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A Shifting Debate on Afghanistan

By Katrina vanden Heuvel at The Nation

Eight years after the war in Afghanistan began, the issue of how to end it is finally getting some traction in Congress.

No longer is Congressman Jim McGovern’s bill with over 100 cosponsors demanding an exit strategy from the only game in town. Nor are Senators Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders alone among their colleagues in calling for a flexible timetable for withdrawal or a national conversation on Afghanistan strategy.

In these past few weeks–after a rigged election that will likely leave the corrupt Karzai government in power, and polls showing Americans suffering war fatigue during these economic hard times of jobless recovery–more centrist Democrats have started questioning a strategy of escalation in Afghanistan. Among them, Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, came out against an increase in troop levels. Also, Senator Diane Feinstein, Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, has called on the administration to provide a specific date for withdrawal.

Even Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin–perhaps the President’s closest friend and ally in Congress–said, “I think, at this point, sending additional troops would not be the right thing to do.”

It’s clear that we are seeing the beginning signs of a significant shift in the debate.

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KPFK Fund Drive – Rethink Afghanistan

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rethink afghanistanRethink Afghanistan

General Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, has requested 3000 urgently needed extra troops to Afghanistan, in addition to the 21,000 troops scheduled to be sent this year under the President’s orders. Under Obama’s orders the total number of troops in Afghanistan could reach up to 68,000. July and August were the bloodiest months for US troops in Afghanistan and this month looks to keep that death rate constant. More than 750 troops have been killed in Afghanistan since the start of the war nearly 8 years ago, and untold numbers of Afghan civilians have also been killed, either directly by the US or by the increasingly bold Taliban force, that derive their strength from the US occupation. Meanwhile, the US there is facing an added test of credibility with the recent Presidential elections. Former US President Jimmy Carter called the elections “despicable” and said flat out that the US-backed incumbent “Hamid Karzai has stolen the election.” After a dispute within the United Nations over the validity of the elections, American deputy Peter Galbraith returned to his home in Vermont. Galbraith had recommended annulling election results from 1000 of the 6,500 polling places, and recounting votes from another 5000. The European Union has declared that 25% of ballots in the election were fraudulent or tampered in some way.

Today we’ll spend the hour focusing on what many are calling Obama’s Iraq: that is the on-going occupation of Afghanistan, which began 1 1/2 years before the Iraq war. Leading up to the 8th anniversary of the start of Operation Enduring Freedom this October 7th, a recent CNN poll found that 58% of Americans oppose the Afghanistan war.

GUEST: Norman Solomon, author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death,” and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He just returned from Afghanistan.

We are featuring this hour the newly completed film by Brave New Films and Robert Greenwald, called Rethink Afghanistan, the definitive and newest film questioning the very basis for the US occupation. The film will open in New York in early October but KPFK listeners get to put in early orders for the DVD right now through our fund drive.

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Sanders Calls for National Dialogue on Afghanistan Exit Strategy

By John Nichols at The Nation

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has joined Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold is declaring that the United States needs to start thinking about how to extract its military from Afghanistan.

While almost 100 members of the House (including many conservative Republicans) have signed on to Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern’s call for the development of an Afghanistan exit strategy, Feingold has been a relatively lonely Senate advocate for a rethink of the eight-year-old occupation.

At the annual “Fighting Bob Fest” gathering in Baraboo, Wisconsin, however, Sanders drew loud and sustained applause from the crowd of 8,000 when he said, “We need to take a very, very hard look at our war in Afghanistan. We need to be clear in our goals and we need a real discussion about an exit strategy to bring our troops home.”

Sanders made his statement at the largest annual gathering of grassroots activists in the Midwest, where there was no question of the crowd’s enthusiasm for the “Health Care Not Warfare” message that was promoted at the festival by activists with Progressive Democrats of America.

Prior to coming to Wisconsin for the event, Sanders explained his views on the need to rethink Afghanistan in a video produced as part of the Brave New Films “Senator Sanders Unfiltered” project. Responding to a question from British singer Billy Bragg, Sanders said:

My major concern about the war in Afghanistan, and why I voted against the recent defense authorization bill is tat we seem to be getting sucked into a quagmire without the kind of debate, without the kind of discussion that this country desperately needs and that the people of our country are entitled. What we know now is that the number of troops that the general are requesting is going up and up. We know that we… have already poured several hundred billion dollars into Afghanistan; that number is going to go up. But we don’t know what the goals of our efforts in Afghanistan are or what kind of exit strategy we have.I worry that Afghanistan will be another Vietnam. I worry that Afghanistan will be another Iraq. We’ve been there eight years already, and how many more years are we supposed to be there? How many more American troops are supposed to die? How many more American troops are supposed to die? How many more tens and tens of billions of dollars are we supposed to be spending at a time when we have a record-breaking deficit? I find it amusing that some of my more conservative friends are saying, ‘Well, we can’t afford to spend more money on health care in this country. We can’t afford to spend more money on education or environmental protection. But, yes, we can afford to pump tens and tens of billions more into the war in Afghanistan.

