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Archive for March, 2009

Posted by ZP Heller on March 14th, 2009

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

Where is the public outcry for congressional oversight hearings on the war in Afghanistan? Granted, the words “congressional oversight hearings” aren’t particularly sexy–certainly not as alluring as “shock and awe,” “insurgency,” “counterinsirgency,” “airstrikes,” and “Hellfire missiles.” But one thing that is always sexy is power, and Congress has the power to prevent these airstrikes and missiles from killing thousands of innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, thereby removing some of the hostility toward our country and reasons for joining the Taliban’s insurgency. As Tom Hayden wrote his week, Congress has the power to bring in experts to examine the overall goals for this war; costs and budgeting; skyrocketing casualty rates; use of private contractors; human rights violations and torture. If that kind of power isn’t sexy, I don’t know what is, but the fact of the matter is Congress won’t call for oversight hearings until we make them.

Now there are some true leaders in Congress who have already shown a willingness to oppose the Obama administration, the Pentagon, and a corporate press that has remained largely uncritical of the administration’s plans for military escalation. Senator Bernie Sanders is one of those leaders. Though he doesn’t approve of President Obama’s decision to send an additional 17,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, here’s how he tactfully voiced his dissent:

The last thing in the world that I want to see is our new President — who I have a lot of confidence in in many respects — we don’t want to see him bogged down the way LBJ was bogged down in Vietnam. We don’t want to see another war in Iraq, which was so disastrous in so many respects.

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Posted by Katrina vanden Heuvel on March 14th, 2009

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Despite what most of the mainstream media would have you believe, a recent CBS News/New York Times poll revealed that more Americans want troop levels in Afghanistan to remain the same or decrease rather than to grow. It’s time for Congress do its job representing the people by taking a hard look at this war before committing more treasure and lives to it — and before President Obama’s ambitious progressive agenda at home is sacrificed to another quagmire.

With President Obama already announcing his intention to send 17,000 more troops — even before his review of Afghanistan is complete — this is a moment when we need public hearings in order to change course and focus on diplomacy, an international rather than NATO-led effort, and rebuilding Afghanistan. At a time when we face historic economic challenges at home and the need to repair our tarnished image abroad, there are some encouraging signs that — this time around — members of Congress won’t simply follow the drumbeat for war.

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Posted by tomhayden on March 13th, 2009

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President Obama is about to complete his Afghanistan review, and already has proposed $144 billion for Iraq/Afghanistan in FY2009, $130 in FY2010, and $50 billion as a place marker for FY2011 and beyond. These figures are optimistic and not yet broken down between Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan. But Afghanistan funding from 2001 into 2009 has been $173 billion overall, according to the Congressional Research Service, and is certain to rise.

Two facts loom: if Obama sinks into a quagmire in Afghanistan/Pakistan, at the current rate of spending these wars will cost over one trillion in taxpayer dollars -direct and indirect- at the end of his first term. If American casualties continue increasing, they could be approaching a death toll of one thousand at the end of that term as well.

As Obama inherits Bush’s wars, this is an important moment for Congress to assert a new role in critical oversight and not repeat the dysfunctional deadlocks between the executive and legislative branches which led to so much secrecy, false accounting and mismanagement in Iraq. If the current Congress actively pursues oversight and insists on transparency and accountability, the media, interested public and peace movement will have the information necessary to play their critical functions in wartime.

Already there are some signs of a greater openness in the Obama era with the Justice Department’s disclosure of the Bush-era memos on presidential powers, permission for photo coverage of returning military coffins, and the promise to include war costs in the regular budgetary process. These are important steps away from the past. But make no mistake, the administration is expanding our military commitments in both Afghanistan and Pakistan without President Obama having completed his policy review. While few in Congress are ready to oppose the president over Afghanistan and Pakistan, now is the time for an independent review before the escalation deepens any further.

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Posted by robert dreyfuss on March 13th, 2009

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“President Obama and Congress owe it to both Afghans and Americans to explore a strategy of power extrication before they make another major decision to expand the war.”

