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Posts Tagged ‘afghanistan’

Declare Independence from Endless War

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam,” Riverside Church, New York City, April 4, 1967

While we’re enjoying good old-fashioned 4th of July cookouts, fireworks, and other traditional Independence Day pleasures, let’s also take some time to remember the soldiers far away in Iraq and Afghanistan who are not with their families, as well as those who are recovering (we hope) in military hospitals, and let’s begin mentally drafting letters and phone call messages to the White House and Congress to demand the nation’s independence from those unaffordable wars. Bring the troops home already. We can’t wait until July 2011, which Obama suggested as a potential beginning of a drawdown when he announced the 30,000-troop escalation at West Point last December when the Afghan war was already in its eighth year. (See our assessment of the president’s decision to escalate, “Deeper into Afghanistan: 360 Degrees of Damnation.”)

The explosive revelations in Michael Hastings’s Rolling Stone article “The Runaway General” were only superficially about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s trash-talking Obama’s national security team. It may be that in the long term the most damaging consequences will be the revelations that the troops in Afghanistan do not support the vaunted counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy for which the additional 30,000+ troops have been “surged” into the hell-hole, and even McChrystal himself has doubts that the COIN strategy can work there (see “Afghanistan: More Insane Than a Quagmire” below). We expect no substantial changes under Gen. David Petraeus, whose 99–o approval by the Senate on June 30 can only be interpreted as a license to do as he will, for as long as he pleases, whatever it may cost.

Costs of War: Unaffordable, Unsustainable, Unconscionable

This past week, when Senate Republicans and Ben Nelson (D-NE) warmed up the nation for the 4th of July festivities by filibustering for a third straight time an extension of unemployment benefits for millions of jobless Americans—15 million are out of work, about the number who were unemployed when Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933—the House approved $80 billion for Afghan war funding. Sounds just like the Bush years. The Center for American Progress reports that “as of July 3, an estimated 1.7 million workers will lose their benefits. If this drags on through July, a total of 3.2 million workers will lose their benefits.”

Think Progress reports that 17 senators from states with double-digit jobless rates have repeatedly voted to filibuster unemployment benefits. Click the chart to read all about it.

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Afghanistan: More Insane Than a Quagmire

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

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“. . . the reality, secretly guarded until now, is . . . [that] . . . it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. . . . That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap. . . . The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.”

Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter; interview with Le Nouvel Observateur (Paris), January 15–21, 1998

“Notwithstanding the damage al Qaeda and the Taliban have suffered . . . bin Laden’s forces now have the United States where they have wanted it, on the ground in Afghanistan where Islamist insurgents can seek to reprise their 1980s’ victory over the Red Army [of the Soviet Union]. Al Qaeda now has the chance to prove bin Laden’s thesis that the United States cannot maintain long-term, casualty-producing military engagements . . .”

Michael Scheuer, former head of CIA’s bin Laden unit, Through Our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America (2002)

“. . . as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.  After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. . . . It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan. . . . our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended—because the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.”

President Barack Obama, United States Military Academy at West Point, Dec. 1, 2009

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Runaway General, Runaway War

Everyone has heard at least a few choice snippets of the trash-talk by Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his staff (“Bite me,” etc.) reported by Michael Hastings in “The Runaway General” in the July 8–22, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone. While we urge everyone to read the whole article (better yet, buy a copy like we did), we thought it would be productive to present some revealing excerpts about the war itself—the substance we wish the Beltway media would focus on to serve the public interest, rather than rehashing the gossip and backbiting. There were many passages we could have quoted, but here are a few. You’ll see that the general’s insults, while careless and insubordinate, are not the most disturbing material.

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Tax Day: How Much Have You Paid for the War?

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Most likely you’ve paid $7,334 of the $1.05 trillion that has gone to the Afghan and Iraq wars since 2001. Here is Tom Englehardt’s compelling introduction at TomDispatch.com to a piece (below the jump) by Jo Comerford, executive director of the National Priorities Project, with data supplied by the NPP’s CostofWar.com:

If you’re an average American taxpayer, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have, since 2001, cost you personally $7,334, according to the “cost of war” counter created by the National Priorities Project (NPP). They have cost all Americans collectively more than $980,000,000,000. As a country, we’ll pass the trillion dollar mark soon. These are staggering figures and, despite the $72.3 billion that Congress has already ponied up for the Afghan War in 2010 ($136.8 billion if you add in Iraq), the administration is about to go back to Congress for more than $35 billion in outside-the-budget supplemental funds to cover the president’s military and civilian Afghan surges. When that passes, as it surely will, the cumulative cost of the Afghan War alone will hit $300 billion, and we’ll be heading for two trillion-dollar wars.

In the meantime, just so you know, that $300 billion, according to the NPP, could have paid for healthcare for 131,780,734 American children for a year, or for 53,872,201 students to receive Pell Grants of $5,550, or for the salaries and benefits of 4,911,552 elementary school teachers for that same year.

April 15th is almost upon us, and Jo Comerford, TomDispatch regular as well as the NPP’s executive director, decided to take a look at one restive American community under the gun (so to speak) as tax day rolls around again. Our wars seem—and are—so far away, so divorced from American lives. If someone you know well hasn’t been wounded or killed in one of them, it can be hard to grasp just how they are also wounding this society. Here’s one way. (Check out as well Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Comerford discusses military spending and the federal budget by clicking here or, if you prefer to download it to your iPod, here.) —Tom

[H/T to Dan Froomkin @ HuffPo ]

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“Winter of Our Discontent”

Monday, December 21st, 2009

A_Christmas_Carol_08In the already-dark of the shortest day of the year, the first day of winter, rather than denying the obvious it feels appropriate to acknowledge a certain lowness of spirits, a mood that the holidays will warm temporarily but not dispel altogether. “Winter of our discontent” (besides opening Shakespeare’s Richard III) was the title of a fund-raising e-mail The Nation sent out last week, and the phrase pretty well describes the mood. This time last year, even though it felt like the U.S. and global economy was spinning down into an abyss, there was much hope in the air because of the outcome of the 2008 presidential election. (It felt almost too good to be true.) Now, the mood is not what one would call elation, or hopeful. “Yes we can” feels like a long time ago.