Sanders says: “We need a real national discussion of an exit strategy, a real national discussion about what our goals are. We haven’t had that and the American people should be demanding it.”

Sanders is doing his part to open the discussion. And the muscular reaction to his statements made it clear that the American people are making the demand.

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Afghanistan Election Fraud and the High Price of Empire

By John Nichols at The Nation

It is amusing, if remarkable, that there are still some players in Washington who try to maintain the fantasy that Afghan President Hamid Karzai governs with anything akin to legitimacy.

Karzai, an alleged oil industry fixer awarded control of his country by occupying powers, has always served with strings attached.

And the Afghan people have been quite aware of that fact.

It is true that, at different points over the past eight years, Karzai has enjoyed measures of popular support, thanks to alliances with warlords and drug dealers, the inflaming of ethnic rivalries and an awareness that he was the one distributing all those billions of dollars from the United States.

But, aside from a slick sense of dress, Karzai has never had much going for him in the political department.

So he has, out of instinct and by necessity, relied on fraud to “win” the elections that have kept the Afghan president and his minions in power.

That was not much of a problem during the Bush-Cheney years. The men who assumed control of the United States after losing the 2000 popular vote by more than 500,000 and then shutting down the recount of votes in the contested state of Florida were not going to gripe about the mangling of democratic processes in distant Afghanistan.

But the fantasy is getting harder to maintain now that Bush has retired and Cheney has repositioned himself as the planet’s primary defender of torture.

So we get the “news” — not from the satirical Onion but from the nation’s newspaper of record — that US officials are trying to prevent Karzai from declaring “victory” in the exercise in fraud that naive commentators still insist on referring to as an election.

The Times was as delicate as possible in reporting the predicament:

WASHINGTON — On Monday, as the vote-counting in Afghanistan was nearing an end, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was briefed by the American ambassador in Kabul, Karl W. Eikenberry. The same day, the ambassador delivered a blunt message to the front-runner, President Hamid Karzai: “Don’t declare victory.”The slim majority tentatively awarded Mr. Karzai in Afghanistan’s fraud-scarred election has put the Obama administration in an awkward spot: trying to balance its professed determination to investigate mounting allegations of corruption and vote-rigging while not utterly alienating the man who seems likely to remain the country’s leader for another five years.

Another way of putting it might be to say that US officials are finding it increasingly difficult to construct a rationale for allowing the man they put in charge of Afghanistan to remain in charge of Afghanistan.

This is not a new problem.

Colonial powers have faced these challenges throughout history.

It is one of the wages of empire.

And’s that’s the problem with the US presence in Afghanistan.

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Opposition does Obama good

By Bill Maxwell at St. Petersburg Times

We now are hearing that President Barack Obama’s honeymoon with voters is over, that his poll numbers are falling, that the soaring rhetoric of the campaign no longer makes the Democratic faithful swoon so easily.

If this is a real trend and not temporary disgruntlement, it is a good thing.

For too long, Democrats, especially progressives, have been reluctant to openly criticize Obama, the nation’s first black president. They want him to succeed, and they believe that serious public criticism from inside the party would hurt their man and egg on angry Republicans hell-bent on not being reasonable.

Progressives do not seem to realize that support for Obama does not mean that they must ignore truths about his policies. The public interest is undermined when truths about policies are ignored.

If, however, a recent article in the New York Times about the American antiwar movement’s plans for a campaign against the administration’s policies on Afghanistan is a bellwether of what is to come from progressives on a range of other issues, we are witnessing the emergence of earnest criticism (not the braying of conservative talk show hosts) that has been sorely missing since Obama’s election.

From the beginning, I have thought that Obama — to his detriment — has been riding a wave of euphoria that inoculates him and his policies from the hard analysis of his supporters and others, many on the other side of the aisle, who genuinely disagree. This is a dangerous phenomenon in every way.

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LET’S TALK ABOUT: “Trigger Pullers” in Afghanistan

By Robert Pasciullo at Gather

I just read that some U.S. officials are considering sending 14,000 troops to replace support troops who are assigned non-combatant duties according to a Pentagon official who always spoke behind the security curtain of anonymity that “It makes sense to get rid of the clerks and replace them with trigger pullers.” First of all, I find despicable the term “trigger puller” applied to the brave men and women serving in Afghanistan as if they were mindless robots. Secondly, I believe the “war” in Afghanistan is unwinnable.

