Campaign archives for Rethink Afghanistan

For Tax Day: An Afghan War Cost Calculator

by Variety April 15, 2011

Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films has been one of the earliest and most consistent industry critics of President Obama’s continuation of the war in Afghanistan, and his org now is tying the cost of the conflict with theo ongoing budget debate.

They’ve set up a Tax Day calculator where taxpayers can determine how much they are each paying for the cost of the war. Obviously, the intent is to startle people when the see the amount, especially when it gets into the four figures.

On Thursday, Greenwald’s org was on Capitol Hill for a press conference featuring Rep. Raul Grijalva (R-Arizona), Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.). “Don’t you think we could bribe the officials … for one-tenth of the price?” Rohrabacher quipped. BraveNewFilms is an unabashedly progressive org, with an ongoing campaign on the Koch Brothers, but it has tapped into bipartisan opposition to the war.

Video from the press conference below.

The War In Afghanistan: How Much Are You Paying?

by Huffington Post - April 18, 2011

WASHINGTON — As Americans breathe a sigh of relief over finally filing the returns on what they owe (or are owed from) Uncle Sam this Tax Day, the progressive group Rethink Afghanistan wants them to consider how much of their money is funding the war in Afghanistan, now in its 10th year.

The group, a project of the Brave New Foundation, has created a Cost of War calculator, allowing Americans to figure out how much of their tax dollars are going toward the war, based on their income and filing status.

For example, a single person making $40,000 in 2010 essentially paid $1,694 for the war. A married couple filing jointly and earning a combined $100,000 has $4,757 of their tax dollars going toward the effort.

The United States is spending more than $100 billion a year in Afghanistan, amounting to about $2 billion a week.

The Defense Department received $513 billion in funding in the FY 2011 continuing resolution, approximately $5 billion above last year’s level. Another $158 billion is provided for overseas contingency operations (emergency funding). The war in Afghanistan will receive $108 billion of that funding, while the war in Iraq will receive $50 billion.

Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, along with groups like the Liberty Coalition and Sojourners, participated in an event hosted by Rethink Afghanistan on Capitol Hill highlighting the cost of war.

“We can’t pay our bills here, yet we’re spending $8 billion a month in Afghanistan,” Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), one of the event’s panelists, recently told The New York Times. “I don’t know what our country is trying to accomplish. History says Afghanistan will never be a nation. It will be a country of tribes. We’re wearing out the troops and spending money we don’t have.”

n a CNN interview last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he’s not “confident” that the war in Afghanistan will be successful, remarking, “[T]he American people have, and rightfully so, a very short attention span. We cannot continue to keep dumping this money. … Think of what that would do for renewable energy for this country.”

Defense Spending Rises In Budget Bills, Despite U.S. Drawdown In Iraq And Afghanistan

by Huffington Post - April 12, 2011

WASHINGTON — As the United States draws down its military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, more foreign assistance workers will be needed to go in and help rebuild the war-torn countries.

Yet the FY 2011 continuing resolution (CR) released by the House on Tuesday cuts funding for the State Department and increases it for the Defense Department. House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) FY 2012 budget does the same over the next decade.

The Defense Department’s funding in the CR is $513 billion, approximately $5 billion above last year’s level. Another $158 billion is provided for overseas contingency operations (emergency funding). The war in Afghanistan is receiving $108 billion of that, while the war in Iraq is receiving $50 billion, according to a House Appropriations Committee staffer.

The State Department and Foreign Operations, on the other hand, receive $48.3 billion, which is a $504 million reduction from last year’s level and an $8.4 billion reduction from President Obama’s FY 2011 request.

Matt Dennis, communications director for Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who is the ranking member of the House Appropriation Committee’s State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, stressed that while the level is not ideal, they were generally pleased with how the deal came out — especially with the fact that the global gag rule was not reinstated and funding for international family planning was preserved.

“Obviously, we can’t declare total victory here. There are lower funding levels than what we would have for a whole variety of accounts,” said Dennis, adding, “In this political environment, meeting the President’s request was always going to be difficult.”

Ryan’s FY 2012 budget essentially does the same as the CR — it boosts Defense Department spending while slashing international affairs. Under his plan, funding for national defense would rise approximately $12 billion each year through FY 2021. International affairs spending, meanwhile, would steadily drop through FY 2017, and then rise again through FY 2021, but it still wouldn’t go back up to current levels.

