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Archive for February, 2009

Posted by robertgreenwald on February 26th, 2009

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Many of you reading this worked diligently to support President Obama and his call for change. I’m sure you feel, as I do, an almost palpable air of excitement and pride right now in having a man of Obama’s intelligence and integrity in the White House. What I also find remarkable is Obama’s conviction that it is imperative for those who disagree with him to speak out, make their voices heard, and discuss ideas without attacking motivation or character.

President Obama just committed 17,000 more soldiers to fight the war in Afghanistan. For me and the Brave New Foundation team, this decision raises scores of questions that must be addressed about troops, costs, overall mission, and exit strategy. Historically, it has been Congress’ duty to ask these questions in the form of oversight hearings that challenge policymakers, examine military spending, and educate the public. I invite you to sign the petition urging Senator John Kerry and Representative Howard Berman to hold congressional oversight hearings at once.

The President has demonstrated his commitment to plurality of opinion and open debate on issues that impact our country most profoundly. In that spirit, I’m proud that Brave New Foundation will bring you Rethink Afghanistan, a new feature-length documentary I am directing in the tradition of Uncovered: The War on Iraq and Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers. This documentary, which we will release in segments online, will foster the kind of discussion, debate and dissent Obama has called for, hopefully serving as a driving force to help make oversight hearings a reality.

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Posted by Siun on February 23rd, 2009

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Last week, the National Security Network – which describes itself as “the progressive national security community” – released a statement on Afghanistan. Our friend Spencer Ackerman reported on it’s release in the Washington Independent.

According to Spencer’s article, Heather Hurlburt of NSN described the goals of the statement as an attempt to come up with a progressive consensus. After two weeks of consultations, the statement was released – apparently to the press and then to those of us in the “advocacy community.”

Hurlburt said that she wanted to work out a sense from the “expert community” of what was achievable and realistic for Afghanistan before taking the document to “progressive advocacy” organizations like Get Afghanistan Right to secure buy in. She conceded that there would be disagreements that probably can’t be fully resolved.

This timing certainly raises a whole bunch of questions about the NSN’s interest in engaging in a genuine discussion. It also makes me wonder why those of us who oppose escalation are considered “advocates” and “activists” yet those who advocate sending more troops – as NSN itself does – are instead “experts.”

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Posted by jasonrosenbaum on February 23rd, 2009

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A debate I participated in with David Atkins (thereisnospoon on Daily Kos) for the Rethink Afghanistan debate series is up. Though I disagree with Atkins, I think he has some strong arguments. I take strong issue, however, with the thesis that we must defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. Our goal in Afghanistan is not to defeat the Taliban. Our goal in Afghanistan – as it is in any war – is to keep our country safe. While some people think those two goals are one and the same, I do not, and neither do some other noted experts.

President Obama has ordered 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, despite a noted lack of strategy and a shifting mission. As we contemplate leaving those troops in Afghanistan for years, and possibly adding another 15,000 or so to the mix, we should carefully consider all of our options.

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Posted by Meteor Blades on February 23rd, 2009

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President Barack Obama’s Tuesday announcement that the U.S. will be adding 17,000 fresh troops to those already fighting in Afghanistan upended hopes among some progressives that the 60-day policy review he announced February 10 would be completed before any such surge. As has been becoming publicly clear for a while now, progressives themselves are split on the issue.

A few have complained that those who are objecting to Obama’s course should have spoken up during his election campaign. This, delivered with a straight face in spite of the fact that there was broad progressive consensus that getting into a fight over Afghanistan would not help Obama’s chances against McCain. So progressives who opposed a troop escalation in Afghanistan kept mostly silent. Back then, their perspective was simply that there would be time after November 4 to persuade Obama that expanding the U.S. military presence was a bad idea. But since they shut up then in the interests of the greater good, they are told they should shut up now because they didn’t speak up then. Catch-22, subsection 3.

What was a campaign is now an administration. And while diplomacy and rebuilding efforts will surely be getting more attention, there is now every possibility that U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan will double, bringing the total NATO and American armed forces in that country close to 100,000. The NATO contingents are iffy in the long run, but the hints from generals like Petraeus, Odierno and McKiernan indicate that Americans could remain there for five years or more. In the view of some, including progressives, why not? After all, the U.S. still has tens of thousands of troops in Germany and Japan, and look how that turned out. Others see: quagmire.

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Posted by ZP Heller on February 21st, 2009

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“We are asking here in Washington for some action, action from the Congress of the United States of America which has the power to raise and maintain armies, and which by the Constitution also has the power to declare war. We have come here, not to the President, because we believe that this body can be responsive to the will of the people, and we believe that the will of the people says that we should be out of Vietnam now.”

Those were the emotional words of a 27-year-old John Kerry, dressed in green fatigues, Silver Star, and Purple Heart ribbons as he shocked the country with his antiwar testimony before a crowded Senate Foreign Relations committee in 1971. Kerry’s fiery thirty-minute condemnation of the war became instantly legendary for questioning the reasons our military was in Vietnam; revealing the fact that the nation had turned its back on veterans; and slamming President Nixon for refusing to pull out.

