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      Doves Propose Phased Withdrawal as 2012 Looms

      A moderate Democratic-leaning study group has released a proposal to “fast track a peace process” in Afghanistan and withdraw 32,000 American troops by October 2011 and another 38,000 by late 2012, the period of the next presidential election.

      The proposal was released at a Washington DC press conference September 8. The so-called Afghanistan Study Group, a project of the New America Foundation, drew on input from 46 academic experts and former policy-makers.

      For the full report, read A New Way Forward: Rethinking U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan. For an additional exit strategy by former State Department official William R. Polk read Steps Toward Withdrawal.

      The director of the current study group is Matthew Hoh, a former Marine and civilian adviser in Afghanistan, became the first US official to resign in protest of the Afghanistan war, in September 2009. Hoh, who was interviewed by the Bulletin last year, has become a passionate, outspoken and well-informed critic within the cloistered culture of national security policy.

      The report, A New Way Forward, represents the most organized stirring of dissent against the Obama-Petraeus Afghanistan policy by mainstream national security experts. Their alternative is sure to stir discussion during Obama’s December review of war policy and is the first to paint a scenario for an exit strategy.

      Nevertheless the proposal is only a gradual plan which assumes that conditions in Afghanistan will not radically change before the US carries out the prescribed drawdown.

      Indeed, at close reading it is not a plan for full military withdrawal at all. It would reverse the current escalation while still hoping to leave a smaller US “footprint.”

      It could marginalize the core voices of the American peace movement - those who favor a rapid withdrawal and end to occupation – in the Washington game.

      But it’s complicated.

      Start, for example, with the differences between the White House and the study group. They are stark. Obama and Richard Holbrooke frame Afghanistan as a national security threat. The study group report says the war “is not essential to US security” and the goal of building a new unified Afghanistan “is not a goal for which the US military is well-suited.” Instead of the counterinsurgency strategy mapped by Petraeus, the study group says the US “should move away from a counterinsurgency effort that is neither necessary nor likely to succeed.”

      The study group also plants a pole in the middle of the current debate between Obama’s current pledge to “begin” withdrawals by July 2011 and the lobbying effort by Petraeus and many others for a more open-ended commitment of several years. The study group pressures Obama to “stick to his pledge” and puts a numeric definition of what “beginning” should mean – 32,000 American troops leaving by October of next year. Were this timetable adhered to, the Afghans and, more importantly, the American public could believe the American occupation is ending. The peace dominoes would begin to fall.

      In the best case, a climate could be created compelling Obama to run for re-election in 2012 on a campaign of ending two wars. Such a campaign would be too consequential for today’s disillusioned peace voters to ignore.

      What is wrong with this scenario? Perhaps nothing at all if a momentum towards peace becomes unstoppable. But…

      First, the study group’s numbers freeze out the option of a more rapid withdrawal without offering a reason. One searches in vain for where the numbers came from? The study group helpfully notes the factors which it took into account: the minimum troop level needed to train Afghan troops, prevent “massive human rights atrocities” resist Taliban expansion, and “engage in robust counter-terrorism operations as needed.” But why a reduction of 32,000 troops by October 2011 instead of, say, 50,000? Why a reduction of another 38,000 by July 2012? When exactly should the US “eventually” discontinue combat operations? Does “reducing the US military footprint” mean trying to keep a residual force and permanent bases?

      The Bulletin sought answers to these questions from Hoh and the other sponsors of the report, Steve Clemons of the New American Foundation and Bill Goodfellow of the Center for International Policy, but received no reply by September 9.

      It seems clear, however, that this is more a de-escalation strategy than a withdrawal proposal. The total troop reductions envisioned approximate the number of new American troops who have been sent since Obama became president. If adopted, the president would be able to say he approved a “surge” as requested by his commanders in the field but kept faith with his pledge not to approve the open-ended commitment his opponents wished for.

      It also is worth noting that the troop numbers projected by a leading hawk like Michael O’Hanlon at the Brookings Institution blend with the numbers advocated by the doves at the new study group. 

