Afghanistan withdrawal timetable
On Wednesday, the Washington Post carried a remarkable article reporting that according to U.S. government assessments, the U.S. military escalation in Afghanistan has failed.
The Post's Greg Miller reported that
An intense military campaign aimed at crippling the Taliban has so far failed to inflict more than fleeting setbacks on the insurgency
Miller explains why this is so:
Escalated airstrikes and special operations raids have disrupted Taliban movements and damaged local cells. But officials said that insurgents have been adept at absorbing the blows and that they appear confident that they can outlast an American troop buildup set to subside beginning next July.
"The insurgency seems to be maintaining its resilience," said a senior Defense Department official involved in assessments of the war. Taliban elements have consistently shown an ability to "reestablish and rejuvenate," often within days of routed by U.S. forces, the official said, adding that if there is a sign that momentum has shifted, "I don't see it."
So, since the policy of military escalation has failed, according to the U.S. government's own assessments, we should expect that in December, when President Obama promised that the policy will be reviewed, we should see a fundamental change in policy. Right?
But, according to the same Washington Post report, "no major change in strategy is expected in December."
How could it be, that the policy has failed, according to official U.S. government assessments, and yet no change is expected when the promised review occurs?
You can't follow U.S. print media coverage of the war in Afghanistan for any length of time without running into some variation of the following assertion:
"The Taliban Will Never Negotiate, As Long As They Think They're Winning."
No serious effort is usually made to substantiate this claim, which is asserted as if it were a self-evident truth. What you generally don't see, reading the newspapers, is a sentence that looks like this:
"The Taliban will never negotiate, as long as they think they're winning, and the reason that we know this is...."
Yet, if you look back over the course of the last year, the assertion that "the Taliban will never negotiate, as long as they think they're winning" is a very important claim. Why did the U.S. send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan last year? Because "the Taliban will never negotiate, as long as they think they're winning." Why are we killing innocents today in Kandahar? "Because the Taliban will never negotiate, as long as they think they're winning."
A claim that is a key buttress of life and death decisions about people we have never met and know little about and who have no say in our decisions, and yet which has never been substantiated, is a claim that deserves sustained scrutiny.
How could it be a self-evident truth that "the Taliban will never negotiate, as long as they think they're winning?" Logically, two possibilities present themselves:
1) It is an immutable fact of human nature that no party engaged in a conflict ever negotiates as long as they think they're winning. The US never negotiates as long as it thinks it is winning; Britain never has; France never has; no guerilla army or insurgent movement ever has.
A major contribution of the "inside experts" Afghanistan Study Group report (read here ; send to your reps in Congress here), released last week to spur Washington debate towards de-escalating the war at the next fork in the road is that its very first recommendation is this:
1. Emphasize power-sharing and political inclusion.
The U.S. should fast-track a peace process designed to decentralize power within Afghanistan and encourage a power-sharing balance among the principal parties.
Predictably, there appear to have been two principal objections so far to this proposal:
1. Oh my God. How dare you suggest that the U.S. should support a peace deal with the Afghan insurgency. You must be some kind of amoral monster.
2. Ho hum. Nothing new here. Everyone already knows this. Why do you tax our patience by stating the obvious as if it were a profound revelation? This is already Administration policy. Move along, nothing to see here.
It should go without saying that these two objections are, as a matter of logic, mutually exclusive. A real peace process leading to a new political dispensation in Afghanistan that ends the civil war could be the worst idea in human history, or it could be a commonplace that everyone already knows and is already Administration policy. But it cannot be both.
President Obama wants credit for keeping his promise to end the war in Iraq. Some credit is due: the President reaffirmed his commitment to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, as required by the agreement between the U.S. and Iraq. But only partial credit is due, because the war-ending task is very far from complete.
The Iraq war is not over. This is not a left-wing critique. The consensus account of mainstream U.S. print media is that the 50,000 U.S. troops who remain have been "rebranded" from "combat" brigades to advise-and-assist brigades. The unfailingly pro-war Washington Post editorial board wrote yesterday:
For one thing, combat won't really end on Sept. 1. Fifty thousand U.S. troops will remain in Iraq, and their duties will include counterterrorism work as well as continuing to train and assist Iraqi forces....
Moreover, the United States government is still "meddling" in Iraq's internal political affairs, to use the term our media uses when countries we don't like do it. U.S. officials are still trying to determine who will be in the Iraqi government and who should not. This is a key factor in the current political impasse in Baghdad, a fact which is generally omitted in mainstream press accounts that bemoan the failure of Iraqi politicians to form a government. It's true that there is a failure on the part of Iraqi politicians, but they have enablers in their failure: the outside powers, including the U.S., Iran, and other countries, which are lobbying furiously for a government to their liking, and working to block any government that they don't like. The impasse between the Iraqi politicians is also an impasse between the outside powers, fighting a proxy political war for influence in Iraq.
Much ink has been spilled over the President's pledge to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011. The White House insists that the date is firm. But the pace of withdrawal is yet to be determined, and the White House hasn't said a word about when - if ever - a U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan will be complete.
There is a signed agreement that says U.S. troops have to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. But there is no such agreement for Afghanistan. Yet the majority of Americans have told pollsters that they think the U.S. should establish a timetable for military withdrawal.
Meanwhile, Walter Pincus reports in the Washington Post, the Pentagon is planning for years of U.S. combat in Afghanistan:
"Three $100 million air base expansions in southern and northern Afghanistan illustrate Pentagon plans to continue building multimillion-dollar facilities in that country to support increased U.S. military operations well into the future."
Pincus noted that "…many of the installations being built…have extended time horizons. None of the three projects…is expected to be completed until the latter half of 2011. All of them are for use by U.S. forces rather than by their Afghan counterparts."