Story continues below


“The Ryan budget is objectionable on a number of levels,” said Dennis. “The State and Foreign Operations budget is 1 percent of the federal budget, the diplomatic and development initiatives it supports are critical to our national security. The Defense Department occupies a much larger piece of the budget, obviously, and any honest discussion efficiencies and cost-savings has to include the Defense Department.”

Ryan’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

The Huffington Post put together a graphic showing the spending levels proposed in Ryan’s budget:

Former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley argued that the State Department is essentially facing a double cut. Not only is Congress trimming money from this year’s budget proposal, but it’s also creating a new, reduced baseline for future spending.

“The actual cuts in FY 2011 and anticipated reductions [in] FY 2012 come as international responsibilities for the Department of State and USAID are actually expanding in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Egypt,” wrote Crowley in an email to The Huffington Post.

“There is simply no way to execute current overseas contingency operations plans at these budget levels,” the email continued. “Our programs for Iraq and Afghanistan will have to be reduced. We will not be in as strong a position to influence current events in the Middle East. The choices that Congress is making are upside down. At a time when military requirements are ending in Iraq and beginning to transition in Afghanistan, defense spending is going up. As these responsibilities are shifting to the civilian component of our national security strategy, funding for diplomacy and development is going down. This makes no sense.”

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday, NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell also commented on the difficult situation that the State Department will find itself in.

“[W]e’re talking about doing more diplomatically,” said Mitchell. “You’ve got the Middle East in turmoil. You’ve got the State Department and the U.N. stepping up to the plate more in Libya through NATO and letting the French and the U.N. do it in Côte d’Ivoire — the Ivory Coast.”

“Yet at the same time, in this short-term budget deal, you’re cutting foreign aid,” she continued. “You want our soldiers out of Iraq. You want our soldiers out of Afghanistan. That’s what most Americans would say — maybe evenly divided, but I think that’s where public opinion is divided. So it’s supposed to become a more civilian, diplomatic operation. You’re going to have to protect these diplomats going out in the field in Iraq, and we don’t have anyone to do that. We’re going to have to pay contractors.”

The FY 2011 CR also includes a prohibition on pay raises for foreign service officers and a $377 million cut to U.S. contributions to the United Nations and international organizations.

Ryan’s budget blueprint does accept Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ identification of $178 billion in savings over the next five years. But just $78 billion would be applied to deficit reduction — the other $100 billion would be spent elsewhere in the military. Lawrence Korb and Laura Conley at the Center for American Progress point out that Gates’ plan “only slows down the rise of projected spending, rather than producing a much-needed reduction in the budget topline.”

The cost of the war in Afghanistan will be hotly debated during an event on Thursday, coming just a few days before Americans’ taxes are due. The event will feature a bipartisan group of lawmakers discussing the cost of the Afghanistan war, along with veterans and representatives of groups like the Liberty Coalition and Sojourners.

The group Rethink Afghanistan, meanwhile, has created a war calculator, allowing users to figure out how much of their federal income taxes went to pay for the war in Afghanistan this past year. They can then send the information directly to their lawmakers.

“The authentic annual national security budget approximates a staggering $1.2 trillion,” said constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein, who served as associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan and will be a speaker at the event. “That military opulence is making the United States less free, less safe, and less prosperous. Our global projection of military force and assertion of a uniquely American unilateral right to commence war against any other nation under the banner of ‘regional stability’ or the ‘credibility of the United Nations Security Council’ creates more enemies than it eliminates.”

UPDATE: 9:16 p.m. – In Tuesday’s State Department briefing, acting deputy spokesperson Mark Toner addressed the budget cuts:

Q: On the CR, in your view, is State taking a disproportionate hit compared to what other departments are?

TONER: Well, look, it’s these are austere times, and we recognize that, and we’re, right now, just kind of assessing what those hits are and where they’ll be taken, and I can certainly try to get more information for you on that. But I think there’s a recognition that, as Tom Nides said when he was up here, that we had already prepared a lean budget for lean times. And so we recognize the times in which we are operating, and we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that we maintain our core functions.

