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.
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.
If anything can be said about the week in media, it was that Americans put their priorities where their mouths are: gabbing on and on about the frivolous alongside the deeply serious. Today we explore how the issue of the Afghanistan war was forced to share screen, air, digital and print space with the bizarre story of the so-called “White House Party Crashers” and Tiger Woods, before “Rethink Afghanistan” director Robert Greenwald joins us to talk about something that, you know, actually matters.
First, the media sensations of the week: the White House Party Crashers and Tiger Woods. The Salahis face possible Congressional subpoena, hearings or even a “symposium” – whatever that might be. While security should be our main concern, what does it say about our culture that we are willing to go to such lengths to get attention for ourselves? At the very least, it’s surely a sign that DC has gone Hollywood (Kal Penn, anyone?) and the city will never be the same.
Then there’s the Tiger Woods controversy, with the golf pro basically coming out and saying he doesn’t owe anyone an explanation for the incident and that’s that. Yet pretty much everyone is shaking their heads saying: “It’s sweet that you think that, Tiger. You’re wrong.” Is it more wasted breath, considering that the public will inevitably forgive him? We’re suckers like that.
But Greenwald, founder of Brave New Films and director of numerous progressive documentaries, helps us address the issue of real weight: Afghanistan. What does one of the war’s fiercest critics have to say about President Obama’s new way forward in “the good war”? Greenwald and Brave New Films have lost a lot of support and funding for his criticism of Obama on this issue, and Greenwald brings up some very important points: How are we paying for this? (This war costs $1 million per American soldier per year.) Who is advising Obama on this, and how many Afghanis are at that table who weren’t on our payroll? Isn’t it nuts that progressives against the war are being joined by such right-wing conservatives like Glenn Beck on this issue? How can Brave New Films reach the young people online to encourage rethinking Afghanistan? Listen in to hear Greenwald’s well-informed argument for his point of view on the war.
BONUS: We also discuss Ari Melber’s latest in The Nation about how young people, despite being against many of Obama’s presidential policies – 66 percent of them are against escalating the war in Afghanistan, for example – still give him high popularity marks. When will the passionate desire to reconnect with him as they did during the campaign run out?
When the president insisted that the days of funding a war “with a blank check are over,” one woman scoffed, “Yeah, right.”
When the commander in chief suggested critics were wrong to compare the military effort in Afghanistan with the Vietnam War, several laughed out loud.
And when Barack Obama said the United States could not afford the cost of two wars, a woman muttered, “You got that right.”
Members of the antiwar advocacy group Military Families Speak Out had already made up their minds on the Afghanistan dilemma by the time President Obama outlined his plan for the 8-year-old war Tuesday.
Gathered around a television in a Long Beach home, members had plenty to say about the president’s plan to deploy thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan.
“It’s one thing to expect it, and another thing to actually hear it,” said Marselle Sloane, 57, whose niece is deployed in Iraq. “I’m just extremely disappointed,” she said, shaking her head.
Their emotional responses to the president’s comments — witnessed by about two dozen news reporters — underscored the sense of distrust and skepticism that some feel toward the government.
(The Nation) Tom Hayden, a former California state senator, is the author, most recently, of The Long Sixties: From 1960 to Barack Obama.
It’s time to strip the Obama sticker off my car.
Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan is the last in a string of disappointments. His flip-flopping acceptance of the military coup in Honduras has squandered the trust of Latin America. His Wall Street bailout leaves the poor, the unemployed, minorities, and college students on their own. And now comes the Afghanistan-Pakistan decision to escalate the stalemate, which risks his domestic agenda, his Democratic base, and possibly even his presidency.
The expediency of his decision was transparent. Satisfy the generals by sending 30,000 more troops. Satisfy the public and peace movement with a timeline for beginning withdrawals of those same troops, with no timeline for completing a withdrawal.
Obama’s timeline for the proposed Afghan military surge mirrors exactly the 18-month Petraeus timeline for the surge in Iraq.
We’ll see. To be clear: I’ll support Obama down the road against Sarah Palin, Lou Dobbs or any of the pitchfork carriers for the pre-Obama era. But no bumper sticker until the withdrawal strategy is fully carried out.
But for now, the fight is on.
This is not like the previous conflict with Bush and Cheney, who were easy to ridicule. Now this orphan of a war has a persuasive advocate, a formidable debater who will be arguing for support from the liberal center–one who wants to win back his Democratic base.
The anti-war movement will have to solidify support from the two-thirds of Democratic voters who so far question this war. Continuing analysis from The Nation and Robert Greenwald’s videos have a major role to play. Public opinion will have to become a growing factor in the mind of Congress, where Rep. Jim McGovern’s resolution favoring an exit strategy has 100 co-sponsors and Rep. Barbara Lee’s tougher bill to prevent funding for escalation is now at 23.
Key political questions in the immediate future are whether Rep. David Obey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, will oppose Afghanistan funding without a surtax is only bluffing, and whether Sen. Russ Feingold will step up with legislation for a withdrawal timetable.