While I continue to support President Obama, I am dismayed that he is considering ratcheting up the military forces in Afghanistan. Recent polls – Washington Post/ABC News Poll, indicate that the American public is opposed to dispatching additional troops to Afghanistan. Fifty-one per cent of the respondents said the war is no longer worth fighting and the human and economic costs are too great to continue. In the U.S. Senate, Russ Feingold has spoken out against further escalation. In the House, James P. McGovern of Massachusetts authored a bill calling for an exit strategy co-sponsored by 100 House members – Democrats and Republicans alike. Robert Greenwald, initiator of the “Rethink Afghanistan” project, pointed out that Afghan civilians, especially women, are “… ill served” by the occupation and that “there is no victory to be won in Afghanistan.” Vice President Joe Biden has joined the growing chorus, warning the administration of the dangers of escalating the troop force in Afghanistan. George F. Will, the erstwhile conservative pundit, wrote in his column Tuesday, Sept. 2, that the United States should substantially reduce its presence in the country.

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More troops to Afghanistan more terror to US: Don’t do it Congress

By Deborah Dupre’ at Examiner

The war in Afghanistan is increasing likelihood that American civilians will be killed in a future terrorist attack (R. Greenwall, Rethink Afghanistan, Security, Part 6, 2009, provided below) so Americans are signing Tom Hayden’s petition for Congress to not fund sending more troops there.

Hayden’s Afghanistan: A petition to Take Action Against the War, (text below) calls on Congress to vote “No” to sending more troops to Afghanistan.

Hayden, an American social and political activist and politician, is most famous for his involvement in the animal rights, and the anti-war and civil rights movements of the 1960s. He is the former husband of actress Jane Fonda and the father of actor Troy Garity.

“The war in Afghanistan is increasing the likelihood that American civilians will be killed in a future terrorist attack. Part 6 of Rethink Afghanistan, Security, brings you three former high-ranking CIA agents to explain why. There is no “victory” to be won in Afghanistan. It is the most important video about U.S. Security today,” according to Robert Greenwall’s research as documented below.


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Myth v. Fact: Afghanistan

By Malou Innocent at Huffington Post

While “Change” has been Barack Obama’s mantra, as of late he has been channeling his predecessor.

“Afghanistan,” according to Obama, “is a war of necessity… [And] If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.”

President George W. Bush was adept at keeping the American public in an elevated state of panic. That tactic may be useful for advancing controversial policies. But if policymakers continue to downplay the drawbacks of our current course of action, America risks intensifying the region’s powerful jihadist insurgency and entangling itself deeper into a tribal-based society it barely understands.

Americans must be told the truth about the war in Afghanistan. To understand the disadvantages of pursuing present policies, we must unpack the myths that war proponents use to justify staying the course.

Myth #1: Both al Qaeda and the Taliban Are Our Mortal Enemies

Given the magnitude of the atrocities unleashed on September 11th, removing both al Qaeda and the Taliban regime that sheltered the terrorist organization was appropriate. But eight years later, is waging a war against the Taliban a pressing national security interest? Not really.

The Taliban, the Haqqani network, and other guerilla-jihadi movements indigenous to this region have no shadowy global mission. In fact, what we are witnessing is a local and regional ethnic Pasthun population — divided arbitrarily by a porous 1,500-mile border — fighting against what they perceive to be a hostile occupation of their region. Prolonging our mission risks uniting these groups and making U.S. troops the primary target of their wrath.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, even if the Taliban were to reassert themselves amid a scaled down U.S. presence, it is not clear that the Taliban would again host al Qaeda. In The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, Lawrence Wright, staff writer for New Yorker magazine, found that before 9/11 the Taliban was divided over whether to shelter Osama bin Laden. The terrorist financier wanted to attack Saudi Arabia’s royal family, which, according to Wright, would have defied a pledge Taliban leader Mullah Omar made to Prince Turki al-Faisal, chief of Saudi intelligence (1977-2001), to keep bin Laden under control. The Taliban’s reluctance to host al Qaeda’s leader means it is not a foregone conclusion that the same group would provide shelter to the same organization whose protection led to their overthrow.

As the war in Afghanistan rages on, President Obama should be skeptical of suggestions that the defeat of al Qaeda depends upon a massive troop presence. Globally, the United States has degraded al Qaeda’s ability to pull off another 9/11 by employing operations that look a lot like police work. Most of the greatest successes scored against al Qaeda, such as the snatch-and-grab operations that netted Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Ramzi bin al Shibh, have not relied on large numbers of U.S. troops. Intelligence sharing and close cooperation with foreign law enforcement and intelligence agencies have done more to round up suspected terrorists than blunt military force.

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