June 2011, Week 4


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Thu, 23 Jun 2011 22:12:03 -0400
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Obama's Afghan Policy - More Withdrawals than Pentagon
Wanted, Much Less than Peace Movement Demands (two views)

* In Afghanistan Speech, Obama Offers Token Troop
Withdrawals While Maintaining the "War on Terror" Mindset
(Phyllis Bennis in AlterNet)
* Obama Quickens Afghan Withdrawal in Face of Pressure for
Peace (Tom Hayden in The Nation)
* More Web resources


In Afghanistan Speech, Obama Offers Token Troop Withdrawals
While Maintaining the "War on Terror" Mindset

	President Obama passed up an opportunity to
	recognize our democracy and respect the views of the
	vast majority of the American people.

by Phyllis Bennis

June 22, 2011


President Obama's speech tonight violated one of his most
important campaign promises: to "end the mind-set that leads
to war."

To the contrary, his announcement of a token shift of 10,000
soldiers leaving by the end of 2011, and maybe another
23,000 in another year, makes clear that his claim tonight
that "the tide of war is receding" remains untrue. The
enormous current deployment of 250,000 U.S. and allied
military forces (100,000 U.S. troops, 50,000 NATO troops and
100,000 Pentagon-paid contractors) in Afghanistan continues,
and reflects not an end but an embrace of the mind-set of
war, even with this small shift of soldiers. This was an
opportunity for President Obama to recognize our democracy,
to acknowledge and - dare I suggest? - even respect the
views of the vast majority of the American people. Sixty-
four percent of the people of our country believe the war is
not worth fighting. When this war began in October 2001,
only about 12% of people in the U.S. did not support it. So
64% opposition means a lot of folks have come to that
realization now after years of escalating Afghan civilian
and U.S. military casualties, years of a collapsing economy,
and yes, years of hard-fought anti-war organizing.

The American people are way ahead of the government on this
one - Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, all of them.
A few members of Congress are starting to get it - those in
the Progressive and Out of Afghanistan Caucuses.  Rep.
Barbara Lee of California has introduced an amendment to the
pending $560 BILLION Pentagon authorization bill (that one
doesn't even include the costs of the actual wars in Iraq,
Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and beyond...) that
would prohibit any money being spent on the war in
Afghanistan except for the cost of a quick and safe
withdrawal of all the troops.  The U.S. Conference of Mayors
just passed their first anti-war resolution since the height
of the Viet Nam War in 1971, calling for a quick end to the
war in Afghanistan and for the war dollars to be brought
home to rebuild U.S. cities.  The mayors get it, unemployed
people across this country get it, many of the troops being
forced into their third, fourth, fifth or even more
deployments get it.  And that's why the president's speech
tonight focused - however inadequately - on how many troops
are being pulled out, not how many more are being sent in.

But it's not good enough. What President Obama announced
tonight is not a strategy, there still is no clear
definition of a "military victory" in this endless war.  In
the first weeks after his inauguration, the new commander-
in-chief announced he was sending 21,000 more troops to
Afghanistan, and "then" he would decide on a strategy.  Talk
about backwards reasoning!

That 21,000 was followed, after months of discussion,
another 33,000 (it was first going to be 30,000, but you
know how it goes...) that made up the official "surge."  The
first 21,000 apparently weren't to be counted at all.  So in
his first year in office, President Obama escalated the U.S.
troop presence in Afghanistan from a little more than 30,000
to almost 100,000 troops (along with the 100,000
mercenaries) - tripling the troop numbers. With a token
pull-back of 10,000 troops over the next six months, and
maybe another 23,000 by the end of 2012 (presumably timed
for maximum pre-election publicity) that still will leave
almost 70,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan for years ahead -
almost twice the number there when he took office.  Not to
mention the 100,000 Pentagon-paid contractors and 50,000
NATO soldiers, who apparently ardent going anywhere. And
this for the first president to call an existing war
"stupid" and to call for "an end to the mindset that leads
to war."

But that claimed goal of really figuring out a strategy,
after sending the first 21,000 troops?  That never really
happened.  Over the next year or so there were lots of
discussions and debates, some classified, some leaked, some
public, about counter-insurgency vs counter-terrorism, of
"boots on the ground vs small teams of special forces, and
more. But a clear strategy has yet to be identified.  A
clear goal remains unknown.  If the goal was to weaken al-
Qaeda, as we were so often told, isn't the assassination of
the top guy and the reduction of its forces to about 50 al-
Qaeda members in the entire country of Afghanistan good
enough to claim victory?  When he announced the official
30,000-troop surge in December 2009, Obama did claim that he
would begin to withdraw those troops (and only those,
apparently) in 18 months. But that wasn't a strategy either.
So now that the 18 months have passed, we're left with still
no strategy, still no definition of victory, only a huge
hemorrhaging of U.S. dollars and Afghan civilian blood.

The cost of the war in Afghanistan so far - just
Afghanistan, not counting Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, etc. - is
already almost half a TRILLION dollars. If you want exact
figures, according to the National Priorities Project it's
$426 billion. And that's not counting the hundreds of
billions more it will take over the next generation to care
for the U.S. soldiers who have come home so grievously
wounded in mind and body. It costs about $1 million per
soldier per year to fight the war in Afghanistan today; for
that same million dollars, the U.S. government could bring
that soldier home and hire her and 19 more for a year at a
good, green middle-class job.

This year alone, U.S. taxpayers will pay about $122 billion
for those U.S. soldiers to kill and die in Afghanistan. That
money could instead provide health care to more than 62
million children here at home. Or provide 2.4 million new
green jobs for a year.  If we just look at Wisconsin, where
the state budget deficit sparked this year's first massive
mobilization for jobs and against wars and cutbacks, the
state deficit totaled about $1.8 billion.  That's a lot of
money.  But this year alone, the taxpayers of Wisconsin paid
almost exactly that same amount - $1.7 billion to be exact -
as their share of the war in Afghanistan. That's why ending
the wars is the most important single thing we can do to
rebuild our economy and provide jobs for people across this

The costs of war wouldn't be such a major consideration if
this was a war for justice, instead of for vengeance, if
this was a war really liberating an oppressed people. But
the reality is sadly different. While of course stability in
identified, discrete areas can be imposed by "surging" huge
numbers of U.S. troops, that stability will last only as
long as those troops remain. Whether they leave tomorrow or
in five years, when they leave those people who live in
Afghanistan will remain. And we need to remember the words
of Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, who was asked last year by an irritated senator just
how, without tanks or planes, the Taliban was winning. "It's
their country, senator," Mullen answered.  He was right.
We're not rebuilding the country, we're just scaffolding a
corrupt government and creating a huge military we call the
Afghan "National" Army despite the lack of any real national
center for that army to be loyal to.

There is no strategy for Afghanistan. The "fighting season"
is simply a dying season, and there is always another one
next year. The debate between counter-insurgency and
counter-terrorism is simply a debate over how many troops
will be sent and how many people will die.  When the White
House and the Pentagon speak of the COIN strategy, they
might have a better definition than counter-insurgency -
they may mean it as Congressional Indoctrination for war
spending. The goal is to win the hearts and minds of the
Congressional Appropriation Committees - not the Afghan

Afghan civilians are paying the highest price. Many in the
U.S. like to think we are continuing the war in Afghanistan
in the interest of Afghan women - keeping the Taliban out of
power. But the reality is the vast majority of women who die
prematurely in Afghanistan don't die because they're killed
by the Taliban - they die in childbirth.  Afghanistan
remains the second worst place in the world for a woman to
give birth and hope to live; it's the very worst place for a
child to be born and expect to live towards his or her first
or fifth birthday.  After ten years of U.S. military
occupation, ten years of a war waged in the name of Afghan
women, the maternal and child mortality rates remain exactly
where they were in 2000, when the Taliban governed the

According to the United Nations, 2010 saw the highest level
of civilian casualties since they began keeping records. And
the casualties are rising, not falling; May 2011 has seen
the highest levels yet.  Some argue that we shouldn't take
that as a reason to end the war, since "only" 25 percent of
the casualties are directly caused by U.S./NATO troops. But
aside from the morality of that question (do we really want
to claim that causing 25 percent of massive civilian
casualties is somehow okay??), we have to look at the
realities on the ground. Of the casualties linked to anti-
U.S. or anti-Afghan government forces, 75 percent are caused
by IEDs, the improvised explosive devices that have also
devastated so many coalition soldiers' lives. Those IEDs are
found almost entirely on roads frequented by U.S. and NATO
troops - they are the real target, and the civilians pay the
price. There is an old Afghan proverb that says "when two
bulls fight, it is the shrubs and plants that suffer."  That
remains true today.

[Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy
Studies in Washington, D.C. She is the author of
"Challenging Empire: How People, Governments, and the UN
Defy U.S. Power" (Interlink Publishing, October 2005).]


Obama Quickens Afghan Withdrawal in Face of Pressure for

by Tom Hayden

The Nation
June 23, 2011


Two years ago I was on a Chicago panel with a just-retired
military officer, Charles Tucker, a former top adviser to
the US embassy in Iraq, general counsel to the Pentagon and
a major general in the Air National Guard. During our
debate, he made a statement worth remembering on this night
of Barack Obama's speech on Afghanistan. His words were

"The only relevant debate in the next two years will be
counterinsurgency versus counterterrorism. After that, Obama
will begin surrendering to the peace movement."

I wasn't sure whether he liked the scenario he was
describing, but I applauded for providing me a ray of hope.
His prophecy is coming true. Obama, of course, is not
"surrendering" to anyone, least of all the peace activists
across the country, but he is responding to massive public
pressure for rapid troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. We
have crossed the line into de-escalation. The withdrawals
will continue as the pressure, especially from voters during
the 2012 election cycle, continues to build.

Peace advocates should feel a sense of gratification, not
about the numbers involved but about contributing to the
vast upswelling of public opinion against Iraq and now
Afghanistan, in spite of the fact that not a single network
or mainstream newspaper has called for bringing our troops
home. There is a magic about public opinion, which still
matters despite the shadows of authoritarianism all around.

Let's be clear about what Obama said, since so many seem
utterly unable to grasp the facts before issuing their
condemnations. I write here as an organizer who believes a
proper analysis of the situation and opportunities is
critical in making any progress against the Leviathan we are
up against.

First, Obama said he would withdraw 33,000 troops by next
summer, twelve months away, which is a new clarification.
And he added that he would continue withdrawing troops after
that. The conclusion we should reach is that we should push
forward for more than 33,000 troops withdrawn with an
expectation that we will be successful. There is a strategic
opportunity, if the peace movement does its job, to demand
more withdrawals during the key period of Democratic and
Republican conventions next year and during the presidential
campaign itself. The period 2011-12 is not over. The
political fight is still on.

There will be stages involved, because getting out of a
military mess of your own making is one of the most
difficult challenges confronting any Machiavellian. (Read
Clausewitz on redeployment). Obama will be trying to sell
himself to peace voters while watching out for the military,
as well as unpredictable pressures from Republicans, and
facing military families who wonder just what this was all
about. The context between now and November 2012 will be
"kinetic," or fluid, a concept in warfare that can be
applied to political battlefields as well.

The Peace and Justice Resource Center prediction of
30,000-33,000, based on interviews and research, has turned
out to be accurate. The PJRC supported withdrawing more than
33,000, however. Fifty thousand troops out by 2012 would
have de-escalated the American occupation by half, would
have gone beyond ending the present surge and would have
broken the back of those who believe in the endless war. Of
course, a rapid withdrawal of all troops and bases was the
preferred position of nearly all peace groups and networks
across the country - and that should continue to be the
goal. In addition, the peace movement should demand all
troops out of Iraq, check Obama's executive ambitions
towards Libya, oppose the secret war in Pakistan and Yemen
and choke off all resources for the Long War of fifty to
eighty years. The trillions wasted on these wars should be
reinvested primarily in our domestic needs, as America's
mayors have recently insisted.

For me, the criterion for success in social movements is
whether the participants feel they are (1) gaining mastery
of ideas, approaches, strategies and tactics; (2) having a
tangible impact on the powers-that-be and public opinion;
(3) making measurable gains towards their goals, based on a
growing organizational capacity; (4) making everyday life
better or more bearable; and (5) developing a sustaining
movement culture and heritage. Part of the first criteria, I
should clarify, is learning the arts of conflict resolution,
which some call political jujutsu, including the ability to
understand what an adversary needs to exit an untenable
situation. I learned much in the "school" of the Northern
Ireland peace process.

Finally, it is important that activists not acquire the
habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Already
the voices of negativity and alienation are out there,
infecting the discourse with unwarranted cynicism and
undermining any sense of achievement. Some said the speech
was a "disappointment" and "heartbreaking" before it was
delivered, mistakenly claiming that Obama was only
withdrawing five or ten thousand troops. The 33,000? That
would be another broken promise, would never happen. One
blogger called the speech "outrageous," while another opined
that Obama would draw down troops only to escalate the wars
with drones, which I believe she called the worst weapons in
the history of the world. And on and on.