Q: You’ve got to have some idea of what this will actually mean. Like $377 million less for the United Nations, where was that money supposed to go? What would – who would that have impacted?

TONER: Again, I – there’s a lot of figures being bandied about. We’re, at this point, still sort of assessing where it’s going to come from and what exactly programs that are going to be affected, and I’ll try to get more details for you on that.

Q: But the House Appropriations Committee made it very clear, $194 million for food assistance is going to go away. So those are real people. What’s the impact going to be for those people?

TONER: Look, I’m not denying that these are going to have – these kinds of cuts are going to have an effect on our ability to carry out our programs effectively, but we are going to do our utmost to ensure that that’s minimized.

Woe to You, Legislators

by Jim Wallis at the Huffington Post– April 15,  2011

It is reported that Congressman Paul Ryan makes every member of his staff read philosopher Ayn Rand, the shameless promoter of the gospel of aggressive self-interest. This makes sense to me as I read Congressman Ryan’s new budget proposal. I wish he had his staff reading the Bible instead.

While widely lauded by conservatives, Congressman Ryan’s budget isn’t really about deficit reduction. It’s about choices — choices that will determine what kind of a country we become. And Paul Ryan has made the choice to hurt people who don’t have the political clout to defend themselves. Two-thirds of the long term budget cuts that Ryan proposed are directed at modest and low-income people, as well as the poorest of the poor at home and abroad. At the same time, he proposed tax cuts up to 30 percent for some of our country’s wealthiest corporations. Let me say that again: Two-thirds of the cuts come at the expense of already struggling people and families, while corporations posting record profits get tax breaks. In short, the most vulnerable members of society are being attacked by Ryan and his supporters. This makes them bullies.

In dramatic contrast, Ryan has chosen to help the people who need help the least. Wealthy individuals and companies reap a windfall of benefits in Ryan’s plan — with tax cuts and breaks, continued subsidies and loopholes for every powerful special interest, and increased corporate welfare payments from the government. Congressman Ryan and his supporters have carefully and faithfully rewarded the rich people who make their campaign contributions, and, in most cases, have also rewarded themselves as rich people. This makes them corrupt.

And, as self-professed budget hawks, they have completely ignored the most consistently egregious, wasteful, and morally compromised area of the whole federal budget — our endless and unaccountable military spending. Paul Ryan and the Republicans would cut nothing from the Pentagon profligacy. This makes them hypocrites.

You may think that my language sounds too strong: “bullies”, “corrupt”, “hypocrites.” But listen to the prophet Isaiah:

“Doom to you who legislate evil, who make laws that make victims — laws that make misery for the poor, that rob my destitute people of dignity, exploiting defenseless widows, taking advantage of homeless children. What will you have to say on Judgment Day, when Doomsday arrives out of the blue? Who will you get to help you? What good will your money do you?” (Isaiah 10:1-3, The Message)

Ryan’s budget seems to follow, almost line by line, the “oppressive statues” Isaiah rails against. Ryan’s budget slashes health care for the poor and elderly by gutting Medicaid and undermining Medicare, and cuts funding for food stamps, early childhood development programs, low-income housing assistance, and educational programs for students.

Cuts of this magnitude for people of modest and low-incomes will result in a direct increase of poverty and misery in America. Furthermore, poverty-focused international assistance proven to save lives is under continued attack. As Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson said, not all cuts are equal because some will lead to “a fever and a small coffin.”

Simply put, the Ryan budget is a bonanza for the rich and devastation for the poor, and it will never be accepted by the religious community. And I don’t believe Ryan’s budget expresses the values of the American people. I just don’t believe it. (You can click here if it doesn’t represent your values.)

Of course, many Americans, including the faith community, believe that rising deficits are immoral and a threat to our future. But how you reduce a deficit is also a moral issue, and to do so by further impoverishing the poor in order to add more wealth to the wealthy is not an acceptable political or moral strategy.

Ayn Rand said, “Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue,” and she made no apology for not liking the teachings of Jesus. But for those of us who do aim to live out the teachings of Jesus, the Paul Ryan budget is a moral non-starter.

