There is a tradition among some peace activists of striking a pose of annoyed indifference to the question of how to get out of an unpopular war. "There are three ways to get out," goes one waggish response. "Air, land, and sea."
This is funny and emotionally satisfying, and also represents a truth for peace activists: ending the war is a first principle, not something contingent on whether a particular means of doing so satisfies someone else's notion of what is practical.
On the other hand, peace activists can't be satisfied with being right; they also are morally compelled to try to be effective. And part of being effective is giving consideration to, and seeking to publicize, arguments are likely to end the war sooner rather than later. It's not likely, for example, that discussing ways in which the war might be useful for the long-term maintenance of the "capitalist world system" will turn the Washington debate against war in the short run. If, on the other hand, central to the official story is a claim that the war is a war against Al Qaeda, but senior U.S. officials publicly concede that there is no significant Al Qaeda presence today in Afghanistan, that is certainly a fact worth knowing and spreading.
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."
575: That's how many U.S. soldiers have lost their lives in the Afghanistan war since Barack Obama became President at noon on January 20, 2009, according to the icasualties.org website, which tracks U.S. soldiers' deaths using reports received from the Department of Defense - and which is widely cited in the media as a source of information on U.S. deaths.
According to the same website, 575 is also the number of U.S. soldiers who lost their lives in the Afghanistan war during the Presidency of George W. Bush.
Therefore, total U.S. deaths in Afghanistan have doubled in Afghanistan under President Obama, and when the next U.S. soldier is reported dead, the majority of U.S. deaths in Afghanistan will have occurred under President Obama.
This grim landmark should be reported in the media, and White House reporters should ask Robert Gibbs to comment on it. It is quite relevant to Gibbs' implicit attempt to marginalize critics of the war in Afghanistan by claiming that they wouldn't be satisfied with anything less than the abolition of the Pentagon. The majority of Americans - including the overwhelming majority of Democrats, and at least 60% of House Democrats - are deeply skeptical of the Administration's Afghanistan policy not because they are knee-jerk pacifists - obviously they are not - but because the human and financial cost of the war is rising, we have nothing to show for the increased cost, and the Administration has not articulated a clear plan to reach the endgame; indeed, Administration officials, led by General Petraeus, have just launched a public relations campaign to undermine the substantial drawdown in troops next summer that Democratic leaders in Congress, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have said that they expect.
This table(view as web page) (download excel spreadsheet) shows deaths of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan by year and month since 2001, according to the icasualties.org website, as of Monday, August 16, 2010. The table also shows that as of August 16, 2010, 575 US deaths have been recorded since President Obama took office, equal to the 575 that were recorded under President Bush.
Is there a man or woman in America today who is willing to stand at noon in the public square and claim that demands to bomb, invade, and occupy other people's countries have anything to do with human liberation?
If such people can be found, let them answer a few simple questions about the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.
How many Iraqis did we "liberate" from the companionship of their loved ones?
How many Iraqis did we "liberate" from dwelling in the houses and towns and the country of their birth?
How many Iraqis did we "liberate" from life on Earth?
If any American who claims to believe that indefinite continuation of the war in Afghanistan - or a US/Israeli military attack on Iran - is justified by humanitarian concerns cannot give a fact-based and intellectually coherent answer to the question of how many Iraqis have lost their lives as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, do not that person's claims for "humanitarian" war, bombing, and occupation deserve zero credence?
To state that we cannot know how many have died is outrageously false. It is vacuously true that we cannot know exactly how many have died. But in the diverse fields of human inquiry and endeavor, there are many large numbers that are important which we cannot know exactly. If understanding the magnitude of a number is important, we do not throw up our hands and say, "we can never know." Imagine a reference book that said, "we don't know how many humans are alive on Earth today, because no-one has counted them all."
If we want to understand the magnitude of a large number that we cannot count, we estimate it.
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.