But Pincus also reported that while the House has approved the money for this "enduring base" construction, the Senate has yet to vote on it.
Should there not at least be a debate on this issue in the Senate?
"Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" was former non-Senator Al Franken's 2003 examination of the lies and distortions of right-wing pundits and politicians.
Such a book, if it were written today, should certainly include a fair and balanced look at some of the lying liars still running our foreign policy: in particular, at Mr. David Petraeus. (Mr. Franken might not be the best candidate for writing such a book today, given that he voted recently against Senator Feingold's amendment requiring the President to establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan, even as Democratic leaders like Senator Durbin supported Feingold's amendment.)
Harsh words about Mr. Petraeus? Yes. Justified? Absolutely.
Consider: Mr. Petraeus has been leading a campaign of "domestic information operations" to browbeat Congress and the American people to accept limiting the size of, and possibly even a delay of, the drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan in July 2011that President Obama promised when he acceded to the military's demand for a "surge" of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan last fall.
In a recent interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," Petraeus implied that he might recommend against any withdrawal of US forces next summer, causing the White House to reaffirm its commitment to the July 2012 deadline in response, saying, "The date is not negotiable."
Campaigning for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2008, Senator Barack Obama said: "I don't want to just end the war, but I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place."
But as Andrew Bacevich notes in his new book, "Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War," as President, Barack Obama has done the opposite: he has promoted and acted on behalf of the mindset that leads to war.
Most prominently, President Obama has so far missed every major exit ramp for starting to get out of Afghanistan, instead escalating militarily and "doubling down" on "counterinsurgency" in Afghanistan - Vietnam 2.0 - even as the war has become increasingly unpopular in the United States - as it has been in Afghanistan and in the rest of the world. The majority of Americans, three-quarters of Democrats, and three-fifths of House Democrats want President Obama to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. But the White House so far refuses to even publicly discuss such a move, even as it claims to support "Afghan-led reconciliation" with leaders of the Afghan Taliban, which, if real, almost certainly would require a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces, a key demand of Afghan insurgents.
This is all the more striking as the Administration celebrates the drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq, because the centerpiece of the present relationship between the U.S. government and the Iraqi government is an agreement stipulating the total withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country by the end of 2011. That which is now the centerpiece of U.S. relations with Iraq is still mostly taboo for discussion among the "national security elite" regarding Afghanistan: a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces.
The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote this afternoon on the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This morning, the Senate version of the Afghanistan war supplemental was brought up under "suspension" rules, which require a 2/3 majority to pass. This expedited procedure is generally used for measures considered "uncontroversial," which is odd, to say the least, since the war in Afghanistan is anything but uncontroversial, with the most recent evidence being the release by Wikileaks of secret documents on the war, which the New York Times reported "offers an unvarnished, ground-level picture of the war in Afghanistan that is in many respects more grim than the official portrayal."
House Appropriations Chair David Obey, who will vote no on the war supplemental, asked for a roll call, which is expected this afternoon, some time after 2pm Eastern.
On July 1, 162 Members of the House voted for the McGovern-Obey-Jones amendment that would have required President Obama to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, the position of 54% of Americans, according to a recent CBS poll. The measure being voted on this afternoon contains no provision concerning a timetable for withdrawal. Nor does it include the money to prevent the layoffs of teachers that the House attached to the war supplemental on July 1.
If 90% of the Members who voted for the McGovern-Obey-Jones amendment on July 1 vote no this afternoon on the war supplemental, the measure will fail.
The war supplemental for Afghanistan is expected to come back from the Senate to the House next week - without any kind of timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan, and without money to save teachers' jobs attached.
In a take-it-or-leave-it gesture, the Senate voted Thursday night to reject more than $20 billion in domestic spending the House had tacked on to its $60 billion bill to fund President Barack Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan.
The moves repel a long-shot bid by House Democrats earlier this month to resurrect their faltering jobs agenda with $10 billion in grants to school districts to avoid teacher layoffs, $5 billion for Pell Grants to low-income college students, $1 billion for a summer jobs program and $700 million to improve security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Labor unions had strongly backed the House Democratic effort to attach money to the supplemental to boost employment and avoid teacher layoffs. Will these unions now urge House Democrats to vote no on any jobless war supplemental?
Few expect that the House, in a freestanding vote next week, would reject the $33 billion request for the Afghanistan war, since until now there has been a solid block of more than 90% of House Republicans committed to voting yes on what they would consider a "relatively clean" war supplemental.
The majority of Americans want the Obama Administration to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, CBS News reports. 54% think the U.S. should set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, with 41% opposed. Among Democrats, 73% think the U.S. should set a timetable, with 21% opposed; among independents, 54% support a withdrawal timetable, with 40% opposed; among Republicans, 32% support a withdrawal timetable, with 66% opposed.
Two weeks ago today, Members of the House of Representatives were polled on a similar proposition, when the House voted on an amendment introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern [D-MA], Rep. David Obey [D-WI], and Rep. Walter Jones [R-NC] that would have required the President to establish a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan. That amendment failed, with 153 Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, voting yes, and 98 Democrats voting no; while 9 Republicans voted yes and 162 Republicans voted no. So in the McGovern-Obey-Jones "poll," Democrats in the House were 60%-38% in favor of a withdrawal timetable, while House Republicans were 91%-5% against.
If Democratic and Republican voters in the CBS poll had been allowed to stand in for Democrats and Republicans in the House two weeks ago (ignoring independents, also pro-timetable), the McGovern amendment would have passed 243-171, with 186 Democrats and 57 Republicans voting yes, and 54 Democrats and 117 Republicans voting no.