Yesterday, as President Obama offered his budget, he both failed and succeeded. What Obama failed to say was that we are currently wasting lives and billions of dollars in Afghanistan on a strategy that fails to make us any safer. Today, I am joining with some fiscal conservatives and Republican members of Congress at a “ReThink Afghanistan” press conference. We don’t agree on a lot of other budget issues, but we are united in our belief that we are wasting lives and money with misguided strategy in Afghanistan. For those who truly care about the deficit, I believe this is the first place we should start cutting.

The president succeeded yesterday by making this important statement: “In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of all working Americans actually declined. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. That’s who needs to pay less taxes? They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors each to pay $6,000 more in health costs. That’s not right. And it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.”

This last line was the clearest message we’ve heard for some time from the White House. It’s a message President Obama will have to repeat over and over again in the months ahead against all the pressures to compromise. Presidents sometimes have to draw some clear lines in the sand, and the time for this president to do that is now.

The Nation: Obama Should Fight For ‘People’s Budget’

Via NPR by Katrina vanden Heuvel from The Nation – April 15,  2011

Katrina vanden Heuvel is the editor and publisher of The Nation. She is a frequent commentator on MSNBC, CNN and PBS.

On Wednesday, President Obama spoke in eloquent language of our social contract, of a progressive patriotism, and of a role for government that helps us “do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.” It was a clear rebuke to the GOP’s Robin Hood in Reverse agenda — taking from the poor and middle-class in order to preserve tax breaks for corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

Obama made the right choice in defending Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and pushing instead for healthcare reform — even putting negotiating drug prices on the table. He again refused to renew the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy — a pledge he has made and broken in the past. He also called for cuts in a defense budget that has contributed 2 out of 3 dollars in increased discretionary spending since 2001.

Yet in many ways his approach continues to legitimize the inside-the-beltway consensus that spending cuts must lead the way toward achieving fiscal responsibility. Just as the Simpson-Bowles Commission proposes, for every $1 raised by closing tax loopholes on wealthy Americans, the President proposes $2 in spending cuts. Two-thirds of those cuts would come from education, health and other social programs, while only one-third comes from the military budget. While the president speaks eloquently of his vision of “shared sacrifice,” in reality it is still a budget that hits the poor and the middle-class hardest while wealthy Americans and the military are asked to sacrifice far less.

An alternative approach that deserves more attention is the “People’s Budget” offered by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). It will be introduced in the House on Thursday and it is the strongest rebuke — in the form of an amendment — to the unconscionable “Ryan Budget” for FY 2012. It’s a budget that gives the people — according to poll after poll — exactly what they want (something which shouldn’t be a rarity in a healthy, vibrant democracy).

The People’s Budget lays out what a robust progressive agenda looks like. It protects an already frayed social net and promotes a progressive tax policy that makes millionaires, billionaires, and big corporations pay their fair share. It doesn’t stop at cutting the low-hanging fruit at the Pentagon, instead it brings our troops home from two wars that cost trillions of dollars and do nothing to make the U.S. safer, and resets and rethinks what real security means in the 21st century.

“The People’s Budget generates a government surplus by 2021 by closing tax loopholes, ending corporate giveaways to oil, gas and nuclear entities, bringing our troops home, and creating jobs that expand the American tax base,” said Representative Raul Grijalva, co-chair of the CPC. “This is a sensible solution that listens to what the American people have said about where our budget priorities should be.”

A range of smart groups and allies are pursuing an inside-outside strategy to push these kinds of wiser solutions on the table in our skewed debate. On Thursday, a bipartisan group of Members of Congress and veterans will hold a press conference to discuss Rethink Afghanistan’s War Tax I.O.U. campaign. The campaign features an online tool that calculates the amount of income tax an individual is paying towards the war, and users then receive an “I.O.U.” for that amount. Over 54,000 constituents have forwarded those I.O.U.s to their representatives, urging them to rethink the excessive levels of war spending that are wreaking havoc on the federal budget.

While President Obama broke the silence about revenue in the current deficit debate, a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies — “Unnecessary Austerity” — outlines a bold plan for how Congress could raise more than $4 trillion over the next decade by reversing years of tax giveaways to the richest Americans and largest corporations. The eight new potential revenue sources, include: closing overseas tax havens; adding new tax brackets for households with more than $1 million in annual income; and instituting a modest financial transaction tax.

