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      Monday
      May302011

      How to Rate Obama on Afghanistan

      President Obama will announce troop withdrawal plans for Afghanistan in the coming weeks. (Image / PJRC)Do you know that President Obama is making his most important decision of the Afghanistan War? What will you do about it?
       
      In the next few weeks Obama will announce his decision about how many American troops to pull out of Afghanistan between this July and the November 2012 election. Though the dynamics of war can change, there will be no further administration proposals on troop numbers after this big one. From July forward, it will be all presidential campaigning.
       
      Since there is no single organization that commands the allegiance of millions of anti-war voters, the final judgment on whether this president deserves re-election will be made in a very decentralized process of personal decision-making. The peace bloc therefore counts, in terms of vote totals, registration, turnout, and volunteer turnout.
       
      Only by being informed, active and critical can the peace bloc ensure that Obama works to get our support.
       
      Here’s a way to rate Obama on these issues.
       
      Obama has promised to “begin” American withdrawals in July and intends to end any U.S. combat role by 2014. It all comes down to these scenarios.
       
      SCENARIO 1. A token withdrawal of 10-15,000 troops starting this July. This is the Pentagon’s agenda, say no more. If this is all Obama promises, he will lose the support of the entire peace bloc, though some may vote for him on other grounds.
       
      SCENARIO 2. A withdrawal of 30-33,000 troops to pre-surge levels. This would return U.S. forces to their numbers when Obama took office in 2009. In his presidential review that year, Obama gave his generals the additional troops they were demanding, but only with a promise that the surge would be limited in duration. Scenario 2 would split the peace vote between those seeing it as a “step in the right direction” versus those considering it more lives and tax dollars wasted for nothing. After four years, Obama would have the same number of troops on the ground as the day he was inaugurated.  
       
      SCENARIO 3. A withdrawal of 50,000 or more troops, reflecting the demand of the Democratic National Committee for a significant and substantial withdrawal by 2012. While this still would prolong the war by still leaving 50,000 US troops in Afghanistan, it would free up $60-80 billion for domestic uses, break the dynamic of the Long War, and motivate a more urgent drive towards a diplomatic exit strategy, including talks with the Taliban. Though far from perfect, this scenario would win substantial support from the peace bloc of voters.
       
      SCENARIO 4: Complete withdrawal by 2012, and a transfer of funds to domestic priorities. This is the essential position of the broad peace and justice movement. It also appears to have broad support in opinion polls. It is consistent with Barbara Lee’s position, though with a specific deadline. Without its advocacy, the moderate #3 policy of withdrawing 50,000 troops becomes the “extreme” end of the spectrum.
       
      There is no guessing the president’s mind on this, but a political calculation will be integral to his decision. How much risk does he take by alienating the peace vote in a close election? He himself has given hints of “significant” reductions in an Associated Press interview several weeks ago. Many liberal Washington insiders, already disappointed with his performance, are expecting the worst scenario. But the killing of Osama bin Ladin and the likely similar fate for Muamar al-Qaddafi, plus his escalating drone attacks on Pakistan, certainly fortify Obama against claims that he is “soft on terror”, freeing his hand for a power-sharing compromise with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
       
      Since there is no Peace Lobby capable of negotiating or delivering a peace vote in the old-time electoral manner, millions of individuals will are capable of evaluating, changing their minds, and withholding their votes right up to the November 2012 election.
       
      It’s time to be informed and start the process now. A strong majority of voters already have signified their support for a more rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan than either Obama or the D.C. political leadership can presently imagine. But if enough voters can make them imagine their defeat, the politicians may join the call for peace.
       
      How to make “the Good Noise”, as one reader puts it. Steps you can take:

      • Let everyone know, starting with your Congressional and political party representatives that your vote depends on Afghanistan and the transfer of funds to domestic priorities.
      • Broaden the fight, by taking your demands to local labor federations, clergy and religious groups, seniors and others frightened over budget cuts, and environmentalists opposed to oil polluters. Electoral politics is about single-issue groups making effective coalitions.
      • Your vote, your volunteering and your contributions must not be taken for granted by your Congressional candidates facing a hard fight through November. For starters, tell them flatly that it’s fiscal madness to claim to be a deficit hawk while trying to be a war hawk at the same time.
      • Let the voters know the Afghan voting records of your politicians. Instead of blogging to the moon, start a collective voter file for online messages to large numbers of voters in your district. Politicians do not want their bad votes known widely at election time.

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      Reader Comments (4)

      I hear you Tom. I heard you in Ann Arbor in 1971 and I hear you now. In 1967, my hometown buried the first and only Vet killed in Nam. A couple weeks ago that same small town buried the first 19 year old boy killed in Afghanistan. Too many have already died due to the Bush/Cheney War Machine-it has to be turned around starting now.

      May 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Kovach

      Thanks for presenting this so clearly, Tom. I continue to see signs that Obama is positioning himself to go with Scenario 3, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof. Around the time of the announcement that Leon Panetta would be taking over at Defense, suddenly there was a significant escalation in the rhetoric from various directions about the economic implications of our foreign policy. Obama is also consistently turning up the heat on the fact that other countries will need to step up to the plate and start carrying their own weight in law enforcement actions around the globe, a necessary component of our beginning to scale back on the world cop burden we’ve been shouldering ever since World War II. Taking out bid Laden gives him macho cred for making a significant shift in our orientation a major component of the next election.

      My late brother was an Army paratrooper in Vietnam in ’67 and ’68, and I have very strong convictions about the long-term effects of war on families (among other things). I’m unlikely to get fooled again by any bait-and-switch or rationalizing/re-packaging of the same-old same-old in our foreign policy. To date, I see many encouraging signs in what Obama is signaling and have not seen any real cause for alarm. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything he’s doing, just that I think there’s a sophisticated strategy going on and that the overall trend is positive. We’ll know soon enough – at least there’s that.

      May 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie Battle

      What I find most valuable in Tom's piece is the important strategic understanding that without emphatically putting complete withdrawal by 2012 and a transfer of funds to domestic priorities (Scenario 4) on the table, "the moderate #3 policy of withdrawing 50,000 troops becomes the 'extreme' end of the spectrum." The neocons have shifted the public discourse to the right by pursuing this approach, and it's time for progressives to recognize how important it is to stand up for what we know is right rather than be cautiously pragmatic.

      May 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Schnapp

      We can wrap it up in a million scenarios, in poetry, in drama, in truth, in fiction. We can talk it up and down, to The Milky Way and back again. We can cry and rage and blame and be horrified and suffer from ptsd and lose limbs and hopes and dreams and sons and daughters and die and on and on...............We do not belong in Afghanistan. We can not turn it into a piece of the West (with our rules.) It is not up to us to change life there and we can't anyway. Our world changes organically, when people have had enough and they rise up, willing to die in order to create a new life that they can believe in. It has been so all through recorded history and right in front of our eyes with those beautiful brave people in the Middle East achieving what I couldn't have dreamed of ever seeing. Afghanistan is not our land or culture or history and we do not belong there! Terrorism is very mobile and hard to stop someone who wants to blow himself up. We can protect ourselves against radical terrorist without being in Afghanistan. My heart cries for so many young American lives lost, for so many civilian lives lost. We have placed ourselves in a position of obligation though. The soldiers need to go home......and those corrupt defense companies......and lets ask how we can help, what are their desires and dreams? Maybe they will say........bring on the teachers, the builders, the writers, the artists, the engineers, the employers, the visionaries and get rid of that corrupt governement at the very least! A united peoples who don't want taliban rule will use their strength to achieve that.

      May 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea Schnitzler
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