Progressive journalist Robert Greenwald has produced strong documentaries about everything from big box stores (“Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price”) to the excesses of Fox News (“Outfoxed”).
Through his Brave New Productions company, Greenwald has created a new template for up-to-the-minute, ever-evolving non-fiction filmmaking that combines traditional edited material on DVD with links to brand new interviews on his website and Facebook.
Greenwald’s latest project, “Rethink Afghanistan,” is a sobering and timely look at the chaos in that country just as President Obama has committed tens of thousands of troops for what he says will be a strictly limited military action.
The documentary deals both with the continuing breakdown of order in Afghanistan and the fact that Obama may be setting the stage for his own political demise in a quagmire strikingly similar to the one in Vietnam that ended Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.
The U.S. populace is so caught up in its own economic chaos that it is has given Obama a pass on Afghanistan for the time being, the film asserts. When the huge financial and physical cost of the war begins to be felt, the public could turn on the president as quickly as it did on Johnson.
Progressives are so thrilled by Obama’s sophistication and intelligence that they seem to be looking the other way when it comes to Afghanistan. There is pretty strong evidence that things have gotten worse in the country with American involvement — suicide bombings were unknown before we arrived and they are now escalating.
Greenwald shows how U.S. policy in Afghanistan may be as misguided as our terrible venture in Iraq. Support for Muslim extremism is increasing around the world as a result of our military ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the latter country we seem to be lumping the Taliban (above) and al Qaeda together (even though they have little use for each other).
Apparently, our Iraq fatigue and euphoria over the end of the Bush II era have set the stage for another military/political disaster.
In “Rethink Afghanistan” Greenwald (below right with journalist Anand Gopal) has assembled an impressive array of intelligence experts, journalists and people in Afghanistan who point out that U.S. military occupation is destined to make things worse in an intensely nationalistic culture (one politician asks what we would do if a foreign army was stationed in the U.S. to “restore order”).
(Much of “Rethink Afghanistan” is available online at www.rethinkafghanistan.com)
Members of the U.S. Congress received a classified briefing on Wednesday on the war in Afghanistan from two Obama administration officials – Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. At the same time on Capitol Hill, a Democratic lawmaker and anti-war activists spoke out against President Barack Obama’s U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan.
Secretaries Gates and Clinton briefed lawmakers behind closed doors in the House of Representatives on President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy and the expected costs of adding 30,000 U.S. troops to the international force already there.
As the troop surge picks up momentum, members of Congress are concerned about how expensive the buildup will be between now and July 2011 – the date the president set to begin a drawdown of U.S. forces, the speed of which will depend on conditions in Afghanistan.
Gates and Clinton were to have briefed a joint hearing of the House Committee on Appropriations, but that event was postponed.
In brief remarks to reporters, Secretary Clinton said President Obama is committed to ensuring that additional funds for the troop buildup – which the Pentagon estimates will cost between $30 and $35 billion – will be reflected in the 2011 fiscal year budget, which is request expected on Capitol Hill in February.
At the same time, one Democrat who has emerged in recent months as one of the most outspoken war critics in Congress used a news conference to argue that the troop buildup is a costly mistake.
VOA Photo – D. Robinson
Calling the president’s Afghanistan effort “an 18th century strategy being employed against a 14th century enemy,” Florida Representative Alan Grayson said the ability of the United States to bring peace to Afghanistan is limited.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has pulled together a group of five Republicans and eight Democrats who plan to introduce a special resolution on the House floor compelling the president to comply with the War Powers Act as he wages war in Afghanistan.
Congress has largely ceded its constitutional duty to declare war and has instead been relegated to approving or disapproving war funds — it hasn’t cut off money for a war since Vietnam.
While Kucinich was on the House floor Tuesday debating the war, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) gathered reporters in the Rayburn House Office Building to decry Obama’s proposed troop escalation, which Grayson said will only waste lives and money in pursuit of an impossible goal. Grayson had just come from the floor, where he inserted 100,000 names petitioning for an end to the war into the congressional record.
If a war is being waged without a declaration, the War Powers Act allows any representative to introduce a joint resolution forcing the House Committee on Foreign Relations to vote on that resolution within 15 days; Kucinich is hoping to force such a vote. The resolution would then be sent back to the House floor.
“Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution of the United States makes it Congress’ responsibility to determine whether or not we go to war or stay at war. Consistent with Article 1, Section 8, the privileged resolutions will invoke the War Powers Resolution of 1973. I ask for your support of these resolutions, which will be introduced in the House in January,” Kucinich wrote to his colleagues last week.
Grayson and six other Democrats have signed on to his resolution, including Reps. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Bob Filner (D-Calif.), Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Eric Massa (D-N.Y.).
The five Republicans include Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas), Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Ed Whitefield (R-Ky.) and Timothy Johnson (R-Ill.).