“Congress has prioritized tax cuts for the wealthy and failed to crack down on corporate tax dodgers, fueling a budget crisis,” said report co-author and Nation contributor Chuck Collins.

Joining the fight for a more sane approach to tax policy is a group of 700 business leaders and individuals in the top 5 percent of wealth and income who make up the Responsible Wealth network. Along with United for a Fair Economy, Responsible Wealth’s new Tax Wealth Like Work Campaign focuses attention on the discrepancies in the tax system that reward income from wealth over income from work. Capital gains and dividend income are taxed at a top rate of only 15 percent, while income earned from work is taxed at a top rate of 35 percent.

As Congress and cash-strapped states struggle to balance budgets, these wealthy people are urging that the income from their investment portfolios be taxed at the same rate as work income. That was done in the late 1980s under Presidents Reagan and Bush, and restoring the rates would raise $84 billion in 2011. The campaign is also building support for Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s Fairness in Taxation Act which would tax capital gains and dividend income as ordinary income for taxpayers with income over $1 million, and create higher income tax brackets for millionaires and billionaires.

Finally, this weekend and on Tax Day, U.S. Uncut and MoveOn will provide some street heat, hitting the pavement in actions coast-to-coast, demanding that corporations making billions in profits but pay nothing in taxes pay their fair share.

President Obama’s speech this week starts to move the budget debate in the right direction. But it’s up to the people and allies inside Congress to take the struggle to the next level, turning the tide on our democracy deficit which has produced — as Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz recently put it — a country “of the one percent, for the one percent, and by the one percent.”

McGovern highlights costs of Afghan war

by Farah Stockman of the Boston Globe- April 14, 2011

Representative James McGovern, a Worcester Democrat, joined a bipartisan effort to link the escalating budget deficit with the on-going costs of the Afghan war.

“This week we are debating a budget that purports to represent new fiscal restraint, yet continues to borrow tens of billions of dollars for the war in Afghanistan,” McGovern said Thursday at an event on Capitol Hill organized by Brave New Foundation, a California-based social justice organization. “I’m tired of being told that we don’t have enough money for education or infrastructure or medical research, but we can afford to spend billions of dollars propping up a corrupt regime in Kabul.”

McGovern has been working with Representative Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, to introduce legislation as early as May that would require exit strategy from Afghanistan.

“President Obama has said that we will begin to withdraw our troops in July of this year. We must hold him to that promise,” McGovern said. “Rather than nation-building in Afghanistan, we need to do some more nation-building right here at home.”

The event was part of a Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan campaign, which seeks to highlight the costs of the war by building a web site that calculates how much an American citizen has contributed to the war’s cost.

A Motley Consensus on the Afghanistan Line Item

by James Dao of the New York Times- April 14, 2011

It isn’t every day that liberals like Representative Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, appear at Capitol Hill news conferences with conservative stalwarts like Representative Walter B. Jones, a Republican from North Carolina.

But the war in Afghanistan has made for some unusual bedfellows. On Thursday, the two congressmen, along with a mashup of conservative, liberal and even libertarian lawmakers and organizations found common ground in calling for an end to the war in Afghanistan.

They did not all see eye to eye on how or why the United States should get out of Afghanistan. Conservatives like Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California, and Mr. Jones said they thought spending tax dollars on nation-building in Afghanistan was a waste of money. Democrats like Representatives Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey, both from California, discussed investing military dollars on domestic programs.

And while some called for withdrawing all troops as soon as possible, others supported keeping as many as 20,000 American forces in the country for several years.

But there was broad agreement among the participants that the time had come to sharply reduce spending not just on the war but on the military in general.

“We can’t pay our bills here, yet we’re spending $8 billion a month in Afghanistan,” Mr. Jones said in a telephone interview. “I don’t know what our country is trying to accomplish. History says Afghanistan will never be a nation. It will be a country of tribes. We’re wearing out the troops and spending money we don’t have.”

Mr. Jones, whose district includes Camp Lejeune, the Marines Corps base, has never been a shrinking violet about supporting the military. But for more than a year, he has been outspoken in his opposition to the war in Afghanistan.

On Friday, Mr. Jones said he and Mr. McGovern planned to introduce legislation that would require the president to send Congress a plan with a timetable and completion date for handing over all military operations in Afghanistan to the Afghan government.

