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?)
We’re in Afghanistan until 2014, at Least? At What Cost?
After 10 years of war, 1,500 American dead, and $450 billion already spent in Afghanistan, the U.S. is spending $118 billion per year in Afghanistan, plus $49 billion a year in Iraq (about $785 billion total), plus $2 million per day  in our unauthorized Libya “operations.” The total cost  of America’s wars since 2001 is about $1.2 trillion. Click here  for an interactive graphic of U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2001 to 2011.
(Note: The costs above do not include the untold billions the U.S. spent in covert operations in Afghanistan since 1979  when the CIA was assisting the Afghan and mujahedin resistance against Soviet occupation—that’s where Osama bin Laden came in, you’ll recall—nor the billions spent in enforcing the “no-fly” zones over Iraq between the Gulf War of 1991 and the U.S. invasion in 2003.)
A Pew Research poll  conducted June 15–19 finds 56% of Americans—an all-time high—want the U.S. to pull troops out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. Pew reports:
The proportion favoring a quick withdrawal of U.S. forces has increased by eight points since last month (from 48%), immediately after the killing of Osama bin Laden. A year ago, just 40% favored removing the troops as soon as possible, while 53% favored keeping them in Afghanistan until the situation stabilized.
Further, Obama seems to be ignoring a growing majority of his own party  that is voting against continuation of the Afghan war. Increasing numbers of Republicans too  are voting against funding the war. He is siding only with the hawkish GOP. Good luck rallying the campaign volunteers with that. Tom Hayden in the Nation, however, cautions  that “activists [must] not acquire the habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” He know whereof he speaks, and we heed his warning.
Now, we give the president credit for announcing this troop reduction at about the time he said he would. At West Point in December 2009, he said a drawdown would begin in July 2011. He is essentially keeping this vague promise. (We did not understand that he would only be bringing home the surge troops.) Second, this announced reduction is more than was desired by some of his principal military advisers, including Petraeus, Gates, and Hillary Clinton, so the President deserves some credit for making up his own mind—which matches the thinking of Vice President Joe Biden, who opposed the surge in the first place.
But still, while this reduction is a strong first step it’s not nearly good enough, and activists must keep pushing for further reductions—especially approaching the upcoming party conventions—and a judicious diplomatic conclusion. And in the president’s 13-minute address there was little envisioning of a definite end to this war, ever, or a diplomatic solution like the kind special envoy Richard Holbrooke was working toward before his death last December (see below). Anyway, at the rate we’re going, by the time even these 30,000 are brought home, we’ll be involved in yet a fourth or fifth simultaneous overseas conflict, most likely with an Arab or Muslim nation.
Bin Laden’s Strategy Is Working: Bleeding America to Death
The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply: No safe haven from which al Qaeda or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland or our allies.
This is a tall order—impossibly tall. An American presence in Afghanistan, with repetitive drone strikes and covert incursions into Pakistan, will never end attacks from one country into the other; rather, the U.S. presence aggravates and makes the attacks more likely. American forces in both countries breed resentment and swell the ranks of the Taliban, which term national security experts have observed is loosely used for “insurgents” or “natives who fight against foreign soldiers.” Who can blame them? As we noted at the time of the President’s West Point surge address:
Afghanistan’s civil war is a conflict between secular, modern, urban elites (such as Hamid Karzai, a former Unocal consultant , and his cronies) and the rural, traditional and religious Pashtun tribes. The so-called Taliban and insurgents, many of them, are not ideologically opposed to the West but simply want the foreign troops to leave their land. (Former Foreign Service officer Matthew Hoh calls them “taliban with a small t.”) [“Deeper into Afghanistan: 360 Degrees of Damnation ”]
Osama bin Laden is dead, but he is winning from beyond his watery grave, because his strategy was to bleed America to death by provoking it into wars that would exhaust the superpower’s treasury and its people’s spirit. Look how much weaker the U.S. is since before September 2001.
