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Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

Posts Tagged ‘military draft’

Obama’s Troop Drawdown Is Little, Late, But a Start

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

In Announcing 15-month, 1/3 Troop Reduction, Is President Ignoring or Responding to Public Opinion and Bipartisan Congressional Trend Against War?

The announcement of a 33,000-troop drawdown is more than we would have gotten from the previous president; bu though we’re disappointed at the glacial pace, peace activists must keep pressing for a quicker end to the Afghan War.

When President Obama took office in Jan. 2009 there were 34,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. In his first year he doubled that number to about 65,000, and then in Dec. 2009 he announced a “surge” of 30,000 more. Since August 2010 U.S. forces in Afghanistan have numbered 100,000. In announcing a drawdown of 33,000 troops by next summer, the president now in effect acknowledges that the counter-insurgency strategy favored by General David Petraeus is not working, or has reached its limits; American troops now will pursue a counter-terrorism strategy. Last night in a 13-minute address Obama announced:

. . . starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security. [transcript of remarks here]

But this will only bring us back to the roughly 65,000 troops that were stationed in Afghanistan when Obama announced the surge. And when our mission changes in 2014 “from combat to support,” how many American troops will still be in Afghanistan? Our mission in Iraq, too, has changed from combat to support, yet we still have 85,000 active duty military personnel stationed in Iraq at a monthly cost of about $4 billion. (For that matter, U.S. military personnel number some 50,000 in Germany, 35,000 in Japan, and 25,000 in South Korea. How long does the government intend to keep this going?)


Who in America Remembers Afghanistan?

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

How will we ever see the end of a war that everyone seems to have forgotten—everyone except the families and friends of the wounded and the dead?

“We are not dealing with a conventional war. We cannot respond in a conventional manner. I do not want to see this spiral out of control. . . . If we rush to launch a counterattack, we run too great a risk that women, children and other non-combatants will be caught in the crossfire. . . . Finally, we must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target. We cannot repeat past mistakes.” —Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the lone vote against the war in Afghanistan, Sept. 15, 2001 (video)

Guardian columnist Gary Younge, who writes on American politics and society, penned a sensitive and saddening piece last week titled “Forgotten War Is Everyone’s Orphan” (print edition). The subtitle reads, “Admiration for soldiers may be widespread and deep in America, but interest in what they are doing is shallow and fleeting.” Younge opens with the funeral of a 23-year-old soldier in Bordentown, New Jersey, then comments:

There is a reverence for the military in the US on a scale rarely seen anywhere else in the west that transcends political affiliation and pervades popular culture. On aeroplanes the flight attendant will announce if there are soldiers on board to great applause. When I attended a recording of The Daily Show, John [sic] Stewart made a special point before the show of thanking the servicemen in the audience.

But while the admiration for those who serve and die may be deep and widespread, interest in what they are doing and why they are doing it is shallow and fleeting. During November’s midterm elections it barely came up. In September just 3% thought Afghanistan was one of the most important problems facing the country. When Pew surveyed public interest in the war over an 18-week period last year, fewer than one in 10 said it was the top news story they were following in any given week, including the week Stanley McChrystal—the four-star general commanding troops in Afghanistan, was fired. The country, it seems has moved on. The trouble is the troops are still there.

100,000+ U.S. troops in Afghanistan
Since 2001, 2,255 coalition deaths (1,402 Americans)

Although the Afghan War is unpopular—a poll in December 2010 found 63% opposed, 56% thinking it’s going badly (very badly say 21%), and 60% believing it’s not worth fighting—it was bipartisan, almost unanimous: “a war of necessity,” as the phrase went after the 9/11 attacks, and so it has not been a partisan electoral issue the way the Iraq War was. Younge notes that the war in Afghanistan was “supported by Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali and Susan Sontag.” In the U.S. Congress, only Barbara Lee of California, quoted above, voted against authorizing force. Perhaps she foresaw complications we are only belatedly recognizing. (She also received death threats.)

. . . as the principal retaliatory response to the terror attacks of 9/11, [the Afghan War] has failed. It hasn’t brought liberty, democracy or stability. It has killed untold thousands of civilians: untold because they are regarded as expendable. And not only has it not captured the perpetrators of the terror attack, there are far more acts of terrorism globally today than there were in 2001, in no small part because of the chaos wrought by the war on terror.

To really engage with what has gone wrong with the war in Afghanistan, Younge says,

would demand a sharp reckoning with why so many thought it would was right to begin with. The country would have to interrogate its militaristic reflexes and proclivities, and face the fact that while there were few good or certain options after 9/11 (ranging from the diplomatic to containment) this was one of the worst—and the others were never seriously considered.

The United States has never seriously examined why the nation was attacked by al Qaeda. The grievances of Osama bin Laden have been blocked from view—for example, by the direct intervention with network news outlets by former national security advisor Condoleezza Rice in 2001. We have been told that the atrocities of September 11 were launched because “they hate our freedoms,” among other simplistic explanations and warnings that helped set the groundwork for a follow-on invasion of Iraq.

Among other things, bin Laden was outraged by the presence of U.S. military forces in Saudi Arabia, his native land but more importantly the site of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina; by U.S. support of Israel and indifference to the suffering of the Palestinians; and by the West’s (mainly America’s) getting for cheap the oil wealth of the Muslim lands—again, mainly from Saudi Arabia. (Bin Laden’s aims are explained in some detail in Through Our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America [2002] by Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit.) To be sure, the royal family of Saudi Arabia benefits from the arrangements as well (though most U.S. troops have been removed), but these are among bin Laden’s objectives that get little airing in the American media. We obviously do not condone the hyper-violent means that al Qaeda (“the base”) has taken to avenge these conditions, but what bin Laden has articulated are legitimate political grievances. Ignoring the widespread sense of injustice in the Arab and Muslim world only increases the likelihood of further radicalization and retribution. Especially after the revolution in Egypt, you can believe the Saudi royal family is nervous. “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”