The goal, Mr. Jones said, would be a much faster withdrawal of American forces than currently envisioned by the Obama administration, which says it will begin a gradual drawn down of troops starting this summer and ending in 2014.

“It absolutely must be faster than 2014,” Mr. Jones said. “How many more will die or be wounded before 2014?”

Jacob Diliberto, executive director of an antiwar group, Veterans for Rethinking Afghanistan, said he thought that the national focus on reducing the deficit would give added momentum to their campaign.

“It is politically savvy to support this,” said Mr. Diliberto, a former Marine who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and who has also been an evangelical minister. “I think if a Republican is going to win in 2012, they have to raise these issues.”

Thursday’s event was organized in large part by Rethink Afghanistan, an antiwar project of the Brave New Foundation, a liberal organization. Timed to tax day on April 18, Rethink Afghanistan has created a website called Afghanistan War Tax Calculator that estimates how much of an individual’s income goes toward financing the war.

It seems unlikely that the Jones-McGovern bill has much chance of passing. But Mr. Jones said he believed that there was growing disenchantment with the war on the right. Most of the freshmen conservatives elected with Tea Party support have called for ending American involvement in the war, he said.

He also sees growing support for withdrawing American forces in his solidly conservative district. “I see a lot of active-duty Marines who tell me, ‘We will never win this war,’” he said.

Robert Greenwald on MSNBC Live with Cenk Uygur – February 24, 2011‬

by MSNBC on February 24, 2011

Damning New Report Shows U.S. Strategy Blocking Chance for Peace in Afghanistan

The new report from NYU’s Center for International Cooperation is a damning description of the U.S. policies in Afghanistan since 2001, and a warning that the escalated military strategy blocks the road to peace while making the Taliban more dangerous.

Separating the Taliban from al-Qaeda: The Core of Success in Afghanistan (.pdf) is the latest in a continuous string of statements from Afghanistan experts that the U.S. war policies that were launched a year ago aren’t making us safer and aren’t worth the substantial costs: $1 million per U.S. troop in Afghanistan per year, for a total of more than $375.5 billion wasted so far. The report is written by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, Kandahar-based researchers who’ve spent more than four years researching the Taliban and the recent history of southern Afghanistan.

George W. Bush’s Leftovers: Mistaking Taliban for Al Qaeda

The main target of criticism in the report is the major conceit passed from the Bush Administration to the Obama Administration on Afghanistan: the conflation of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The authors warn that,

“The claim that the link between the Taliban and al-Qaeda is stronger than ever, or unbreakable, is potentially a major intelligence failure that hinders the United States and the international community from achieving their core objectives.” (p. 4)

Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn summarize a history of the Taliban/Al Qaeda relationship that is likely unfamiliar to most Westerners. As a movement, the Taliban rank-and-file grew out of a history almost totally isolated from the developments in political Islam that formed the experience of Al Qaeda’s leadership, and the core leadership of both groups had little interaction in their organizations’ early years. The Taliban’s ambitions were and are plainly local, while Al Qaeda’s are oriented toward the idea of an international jihad against “Zionists and crusaders.” While we in the Western world may find the Taliban’s program of social hyper-conservatism objectionable in its own right, they are not al-Qaeda.

We all know, however, that the mindset of George W. Bush and his administration lacked nuance. His “with us or against us” rhetoric conflated the Taliban with al Qaeda. That conflation effectively short-circuited early attempts to reintegrate Taliban elements willing to work with the new order in Afghanistan:

“The counterterrorism policies of the United States at that time threatened the security of Taliban who might have been willing to join the process, and Afghan officials with whom the Taliban communicated said they could not protect them from detention by the United States. The strong interests of neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Iran also helped steer Taliban leaders towards taking up arms once again. By 2003 they had regrouped and put command structures in place, connecting to local groups inside Afghanistan to begin an insurgency.”

In short, had the U.S. adopted a more nuanced approach in distinguishing Taliban from Al Qaeda, we might not be facing the insurgency that’s continuing its march across Afghanistan.

