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      Key Decisions on Afghanistan, Iraq Coming Any Day

      This article originally appeared at The Nation on May 11, 2011.

      The Obama administration is on the verge of decisions that will permanently define the Afghanistan and Iraq wars through the 2012 election.

      Obama will decide, first, how many US troops to begin pulling out of Afghanistan starting this July and running through 2012 and, second, whether to comply with the current plan to withdraw all American forces from Iraq by this December, or leave troops and bases behind.

      At stake politically is whether the president will choose to campaign through 2012 on a platform of ending two quagmires costing trillions of tax dollars and thousands of lives, or whether he will portray himself as staying the course in the “war on terrorism,” building on the death of Osama bin Laden.

      Once these decisions are made in the weeks ahead, there are likely to be no further changes in US policy toward Afghanistan and Iraq until 2013, unless unexpected events intervene. The electoral cycle will be in full gear, and politicians are unlikely to change their rhetoric under voter and media scrutiny.

      Many progressive activists may feel powerless in this situation, when large-scale peace demonstrations are unlikely and Congressional opposition is limited. Unlike in labor or civil rights politics, there is no large-scale Peace Lobby to bargain with the White House. But the very decentralized and amorphous nature of peace sentiment means that Obama will have to constantly address the feelings and criticisms of millions of voters unhappy with the slow pace of military withdrawals in the context of economic crisis. Polls consistently show that 75–85 percent of Democratic voters, and a smaller majority of independents, want a more rapid withdrawal than currently planned.

      Peace voters will want to hear a clear message: that Obama intends to phase out of two wars and transfer billions to our needs at home. Absent that message, Obama risks a serious falloff in 2012 support, votes, door-knocking and grassroots mobilization.

      Here are some important developments in this fast-moving situation:

      First, important elements of Obama’s base are lining up to support a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) passed a resolution in late February supporting significant and substantial troop reductions. Obama himself used almost identical language in an interview with the Associated Press on April 15. Shortly after, MoveOn, Howard Dean’s Democracy for America and the Campaign for America’s Future launched petition drives. The liberal coalition Win Without War activated its e-mails. The substantive policy work was completed last December when the Campaign for American Progress (CAP), originally supportive of the Afghanistan escalation, switched to a phaseout proposal blandly titled “Realignment: Managing a Stable Transition to Afghan Responsibility.”  

      The new sentiment for change also came from Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar, chair and co-chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. While opposing a “precipitous withdrawal” (whatever that means), they called it unsustainable to spend $10 billion per month on the military occupation.

      True to their continuous resistance to White House policy, the American military pushed back this week with a token proposal to withdraw only 10,000 troops this year, and an official April 13 Pentagon report to Congress laid out a long-term nation-building/counterinsurgency plan that contemplates no significant troop withdrawals. The Pentagon report reflects the thinking of Gen. David Petraeus, who will become the new CIA director during a period of heightened drone wars. (For more discussion of how the Pentagon tries to manipulate and box in President Obama, see Bob Woodward’s excellent inside coverage in Obama’s Wars.) Worse, the House was poised on Wednesday to codify a war authorization, including detention without trial, justifying a permanent Long War against Al Qaeda, the Taliban and “associated forces.”

      If Obama chooses to side with the military’s proposal for a token 10,000 reduction, he is likely to disappoint everyone from the moderate-to-militant spectrum of the peace voting bloc.

      Obama can choose a more significant number to attract more peace voters back into the fold, especially now that his commander-in-chief status is fortified. Here are his choices:

      —Withdraw 32,000 troops between July 2011 and November 2012, effectively drawing down the “surge” forces he sent in 2009. Declaring the surge over might placate some voters and US allies, but would leave US forces exactly where they were before the surge began, with 70,000 US troops fighting an inconclusive war against the Taliban, with bin Laden no longer a factor. American deaths in Afghanistan will climb well past 1,500 under Obama, in a war whose apparent purpose is not to suffer damage to our military reputation or to prop up the unsalvageable Karzai regime.

      —Take the advice of CAP and withdraw 60,000 US troops between now and 2012, leaving a force of 40,000, which would be reduced further to 10,000–15,000 by the next Afghanistan presidential election in 2014. CAP says the reserve force could be stationed “in the region," and be responsible for intelligence, training and targeted strikes against terrorist groups. If the Karzai government continues to flounder, CAP recommends an accelerated withdrawal.

