President Obama, in a prudent move, has relocated this May’s G-8 (One Percent) summit from Chicago’s unpredictable streets to the protected woods of Camp David, leaving NATO to face the demands of the peace movement in a more focused confrontation this May 18-19.
The chance of a diversionary confrontation between protestors and the security forces of the US and Chicago police may have diminished due to Obama’s relocation of the G-8 which, he diplomatically said, was to allow more intimate talks to take place in the Camp David setting.
Obama and NATO still must deal with strong majorities preferring negotiations rather than war over Iran, an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan-Pakistan, and honest answers about rising drone attacks.
The best scenario for Obama is to use the NATO summit to diminish the threat of a war against Iran while promising to end the occupation of Afghanistan before the current deadline of 2014. If the NATO summit becomes a peace summit, Obama positions himself in the presidential election as the positive alternative to a reckless Republican candidate calling for military action at whatever cost, during a time when America’s domestic budget is being shredded by deficits, cuts and political paralysis.
There are increasing signs that Obama is seeking to avoid an Iran War while ending Afghanistan-Pakistan.
First, the president did his best to resist the recent political siege of Washington by Benjamin Netanyahu and his loyal AIPAC army. Though a few brave souls from J Street to Code Pink offered rational alternatives, Congress was servile before AIPAC, leaving Obama with little protection. He took the smart political course of attacking his Republican opponents for pandering and issuing idle threats of unleashing war in the Middle East. Romney is a former business partner of Netanyahu, Santorum an unreconstructed Catholic crusader, and Gingrich is a shameless recipient of millions from billionaire Zionist casino magnate calling for war from Las Vegas.
Obama did bend to the Israelis and AIPAC by declaring that his policy is to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon rather than containing a nuclear Iran sometime in the future. He further acknowledged the sovereign “right” of Israel to take military action alone. Those words were consoling for Netanyahu, but far short of a commitment by Obama to Israel’s demand for a preventive war. If and when (and if ever) Iran develops a bomb, Obama will have to revisit his refusal to contain Teheran and begin doing just that. If and when Israel decides to strike Iran pre-emptively, they may be alone. In the meantime, another flurry of foggy international negotiations appears to be underway, lessening the prospect of war for the moment.
Meanwhile, the catastrophic spectacles of American troops urinating on Afghan bodies and burning Korans has provided Obama a new opportunity to cast the Afghanistan war as a hopeless cause. Obama can say that he has tried escalation but it can never work without a unified Afghan partner, and thus take steps to leave. He began to move in that direction yesterday, when he said, “It’s an indication of the challenges in that environment, and it’s an indication that it’s time for us to transition.” Meanwhile, 23 US senators released a letter yesterday calling for an accelerated withdrawal, and pending legislation by Rep. Barbara Lee to cut Afghan funding is likely to receive more than 100 House votes later this year.
Afghanistan simply cannot be pacified. Its nationalism cannot be Americanized. Its corruption cannot be reformed. Its unpopular unrepresentative government can never survive without US-NATO military occupation and secret ops. The cultural differences can never be bridged. There may not be time even for a face-saving exit. It already has cost US taxpayers over $500 billion directly without counting far more indirect long-term costs.
There is no solution, but “no solution” is no excuse for further death, destruction and waste.
The Republicans, the neo-cons and some in the Pentagon will continue to argue for the defeat of the Taliban and the securing of permanent bases. But no one will be listening much longer, as a majority of Americans conclude that, despite significant efforts, the war is going nowhere or getting worse.
A cease-fire and power-sharing arrangement including the Taliban, other insurgent warlords, and elements of the former Northern Alliance is the only way to recognize the stalemate and move forward. Protections for Afghanistan’s women and progressives will only be won, if at all, in negotiations that include a US-NATO timeline for withdrawal of all troops.
It is time for a unilateral peace initiative by the US, NATO and the United Nations now, without waiting for an elusive concurrence from the Taliban, Kabul and the various warlords. Draw a red line around Kabul, pull out US troops from insurgent-dominated provinces, announce a timeline for further redeployments, and condition future international aid and support on a compromise settlement that recognizes the existing balance of forces on the ground. Don’t let the US become hostage to the agendas of either Karzai and his cronies or the insurgent fundamentalists. Announce that drone strikes will end over Pakistan when a transitional arrangement starts in Afghanistan.
That’s the easy part. The hard part will be a diplomatic initiative, implemented openly and behind the scenes, to ask the real regional powers to step into the crisis as the US and NATO withdrawal – and here is where Iran is connected to Afghanistan-Pakistan.