      In his essay, “How the Afghan War Can Still Be Won,” O’Hanlon says that Obama will “run for re-election with more than 50,000 US troops still in Afghanistan, and with no realistic prospect of bringing them home early in what would be his second term.” This from a hawk who also writes that “thankfully, it appears unlikely that the United States will rapidly depart from Afghanistan starting in July 2011.” O’Hanlon supports the official plan drafted by Gen. Stanley McChrystal projecting three more years of fighting the Taliban while training the Afghan security forces. (O’Hanlon, Michael. Foreign Affairs, Sept./Oct.2010, pp. 78-79)

      But compare this hawkish projection – from 100,000 American troops today to 50,000 by the presidential campaign year 2012 – with the dovish projection of the study group – from 100,000 today to between 68,000 in October 2011 and 30,000 by July 2012. Splitting the difference between 68,000 and 30,000 results in a sum of 50,000. In the dovish scenario, US troop levels could well be 50,000 during the 2012 election campaign. Starting from apparently different assumptions, both hawks and doves in the national security world are envisioning comparable troop levels two years from now. 

      The question for serious peace organizers, and the huge bloc of peace voters who helped elect Obama in 2008, is whether this will look like a gradual withdrawal or yet another quagmire. Will Obama be able to campaign on a platform of ending two wars or stumbling into two quagmires?

      A think tank might provoke serious questioning in the Beltway, but only a mobilized peace movement can force the issues at basic precinct levels. The study group has a blueprint for de-escalation. but no map from here to there. It is not a substitute for an active peace movement. 

      There is a further problem with the insider strategy. It rests on powerful pragmatic reasoning – that the war is unwinnable and unaffordable [$100 billion per year to eradicate 20 or 30 Al Qaeda leaders in a country whose GDP is only $14 billion per annum]. But the report does not excoriate the US for fostering a regime of blatant corruption.  It says little of civilian casualties. It is as if the war and occupation might be worthwhile if only they were cheap and winnable.

      The danger in this focus on making the effective argument is that it diminishes any moral awareness of  the slaughter that we have participated in causing and by which the rest of the world judges us. For example, the media and most Americans believe the 2007 Iraq surge “worked” without any knowledge of the mass assassinations described, at least briefly, in Bob Woodward’s final book on the Bush years.

      Similarly, the study group recommends “robust counter-terrorism” without spelling out the scale and impact of drone attacks and nighttime raids by US Special Forces. Now we even are seeing the return of the body count as a metric of “success” after years of its rejection as a measure of anything meaningful. Last week, the body count concept crept into Gen. Petraus’ defense of the war for the first time in memory, when he told reporters, ”In June, July and August, United States and NATO forces killed or captured 235 insurgent leaders, killed 1,066 rank-and-file insurgents and captured an additional 1,673 rank-and-file insurgents." (New York Times, September 2)

      Who exactly were these “insurgents” and what were they “insurgents” against, besides the invasion of their villages? Were they secretly preparing a sanctuary for the Taliban’s imagined return? How many new insurgents replaced the dead ones? How many more families and children deepened their hatred of the United States?

      These are moral questions but they are related to real-world effects. For another example, why have more American soldiers committed suicide in the past year than have been killed in Afghanistan or Iraq? Could we be approaching a suicidal depression on a mass scale from these unwinnable, unaffordable and unnecessary wars? It may not be a useful role of study groups and think tanks to dwell on these questions. That is another reason there needs to be a peace movement. 

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      Reader Comments (7)

      Stop using words like war-wars, replace them with what is really happening; Occupations! The foreign policy of the the United States is based on Empire and unless we fight against that concept we will continue to flounder in our attempts to bring about peace.

