Hitting the Brakes on Afghanistan

Posted December 31, 2009

Categories: Articles

Imagine finding yourself in the driver’s seat of a car heading directly at a brick wall. You panic: What to do?

Fortunately, there are three people in the car with you, and they all have very firm advice. The person in the passenger seat tells you to push the pedal to the metal. Right behind you in the back seat, your friend is urging you to accelerate only modestly. And the fourth person in the car recommends that you maintain your current speed.

You might be thinking: These are my only choices? I’ll hit the brick wall either really quickly, rather quickly, or pretty darn soon. The end result will be the same. The car will be destroyed and all four of you will be in the hospital.

Since these are the choices now being presented to President Barack Obama for his Afghanistan policy, who can blame him for being slow to make up his mind? His top general is telling him to send 40,000 troops. His vice president is telling him to send 10-15,000 troops. And his secretary of state and Pentagon chief are urging the middle course of 30,000 troops.

Isn’t anyone out there telling the president that he has more levers at his disposal than simply the gas pedal? Isn’t anyone pointing out the obvious?

The brake, Mr. President, the brake!

Frankly, the car metaphor isn’t precise. It’s actually a bus heading toward that brick wall. A really, really big bus. And we’re all on board, the entire U.S. population. The president’s advisors are all clustered up at the front. Their voices are pretty loud. But we can all make our voices heard if we all shout together from the back of the bus.Call the White House at 202-456-1111 and keep the message simple: Don’t send more troops to Afghanistan, Mr. President.

Peace groups around the country are coordinating this call-in campaign in these few days before Thanksgiving so that the president knows, before the expected announcement of his Afghanistan policy next week, that there are other choices. Here’s a link to some additional talking points about different congressional options.

“It is unlikely that we will soon have another president with the moral and rhetorical force to talk us out of a foolish commitment that cannot be sustained without shame and defeat,” writes Garry Wills in The New York Review of Books. “If it costs him his presidency, what other achievement can match it? During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama said he would rather be a one-term president than give up on his goals. Here is a goal no other president we can imagine would have a possibility of reaching. Presidents who just kick the can down the road are easy to come by. Lost lives and limbs are not.”

The crash can be avoided. But we must call the White House and let the driver-in-chief know that we’re here, we’re clear, and we don’t want this war no more.

The War at Home

America’s wars abroad are still having their blowback effects at home. The Ft. Hood tragedy, like the attacks against U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, wouldn’t have happened without the drone attacks and overall policy of occupation. And the vicious circle could get even more vicious.

“The Fort Hood assault could lead to an anti-Muslim backlash in America,” writes Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF) contributor Fouad Pervez in Fort Hood: The War at Home. “Indeed, some conservatives are trying to link the attack to a wider conspiracy theory involving Muslims working with terrorists infiltrating the U.S. government. This plot, which allegedly involves the Muslim Brotherhood and the Council on American Islamic Relations, among others, would be far more comical if congressional leaders weren’t supporting it. Representative Sue Myrick (R-NC), who wrote the foreword to the book behind the ridiculous theory, Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld that’s Conspiring to Islamize America, has already stated concern that Hasan was an example of the jihadist infiltration of the military. With her seat on the House Intelligence Committee, she will attempt to investigate Muslim intern ‘spies’ on Capitol Hill. Many conservatives want to use the tragedy to increase surveillance of Muslims.”

In Iraq, meanwhile, Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi recently vetoed several amendments to the country’s electoral laws that might end up delaying the 2010 elections and casting doubt on U.S. plans to withdraw troops from the country.

“Obama should send a clear message that while the U.S. supports deepening democracy in Iraq, withdrawal plans will not be affected by internal Iraqi politics,” write FPIF policy outreach director Erik Leaver and FPIF contributor Raed Jarrar in Iraq Throws Obama a Curveball. “Sticking to committed deadlines for withdrawal is the best way to keep the U.S. out of internal Iraqi affairs, forcing Iraqis to take the steps needed to build political stability.”

Dealing with Russia and Asia

The Norwegians are giving Obama a Nobel Prize for his commitment to nuclear abolition. The Russians are not so enthusiastic. After all, despite the admirable talk of nuclear disarmament, Washington is pushing ahead with conventional weapons that are equally worrisome.

“There is a compelling need to see nuclear weapons, major conventional armaments, and small arms along a single continuum: as deadly weapons systems that should be subject to a set of integrated principles aimed at curbing their proliferation, export, and use,” writes FPIF columnist Frida Berrigan in The Conventional Arms Control Challenge. “In negotiations over nuclear reductions, the Russians have raised the issue of conventional U.S. capabilities including powerful long-range missiles able to strike anywhere in the world within 60 minutes — the ‘Prompt Global Strike’ capability that U.S. commanders hope to deploy by 2015.”

Obama, meanwhile, is just back from Asia, where he met with leaders in Japan, Singapore, China, and South Korea. Critics jumped all over the president for being overly deferential to the Japanese emperor, the Burmese junta, and the Chinese leadership. They missed the point.

“Let’s not forget that the United States still wields enormous military and economic power in Asia — tens of thousands of troops, overwhelming military hardware, the purchasing power of the American market,” I write in Obama Takes a Bow? “Obama might have put a velvet glove on the U.S. fist. But don’t be fooled by the bows and handshakes and the friendly photo-ops. When it comes to securing military bases, prying open closed markets, soliciting contributions for its war efforts in Afghanistan, and squeezing recalcitrant countries like North Korea, the United States continues to throw its weight around in Asia.”

Imperial Battles

The United States and China both need a lot of energy to power their economies. Angola is an obvious place to look.

“During the Cold War, Angola was the site of a proxy war waged by the United States, Cuba, and the Soviet Union,” writes FPIF contributor Khadija Sharife in The Battle for Angola’s Oil. “Today, the superpowers are still interested in the country, but they are fighting for control of Angola’s vast oil wealth in a different way. Whether Angola can play the calm offensive of the United States and China off one another to its own advantage — and whether the already largely mortgaged oil wealth will ever benefit the Angolan population — remain key unanswered post-Cold War questions.”

Finally, FPIF contributor Duran Parsi reviews David Swanson’s latest book Daybreak, on the imperial presidency of George W. Bush. “Obama’s use of signing statements to shape the implementation of legislation, which cannot be overturned by Congress or challenged in court, blatantly abuses constitutional power,” Parsi writes. “If Obama truly wishes to enact the change he promised in his campaign, Swanson boldly asserts, he must break from the ‘unitary executive’ that Bush created.”

FPIF, November 24, 2009

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