Bin Laden Is Dead; War Must Go On . . . and On
No new strategy was announced. No new direction. No emphasis on diplomacy. The only mention of diplomacy was brief, indirect. After announcing a NATO summit to be held in Chicago next year, Obama said:
We do know that peace cannot come to a land that has known so much war without a political settlement. So as we strengthen the Afghan government and security forces, America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban. Our position on these talks is clear: They must be led by the Afghan government, and those who want to be a part of a peaceful Afghanistan must break from al Qaeda, abandon violence, and abide by the Afghan constitution. . . .
As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote last month (“What Holbrooke Knew ”), President Obama could have used the occasion of the death of Osama bin Laden to go in to “diplomatic overdrive,” along the lines long urged by the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke , special envoy to the Af-Pak region:
Holbrooke opposed the military “surge” in Afghanistan and would see the demise of Bin Laden as an opportunity to go into diplomatic overdrive. He believed strongly that the only way out of the mess in Afghanistan was a peace deal with the Taliban, and his team was secretly engaged in outreach to figures linked to the Taliban, [Holbrooke’s widow Kati] Marton says.
“Reconciliation—that was what he was working toward in Afghanistan, and building up the civilian and political side that had been swamped by the military,” Marton recalled. “The whole policy was off-kilter, way too militarized. Richard never thought that this war could be won on the battlefield.”
Holbrooke, of course, is the gifted and nearly indomitable diplomat who in 1995 negotiated the Dayton Accords , the Balkan agreement for peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Would that Obama had heeded his counsel.
“It is time to focus on nation building here at home.”
Where have we heard this before?
“Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource –- our people. We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industries, while living within our means. We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy. . . . America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.”
Obama as usual is trying to have it both ways—just as he did at West Point in 2009—acknowledging that “it is time to focus on nation building here at home.” In December 2009 he said , “we must rebuild our strength here at home . . . . the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.” How’s that rebuildin’ workin’ out for ya, America?
We are sick of hearing Obama’s “sweet dreams” lip service to rebuilding America when he won’t push hard for the investment. He speaks well, he says what we want to hear, but he does little when there’s time to act, and then when he’s backed against the wall by circumstances he gives in to the overwhelming force of determined, intransigent conservatives. Witness what happened  in 2010 with the extension of the Bush tax cuts. If he cared so much about renewing America, he would fight for it, rather than allowing his cowardly party to delay a vote on the tax cuts until after the midterm elections, just as the PussyDems  opted not to vote on a full year’s budget last fall when they had a majority in both houses of Congress. As today’s New York Times editorial (“The Way Out? ”) puts it, “At his best, the president can be hugely persuasive. But we are constantly dismayed by his unwillingness to engage debates early and press them hard.”
The Way Forward Is Not the Way Out
And so, here we are. At the same time that conservatives in Congress and GOP presidential hopefuls are shrieking about deficits, demanding cuts in Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid in a nation exhausted by 10+ years of nonstop war, distressed by persistent 9 or 10 percent unemployment—at least 15 million long-term unemployed—and in a nation whose infrastructure needs about $2.2 trillion  in repairs and reinforcement just to get the basics back in shape—the president announces that in a year and a half, 11 ½ years after the Afghanistan War started, we will still have twice the number of troops we had there when he took office. War President Obama is still in effect telling the people of the United States that we must continue fasting so that the war machine can continue rolling.
If this is the way it’s going to be, then we say raise the gasoline tax to pay for the Pentagon budget, raise the corporate tax rates and the taxes on incomes over $250,000 to where they were during the Reagan years. Raise the upper-income rates to the 50% the elites paid during the Reagan years of 1982–1986. Tell wealthy conservatives, “You’re always praising Reagan, so if it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for you now.” Honor the Gipper, and pay your share. Next, we say Bring Back the Draft for all members of the Young Americans for Freedom, children of employees of the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, Koch Industries, and the sons and daughters of the executive elite of Raytheon, GE, General Dynamics, Halliburton, Lockheed Martin, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Goldman Sachs, Citibank, Fox News, ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, and so on.
But seriously, if you want the wars to end sooner, tell the president (202-456-1111), the Senate Foreign Relations Committee  and the House Armed Services Committee . More contacts are available at our Political Action  page.
Remember: “An Involved, Active America Is a Stronger America!”