President Obama may have a more intellectual way of conflating the threat, “Al Qaeda and their extremist allies” who may provide “safe haven” if they retake Afghanistan, but the essential counterproductive flaw in the thinking remains. U.S. policy talks a big game about reconciling with the “small t taliban,” but our conflation of the Taliban and Al Qaeda blocks any serious attempt at a political settlement. Worse, U.S. military strategies are taking a group that’s distinct from Al Qaeda and making it more vulnerable to Al Qaeda influence.

We’re Making the Taliban More Al Qaeda-Like

Part of the new escalated military campaign in Afghanistan was a massive increase in the number of night raids and other killings of Taliban leadership. The problem is that when the older, more locally focused leaders are killed, they are replaced by a younger breed of commander who’s typically much more radical, and their slow takeover of the insurgency is making it much more dangerous to the interests of the United States.

According to the report,

“These newer generations are potentially a more serious threat. With little or no memory of Afghan society prior to the Soviet war in the 1980s, this new generation of commanders is more ideologically motivated and less nationalistic than previous generations, and therefore less pragmatic. It is not interested in negotiations or compromise with foreigners. They have never lived in an Afghanistan that was at peace. Members of the youngest generation, often raised solely in refugee camps and madrasas in Pakistan, have no experience of traditional communities, productive economic activity, or citizenship in any state; they are citizens of jihad. Al- Qaeda operatives have been known to seek out direct contact with such younger Taliban field commanders inside Afghanistan. “

In other words, the Taliban is not Al Qaeda, but the U.S. military campaign is having the unintended consequence of making it more Al Qaeda-like: decentralized, radicalized and predisposed towards jihad.

It’s Time to Change Course

The Obama Administration’s wrong-headed conflation of the Taliban with the Al Qaeda threat is an ugly relic of the “with us or against us” rhetoric from the Bush years, and it’s time we got over it. This view of the conflict is what got us into this 100,000+ troop counterinsurgency that was launched almost exactly a year ago and that’s brought us nothing but grief since. We’ve had record casualties, record civilian deaths, and record costs, all while the Taliban continued to spread across the country. Not only has the U.S. failed to reverse insurgent momentum, but we’ve managed to make the Taliban even more susceptible to Al Qaeda overtures. If that’s not a rank failure, we don’t know what is.

Bottom line: if we are serious about wanting to protect American security and about reaching a political settlement that gets our troops home, we have to talk to the Taliban. However, that requires a major shift in the Obama Administration’s view of the players in the conflict. Right now, the administration’s strategy is killing off the generation of leaders inside the Taliban that will be most willing to talk.

The president once talked about his opposition to “dumb wars.” Well, this policy in Afghanistan is making this war dumber by the minute. Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn paint a picture of an insurgency that didn’t have to happen and a policy that could lead to a deadlier insurgency with which it will be incredibly hard to reconcile. Our leaders should take a close look at this report, and then get serious about non-military solutions for the conflict. There is no reason for the war we’re fighting anymore.

If you’re tired of this war that’s not making us safer and not worth the costs, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

Help Us Cast the Next Rethink Afghanistan Video

written by Robert Greenwald

Because It's Time vote promotion

We need your help to pick the best comments from our “Because It’s Time” wall to be used in the next Rethink Afghanistan video!

We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of the launch of President Obama’s escalated military campaign in Afghanistan, so we here at Brave New Foundation decided we’d mark the occasion with a new Rethink Afghanistan video that will convey the reasons why it’s time to end the war. We put out a call to our supporters to share their photo and the reasons why they think it’s time for the war to end on our “Because It’s Time” wall. Almost 1,000 people responded, and the community created a fantastic collage of images and personal statements to take a strong public stand for peace.

In the coming weeks, we’ll use the best comments left on the site to create a new video that sends a strong message to Washington, D.C. that it’s time to end the war.

This is where you come in. We’ve narrowed submissions to just 20 finalists, and we need you to vote on your favorite entries to help us cut this number down to the top three comments and participants. The winners of this vote will get the chance to star in our latest video declaring to policymakers that it’s time to end the war.

Please take a minute to vote on your top three favorite reasons to end the Afghanistan War, and stay tuned for future updates about the results of the vote!

For more updates on Rethink Afghanistan projects, follow Robert Greenwald on Twitter, click here!

Press by Campaign:

For Press inquiries, please contact Kim at:

Brave New Foundation |
10510 Culver Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232 |
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy