The Fight for Peace Heats Up
by Tom Hayden
The Peace and Justice Resource Center
June 8, 2011 at 1:40PM
Sixty-four percent of Americans think the number of troops
in Afghanistan should be decreased. (CBS News)The New York
Times finally acknowledged this week that a significant
withdrawal from Afghanistan is a real possibility being
considered by the White House.
In a lead story on June 6, the Times reported that the Obama
administration is considering a "steeper" reduction of
troops than previously discussed or acknowledged.
The fact is that Democratic constituencies and leaders,
responding to overwhelming public sentiment against the war,
have been uniting in recent weeks behind a call for
"substantial and significant" troops reductions and a
transfer of war funds to job creation at home.
The push began long before the killing of Osama bin Laden,
though the al-Qaeda leader's death has accelerated the
momentum towards de-escalation.
In effect, the Democrats finally have chosen to unite and
align themselves with public peace sentiment and prepare a
climate in which the president can make a bold step this
But will Obama himself do so? The answer to that question
may reveal the nature of his presidency and determine
whether he can win back disillusioned Democrats in 2012.
An Obama refusal to decide on a significant troop reduction
may jeopardize his re-election and will reveal much about
power in Washington. Is there an institutional mindset
firmly committed to the Long War in spite of huge public
opposition, or does democratic sentiment matter enough
overrule the elites and shorten the war?
Most polls show Democrats and independents favoring a more
rapid pullout than Obama's current proposal of ending combat
operations by 2014. Consider the favorable sequence of
events since February:
* A resolution by Rep. Barbara Lee calling for rapid,
significant reductions and a transfer of funds to job
creation passed the Democratic National Committee
* Legislation by Rep. Jim McGovern calling for an
accelerated timetable of withdrawal received 205 House
votes, including an overwhelming majority of 178
* The House voted unanimously against sending any ground
troops to Libya, criticized the president's refusal to
abide by the War Powers Act, and gave 148 votes to a
Dennis Kucinich resolution which would have ended all
support or the NATO military operation in Libya.
* In the Senate, one-time Afghanistan hawks like John
Kerry and Richard Lugar called for a fundamental
rethink, while conservative Democratic Sen. Max Baucus
even proposed pulling all combat troops out by 2012.
This week 15 Senators sent a letter to Obama asking for
a substantial drawdown, with more signing by the day.
* Obama himself told the Associated Press that his July
announcement would order "significant" withdrawals.
* In addition, Obama reconfigured his national security
team by appointing the dovish Tom Donilan as director,
replacing Robert Gates with Leon Panetta at Defense, and
sending Gen. David Petraeus to the CIA where he might
find it more difficult to oppose the president.
Meanwhile, independent think tanks with close ties to the
White House, like the Center for American Progress and the
Afghanistan Study Group, have pushed for an initial
withdrawal in the range of 50-60,000 American troops, ten
times the figure pushed by the Pentagon.
This entire scenario was foretold in Bob Woodward's book on
White House decision making leading up to the 2009 surge,
Obama's Wars. In those pages, Obama repeatedly expressed
concern that he couldn't afford to "lose the entire
Democratic Party," that he needed an exit strategy, and that
he expected (and needed) a timetable demand to come from the
The question now is whether he will bend to the Pentagon and
the mainstream media whose voices are loudest in the
Beltway, or heed the rank-and-file voters who have soured on
the war and losing confidence in his presidency.
Prediction: In once scenario, Obama bookends the competing
demands of 15,000 and 50,000 and decides on 30,000, ending
the surge. But if he wants a bigger political impact, he
pulls all 47,000 troops out of Iraq and cuts the U.S. force
in Afghanistan in half by 2012.
Total reduction: 100,000 U.S. troops.
Total direct taxpayer savings: $200 billion through 2012.
The second course is better politics and policy. Committed
peace advocates should ask no less.
[Tom Hayden, after fifty years, is still a leading voice for
ending the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, for
erasing sweatshops, saving the environment, and reforming
politics through a more participatory democracy.
He currently writes for The Nation and organizes, travels
and speaks constantly against the current wars as founder
and Director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center in
Culver City. He also recently drafted and lobbied
successfully for Los Angeles and San Francisco ordinances to
end all taxpayer subsidies for sweatshops.
Hayden has taught recently at Scripps and Claremont colleges
in Claremont, Occidental College, the Harvard Institute of
Politics, and is the author or editor of 19 books and
hundreds of articles for publications from the Los Angeles
Times to the Boston Globe to the Chronicle of Higher
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