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The "Anti-War Left" And The Afghanistan Study Group
Posted by on September 18th, 2010

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The Afghanistan Study Group made somewhat a stir when it released its report and was criticised for being inaccurate and for not providing an answer to "how does this end?" Gregg Carlstrom has a good roundup of the study and reactions over at Al Jazeera.

But one voice missing has been our good friend Josh Mull, the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation's Rethink Afghanistan project. Josh is in Kabul where he's helping Small World News monitor events in the Afghan parliamentary elections, so he's been too busy to post.

However, he did share his thoughts on the ASG and its most-linked critic Joshua Foust by email with Newshoggers, which we now reproduce with his kind permission.

Regards, Steve Hynd

So having read Foust's blogs in their entirety (here, here and here), there's a running theme that needs to addressed. But first, what he gets right:

1. Drones – Their radicalizing effect cannot be ignored, and this is the primary flaw with the light footprint/CT-Plus strategy. In political terms, it is certainly the most effective argument to be made against drones (as well as night raids, etc). There is also the international and constitutional legal problems (extra-judicial executions, massacring civilians, assassinations,etc) but there is zero foundation for a legal debate in the US. Nobody knows what any of that stuff means, much less its relationship to government policy. If we take anything at all away from Foust's criticism, it absolutely has to be this point. I cannot emphasize that enough.

2. Troop strength – 30,000 was pulled out of somebody's ass. It's just a number that sounds good, like when they price things with .99c. We're supposed to read that as ONLY 30,000 – what a bargain! EXCEPT WE HAD 30,000 TROOPS THERE FOR 7 YEARS! Breaking news to no one: it failed. Obviously I don't say this as an argument for more troops, it is in reality evidence of the farcical nature of discussing military strength (or military anything) as an instrument for achieving US interests in Afghanistan (whatever the hell they are). What can 50,000 accomplish that 30,000 can't? What is100,000 accomplishing that 35,000 wasn't accomplishing before? Did Afghanistan get better after the escalation? It's pretty clear that it did not. Is it going to get better with only 30,000 again? Guess.

And just my bit to add to that

3. Clemons claims the paper was meant to stimulate debate. THIS IS THE DEBATE. What else are we waiting for? Nobody said it was going to be easy, or pleasant, or even that we would win – they just said it would be a debate. That said, I don't actually support much what of the paper says, it's very flimsy. My problem with Foust's response, and the shameful cheerleading pushing it through social media, is that it was hung around the anti-war movement's neck, as well as "The Left" (whoever the $%# that is). If the ASG is what passes for anti-war, then we're in trouble. How about a timetable if the war is such a bad idea? How about slashing the funding? How about some accountability for crimes; not even big ones like aggression, but simple things like torture and disappearances? See, I don't give a damn about Foust attacking the report, I give a damn that he attacked us – and out of ignorance at that!

And that leads into the running theme of Foust's criticisms, as well as more broadly in the [insert your favorite derisive classification] blogosphere. Afghanistan experts, analysts, etc. love to criticize folks back home, especially in the political realm, for being ignorant about Afghanistan but the real problem is that it is those same experts and analysts who are ignorant about the United States.

Go ahead and put on the pakoul and live in a village in Badakhshan for 20 years if you want to, it's not going to tell you anything about our state economies disintegrating before our eyes (Hello, California!) while our tax money goes to pay for Blackwater's prostitutes and Hellfire missiles that obliterate men, women, and children indiscriminately. It's great if you know Pashto and can tell a Kuchi from a Hazara, but that doesn't prevent the apocalyptic suicide rates in our military, it doesn't heal their wounds or pay for their treatment, and it doesn't bring back the thousands of dead and the countless more who'll die still. Terribly sorry, but we're Americans, not Afghans, and if they're in the middle of a gruesome civil war – well, our country is crumbling, now is the time for priorities.

The "Anti-War Movement" is not monolithic anymore than the "Taliban" is. Cindy Sheehan is not the same as Derrick Crowe, David Swanson is not the same as Robert Naiman, Alan Grayson is not the same as ANSWER. There are seemingly endless variations, factions and sub-factions, organizations, institutions, and organic manifestations that make up the anti-war movement. To select any one person, faction, organization, or worse – one slapdash policy paper – as illustrative of the entire American movement is ignorant at the very best.

But it's bigger than that, isn't it? It's not just the anti-war movement, or the left, or whatever, that they are ignorant of. It's the very complexity and nuance of the entire United States – politically, economically, culturally – everything!

Take this statement by Foust:

Ignoring the vaguely Soviet-overtones of pleasing a disembodied “establishment”
in order to derive value*, this is, to me, deeply revelatory—rather than getting
their facts straight, which is a process Clemons, to his unique credit, says
they struggled with—the ASG seemed to care more about appealing to their peers
in Washington that they have the answers.

Excuse me, but why ignore the OBVIOUS Soviet overtones of pleasing the establishment? What country are we talking about again? Do we not understand that the United States government has been captured by bankers, corporations, and financial special interests? Do we not understand that the Mainstream Media is a real thing, that it is pacifying and poisonous to democracy? Do we not understand that we can't just go to Washington with Mr. Smith and say some bullshit about freedom and expect to get all of our policies made law? What about the backlash of the catastrophic global depression – the violent, racist groups (Tea Party) exploding in popularity and political power? Wake up, this is happening, and yes, part of making policy in this environment is having a bunch of fancypants academics signing a wobbly "Study Group" report in order to find a place in some senator's inbox. You're goddamn right it's Soviet.

The Left is not anti-war. Most liberals and progressives spend the bulk of their time furiously obsessing about whatever utterly crazy comment Michelle Bachmann just made while the party in power blows trillions on war and corporate welfare. They will attack Glenn Greenwald to triangulate themselves as good Democrats, meanwhile President Obama really is compiling lists of American citizens for assassination – with missiles! – a High Crime and Misdemeanor if I ever heard one. I would love it, LOVE IT, if the "Left" were anti-war, but the reality is they are not even remotely close to it.

To come back to the ASG, the point made by Clemons was that this was to stimulate debate, and Foust et. al's. response to it IS that debate. Our role, however, is not to defend the ASG or its conclusions. Our role is to define ourselves, make it clear who we are, what we are doing, and why it is that we're doing it.

A win in this situation is preventing these kinds of smears, these kinds of attacks, and these kinds of misunderstandings about our movement from ever happening again. Foust should know better, but he's not the only one. The next time this happens, the next time some analyst, journalist, expert, whatever writes about the anti-war movement, they need to understand exactly what they're dealing with.

OK, I'm done with my sloppy rant. Goodnight from Kabul. I can't wait to come home – with a couple hundred thousand of my fellow American citizens.

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