      —The Afghanistan Study Group (ASG), a branch of the New American Foundation, proposes a more rapid reduction of 32,000 by this October, effectively ending the surge, and another 35,000 by July 2012. Its proposal would save the US $60 billion to $80 billion per year and “reduce local resentment at our large and intrusive military presence.”

      —To improve his peace image, Obama also needs to engage in, and not block, a conflict-resolution process involving talks with the Taliban and other insurgents, territorial compromise and power-sharing arrangements. Perhaps owing to Pentagon pressure, he has been slow to engage and faces the danger of reopening fractious divisions between the Tajik-Uzbek-Hazara north and the Pashtun-Taliban south that have never been quelled by a decade of intervention. Now the proposed new war authorization could vastly complicate talks involving representatives of the Taliban and “associated forces” in Afghanistan.

      Obama is likely to benefit politically only if he follows the advice of CAP, ASG and the Democratic National Committee, and links the troop withdrawals to savings for the domestic economy.

      Even such significant reductions would leave tens of thousands of American troops mired in Afghanistan, but the dynamic of the so-called Long War would be disrupted and NATO forces would be supportive allies.  

      Whether progressives like it or not, Obama no longer has to make concessions to his military over Afghanistan now that bin Laden is dead. Instead of compromising between choices of 10,000 troops and, say, 60,000, resulting in only 30,000, he can resume the posture of fighting terrorism through counterterrorism in Pakistan while claiming “victory” and pulling out of Afghanistan. He may add to his military credentials by forcing Qaddafi out of Libya and destroying the Al Qaeda cell in southern Yemen in the weeks ahead. Obama can balance those military strokes, if he wishes, by keeping his promise to withdraw all American forces from Iraq, another decision that must be made over Pentagon opposition.

      Where might this leave the peace movement? In the best case now possible, public opinion and the Democratic rank-and-file will have begun to achieve the ending to two quagmires at savings of over $100 billion per year, and troop reductions of 100,000 from Afghanistan and Iraq. At the same time, more educating, organizing and resistance will be necessary to expose and derail the Long War policy, end the escalating drone wars, adapt constructively to the Arab revolutions and defend WikiLeaks, and Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, who face trials, extradition and (in Manning’s case) a military tribunal for their alleged roles in exposing hidden truths about Afghanistan, Iraq and US foreign policy.

      The Long War will require a long peace movement. To its proponents, like David Kilcullen, the Long War may continue another seventy years (that’s eighteen more presidential terms). Obama adviser Bruce Reidel summarizes the strategy in Woodward’s book: “we have to keep killing them until they stop killing us.” These hawks apparently don’t care about the effects at home of another seventy war years, which would decimate our domestic economy and draw curtains around our democracy.

      But the momentum of the Long War can be broken, like a fever that runs its course, if the body is healthy enough. Along the way, the American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq--what Kilcullen archly calls “small wars in the midst of a big one”--can be ended, freeing resources for the fight at home against the corporate and banking elites that have paid little or no taxes in support of the longest and costliest wars in American history.

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      • Response
        Response: Might and Right
        There’s a wonderful passage in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King in which the young King Arthur begins asking the big philosophical questions. The wizard Merlin, who has tutored him ever since he was a small child, is the one person present in the Royal Chamber who understands the ...

      Reader Comments (5)

      "...freeing resources for the fight at home against the corporate and banking elites that have paid little or no taxes in support of the longest and costliest wars in American history," and, I take the liberty to add, have profitted the most from them, . The fact is that the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex has set a scientific-technocratic elite over us to manage a garrison state dependent on a war economy, which benefits mostly the war munitions business at the expense of justice, common sense, our economic life, and civil liberty. Thousands of papers and studies have been published for more than a half-century on why we should change from a war economy to a peace economy, and divert workers from producing only that which explodes. But it hasn't happened yet. We need specific proposals and then demands along this line, and to focus our attention on this fundamental flaw, the "unwarranted influence" of the weaponsmakers, and produce workable solutions for ending that influence. For example: I don't mind if they keep making ICBMs with big, non-atomic bombs, as long as they are pointed at the Asteroid Belt, and are un-programmable for anywhere on earth. I don't mind if they keep making (non-nuclear) aircraft carriers, as long as they are outfitted for disaster-recovery work. I do very much mind that they make and sell more small and medium-sized arms than any nation on earth, which only encourages violent conflict between people, who might otherwise have solved their differences with discussion, negotiation, and reason. Peace is still an outlaw wherever armsmakers rule.

