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Submitted by Robert Naiman on 11 December 2009 - 11:17am
Who knew Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter would emerge as one of the most vocal opponents in the Senate of the President's military escalation in Afghanistan?
But so it is. In an op-ed this week in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Specter not only challenges the "surge"; he also challenges fundamental premises of the war. Specter writes:
I'm opposed to sending 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan because I don't believe they are indispensable in our fight against al Qaeda.
But if al Qaeda can organize and operate out of Yemen, Somalia or elsewhere, then why fight in Afghanistan, which has made a history of resisting would-be conquerors - from Alexander the Great in the 3rd century BC, to Great Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries, to the former Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s?
What can one Senator do? Well, one Senator can introduce legislation, for starters. At this writing, there isn't a single piece of legislation before the Senate that expresses opposition to continuing the war indefinitely. This is in marked contrast to the House, where Representative McGovern's bill requiring the Pentagon to present Congress with an exit strategy from Afghanistan has more than 100 co-sponsors. That's like having 23 Senators.
But Arlen Specter is in a unique position to do much more than introduce legislation. He could turn his Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary into a referendum on the Afghanistan war, because his primary opponent, Joe Sestak, supports the war and supports the escalation:
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 10 December 2009 - 1:16pm
"Accepting Peace Prize, Obama Evokes 'Just War,'" notes the headline in the New York Times, referring to President Obama's speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. President Obama did indeed invoke the concept of a "just war." But tellingly, he did not try to argue that the U.S. war in Afghanistan meets the criteria to be judged as a "just war."
A plausible explanation for the President's failure to argue that the war in Afghanistan is a "just war" is that he recognizes that such an argument would not be convincing.
As President Obama noted in his speech, there are criteria involved in the "just war" concept. It isn't just a matter of proclaiming that a war is justified. There are tests.
This matters, because a substantial part of the U.S. and world population subscribes to the theory of "just war." In particular, more than a fifth of the U.S. population are estimated to identify as Catholics. The concept of "just war" - that wars can be considered "just" only if they meet certain criteria - is an official doctrine of the Catholic Church.
Here's part of what the official Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about this:
2307 The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life. Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war.
2308 All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 16 November 2009 - 9:07am
While former Illinois Senator Barack Obama mulls flushing another $40 billion a year in our tax dollars down the toilet in Afghanistan - that's the estimated annual cost of sending 40,000 more troops for the next several years - graduate employees at the University of Illinois, a "land grant" public institution, are going on strike at 8 AM this morning Chicago time to protect their ability to complete their education, against threats from the University administration to withdraw tuition waivers from graduate employees.
For many teaching assistants and graduate assistants, the withdrawal of a tuition waiver would be an educational death sentence, a de facto financial expulsion from the University. But even though access to a tuition waiver is a basic condition of employment, since without also being students graduate employees would lose their jobs, the University of Illinois administration refuses to bargain the issue with the members of the Graduate Employees Organization, a local of the American Federation of Teachers, even though under Illinois labor law the GEO is the recognized bargaining agent for graduate employees.
The University administration claims that in a time of financial constraint, it needs "flexibility" to undermine a basic condition of graduate employment. It's true, of course, that the University is financially constrained, given the decline in government support for public higher education. But how the University responds to that environment is a choice. Trying to balance your budget by taking essentials away from the weakest people in the food chain is a choice - a choice often made, but still a choice.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 12 November 2009 - 11:36am
Recent press speculation suggests at least even odds that sometime in November, President Obama will give a speech announcing that he intends to send tens of thousands of more U.S. troops to Afghanistan in 2010. Not a temporary "surge," but a permanent escalation. While certainly it's good news - at least temporarily - that AP is reporting that President Obama "won't accept any of the Afghanistan war options before him without changes," and that the Washington Post is reporting that U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry is lobbying strongly against sending more troops, note that AP goes on to say:
Obama is still expected to send in more troops to bolster a deteriorating war effort.
He remains close to announcing his revamped war strategy - troops are just one component - and probably will do so shortly after he returns from a trip to Asia that ends Nov. 19.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 27 October 2009 - 12:30pm
President Obama knows better than to agree to General McChrystal's proposal for military escalation in Afghanistan. He read the book.