That’s the opinion not of some left-wing activist, but of the chairman of the establishment, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, Leslie Gelb. It appears in an op-ed in the New Yortk Times today, entitled: “How to Leave Afghanistan.” It’s especially notable for two reasons: first, it comes on the eve of the release of President Obama’s Afghanistan review, which will be issued this month, and second, because it appears just above a piece called “How to Surge the Taliban” by Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, et al. Kagan, his daughter Kimberly, and Max Boot of CFR were invited to Afghanistan by David Petraeus, the Centcom commander. It was Kagan, of course, who was the architect of the Iraq surge and who concludes in this piece that the war against the Taliban will be easier than the one in Iraq’s insurgents. Gelb concludes exactly the opposite:

We can’t defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. … As nasty as the Taliban are, America’s vital interests do not require their exclusion from power in Afghanistan, so long as they don’t support international terrorists. … Trying to eliminate the Taliban and Qaeda threat in Afghanistan is unattainable, while finding a way to live with, contain and deter the Taliban is an achievable goal.

Instead of victory, Gelb proposes a diplomatic and economic surge, combined with a timetable for a US withdrawal over three years.

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Posted by ZP Heller on March 13th, 2009

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Over the weekend, President Obama confirmed what many Get Afghanistan Right bloggers, myself included, have been saying for months: resolving the war in Afghanistan will require negotiating with elements of the Taliban. 17,000 more troops will be “a drop in the bucket,” as Andrew Bacevich has said, if the US doesn’t engage in regional diplomacy.

From The NY Times:

Mr. Obama said on the campaign trail last year that the possibility of breaking away some elements of the Taliban “should be explored,” an idea also considered by some military leaders. But now he has started a review of policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan intended to find a new strategy, and he signaled that reconciliation could emerge as an important initiative, mirroring the strategy used by Gen. David H. Petraeus in Iraq.

Granted, the Obama administration has acknowledged that it is far more complicated to reach out to moderate Taliban factions than it was to negotiate with nationalist Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq. Yet the fact that the Obama administration is pursuing this diplomatic strategy at all is a step in the right direction to Rethink Afghanistan. As The Nation’s Robert Dreyfuss notes in his must-read piece on the Taliban, we should have been talking with them all along.

Imagine how different things would be if the Bush administration had persuaded the Taliban to hand over Al Qaeda leaders like Osama bin Laden rather than waging a costly, unsuccessful war that continues to fuel a Taliban insurgency, making it that much harder to capture the members of Al Qaeda responsible for 9/11. So kudos to the Obama administration for bringing in Richard Holbrooke and others to facilitate regional diplomacy, but how effective can talking with the Taliban be when our government is committing tens of thousands more troops to occupy Afghanistan for a decade or more?

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Posted by robertgreenwald on March 10th, 2009

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As I prepare for my trip to Afghanistan, part of our Rethink Afghanistan documentary campaign, I find myself devouring every book and article I can.  The goal is to understand as much as possible before I arrive in Afghanistan.

The big focus is to ask the questions.  And from experience, I know the best guides are all of you.  When I went on The Colbert Report, many of you provided me with smart ideas, good frames and perspective.  When I testified before Congress, the support and input from many of you was critical to fighting off the attacks.

What are the key issues and questions that we should be focused on now regarding Afghanistan?

  • What would you like to learn from an Afghan blogger? How does she/he reach their audience? How do they interact online? How do they deal with lack of internet access?
  • If you were in the room with me, what would you ask members of the Afghan peace movement?
  • In interviewing Afghan elected officials, what interests you?  What do you want to know?

As the stakes rise in this war and Afghanistan moves to the forefront of people’s awareness, we are hearing over and over from various experts and pundits that we must do ‘xyz’ so the Afghan people will do ‘abc’.  But I see very few conversations with the wise women and men of Afghanistan — leaders, writers, thinkers, and activists.

So join me by sending your questions and thoughts; I will consider all of them as I cull ideas.  We are also well aware of the very serious security issues, and we are taking all precautions.

I look forward to sending you reports via video blogs and Twitter.  I can’t count on Internet connection while I’m abroad, but I will have my Blackberry with me and will be doing everything possible to get regular video blogs out.  In the meantime, you can sign up to receive my dispatches from Afghanistan here.