      September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Walsh

      We are not in Afghanistan for any of the following reasons:
      1) Helping children and/or saving women from the Taliban
      2) Creating a democratic government to improve the workings of the country
      3) Stopping the heroin traffic
      4) Fighting terrorism or "winning a war on terror"
      5) Stopping any future U.S attacks

      This is being framed as a "national security" consideration because the massive oil, gas and mineral resources are at stake in the region and have driven any and all U.S. decisions for this war – from its origins. Our “national security” equates to continuously growing our oil-based economy, and this is corporately mandated. To do so, every major aspect of American life has been shaped by what is now a permanent war economy, with all financing diverted to promote every kind of war industry. Which in turn drives and “defends” our ever-increasing net energy demands – our “national security”.

      Almost every other form of U.S. manufacturing has been outsourced as a perpetually war-focused White House and a completely compliant Congress sponsor deindustrialization of the U.S. They instead favor production in Mexico and China and anywhere governments ban independent unions and foster dirt cheap labor.

      The ridiculous media obfuscations about "terrorism", etc. have to date prevented (deluded?) many from seeing the grim reality the U.S. faces at what are peak oil and peak resource tipping points. The U.S is the largest oil importer in the world, bringing in 14 million+ barrels per day, almost 70% of our total daily consumption and growing. Oil from the Middle East (the Persian Gulf) accounts for just 17 percent of U.S. imports, and while this dependence is also growing, we’re systematically expanding our military-backed control of resource imports across the globe.

      Lack of preparation by the U.S. for any kind of sustainable energy policy and practice force our total reliance on force, and our dominant energy demands have driven and will drive ALL decisions regarding the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. And this will likely force future conflicts with Iran and other nations who also seek and demand the same resources. The Pentagon makes the decisions in Central Asia, not Obama, and we will make deals with whatever governments are in place that are willing to work with us. The governments in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan all have atrocious human rights records, but this is of no interest to the State Department. Due to an omnipotent U.S. military presence in the region, we will continue do and expand our business with all of them. We’ve committed to resolve our energy and resource issues by application of credible threats, military strikes, use of overwhelming force and/or occupation. I’m unsure that advocating peace without also openly discussing rapid advancements of U.S. sustainability, economic, food and energy policies, and drastic changes to what is an unsustainable military industrial complex as we face peak oil realities, is realistic, or possible.

      September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul van Winkle

      Which brings us back to the report in a general sense. It just isn’t very well thought out. It relies on magical thinking, questionable assumptions, and has a glib attitude toward the policies it recommends. In fact, I’m pretty dismayed that respected scholars like Stephen Walt have endorsed it (think about that: one of the granddaddies of International Relations theory has endorse the idea that poverty causes terrorism). I don’t know if the Left is so desperate for an “out” from Afghanistan that they’re grasping at straws—it would at least make such shoddy work understandable, if its praise remains incomprehensible. From a longish critique on a blog.

      September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Pugliese

      Sorry, forgot to include the url for that critique.

      September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Pugliese

      ....“endemic poverty has made some elements of the population susceptible to Taliban overtures. Moreover, failed and destitute states frequently become incubators for terrorism, drug and human trafficking, and other illicit activities….”

      Sure. Well, a few comments on this statement of military justification. First, the opposite is also true. Endemic wealth and political influence has also made "some elements of...population(s) susceptible to Taliban overtures." For example, the US State Department, the CIA, the Pentagon, and the former Soviet elements of state -- all have conspired and conspire with the Taliban in efforts to extend and command local power points for reasons of occupational strategy. Second, the second part of the contention suggests that documented U.S. participation in drug trafficking, terrorism (often referred to as "counter-terrorism", the techniques and similarities of which are often indistinguishable from each other) and “illicit activities” are all somehow unique to those states whose land we’ve now destroyed, bombed and occupied. This may have connection to the notion of U.S. “divine right” of “dominion”, I don’t know, but it surely lacks coherence and the most modest requirements for honesty, directness and fact.
      Which is my point. The report continues to obstruct and frustrate readers from actual U.S. Central Asian mission objectives, clearly stated in the 106th Act of Congress as The Silk Road Strategy.