On October 7, the Wall Street Journal reported that top officials of the Obama Administration, including President Obama himself, had recently read Gordon Goldstein's book on the path to U.S. military escalation in Vietnam: Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam.
The Journal reported that "For opponents of a major troop increase, led by Biden and Emanuel, "'Lessons in Disaster' ... encapsulates their concerns about accepting military advice unchallenged."
Indeed, a central theme of the book is President Kennedy's willingness, on the question of ground troops in Vietnam, to do what President Obama has not yet done regarding demands for military escalation in Afghanistan: stand up to the U.S. military and say no.
Journalist Seymour Hersh, a close student of the U.S. military since he broke the story of the My Lai massacre, says the U.S. army is "in a war against the White House - and they feel they have Obama boxed in." Hersh says the only way out is for Obama to stand up to the Pentagon. "He's either going to let the Pentagon run him or he has to run the Pentagon," Hersh said. If he doesn't, "this stuff is going to be the ruin of his presidency." The only way for the U.S. to extricate itself from the conflict, Hersh says, is to negotiate with the Taliban. "It's the only way out," he said. "I know that there's a lot of discussion in the White House about this now. But Obama is going to have to take charge, and there's no evidence he's going to do that."
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 22 October 2009 - 10:50am
If there were ever a time when the peace movement should be able to have an impact on U.S. foreign policy, that time should be now. If there were ever a time for extraordinary effort to achieve such an impact, that time is now.
The war in Afghanistan is in its ninth year. McChrystal's proposal could continue it for another ten years, at a likely cost of a trillion dollars, and many more lives of U.S. soldiers and Afghan civilians. The contradiction between domestic needs and endless war was never more apparent. Congress fights over whether we can "afford" to provide every American with quality health care, but every health care reform proposal on the table will likely cost less than McChrystal's endless war. A recent CNN poll says 6 in 10 Americans oppose sending more troops.
Democratic leaders in Congress are deeply skeptical: as far back as June, Rep. Murtha and Rep. Obey voted for Rep. McGovern's amendment demanding an exit strategy, and that was before the Afghan election fiasco, when international forces failed at their key objective of providing security, and before McChrystal demanded a 60% increase in U.S. forces, on top of the 50% increase approved earlier this year. Our troops are "exhausted," Murtha says.
Top Administration officials share the skepticism. Vice-President Biden, Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, and Afghan scholar Barnett Rubin, an advisor to Ambassador Holbrooke, have all been arguing against a troop increase: the political people on the grounds that the American people and Congress won't support it; Biden on the grounds that it would be a diversion from Pakistan; Rubin on the grounds that it would be counterproductive to reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 24 September 2009 - 9:29pm
Journalist Andrea Mitchell has noted that General McChrystal's report to President Obama calls for 500,000 troops in Afghanistan. [That's not 500,000 U.S. troops, but 500,000 troops overall.] Mitchell correctly notes that if you don't believe that the goals in McChrystal's report for increasing the size of the Afghan army are realistic, that should lead you to question agreeing to send more U.S. troops, because the premise of the request for more troops is that if you add more U.S. troops there's going to be "success," and that success, apparently, requires 500,000 boots on the ground. If you don't believe there's going to be success even if you add more U.S. troops, then you shouldn't add more U.S. troops - you should do something else.
McChrystal has suggested that without more U.S. troops we will "fail" - but the same logic says that without more Afghan troops we will also "fail." If adding the additional U.S. troops will not lead to the required addition of Afghan troops, then U.S. policy will "fail," even with the additional U.S. troops.
Some have dismissed the concern occasioned by Mitchell's comments by saying of course there aren't going to be half a million U.S. troops in Afghanistan. It's certainly true that there aren't going to be half a million U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But supporters of sending more troops have to answer this: to defend sending another 40,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, they have to defend their scenario that there's going to be 350,000 Afghan boots on the ground. Otherwise - according to General McChrystal - their plan is not going to work. Furthermore, they should say now what they will propose then if adding 40,000 more U.S. troops does not produce 350,000 Afghan troops. Do they promise not to ask for more U.S. troops? Would anyone believe such a promise?
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 19 September 2009 - 11:23am
Live long enough, and you get to have diverse experiences. Today I get to defend the head of the CIA for telling the truth.
