Have Second Thoughts
Following are four articles questioning President Barack Obama's decision to widen the Afghan war:
Ten Progressives Voice Deep Concerns
President Obama's decision to escalate the Afghanistan war was an extreme disappointment for a number of progressive Democrats who were among his staunchest supporters during the election campaign and the first several months of the new administration. It's reached the point where the support group known as Progressives for Obama — which defined itself as the "Left-Progressive Wing of the Coalition that elected Obama" — just changed its name to Progressive America Rising.
According to AlterNet today: "As soon as his intentions to send tens of thousands more troops became clear, dozens of progressive leaders and writers — including many former prominent Obama supporters — voiced their concerns in newspapers, on the radio and on the Internet." The website then sent the following sample of their responses:
1. Tom Hayden writes for The Nation:
"It's time to strip the Obama sticker off my car. Obama's escalation in Afghanistan is the last in a string of disappointments. His flip-flopping acceptance of the military coup in Honduras has squandered the trust of Latin America. His Wall Street bailout leaves the poor, the unemployed, minorities and college students on their own. And now comes the Afghanistan-Pakistan decision to escalate the stalemate, which risks his domestic agenda, his Democratic base, and possibly even his presidency."
2. Laura Flanders writes on GritTV,
"...for those who’d thought they’d voted for the death of the Bush Doctrine. Sorry. Bush/Cheney live on in the new president’s embrace of the idea that the U.S. has a right, not only to respond to attacks, but also to deploy men and women in anticipation of them."
3. Jim Hightower used his most recent column to warn:
"Obama has been taken over by the military industrial hawks and national security theorists who play war games with other people's lives and money. I had hoped Obama might be a more forceful leader who would reject the same old interventionist mindset of those who profit from permanent war. But his newly announced Afghan policy shows he is not that leader."
Hightower says that just because we've lost Obama on this issue, it's not over; that we as citizens...
"...have both a moral and patriotic duty to reach out to others to inform, organize and mobilize our grassroots objections, taking common sense to high places. Also, look to leaders in Congress who are standing up against Obama's war and finally beginning to reassert the legislative branch's constitutional responsibility to oversee and direct military policy. For example, Rep. Jim McGovern is pushing for a specific, congressionally mandated exit strategy; Rep. Barbara Lee wants to use Congress' control of the public purse strings to stop Obama's escalation; and Rep. David Obey is calling for a war tax on the richest Americans to put any escalation on-budget, rather than on a credit card for China to finance and future generations to pay."
4. Black Agenda Report editor Glen Ford compares Obama's delivery to how George Bush might have given the speech:
"Barack Obama's oratorical skills have turned on him, revealing, as George Bush’s low-grade delivery never could, the perfect incoherence of the current American imperial project in South Asia. Bush’s verbal eccentricities served to muddy his entire message, leaving the observer wondering what was more ridiculous, the speechmaker or the speech. There is no such confusion when Obama is on the mic. His flawless delivery of superbly structured sentences provides no distractions, requiring the brain to examine the content – the policy in question – on its actual merits. The conclusion comes quickly: the U.S. imperial enterprise in Afghanistan and Pakistan is doomed, as well as evil.
"The president’s speech to West Point cadets was a stream of non sequiturs so devoid of logic as to cast doubt on the sanity of the authors. '[T]hese additional American and international troops,' said the president, 'will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.'
"Obama claims that the faster an additional 30,000 Americans pour into Afghanistan, the quicker will come the time when they will leave. More occupation means less occupation, you see? This breakneck intensification of the U.S. occupation is necessary, Obama explains, because 'We have no interest in occupying your country.'"
5. Foreign Policy in Focus's Phyllis Bennis demolished Obama's attempt to discourage comparisons to Vietnam:
"Near the end of his speech, Obama tried to speak to his antiwar one-time supporters, speaking to the legacy of Vietnam. It was here that the speech’s internal weakness was perhaps most clear. Obama refused to respond to the actual analogy between the quagmire of Vietnam, which led to the collapse of Johnson’s Great Society programs, and the threat to Obama’s ambitious domestic agenda collapsing under the pressure of funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, he created straw analogies, ignoring the massive challenge of waging an illegitimate, unpopular war at a moment of dire economic crisis."
