By Rebecca Griffin
As advocates opposing the military occupation in Afghanistan, we find ourelves facing an array of new political challenges – a popular president, a Congress reluctant to challenge him, a persistent theme about Afghanistan as the “good war,” and a public exhausted after eight years of opposing President Bush. That doesn’t mean we can’t win on this issue; in fact, I am convinced that public opinion will eventually shift as attention shifts to Afghanistan from Iraq. But it does mean that we need to be smart and strategic, and have to go the extra mile in bringing members of Congress along.
That means starting with shoring up our progressive allies, who have always been at the vanguard of promoting a saner foreign policy. Here in Oregon, it’s instructive to look at Rep. Peter DeFazio’s letter to his constituents explaining his decision to vote in favor of more than $90 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. DeFazio is reliably progressive on foreign policy, and is likely to be an ally if we can address the concerns he and other members of Congress have about Afghanistan policy.
No Rationale for Afghanistan
Rep. DeFazio’s letter is mostly critical of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan, and he notes that supporting the supplemental was not an “easy decision.” He follows by saying, “I believe President Obama made an error by ordering an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan before first completing a detailed review of U.S. Afghanistan policies.” Despite the fact that the Obama administration has fleshed out its strategy since the announcement of the escalation of troops, he has still failed to offer a clear rationale for intensifying the military approach in Afghanistan, a point that Rep. DeFazio does not address.
The eight-year history of the occupation of Afghanistan and the longer history of counter-terrorism do not point to likely success for a military strategy the Obama administration says is directed at defeating terrorist groups. The RAND Corporation recently released a report demonstrating that of all the terrorist groups that have ended in the last 40 years, only 7 percent were defeated by military force. Policing, intelligence and political reconciliation have been far more effective in diminishing the threat of terrorism. The Obama administration has not offered a rationale for why military force in this situation will fall into that small window of success.
To the contrary, the U.S. military presence is inflaming the insurgency. Gilles Dorronsoro, an Afghanistan expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, stated, “The mere presence of foreign soldiers fighting a war in Afghanistan is probably the single most important factor in the resurgence of the Taliban.” Civilian deaths from airstrikes have caused death and devastation in Afghan communities and sparked anti-American protests. Drone attacks in Pakistan have killed more than ten times as many civilians as insurgents, and military operations have created a refugee crisis. In the face of this evidence, the Obama administration has not offered a viable explanation for how the military presence can create stability rather than undermine it.
Positive Rhetoric Not Matched by Action
DeFazio rightly points out that President Obama’s strategy includes some improvements and some gaps, and praises Obama’s commitment to “devote significantly more resources to the civilian efforts in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.” The focus on nonmilitary foreign policy tools is admirable, but as of yet this rhetoric has not been matched by action. Congress missed an opportunity to challenge the disparity when debating the supplemental funding request, which allocated roughly 90 percent of funds to military operations and only 10 percent to civilian tools. Defense Secretary Gates reportedly plans to fill some of the civilian jobs with military reserve personnel because civilian capacity building has been severely neglected. The State Department currently has only 18 Foreign Service officers who speak Pashto. Congress holds the power of the purse and has the responsibility to ensure that the pledge to build civilian capacity isn’t just lip service. They lost that opportunity with the supplemental funding bill, and we must pressure them to address the problem when they take up Obama’s 2010 budget.
Rep. DeFazio notes that he is an original co-sponsor of H.R. 2404, Rep. Jim McGovern’s (D-MA) bill requiring an exit strategy by the end of the year. He states, “I firmly believe that the United States is best served by outlining a clear exit strategy.” The push for an exit strategy is critical, especially in light of President Obama’s recent speech in Cairo. In a commendable speech that laid the groundwork for better relations with the Muslim world, Obama declared, “We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could beconfident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can.” This hardly sounds like a specific, reachable benchmark for ending the military occupation, and combined with recent statements from Gen. George Casey about his plans fora U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan for another decade, it is disconcerting. The exit strategy bill is one of the few pieces of legislation on Afghanistan that has momentum, and Rep. DeFazio’s leadership is important; we must pressure other members of Congress to follow his example.
Why We Can’t Wait
Ultimately, despite his misgivings about the U.S. strategy in Afghani
stan, Rep. DeFazio justifies his decision in voting for the supplemental by saying, “I chose to give President Obama time to implement his Afghanistan strategy.” I understand his basic inclination to support Obama, and it’s one that is reflected in elements of the left who supported his candidacy. However, the evidence argues against the intensification of a strategy that has failed for nearly eight years in bringing about stability in Afghanistan and safety for Americans. Far too many Afghans, Pakis
tanis and Americans will be killed, and far too many tax dollars wasted, to wait out a misguided strategy. There will be more opportunities to pressure Congress for a better Afghanistan policy in the coming months. Now we have a responsibility to mobilize our communities to tell Congress that the time for action is now. Φ
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