It was a definitive moment for the antiwar movement made possible because chairman William Fulbright called Kerry to testify. Thirty-eight years later, Senator Kerry now sits in Fulbright’s seat. Along with Rep. Howard Berman, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Kerry has the power to focus the national spotlight on a similar quagmire, the war in Afghanistan. And as the Obama administration just committed an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan at a cost of $775,000 per soldier every year, oversight hearings can’t come soon enough.

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Posted by ZP Heller on February 18th, 2009

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Not everyone favors the Obama administration’s announcement yesterday to commit an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan. At Rethink Afghanistan, we have been advocating the need for Congressional oversight hearings and public debate prior to military escalation. And we’re not the only ones. Take a look at what Tom Andrews, chair of the Win Without War coalition and former Maine Democratic congressman, had to say:

Clearly, U.S. policy in Afghanistan has failed, as numerous reports point to security conditions that have gone from bad to worse. That is why we applaud the president’s decision to conduct a fundamental review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan. But it is also why we are concerned that the deployment of additional combat troops is being announced at the outset of the review process and not at its conclusion.

The risks are significant–particularly in light of the warnings of several analysts that the presence of foreign soldiers fighting a war in Afghanistan is probably the single most important driving force in the resurgence of the Taliban. Reducing our military footprint could, therefore, be one of the most effective measures that can be taken to weaken the armed opposition.

We hope that the president will soon provide the nation with a comprehensive plan for Afghanistan and the region that is fundamentally different from the approach which led us to where we find ourselves now.

The first principle for someone who finds himself in a hole is to stop digging. The US policy ‘hole’ in Afghanistan is not of the new administration’s making. But it is important for the president to consider if adding new U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan, without a new and comprehensive plan for U.S. policy there, might be digging an even bigger hole.

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Posted by robert dreyfuss on February 17th, 2009

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Richard Holbrooke, US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, had nice words to say about Iran and its potential role in fixing Afghanistan, in a manner that the New York Times suggests might signal a change of policy toward “direct engagement with Tehran” and “discussions with Iran about Afghanistan.” Said Holbooke:

“It is absolutely clear that Iran plays an important role in Afghanistan. They have a legitimate role to play in this region, as do all of Afghanistan’s neighbors.”

Concerning reports of Iranian support for the Taliban, Holbrooke declined to play:

“I heard those reports. I talked to the military command about them. I did not have enough time really to get into the details yet, but I will get into it on future trips.”

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Posted by robertgreenwald on February 16th, 2009

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The war in Afghanistan is “going to be much tougher than Iraq,” according to Richard Holbrooke, the State Department’s special envoy. Tougher than Iraq? Does that mean the Afghanistan war will last another six years or more? Will the death toll be worse than 4,200 soldiers and over 100,000 civilians killed? And will Afghanistan cost more than the $3 trillion our country will have spent on Iraq when all is said and done?

The time has come to Rethink Afghanistan, and one of the best ways we can is through Congressional oversight hearings. These deliberative hearings are fundamental to raising critical questions, examining the Pentagon’s plans, and investigating military spending before this war spirals out of control. Historically, oversight hearings have played a major role in our system of checks and balances in wartime, except during the Bush administration.

In the past, you helped Uncovered: The War on Iraq penetrate the national consciousness, compelling people to examine the reasons for war. Thousands of you screened and distributed Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers, which caused war profiteering to become a national concern. Now we need your help demanding Congressional oversight hearings to Rethink Afghanistan. Sign the petition and urge Senator John Kerry and Representative Howard Berman to hold oversight hearings immediately. Then, watch the introductory video and send it around, alerting people to the urgency of this situation and the need for hearings.

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Posted by Siun on February 16th, 2009

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Twenty years ago this weekend the USSR left Afghanistan, after nine long and brutal years of trying to “win.” This weekend the new US envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke was in Kabul to discuss our seven year attempt to “win” but the definition of “victory” is a bit hard to pin down. (Oh, and General “PR” Petraeus was in Doha claiming Iran was aiding the Taliban! )

As the debate on Afghanistan has become more lively, some members of the progressive blogosphere have been cheering on plans to send another 30,000 troops but their positions are equally hard to pin down beyond support for yet another Petraeus “surge.” (And if you remember, that surge was no where near as successful as the PR General portrayed it) Brave New Foundation is hosting a series of video debates – Rethinking Afghanistan- which is very worth watching – and participating in.

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Posted by TheNation on February 9th, 2009

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President Barack Obama has wisely ordered an internal review of the administration’s options in Afghanistan before proceeding with the current plan to send 30,000 more troops, which would nearly double the 32,000 fighting there. For the sake of the country, his presidency and the peace and stability of South Asia, Obama should take US-led military escalation off the table. Instead he should focus on devising a regional strategy to stabilize Afghanistan and strengthen Pakistan. Escalating the occupation of Afghanistan would bleed us of the resources we need for economic recovery, further destabilize Pakistan, open a rift with our European allies and negate the positive effects of withdrawing from Iraq on our image in the Muslim world. Escalation would have all these negative consequences without securing a better future for the Afghan people or increasing US security.

There’s no denying that the situation has deteriorated over the past few years; the Taliban now threaten to take over large parts of Afghanistan. But more US forces will not bring stability. We are losing the war not because we have had too few troops but because our presence has turned the Afghan people against us, swelling the ranks of the Taliban.

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