6. New America Media's Andrew Lam also addressed the Afghanistan-Vietnam parallel:
"On the eve of the second wave of a U.S. invasion in Afghanistan, I wish to tell the American media, as well as President Obama, that the Vietnam syndrome cannot be kicked through acts of war. That only through a view that’s rooted in people, rooted in human kindness, and not historical vehemence, would a country open itself up and stop being a haunting metaphor. That not until human basic needs are addressed and human dignity upheld can we truly pacify our enemies and bring about human liberty. And that more soldiers and bombs and droids in the sky will never appease the haunting ghosts of the past. Quite the opposite. We are in the process of creating more ghosts to haunt future generations."
7. Glenn Greenwald, writing on Salon, addresses Obama's supporters who are going along with his decision to escalate the troops:
"The most bizarre defense of Obama's escalation is also one of the most common: since he promised during the campaign to escalate in Afghanistan, it's unfair to criticize him for it now -- as though policies which are advocated during a campaign are subsequently immunized from criticism. For those invoking this defense: in 2004, Bush ran for re-election by vowing to prosecute the war in Iraq, keep Guantanamo open, and "reform" privatize Social Security. When he won and then did those things (or tried to), did you refrain from criticizing those policies on the grounds that he promised to do them during the campaign? I highly doubt it."
8. AlterNet's Adele Stan noted that Obama also changed the justification for the war:
"If you listened to the subtext of the speech, you might find that the mission has changed. In fact, you might say that the mission in Afghanistan is as much about creating stability in Pakistan -- a nuclear power that NBC's Andrea Mitchell yesterday referred to as a nearly failed state -- as it is about Afghanistan. Last night, a senior administration official confirmed to AlterNet that the U.S. mission to Pakistan has broadened.
From the president's speech:
"In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly. Those days are over. Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interest, mutual respect, and mutual trust. We will strengthen Pakistan’s capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries, and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known and whose intentions are clear. America is also providing substantial resources to support Pakistan’s democracy and development. We are the largest international supporter for those Pakistanis displaced by the fighting. And going forward, the Pakistani people must know America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistan’s security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent, so that the great potential of its people can be unleashed."
9. Rory O' Connor lambasted Obama on MediaChannel.org:
"The Afghan escalation speech was classic Obama. His enigmatic and epigrammatic split the baby in half Yoda/Spock-speak offered something for everyone: good-news-bad-news; back and forth; give and take; get in to get out; speed up to slow down; and in the end, let’s all come together and get along to end the war – by waging the war more intensely…but only for eighteen months, and then we all get to go home."
10. Blogger Digby highlighted that the American public never really gets to discuss the real issues underlying the US military build up in the Mideast and Asia:
"The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the standoff with Iran and all the other obsessions with the Mideast are at least informed, if not entirely motivated, by larger geopolitical efforts to maintain stability at a time of impending competition over resources and access to them -- oil. Sure that's simplistic, but it's at the 'heart' of what's going on in the leadership's 'minds.'
"We don't talk about any of that because it might lead us to get serious about changing our way of life and evidently nobody important thinks that's the right way to deal with the problem. And frankly, among many of our elites, maintaining a military presence everywhere is necessary to preserve American global dominance. Period."
Afghanistan: The Betrayal
By Garry Wills
[Author, journalist and historian Wills wrote this article Dec. 2 in the New York Review of Books blog]
I did not think he would lose me so soon — sooner than Bill Clinton did. Like many people, I was deeply invested in the success of our first African-American president. I had written op-ed pieces and articles to support him in The New York Times and The New York Review of Books. My wife and I had maxed out in donations for him. Our children had been ardent for his cause.
Others I respect have given up on him before now. I can see why. His backtracking on the treatment of torture (and photographs of torture), his hesitations to give up on rendition, on detentions, on military commissions, and on signing statements, are disheartening continuations of George W. Bush’s heritage. But I kept hoping that he was using these concessions to buy leeway for his most important position, for the ground on which his presidential bid was predicated.