CIA director Leon Panetta is catching some flak on the Intertubes for telling Voice of America that
even if suspect ballots are discounted, President Hamid Karzai will in all likelihood win re-election.
But if you look at the numbers for 15 seconds, it's clear that Panetta is simply stating the obvious.
Panetta's full quote was:
"It's clear that there was some degree of corruption and fraud involved in the election," Panetta said. "It's being viewed now by the commissions involved in counting those votes. I think what appears to be the case is that even after they eliminate some of the votes that resulted because of fraud, that Karzai will still - still looks like the individual who's going to be able to win that election."
Here are the numbers, according to the New York Times on September 16:
Karzai 3,093,256 54.6%
Abdullah 1,571,581 27.8%
Valid votes 5,662,758
Ballots being reviewed:
So, if every ballot being reviewed were thrown out, the result would be:
With all reviewed ballots excluded:
Karzai 1,993,256 46.8%
Abdullah 1,271,581 29.8%
But if half of the reviewed ballots were thrown out (assuming that half of reviewed Karzai ballots and half of reviewed Abdullah ballots are thrown out - that is, throwing out more than 3 times as many Karzai ballots as Abdullah ballots), the result would be
With half of reviewed ballots excluded:
Karzai 2,543,256 51.2%
Abdullah 1,421,581 28.6%
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 17 September 2009 - 3:41pm
The stars are aligning for a winnable and worthwhile fight on U.S. policy in Afghanistan in the next several weeks: stopping the Obama Administration from sending more troops.
It should be winnable, because: the public is against sending more troops, the overwhelming majority of Democrats are against sending more troops, key Democrats in Congress have begun to speak out against sending more troops, the Obama Administration is divided, President Obama hasn't taken a public position, and the Obama Administration has signaled that it will not take a public position for several weeks. The delay gives opponents time to mobilize, more Members of Congress the opportunity to speak out before the Administration solidifies its position.
It's a worthwhile fight, among other reasons, because if we want the U.S. government to seriously pursue diplomatic efforts to resolve the Afghanistan conflict politically, we have to jam them up on the "military option."
On October 1, the U.S. plans to talk to Iran. This is happening, in part, because Washington doesn't see a "military option" in Iran now. Part of the reason Washington doesn't see a military option in Iran is because they don't perceive the U.S. public as supporting a military option.
Denying the Pentagon access to more U.S. troops isn't the most subtle, nuanced way to influence U.S. policy. But it's the main lever that the public has.
The political battle over more U.S. troops isn't a battle over what's going to happen in Afghanistan next month. The troop increase that President Obama approved earlier this year has not yet been completed. It's a political battle about what's going to happen in the next several years.
Indeed, if President Obama were to approve 10,000 more troops beyond the increase already approved, the likely effect over time would be simply to replace the troops from other countries that are almost certain to leave.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 16 September 2009 - 12:23pm
It's been a parameter of debate that the United States cannot allow Al Qaeda to re-establish a "terrorist haven" in Afghanistan. When I say it has been a parameter of debate, I mean that even many critics of the war, and those who have argued for a timetable for withdrawal or exit strategy, have accepted this as an assumption, and argued that there are better ways to achieve this goal than by maintaining the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan. (As recently as Monday, I made such an argument.)
But in today's Washington Post, Paul Pillar challenges this assumption.
Paul Pillar has what one could call "impeccable establishment credentials." Pillar was deputy chief of the counterterrorist center at the CIA from 1997 to 1999.
How much does a [terrorist] haven affect the danger of terrorist attacks against U.S. interests, especially the U.S. homeland?
And he answers:
not nearly as much as unstated assumptions underlying the current debate seem to suppose. When a group has a haven, it will use it for such purposes as basic training of recruits. But the operations most important to future terrorist attacks do not need such a home, and few recruits are required for even very deadly terrorism. Consider: The preparations most important to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks took place not in training camps in Afghanistan but, rather, in apartments in Germany, hotel rooms in Spain and flight schools in the United States.
As Pillar notes,
The issue today does not concern what was worth disrupting eight years ago. And it is not whether a haven in Afghanistan would be of any use to a terrorist group -- it would.