Friends and, may I say, comrades: don't disparage what your
efforts have achieved. don't be surprised that gains we
achieve are always less than we demand. don't forget that we
are up against the institutional might of a superpower.
Instead, dwell on this simple fact: we the people pushed
them back. Then study and discuss where we go from here. If
you say 33,000 is not enough, remember it's ten times more
than the generals wanted. Learn from our experience and set
to work pushing 33,000 to 50,000 or more by the end of next

This de-escalation, and the further de-escalation down the
road, is attributable to peace activism and public opinion.
Our economic woes are a prime reason as well. But think
about it, if public opinion was otherwise, was warlike, if
peace groups were demonized and isolated, clearly American
imperialism could soldier on, justifying terrible losses and
budgetary costs as a price worth paying for empire. But
public opinion has not been superheated with martial desire,
though that desire is there. Instead, 85 percent of
Democrats, 55 percent of independents and 45 percent of
Republicans seem to want a more rapid withdrawal that anyone
in established leadership. Despite being marginalized by
interest groups and the mainstream media, democracy is
coming to the USA (thank you, Leonard Cohen).

Social change is very slow - until it speeds up. Even
revolutionaries have to fight step by step, until
revolutions come by surprise. Institutions remain
impermeable, until falling apart. We could be approaching
such a moment, but only if we push, if we organize and
prepare, if we light candles instead of cursing the

No one up there will credit the peace movement for anything,
until someday in the future we learn they were scared to
death of us. We alone have the power to take heart from our
impact, or fall into further despair. And despair never
organized anyone. As a historian and former Freedom Rider, I
suggest we all learn from the African-American experience.
Perhaps no people have been so cast out, so abused, so
absolutely hopeless, and yet a community of resistance was
formed out of sorrow which marched stage by stage towards
dignity and equality. Frederick Douglass, for one, condemned
Abraham Lincoln as a hopeless sellout, a racist, but slowly
the struggle preceded until Lincoln learned from Douglass,
and Douglass appreciated Lincoln, while neither believed
that black people could be redeemed by politicians. It was
the North Star that mattered, and the transformation of
suffering into soul power, movement-building and strategic

So I say congratulations to the crazy rainbow of peace
networks out there who have fought the last two years to cut
funding or force an exit strategy from Afghanistan. The
quilt works. There is no single thread. The fiery women of
Code Pink have been relentless on every front. Progressive
Democrats of America have fostered networks on the left of
the Democratic Party and linked the war to healthcare. The
ACLU and Human Rights Watch, while not opposing the wars
directly, have fought brilliantly against secret prisons,
torture and detention. United for Peace and Justice led the
mass mobilizations against Iraq and continue to battle on
grassroots levels. Peace Action, Win Without War, the AFSC,
the Institute for Policy Studies and recently the
Afghanistan Study Group and New America Foundation have
battled inside the Beltway. The National Priorities Project
provides invaluable and usable information on the costs of
war. Thanks to the Center for American Progress for finally
coming around, and John Kerry too. Praise to Barbara Lee,
Jim McGovern, Dennis Kucinich and the stalwart Russ
Feingold. Pacifica, Amy Goodman and the Nation editors
always made sure that information remains free and
circulating. Wikileaks has blown away the walls of secrecy.
Brave New Films has forced a rethink of Afghanistan with
countless videos. Sojourners, the Tikkun community, the
pastors and congregation at All Saints survived the
intimidation and stood tall. The military families and
Veterans for Peace lent moral credibility and urgency. Even
the most sectarian and difficult groups have to be credited
with putting people in the streets year after year. And my
favorites are the small groups who have demonstrated on
their neighborhood street corners every Friday for a decade,
whatever the weather, knowing the sun also rises and night
is never permanent.

Anybody I forgot, forgive me, send in the omission, and I
will add. As Bobby Sands once said, everyone has a role to
play. Peace.

[Senator Tom Hayden, the Nation Institute's Carey McWilliams
Fellow, has played an active role in American politics and
history for over three decades, beginning with the student,
civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s. Hayden was
elected to the California State Legislature in 1982, where
he served for ten years in the Assembly before being elected
to the State Senate in 1992, where he served eight years.
Hayden is the author of eleven books.]


More on the web:

President's Troop Withdrawal Insufficient; Longest War in
American History Continues With No End in Sight
-Congressman John Conyers, Jr.

Plan Falls Far Short of the Significant and Sizeable
Reduction That Our War-Weary Nation Expected
- Congresswoman Barbara Lee

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva Responds to President Obama's
Afghanistan Withdrawal Speech
- Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Raúl M.
Grijalva responds to President Obama's June 22 speech
declaring the withdrawal of 10,000 troops from Afghanistan
in 2011 and 23,000 more in 2012.

Obama's Too-Slow Afghan `Exit' Strategy Scores Him No
Political Points
- Progressive Democrats of America

Mr. President, Bring Our Soldiers Home
- Campaign for America's Future

Obama's Disappointing Peace Plan
- Rebecca Griffin, Political Director, Peace Action West



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