There was only one thing that brought him to the attention of the nation as a future president. It was opposition to the Iraq war. None of his serious rivals for the Democratic nomination had that credential—not Hillary Clinton, not Joseph Biden, not John Edwards. It set him apart. He put in clarion terms the truth about that war—that it was a dumb war, that it went after an enemy where he was not hiding, that it had no indigenous base of support, that it had no sensible goal and no foreseeable cutoff point.
He said that he would not oppose war in general, but dumb wars. On that basis, we went for him. And now he betrays us. Although he talked of a larger commitment to Afghanistan during his campaign, he has now officially adopted his very own war, one with all the disqualifications that he attacked in the Iraq engagement. This war too is a dumb one. It has even less indigenous props than Iraq did.
Iraq at least had a functioning government (though a tyrannical one). The Afghanistan government that replaced the Taliban is not only corrupt but ineffectual. The country is riven by tribal war, Islamic militancy, and warlordism, and fueled by a drug economy —interrupting the drug industry will destabilize what order there is and increase hostility to us.
We have been in Afghanistan for eight years, earning hatred as occupiers, and after this record for longevity in American wars we will be there for still more years earning even more hatred. It gives us not another Iraq but another Vietnam, with wobbly rulers and an alien culture.
Although Obama says he plans to begin withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011, he will meanwhile be sending there not only soldiers but the contract employees that cling about us now like camp followers, corrupt adjuncts in perpetuity. Obama did not mention these plagues that now equal the number of military personnel we dispatch. We are sending off thousands of people to take and give bribes to drug dealers in Afghanistan.
If we had wanted Bush’s wars, and contractors, and corruption, we could have voted for John McCain. At least we would have seen our foe facing us, not felt him at our back, as now we do. The Republicans are given a great boon by this new war. They can use its cost to say that domestic needs are too expensive to be met—health care, education, infrastructure. They can say that military recruitments from the poor make job creation unnecessary. They can call it Obama’s war when it is really theirs. They can attack it and support it at the same time, with equal advantage.
I cannot vote for any Republican. But Obama will not get another penny from me, or another word of praise, after this betrayal. And in all this I know that my disappointment does not matter. What really matters are the lives of the young men and women he is sending off to senseless deaths.
Obama’s Contributions to a Dying Empire
By Francis Shor
[Shor teaches at Wayne State University and is the author of the recently published Routledge Press book, Dying Empire: U.S. Imperialism and Global Resistance. This article appeared on the website of the History News Network Dec. 2.]
Old habits die hard, especially imperialist ones. Imperial imperatives, whether economic, geopolitical, or ideological, persist because the ruling elites are dependent on them. In order to conceal imperialist objectives, presidents and other leaders of the U.S. political class rely on the rhetoric of national security and America’s supposed benevolent global purpose.
And, so, with President Obama’s announcement of sending 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, the cadets at West Point and the viewing public once more heard that our national security was at stake. A spreading "cancer," threatening to metastasize throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan, had to be militarily extirpated. Conveniently overlooking the correlation between the growth of a Pashtun insurgency and U.S. occupation, Obama tried to wrap his rhetoric in the resonances of 9/11 and the longer shadow of U.S.-sponsored global security. No mention of the politics of pipelines, only the "noble struggle for freedom."
Once more an imperial mission was hidden behind an ideological smokescreen. Yet, this continuing military intervention, even with a well-timed exit strategy, cannot stop the inexorable march of declining U.S. global hegemony. It is proving more difficult to round-up an international posse for this so-called "reluctant sheriff." Although Obama made obtuse allusions to NATO allies in Afghanistan, many countries are pulling out, the most recent being Canada and the Netherlands.
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, civilian casualties from U.S. drone attacks continue, even in the face of universal condemnation by human rights organizations. All of Obama’s rhetorical skills cannot hide these hideous facts on the ground. Added to these egregious war crimes are other instances of on-going U.S. arrogance from refusing to sign the landmine treaty to expanding military bases in Colombia.