Iran, which borders Afghanistan, is a longtime ally of the Northern Alliance which fought against the Taliban/Pashtun forces, and specifically, Iran shares ancient linkages with the Hazara-Shi’a tribal communities who constitute perhaps 15 percent of the Afghan population in the mountainous center of the countruy. Simply put, in order to stabilize Afghanistan, the Hazara will need assurances that they will be protected in a new power-sharing arrangement. Iran, which harbors perhaps one million Hazara refugees from Afghanistan, must be part of the negotiations as a guarantor. That is unlikely to happen while the US and NATO powers are caught up in brinksmanship and possible war with Iran.
The other regional powers who must be part of any effort to stabilize Afghanistan are Pakistan, China, Russia and Turkey, all having difficult but manageable relations with the United States (and India, a US strategic ally). NATO and the West in general will have to get it through their thick white skulls that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has no enduring business in South Asia except for diminishing the threat of “terrorist havens.” If the Taliban gives credible assurances that they will not protect Al Qaeda cells bent on attacking the West, and if the US retains an offshore counter-terrorism capacity after the war, there is no basis whatever for American troops or bases in Afghanistan. It should be equally clear that there can be no transition out of Afghanistan without the regional neighbors coming to play a more natural and normal role in the area’s diplomacy.
To be clear, the unannounced overall peace deal will have to include US assurances to Iran that their Hazara allies in Afghanistan will be protected from their Taliban enemies, and Iran will have to contribute to reducing the tensions over their nuclear program, at least for the short-term. The prospect of such a deal would draw support at least from Russia, China and Turkey.
The peace movement, and other shapers of public opinion, have a key role to play in raising the call for a non-military solution to the Iran crisis and an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan. In the streets of Chicago or along the campaign trail, that would translate into a few simple demands: No War with Iraq, Troops Out of Afghanistan, and Invest in Jobs and Justice, Not War and Occupation.
UPDATE: On March 7, 2012, 24 Senators called for a “more rapid reduction” of US troops in Afghanistan than currently planned by the administration. The letter, however, supports a continued US counter-terrorism policy in Afghanistan alongside a transition from a US combat role to training, advising and assisting the Afghan forces. The letter is here:
March 7, 2012
The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama:
We write to express our support of a transition of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from a combat role to a training, advising and assistance role next year, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stated was his intention on February 1st, 2012. Although we would prefer a more rapid reduction of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the statement made by the Secretary is a positive step towards ending the decade long war.
It is time to bring our troops home from Afghanistan. The United States intervened in Afghanistan to destroy al Qaeda’s safe haven, remove the Taliban government that sheltered al Qaeda, and pursue those who planned the September 11th attacks on the United States. Thanks to the exceptional service and sacrifice made by the American Armed Forces and our allies, those objectives have largely been met. We should continue to confront America’s enemies wherever they are through targeted counterterrorism operations and end the large scale counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan.
We simply cannot afford more years of elevated troop levels in Afghanistan. We are spending roughly $10 billion in Afghanistan each month at a time when we’re making tough sacrifices at home. Your recent budget calls for $88 billion more for the war in Afghanistan in 2013. If this money is appropriated, we will have spent a total of $650 billion in Afghanistan. A majority of Americans worry that the costs of the war in Afghanistan will make it more difficult for the government to address the problems facing the United States at home. They’re right.
Our troops and their families have made unimaginable sacrifices during the past ten years of war in Afghanistan. Over 1,900 American troops have been killed and over 14,300 have been wounded. Thousands more return home with invisible wounds that will make it difficult to ever again enjoy life the way they did before the war.
There is strong bipartisan support in Congress to change course in Afghanistan. The majority of Americans want a safe and orderly drawdown of forces in Afghanistan. In May, the U.S. House of Representatives nearly passed an amendment to the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act requiring a plan to accelerate the drawdown of troops from Afghanistan. A similar amendment introduced by Senators Merkley, Lee, T. Udall, and Paul was passed by the U. S. Senate on November 30th.
We look forward to reviewing the report required by Section 1221 of the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which will set benchmarks to evaluate progress toward the assumption by the Afghan government of lead responsibility for security in all areas of Afghanistan. In light of the comments made by Secretary Panetta on February 1st, we would also be interested in learning more about how quickly U.S. troops will be coming home, the number and purpose of troops that might remain in Afghanistan and for how long a period, and the costs and savings of accelerating the completion of combat operations. Nonetheless, we welcome his announcement and encourage you to take every possible step to end the large scale combat operations in Afghanistan and transition our effort to a targeted counterterrorism strategy.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI)
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV)
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)