because the military option is the wrong one for battling terrorism. Terrorism is a symptom of other ailments, larger ailments that are exacerbated by war. Poverty, for instance, cannot be addressed by sending in jet fighters and tanks. In fact, the dislocations created by war — the poverty and rootlessness that come with the fragmentation of communities and families and the destruction of infrastructure (roads, schools, water and sewer lines) — tend to create conditions that breed more terrorists.

 

The reality is we are in for a long and expensive war and occupation in Afghanistan that will bankrupt the nation, with every dollar spent on the war leaving us less secure economically.

”For just 9 percent of what we’re spending on the military” — about $100 billion, which includes military-related costs in the energy, homeland security, state and other departments — “we could have a robust antipoverty program,” the Rev. Moore said.

That, he said, would do a lot more for American security than spending $1 million per soldier in Afghanistan. The money spent on one soldier, he said, would create dozens of jobs here in the United States.

”We can’t have both guns and butter,” he said. “We need the butter badly at home right now. The more we spend on guns overseas on a war that will not stop terrorism, the more we undermine our true security both overseas and at home.”

We must get out of Afghanistan — and sooner rather than later. This is what the Afghanis want and what they need to move forward.

If you don’t believe me, watch Mr. Greenwald’s film and listen to what the Afghan people have to say.

• ”Rethink Afghanistan” will be shown at Wednesday’s meeting of the Coalition of Peace Action of Monroe Township at 10 a.m. at the Monroe Township Municipal Building, just off Perrineville Road and will be followed by a discussion of the film with the Rev. Moore.

• The film also can be found at www.rethinkafghanistan.com.