When Obama cites, as he did in his West Point address, U.S. criticism of tyranny, he pointedly neglects Colombia’s abysmal human rights record. Alluding briefly to the "fraud" of the recent Afghanistan presidential election, Obama ignores the endemic corruption and tyranny of U.S. allies among Tajik warlords. In Honduras, while Obama seemed to signal opposition to the brutal coup against Zelaya, he eventually reconciled U.S. policy with support for an illegitimate presidential election there.
From Latin America to the Middle East and South Asia, the U.S. is more and more a declining and isolated power, alienated from the aspirations of people throughout these regions. Beyond the growing geopolitical isolation, the Obama Administration’s Wall Street economic orientation is on the defensive against erstwhile allies like England and France and major investors like China. Even the 2008 U.S. National Intelligence Council’s report on Global Trends in 2025 predicted declining U.S. power and constrained leverage.
For all Obama’s efforts to use "smart" power to navigate during this period of decline, he cannot, as a member of the political class, acknowledge that decline and eschew, in the process, an imperial agenda. At best, he may try to find ways to bargain with the inevitable death of the empire. But bargaining, as psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross noted in her classic study of death and dying, is a temporary and last-ditch effort to escape the inevitable. For historian Eric Hobsbawm, "the age of empires is dead. We shall have to find another way of organizing the globalized world of the 21st century." And we will have to do it against those elite forces, whether neo-conservative or neo-liberal, that are incapable of ending their self-appointed imperial missions.
By Andrew J. Bacevich
[This article appeared in yesterday's Los Angeles Times. Bacevich, a moderate conservative, is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. He is a retired Army colonel and Vietnam vet, who has written several important books about militarism, war, imperialism and the limits of empire.]
Which is the greater folly: To fancy that war offers an easy solution to vexing problems, or, knowing otherwise, to opt for war anyway?
In the wake of 9/11, American statecraft emphasized the first approach: President George W. Bush embarked on a "global war" to eliminate violent jihadism. President Obama now seems intent on pursuing the second approach: Through military escalation in Afghanistan, he seeks to "finish the job" that Bush began there, then all but abandoned.
Through war, Bush set out to transform the greater Middle East. Despite immense expenditures of blood and treasure, that effort failed. In choosing Obama rather than John McCain to succeed Bush, the American people acknowledged that failure as definitive. Obama's election was to mark a new beginning, an opportunity to "reset" America's approach to the world.
The president's chosen course of action for Afghanistan suggests he may well squander that opportunity. Rather than renouncing Bush's legacy, Obama apparently aims to salvage something of value. In Afghanistan, he will expend yet more blood and more treasure hoping to attenuate or at least paper over the wreckage left over from the Bush era.
However improbable, Obama thereby finds himself following in the footsteps of Richard Nixon. Running for president in 1968, Nixon promised to end the Vietnam War. Once elected, he balked at doing so. Obsessed with projecting an image of toughness and resolve -- U.S. credibility was supposedly on the line -- Nixon chose to extend and even to expand that war. Apart from driving up the costs that Americans were called on to pay, this accomplished nothing.
If knowing when to cut your losses qualifies as a hallmark of statesmanship, Nixon flunked. Vietnam proved irredeemable.
Obama's prospects of redeeming Afghanistan appear hardly more promising. Achieving even a semblance of success, however modestly defined, will require an Afghan government that gets its act together, larger and more competent Afghan security forces, thousands of additional reinforcements from allies already heading toward the exits, patience from economically distressed Americans as the administration shovels hundreds of billions of dollars toward Central Asia, and even greater patience from U.S. troops shouldering the burdens of seemingly perpetual war. Above all, success will require convincing Afghans that the tens of thousands of heavily armed strangers in their midst represent Western beneficence rather than foreign occupation.
The president seems to appreciate the odds. The reluctance with which he contemplates the transformation of Afghanistan into "Obama's war" is palpable. Gone are the days of White House gunslingers barking "Bring 'em on" and of officials in tailored suits and bright ties vowing to do whatever it takes. The president has made clear his interest in "offramps" and "exit strategies."
So if the most powerful man in the world wants out, why doesn't he simply get out? For someone who vows to change the way Washington works, Afghanistan seemingly offers a made-to-order opportunity to make good on that promise. Why is Obama muffing the chance?