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Posted by jasonrosenbaum on March 10th, 2009

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Mullah Omar, the de-facto leader of the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, is calling for a surge of fighters in Afghanistan to counter our planned surge:

Ahmed Rashid, the Pakistani journalist, wrote in Canada’s Globe and Mail on Saturday that Mullah Omar’s letter “to the commanders of the Pakistani Taliban,” also said that “If anybody really wants to wage jihad, he must fight the occupation forces inside Afghanistan.” According to Mr. Rashid, Mullah Omar’s letter was part of “a strategic attempt by both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban to unify and concentrate their forces for a spring offensive against the expected arrival of 17,000 more U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan.”

It seems both sides can play the surge game, and nothing is a better recruiting tool for the Taliban than more foreign fighters in Afghanistan. This is just another reason I’m certain our surge in Afghanistan will do little to bring peace, secure the populace, rebuild infrastructure, win hearts and minds, or keep us safe.

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Posted by ZP Heller on March 9th, 2009

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

Nearly every expert seems to agree that 17,000 additional troops will be insufficient to stabilize Afghanistan. Andrew Bacevich says 17,000 troops “hardly amounts to more than a drop in the bucket.” Robert Pape believes the Obama administration is merely rehashing the same surge strategy employed in Iraq. And Stephen Kinzer says, “The Afghans are probably the world champions in resisting foreign domination and infiltration into their country,” meaning that if 500,000 Russian soldiers were unable to quell Afghan resistance in the 1980’s, how well will 17,000 more US soldiers fare? Perhaps that’s why Gen. David McKiernan and the Pentagon could be calling for 100,000 troops to occupy Afghanistan for up to a decade.

100,000 troops? And at what cost to our economy, considering the war already runs us $2 billion a month?

Jim Hightower writes that “we’re getting a rush job” in Afghanistan, eerily similar to the way in which the Bush-Cheney regime led us into Iraq. With his usual piercing folksy wit, Hightower urges us to ask some fundamental questions (“Why is it our mission to remake Afghanistan? What is our national interest, our plan, our ‘victory,’ our exit point?”) before rushing deeper into an interminable war that will cost thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. Hightower recommends regional diplomacy as an alternative to military escalation, noting negotiations shouldn’t really involve the United States, considering our thoroughly tarnished reputation. And he astutely points out that a counterinsurgency in Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain will be counterproductive, since it will only push terrorists into a nuclear-armed Pakistan.

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Posted by jasonrosenbaum on March 9th, 2009

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

Mullah Omar, the de-facto leader of the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, is calling for a surge of fighters in Afghanistan to counter our planned surge:

Ahmed Rashid, the Pakistani journalist, wrote in Canada’s Globe and Mail on Saturday that Mullah Omar’s letter “to the commanders of the Pakistani Taliban,” also said that “If anybody really wants to wage jihad, he must fight the occupation forces inside Afghanistan.” According to Mr. Rashid, Mullah Omar’s letter was part of “a strategic attempt by both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban to unify and concentrate their forces for a spring offensive against the expected arrival of 17,000 more U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan.”

It seems both sides can play the surge game, and nothing is a better recruiting tool for the Taliban than more foreign fighters in Afghanistan. This is just another reason I’m certain our surge in Afghanistan will do little to bring peace, secure the populace, rebuild infrastructure, win hearts and minds, or keep us safe.

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Posted by robertgreenwald on March 5th, 2009

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Want to Be Part of Our Newest Documentary?

Last Thursday, we launched a ground-breaking documentary campaign opposing military escalation in Afghanistan. This is our newest full-length film, Rethink Afghanistan, which is being released in segments online for free. The excitement is already building around the trailer for part one of our film with press coverage in The Huffington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, The Nation, AlterNet, Open Left, and elsewhere. And, over 19,000 people have already signed the petition calling for congressional oversight hearings that educate the public about this war!

Now, we are taking our campaign to the next level and we need your help. We need to raise $25,000 by March 13th. At that point, two donors have graciously committed to matching each dollar you donate, which means every dollar you give then becomes $3.

Want to help us reach our goal? Donate $20 today and be recognized as a Producer on the Rethink Afghanistan documentary. We will list your name on a special section of the site.

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