The Senate Democrats are moving along with their health reform bill, but it is hard to know what to think about it. A few conservative, corporate Democrats and a certain self-styled independent have been posing a greater danger to the ultimate passage than the whole united bloc of intransigent Republicans. So far, since Saturday, the Democrats have held together with the filibuster-proof 60 votes, and many of the outspoken progressive, liberal voices who were critical this time last week are holding their fire, realizing that if this fails, much more we hold dear could crash and burn besides. (Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo lays out the steps toward passage.)

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Deeper into Afghanistan: 360 Degrees of Damnation

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

we must rebuild our strength here at home . . . . the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.” —President Obama, Dec. 1, 2009

NYTWe wanted to take time to try to make sense of President Obama’s speech at West Point last week in which he announced his decision to increase U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan by 30,000 over the next six months. We pray he knows what he’s doing. We can only imagine the risks and variables he has been weighing. Because he is a peaceful man by nature (the Nobel may have been awarded at the wrong time but it was not given to the wrong man), we are inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. And yet, even though he knows more than we’re privy to, we are still skeptical. Our favorite lines in the address were those quoted above. Perhaps the most painful part of the speech is its overall contrast with and cancellation of those fine-sounding sentiments.

There are truly no good options—all are fraught with unacceptable consequences: 360 degrees of damnation—and yet we feel the president has made a tragically wrong decision. Even though we were impressed by his methodical and deliberative approach to a maddeningly complex issue, and even though it is theoretically possible that with unlimited time, money, and the blessings of fortune this new “Way Forward” can work, we do not believe it will. There is too much reliance on military force, too many moving parts that have to come together just so. (There is a saying that whenever you have two Afghans you have at least three factions.) Of course the generals say they can do it—give ’em enough troops  and they’ll promise you anything. Hendrik Hertzberg writes in The New Yorker that Obama would have faced “a probable Pentagon revolt” had he chosen to withdraw starting now, and if such a decision had been followed by a large-scale terrorist attack he would face “savage, politically lethal scapegoating.” Very likely. This is the situation we’re in. Nicholas Kristof observes in his New York Times column that amid all the president’s consultations of experts, one important set of players not consulted were the tribal elders of Afghanistan. Without their cooperation, nothing will work.

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Wrong Call, Mr. President

Friday, December 4th, 2009

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.” —Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953

Afghan-HetheringtonHaving taken a long walk after a filling Thanksgiving dinner, we’ve been thinking and working on a longer piece about the president’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan. In short: Good process, wrong conclusion. Stay tuned for details.

In the meantime, we wanted to run some good thoughts from New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, who, as usual, nails it:

. . . the president has arrived at a decision that never was much in doubt, and that will prove to be a tragic mistake. It was also, for the president, the easier option.

It would have been much more difficult for Mr. Obama to look this troubled nation in the eye and explain why it is in our best interest to begin winding down the permanent state of warfare left to us by the Bush and Cheney regime. It would have taken real courage for the commander in chief to stop feeding our young troops into the relentless meat grinder of Afghanistan, to face up to the terrible toll the war is taking — on the troops themselves and in very insidious ways on the nation as a whole.

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Harm’s Way, or, A Surge of His Own?

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

The ceremony at Fort Hood yesterday was beautiful, and heart-breaking. The pain was all too real, and the president’s speech was sincere, somber, respectful, and probably healing.

But . . . could the ceremony have been designed in part as a warm-up, a stirring of our patriotism before the president announces yet another large increase of troops to Afghanistan? It may seem cynical to ask such a question—even heretical on Veterans’ Day of all days—but we know that this White House’s strategists and media team are skillful in their use of theatrical settings to match the president’s eloquence (nothing necessarily wrong with that). Obama’s words will unite us, make us feel better, and then he’ll announce a surge of his own. Or will he?

Just days after the horrifying massacre at Fort Hood by Nidal Malik Hasan, an army psychiatrist “mortified” about being deployed to Afghanistan, it has been leaked (and denied) that the White House plans to increase U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan by some 35,000 to 40,000. Once this deployment is fulfilled, the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, now about 68,000 (more than double the number when Bush left office), would be about 110,000.

But for now, on this Veterans’ Day, no more commentary, but prayers for healing of the wounded, for repose of the souls of the many, many dead, and peace and healing for the families and friends of the casualties of war. And, always, prayers for peace—and for the enduring strength and determination to work for peace.



Feingold Asks Obama for Timetable on Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

ThinkProgress.org

ThinkProgress.org

Think Progress calls attention to a report by ABC News that Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) is calling on President Obama for a timetable for when the U.S. will withdraw forces from Afghanistan. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 after the attacks of September 11, but attention and resources were soon diverted to the U.S. invasion of Iraq (March 2003). President Obama began a build-up of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to intensify military pressure on resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda forces earlier in 2009. The Wall Street Journal reported on Aug. 22 that there are now 58,000 troops in Afghanistan and nearly 74,000 military contractors. The AP reports that military officials expect that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the chief U.S. commander in Afghanistan, may ask for an additional 20,000 troops—and even that increase may be less than what McChrystal really needs to get the situation under control. But what would “under control” mean?

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