      The SRS constitutes a major building block of US foreign policy. So explain how so-called complicated merits for “withdrawal” ring true, when our openly stated national security initiatives specifically call for the creation of an energy and transport corridor network linking Western Europe to Central Asia and eventually to the Far East (The Silk Road). Occupied and controlled by us.

      The SRS calls for the "militarization of the Eurasian corridor" as an integral part of the "Great Game". The stated objective, under the March 1999 Silk Road Strategy Act, is to expand America's business empire along an extensive geographical corridor. And became, under the Bush Administration, the de facto basis of US-NATO interventionism, to integrate former Soviet republics of South Caucasus and Central Asia into the US sphere of influence. It’s success demands "militarization" of the entire Eurasian corridor from the Eastern Mediterranean to China's Western frontier bordering Afghanistan, as a means to securing control over the extensive oil and gas -- and "protecting" pipeline routes and trade corridors. The US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 advanced these objectives, and controls pipelines.

      The IMF and World Bank are as influential to the objectives as the Taliban, to foster "open market economies” (unregulated, authoritarian), to provide ROI for private investment, profits. This policy has long been defined by Washington as part of the American sphere of influence, part of the “American Century” neo-isms. We’re not going anywhere unless the right people influencing this colossal mess feel massive public pressures and financial pains.

      September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul van Winkle

      ....“endemic poverty has made some elements of the population susceptible to Taliban overtures. Moreover, failed and destitute states frequently become incubators for terrorism, drug and human trafficking, and other illicit activities….”
      . Let’s start with Harvard professor Alberto Abadie:

      In Poverty, Political Freedom, and the Roots of Terrorism (NBER Working Paper No. 10859) Alberto Abadie explores this link in greater detail and finds that the risk of terrorism is not significantly higher for poorer countries, once other country-specific characteristics are considered. In particular, Abadie finds that a country’s level of political freedom better explains the presence of terrorism.

      Unlike other recent studies on the causes of terrorism, Abadie’s work explores not only transnational instances of terrorism but also domestic ones. This difference is telling: In 2003, the MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base reported only 240 cases of transnational terrorism compared to 1,536 instances of domestic terrorism. Furthermore, Abadie suggests that the determinants of transnational and domestic terrorism may differ. “Much of modern-day transnational terrorism seems to generate from grievances against rich countries,” he writes. “In addition, in some cases terrorist groups may decide to attack property or nationals of rich countries in order to gain international publicity. As a result, transnational terrorism may predominantly affect rich countries. The same is not necessarily true for domestic terrorism.”

      While many studies have relied on measures of terrorism-related casualties or terrorist incidences as a proxy for the risk of terrorism, Abadie uses country-level ratings on terrorist risk from the Gglobal Tterrorism Iindex of the World Market Research Center, an international risk-rating agency. The index assesses terrorism risk in 186 countries and territories. In order to measure poverty, Abadie uses World Bank data on per capita gross domestic product as well as the United Nations Human Development Index and or the Gini coefficient (a measure of country-level income inequality). He also uses Freedom House’s political rights index as a measure of country-level political freedom and employs measures of linguistic, ethnic, and religious fractionalization. Finally, he includes data on climate and geography, since it is well known that certain geographic characteristics — such as being land-locked or in an area that is difficult to access — may offer safe haven to terrorist groups and facilitate training.

      After controlling for the level of political rights, fractionalization, and geography, Abadie concludes that per capita national income is not significantly associated with terrorism. He finds, though, that lower levels of political rights are linked to higher levels of terrorism countries with the highest levels of political rights are also the countries that suffer the lowest levels of terrorism.

      From research by Alan B. Krueger is Bendheim Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University. Jitka Maleckova is associate professor at the Institute for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Charles University in Prague:

      But a careful review of the evidence provides little reason for optimism that a reduction in poverty or an increase in educational attainment would, by themselves, meaningfully reduce international terrorism. Any connection between poverty, education, and terrorism is indirect, complicated, and probably quite weak. Instead of viewing terrorism as a direct response to low market opportunities or lack of education, we suggest it is more accurately viewed as a response to political conditions and long-standing feelings of indignity and frustration (perceived or real) that have little to do with economics.