“There is no nation of Afghanistan. There’s not likely to be one in the future,” Grayson said at the briefing. “We are not able to bring about security or stability in an area like that. We are fighting against the reality of the situation.”
Grammy winning spoken word artist, musician, and activist, Henry Rollins has traveled extensively throughout the world. His most recent stops include Saudi Arabia, China, India, Sri Lanka and Nepal. He is an outspoken supporter of Amnesty International and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), as well as having multiple tours under his belt with the USO for several years where he has entertained American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He is known to tirelessly correspond with both active members of military and veterans and blogs about the social, political and economical status for Vanity Fair online. At the invitation of award-winning filmmaker Robert Greenwald (Iraq For Sale, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price), Henry will take part in an intimate discussion about the economy and surge followed by an open forum for questions at Brave New Films Studios on December 21 at 6:30PM. Admission is free.
Robert Greenwald’s most recent documentary, “Rethink Afghanistan“ takes a closer look at the war our Nation has been fighting since 2001. The high impact documentary, released online in segments, features experts from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S. discussing the United States’ flawed strategy in Afghanistan.
The 30,000 U.S. troop surge to Afghanistan will begin this week amid growing concerns of collusion between the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda with militants in Pakistan. With the almost 70,000 troops already in place, are we ignoring a valuable Russian history lesson?
“They don’t have the troop sizes nor could they ever conceivably have the troop sizes to actually control the country side,” Anand Gopal, Afghan correspondent for the Wall Street Journal admits in the film.
“It would require hundreds of thousands of troops in every village which is not a tenable situation whatsoever.”
Robert Pape, author of “Dying to Win,” concurs admitting, “You need a ratio of something like one combat soldier for every people in the country and what that equates to in Afghanistan is well over a quarter million western combat forces.”
Greenwald has created a viral campaign asking for 100,000 signatures to a petition voting no on a spending bill that would send more troops to Afghanistan. The additional troops cost taxpayers in excess of $100 billion dollars a year. The campaign has taken off with little over 80,000 signatures and caught the attention of Rep. Alan Grayson who read the petition aloud on the Congressional floor Tuesday, December 15.
When the Obama administration last week rolled out its new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, it competed for media coverage with White House gate crashers and Tiger Wood’s indiscretions, along with the Senate debate on health care reform, its more worthy and relevant adversary for our attention.
The usual suspects weighed in from the right: former Vice President Dick Cheney warned anew of the wages of weakness, and Rush Limbaugh could discern only marginal relief from the long weeks of “dithering”.
But where was the left? Conspicuous in its absence has been protest over the surge from much of the antiwar movement. Whether from reluctance to challenge the president they supported, or perhaps wanting to trust in his judgment, and possibly short on resources to devote to world affairs in the current economic climate, there was not much push back from that quarter.
That doesn’t mean people aren’t thinking and talking about it. A dozen or so members and guests of the local group “Essex County For Change” gathered to do just that on Sunday, in the South Orange living room of a couple whose children were out for the afternoon.
Jake Diliberto, who served with the Marines in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan a month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and then in Iraq, doesn’t like talking about his own battlefield experiences in either theater of the War on Terror. Perhaps that explains why the 27-year-old Diliberto is today leading a charge among veterans of the ongoing conflicts to stop the deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, which President Barack Obama called for last week.
“I’m concerned about our men and women in uniform who are being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan with no end in sight,” said Diliberto, who joined the Marines right after his high school graduation in 2000. After leaving the service, he returned to college at Illinois State University to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science. Now he is studying for a master’s degree in theology and ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, working on a thesis titled “Just War Doctrine in a Time of Global Jihad Insurgency.”
Handsome and charming, but informed and down-to-earth, Diliberto founded Veterans for Rethinking Afghanistan (VRTA), a group of activists and veterans pushing to reduce troop counts in Afghanistan and lobby for the use of alternative peacemaking strategies.
“I’m doing this effort so that I can urge our lawmakers to bring the open-ended War on Terror to an end and that they make the right efforts to keep America safe from violent Islamic radicalism — and you don’t have to do that by occupying and invading countries,” says Diliberto, who appeared with retired Gens. Wesley Clark and Barry McCaffrey, along with Pete Hegseth of Veterans for Peace, on CNN’s “Larry King Live” last week — the night after Obama announced plans to send more troops to Afghanistan.
“Violent Islamic militarism cannot be defeated by [the] military. It’s like saying, ‘I’m going to kill Christianity.’ It’s not possible,” he states passionately. “It’s bigger than what a government or state can do. The war today is not a war of state-on-state actors, but a war of cultural misunderstanding, religious fanaticism and a giant divide between the rich and the poor.”
Diliberto has a long family history of military service — his grandfathers served in World Wars I and II, one of them winning a Bronze Star, and his uncles served in Vietnam and the Gulf War. However, his father did not serve and his parents were extremely nervous about him joining. Even so, he enlisted in the Marines upon graduation.
“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.