      May 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMike Havenar

      General Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about the Industrial Military Complex in the 1950's, and nobody listened. The IMC is "The Government within the Government " running this country. Presidents and staffers come and go but the money people investing in the IMC call the shots.

      Afghanistan is just one of many examples of Industrial Military control. It's beginning for the USA was during the Clinton Administration. For those of you not well acquainted with why the USA is there:The war is with the Taliban who are obstructing efforts to build the TAPI Pipeline. The TAPI pipeline, a 42" high pressure gas main from the largest source of Natural Gas on earth beneath the Caspian Sea, to the waiting Plastics Industry in South east Asia. Nothing more nothing less.

      The efforts in Afghanistan began in the 1990's under the Clinton administration. UNOCAL purchased the development rights for natural gas in the Caspian Sea. One third of the planets natural gas is under the Caspian Sea. UNOCAL had no way to exploit these riches and get them to markets because the Taliban reneged on a deal to allow a gas pipeline through their country
      John P. Maresca, VP of UNOCAL appeared before a congressional sub-com. seeking US Military intervention.

      The gas pipeline was supposed to go to the Gulf of Oman to load ships for gas transport to SE Asia. The only other route south to Oman for the pipeline was through Iran. This was not an option because of US sanctions.
      The World Bank and other international lenders would not fund the pipeline project unless safety was guaranteed. The US sent in Special OP's forces to kill members of the Taliban opposing the pipeline.
      Then came 911 !

      The US invaded Afghanistan to kill Taliban members who would not allow the Natural Gas Pipeline through their land. It was after this that UNOCAL sold it's interests in the Caspian Sea to a Consortium. This hid their involvement but they still remain a player behind the scenes.

      Condoleeza Rice negotiated a deal with Pakistan and India for a new route for the pipeline. This eliminated the need to load Natural Gas tankers in the Gulf of Oman for transport to SE Asia.
      TAPI stands for Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The pipeline is being built along the side of the ancient trade route to India.

      President Bush and his side kick Dick Cheney pulled off the greatest coverup of business operations run out of the White House in US history, by declaring Energy Policy a matter of National Security. That act prevented discussion of the real truth about Afghanistan & Iraq and the media was instructed to stay clear as well.

      Afghanistan is the key for the connected to make trillions of dollars ! Natural gas is needed in SE Asia for raw material used in plastics manufacturing. Endless supplies from the Caspian Sea, the World Bank and other Big Bankers online with the project, and the Industrial Military Complex making it happen !

      Recently Engineering firms have found sources of Lithium in Afghanistan along with oil and other needed metals. Batteries are Big Money !

      They cloak themselves under the banner of patriotism and declare that they are christians bringing good will to the rest of the world. They have hidden their true agenda and deceived the masses for dishonest gain. The blood of the innocent continues to be shed but does not go unnoticed.Presidents come and go, but those who control the Industrial Military Complex are the ones with the real power.

      Strategy and policy are all well thought out and planned often using 'Think Tanks'.Afghanistan is just one of many examples of Industrial Military control.

      It is shameful of those in power to have continued "the lie" for a select group who place no value on human life. These are people drunk with power, blinded by their agenda and thirst for monetary gain.They are an evil bunch who's greed and lust for riches have brought much pain and suffering to all of humanity.

      Presidents come and go, but those who control the Industrial Military Complex are the ones with the real power.

      May 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteranthony samsel

      Now might be a time for an email or other campaign letting Obama know that we are not voting for him unless
      the US is out of both Iraq and Afghanistan, and there are no new wars of the time we go to the

      May 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLynn Feinerman

      Thank you for an excellent article!

      May 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Uebersax

      In 1967 I watched this man be buried, A few weeks ago I watched this young man be brought home to the same small town, All I keep thinking---It's happening all over again.

      May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Kovach
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