"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.
Under our constitutional democracy, Congress has the power and the responsibility to establish a policy on President Obama's plans to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, and, if Congress opposes sending more troops, to try to block or alter this policy. The question now is whether Congress will act before the policy is implemented, and whether it will do so in a "clean" vote - an up or down vote solely on the question of sending more troops, unentangled with unrelated issues like flood relief for farmers or extending unemployment benefits.
If Congress does not act quickly, the President's proposal may become an accomplished fact. Already, President Obama has ordered Marine units to be deployed later this month. If Congress waits for months to debate the issue, most of the new troops may already be in place.
Anti-war Representatives are pressing for an early vote on funding for more troops so President Obama's policy will be judged by Congress before thousands of additional troops are sent into combat, the Politico reports. "Let us have this debate before he moves forward," Rep. Jim McGovern [D-MA] said. "I'd like it to be before we escalate one single American troop over there."
Recent press reports suggest that President Obama is likely to try to sugarcoat his announcement next week of a major military escalation in Afghanistan with talk of "exit ramps": opportunities in the future to evaluate and possibly reduce the U.S. military commitment. That's supposed to make opponents of military escalation feel better, the media suggests. The New York Times reports:
The troops will be dispatched in phases, and Mr. Obama is likely to declare that he will review the deployment next year, to evaluate its progress.
"That gives him the flexibility to tell the Democrats that his commitment is limited," the Times says.
But it's hard to see why this should be at all reassuring. After all, we just had such an evaluation, which, despite the widespread view that the present policy has failed, resulted in the policy choice of sending 50% more troops that the President is about to announce. Why should we expect the next evaluation by the same actors to be substantially different from the one that just took place, if the data is the same?
Indeed, just as the President plans to assure us that we don't have an open-ended commitment, so he plans to reassure the governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and our European allies that we do, in fact, have an open-ended commitment. Which President Obama should be believed?
Supposedly, we have to tell Pakistan that we are not leaving because if they think that we are leaving, they will hedge their bets and back and protect their ally Mullah Omar, in order to protect their influence and what they perceive to be their national interests in Afghansitan.
Representative Barbara Lee, whose bill HR 3699 would prohibit an increase in US forces deployed to Afghanistan, is having an event on 3699 and an exit strategy for Afghanistan in Oakland Monday, at the Dellums Federal Building, at noon.
The flyer is here.
Please spread this information around to contacts in the Bay area and the California press. Perhaps this event can have some impact on other Members of the California delegation...
In the event that President Obama announces a military escalation in Afghanistan - some press reports have speculated that in the next few weeks President Obama will announce that he will send tens of thousands of more troops in 2010 to remain for the indefinite future - groups around the U.S. will be having protests and vigils to coincide with the President's speech. Just Foreign Policy has drafted a "sample" press advisory for use by local groups. Adapt as you see fit. The sample press advisory is here.
On November 17, the Congressional Progressive Caucus sent a letter to President Obama, noting support in the CPC for a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, opposition to sending more troops, support for redirecting resources from the military to aid, and support for reconciliation in Afghanistan; and requesting a meeting with the President to discuss these concerns. The letter is posted here.
Is it just me, or is the pontification of Western leaders about corruption in Afghanistan growing rather tiresome?
There is something very Captain Renault about it. We're shocked, shocked that the Afghans have sullied our morally immaculate occupation of their country with their dirty corruption. How ungrateful can they be?
But perhaps we should consider the possibility that our occupation of the country is not so morally immaculate - indeed, that the most corrupt racket going in Afghanistan today is the American occupation.
US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of the Pentagon's logistics contracts in Afghanistan consists of protection payments to insurgents, Aram Roston reports in The Nation. In southern Afghanistan - where General McChrystal wants to send more troops - security firms can't physically protect convoys of American military supplies. There's no practical way to move the supplies without paying the Taliban. So, like Milo Minderbinder in Catch-22, we're supplying both sides of the war.
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.
If you think there's a house-on-fire emergency demanding that President Obama send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan right away (is your name Fred Kagan?) you don't just have a problem with President Barack Obama. You have a problem with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Wall Street Journal reports:
At a White House meeting Friday, the Joint Chiefs of Staff urged President Barack Obama to send fresh troops to Afghanistan only if they have spent at least a year in the U.S. since their last overseas tour, according to people familiar with the matter. If Mr. Obama agreed to that condition, many potential Afghanistan reinforcements wouldn't be available until next summer at the earliest.
A recent study by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, concluded that the U.S. has only three Army and Marine brigades - about 11,000 to 15,000 troops - capable of deploying to Afghanistan this year after spending at least 12 months back in the U.S.
Note that, by law, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff "is the principal military adviser to the President."
Like every other patriotic American, I want to support our troops. If the Joint Chiefs say our troops need twelve months at home before being sent to Afghanistan, I think we better do what they say.
The rise is military suicides is a key issue driving the Joint Chiefs' concern:
Army officials say the strain of repeated deployments with minimal time back in the U.S. is one of the biggest factors fueling the rise in military suicides.
On October 27, the Washington Post reported the resignation of Matthew Hoh, a top U.S. civilian official in Afghanistan, in protest of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Hoh charged that "the United States is asking its troops to die in Afghanistan for what is essentially a far-off civil war," the Post reported. In his letter of resignation, Hoh wrote,
"I fail to see the value ... in continuous U.S. casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year old civil war."
"The Pashtun insurgency," Hoh asserted, "is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The U.S. and NATO presence and operations in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified."
The appearance in mainstream U.S. media of the credible assertion that the United States is intervening militarily on one side in another country's civil war, especially a conflict with an ethnic character, might be expected to have a significant impact on public perceptions of whether continuation of U.S. military involvement was justified. One of the great political and media debates of 2006-7 was whether the United States was involved in a civil war in Iraq.