Welcome to Week 2 in our School of Activism series on building a peace movement to end the Long War.
First, I want to share some immediate information, and then we’ll get more deeply into the subject of ending these wars.
As I speak, the House is voting on a number of anti-war amendments. One of them, by Brooklyn Congressman Jerry Nadler, and California’s Barbara Lee and Pete Stark, would cut 90 percent of the funding for Afghanistan. The vote will give us an initial measure of anti-war attitudes in the new House, including the Tea Party faction. [Good work, Brooklyn Neighbors for Peace in Congressman Nadler’s district!]
I was in Washington, D.C. this week and had the opportunity to meet with Barbara Lee and Jim McGovern. In a conversation with McGovern today, he said he plans to reintroduce a new version of his legislation requiring an exit strategy including a withdrawal timetable from the Obama administration, on a much faster track than the administration’s goal of 2014. Last year the measure received 162 votes in the House, including a majority of all Democrats. I hope our friends in New England will have Congressman McGovern’s back.
As for Barbara Lee, she is not only carrying her legislation to cut off all funding except that required to bring the troops home, she is beginning a very important campaign to align the Democratic Party with the goals of the peace movement. The hope is to send President Obama a clear message that rank-and-file want a significant reduction of troops starting this July, a more rapid timetable than 2014, and a redirection of those funds into job creation at home.
Lee has introduced a resolution at the Democratic National Committee meeting scheduled for Feb. 26 in Washington, D.C. – those of you progressive and grass roots Democrats can find out your DNC delegates from you state party and try to persuade them to vote for Lee’s resolution.
President Obama’s longtime supporters at the Center for American Progress are among those who have retreated from their earlier pro-war position. In a new document dated November 2010, the CAP recommends a troop reduction of 60,000 American troops beginning now through the end of 2012. Then a residual force would remain through the 2014 election, which chooses a successor to Karzai and, not by coincidence, is the year Obama and NATO now plan to withdraw.
But there is enormous pressure from certain generals, contractors and Republicans to force Obama into a minimal withdrawal announcement in July, which would worsen the budget and deficit crisis, alienate many in the peace movement and leave him with a quagmire during the election year.
There are sharp divisions among the Democratic Party elites over these policy choices. On one side are president Obama, vice-president Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, while on the other side are Secretary of State Clinton, General Petraeus, Secretary Gates and the Republican leadership. They all support differing versions of America’s global power, but with differences that matter in terms of human and budgetary costs.
The Obama-Clinton difference is a deep one, appearing before over the Honduras coup and more recently over whether to identify with the street protests in Egypt against Mubarak. In the Afghanistan case, Bob Woodward’s inside account is very clear. Biden is trying to question the generals’ request for 40,000 more troops and a longer timeline, when Clinton speaks up, saying, “I endorse this effort…We must act like we’re going to win.” Woodward goes on, “Petraeus was blown away. What a persuasive, powerful and magnificent performance, he thought.” Gen. McChrystal also praised Clinton in his infamous Rolling Stone interview. She was siding in this internal debate with the Pentagon against the president and vice-president, even against Richard Holbrooke and her deputy Jim Steinberg [p. 250] while the President’s Review was underway. At the time, the president was saying privately to his advisers that the Pentagon was “really cooking the thing in the direction they wanted.” [p. 280] Woodward goes on, “Clinton was joining forces with the uniformed military and the secretary of defense, diminishing the president’s running room.” [p. 254]
As Barbara Lee has advised, we need to change the President’s calculus for 2012. Her resolution before the DNC is a step in that process, as are the Congressional battles ahead.
To find the point person in your Congressional office on Afghanistan, go to the downloads section of our website, or view directly here.
If these seem like small steps, you are right, but of course our own natural footsteps are small as well. It’s a question of strategy and direction. Step by step we can remove our personal and political support from the Long War at its focal point, Afghanistan. We can pushing back against the military and the contractors. We can create a political climate to compel the president to withdraw as rapidly as possible. And we can create a climate of questioning the whole direction and funding of the Long War on Terror.
We soon will be in the midst of an enormous fight over funding Afghanistan in the midst of budgets and deficits. For information about the cost of these wars, go to Nationalpriorities.com. Join local movements to “keep bring our war dollars home.” Go to Code Pink or the Center for Research on Globalization.
Rebuild America or Bomb Afghanistan is the question. In recent hours I have heard from Dawson Barrett, a TA in Milwaukee, and Paul Buhle, a professor in Madison, about thousands of students and workers walking out all over Wisconsin, against a right-wing governor who threatens not only cuts in education but wiping out the protections of unions. For Wisconsin, by the way, the tax dollars spent in Afghanistan in one year by local residents would pay for 27,000 public school teachers. These are the connections we must make.
Last week I talked about the strategy of putting pressure on the pillars that support these policies:
- Public opinion
- Budget costs
- Military capacity
- The mainstream media
- The moral [clergy] pillar
- The NATO alliance structure
Since that time, revolutionary uprisings have swept across Egypt and many other countries central to the US strategy of the Long War. These client states too are essential pillars of the policy. The Mubarak dictatorship tortured and repressed its Islamic movement. It provided air space and cooperated with the US military in Iraq. It collaborated with rendition and torture policies. It operates a hospital facility in Afghanistan. It cooperated with the U.S. and Israel in containing Gaza.
Losing Mubarak is a huge setback for the Long Warriors. Other links in the chain are being yanked too. Yemen where we operate drone strikes and special forces. Bahrain where we have the Central Command of our naval forces. Jordan, which has participated in training Iraqi police under CIA advice. In Iraq, where al-Maliki just announced he wouldn’t be running again in 2014. In Pakistan, where 80 percent oppose our secret military intervention.
Which brings me to the most vulnerable pillar of U.S. Afghanistan policy, the Kabul regime of Hamid Karzai. For American soldiers and their families, the burning question is why die for Karzai?
In classic counterinsurgency, the imperial power – in this case, ourselves and NATO – is supposed to isolate and crush the insurgency while building up the army of the client state and creating a popular base by creating jobs and social services. Little of this has happened during the Long War on Terrorism, and this may become the Achilles Heel of the Obama policy. As the Woodward book reports, some intelligence experts believe that Kandahar is susceptible to a mass uprising like the 1968 Tet Offensive, or the current uprising across the Arab world. [p. 249]
The Karzai regime is always in the Intensive Care Unit for one disastrous reason or another. For the latest shocking information on its corruption, read Dexter Filkins’ piece in the current issue of the New Yorker. Scott Attran wrote in the New York Times last October, “there isn’t a single Afghan army brigade that can hold its own against Taliban troops.” In the vacuum, Gen. Petraeus is funding, training and building up a warlord network from the bottom up.
Which leaves three options:
First, a permanent war of unknown duration, at $100 billion each year, with the mission, in the words of Obama adviser Bruce Reidel, “killing them until they stop killing us.”
Or second, preparing ourselves for the “least bad option”, a de facto partition of the Pashtun south and east against the Northern Alliance north and west of Afghanistan. See Robert Blackwell, “Plan B in Afghanistan”, Foreign Affairs, Jan.-Feb. 2011]
Or third, double down on a failed strategy for another 5 or more years, passing up a soft landing and risking a crash landing on the Egyptian model or another violent attack on the U.S. and Europe.
Here are the political choices before President Obama – either to campaign on a platform in 2012 of trying to end two wars, or accept two quagmires that will worsen his deficit and budget crisis, and hope the voters re-elect him anyway.