      Even research going further back:

      The same patterns apply outside of the Middle East. For example, a study by Charles Russell and Bowman Miller (reprinted in the 1983 book Perspectives on Terrorism) considered 18 revolutionary groups, including the Japanese Red Army, Germany’s Baader-Meinhof Gang, and Italy’s Red Brigades. The authors found that “the vast majority of those individuals involved in terrorist activities as cadres or leaders is quite well-educated. In fact, approximately two-thirds of those identified terrorists are persons with some university training, [and] well over two-thirds of these individuals came from the middle or upper classes in their respective nations or areas.”

      September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Pugliese

      The Afghanistan Study Group Report: An Exercise in Determined Ignorance
      by JOSHUA FOUST on 9/11/2010 · 73 COMMENTS
      I finally finished reviewing the Afghanistan Study Group report. It wasn’t easy—the group itself mysteriously neglected to include any experts on Afghanistan or the military—and is riddled with questionable interpretations of history, logical fallacies, and inconsistency of argument. I often joke that the three words that most reliably strike fear into the hearts of government analysts or pundits is, “what’s your evidence?” This report does not survive such a basic, simple question.

      The only member of the group who has spent any time outside of Kabul is ASG Director Matthew Hoh, who displays an impressive arrogance in describing himself as a “Former State Department Official” (in reality: Hoh was a temporary employee on a PRT who walked off the job early and mailed his resignation letter to the Washington Post—hardly deserving of the term “official,” unless all State Department employees are officials now).

      Put briefly, the ASG Report:

      Eschews expertise on Afghanistan or the military;
      Distorts the nature of the threat;
      Does not account for the realistic consequences of its recommendations;
      Does not support questionable assertions and assumptions;
      Misrepresents vital American interests in the region;
      Implicitly blames Pashtuns for militancy, instead of the social and historical pressures driving the insurgency;
      Is cut and pasted multiple times, leading to lots of repeated assertions with little argument to support them; and
      Is inconsistent and contradictory in consecutive paragraphs and sections.
      In other words, the Afghanistan Study Group Report is a hot tranny mess. For example, here is what page 2 looks like with the trouble spots marked up:

      I’m not kidding when I say every single page is like that—riddled with problems. I’ll highlight some of them below, with the understanding that this is a selection of the problematic sections and arguments contained within.

      The ASG denies the argument that the current conflict is a struggle between the Karzai government and an insurgent movement, and instead says it is a civil war between ethnicities (i.e. southern Pashtuns and everyone else), between cities and the countryside, and over sectarian differences.

      First off, that doesn’t make any sense.

      There are Tajiks in the insurgency (see this Al Jazeera English report on one Tajik insurgent leader in Herat), plus one of the major insurgent groups is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, whose base of power is in Zabul, and the northern provinces of Takhar, Samangan, and Jawzjan.
      The rural areas of Afghanistan support the government as often as they oppose it. The vast majority of Afghanistan’s population lives in low-density farming villages; the majority of the residents in those areas do not actively oppose the government. And,
      Describing a conflict as sectarian is usually followed by an explanation of what the specific sectarian cleavage is. There’s more evidence to say there is a sectarian element in the war, but it’s not as simple as “crazies versus non-crazies”—if there were, then there wouldn’t be the seeming ease by which Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Pashtuns all switch sides and choose to express their faith differently.
      Secondly, that describes a struggle between the Karzai government and “an insurgent Taliban movement.” This is the first paragraph of the report: right off the bat, they’re using a strawman to describe a view they reject, but because they didn’t consult anyone with expertise on Afghanistan—and to repeat, a few months on a PRT in a backwater province does not grant one expertise on the country—they didn’t know how to properly reframe the conflict to support their argument.<SNIP>

      September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Pugliese

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