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Is the only way to end the Afghan war a 2012 primary challenge?

Posted by on November 19th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Here's how well the NATO surge in Kandahar, Afghanistan, is going:

The number of people assassinated in the city in the past six weeks has jumped to 13, compared with six in a similar period in May and June before the big US operations began, according to data collated by a security company. The number killed in bomb and gun attacks has more than tripled to 33 in the same period.

…“They are not only killing the directors of departments, they are killing everyone,” said Ghulam Hamidi Haider, Kandahar’s mayor.

Mr Haider, who lost his deputy to an assassin’s bullet last month after another was murdered in April, said he was confident the influx of US troops would boost security in the coming year.

However, the killings are undermining US attempts to foster local government by making it difficult for city authorities and companies carrying out development projects to recruit.

The attacks present an ominous sign for a White House review seeking to assess the impact of Mr Obama’s troop increase.

…“The fact that the Taliban refused engagement is not good,” said Antonio Giustozzi, an expert on the Afghan insurgency at the London School of Economics. “They seem to have left behind cadres who can challenge Isaf’s control from under ground.”

Even the gold-standard for middle-of-the-road policy, the Council on Foreign Relations, thinks "a more significant drawdown to a narrower military mission would be warranted” if the Obama administration's December review concludes the current strategy is showing insufficient progress. Dr. Patrick Porter of the British Defence Academy's Joint Services Command and Staff College has called for a new strategy of containment:

It's time for restraint over activism, for power conservation over its expenditure, for doing no harm over doing good. It means combating terrorism with ordinary police work and intelligence sharing and calibrated disruption. We should focus our military most on what it does most effectively: secure our territory and sea lanes, deter other states and exist as a wise insurance policy for emergencies. Let's try that for the next 10 years, and see where it takes us.

It also means being restrained in how we think. The world may be chaotic. But we are part of that chaos. Except in atypical circumstances, the military is not a surgical tool of political engineering, but a bludgeon wielded by specialists in violence. We therefore don't have the power to alter the political condition of others at our own timetable. 

Despite Petraeus' staff's pronouncements about areas cleared and commanders captured, the Taliban continue to operate and the killed/captured numbers just don't add up. We've been given platitudes about "progress" felt in Petraeus' gut rather in actual statistics and we've been told the Taliban were about to cave and negotiate even when the story was bullshit. Almost everything we hear about Afghanistan from officila sources is being manipulated to put a "happy-talk" spin on the occupation there, but it's all just about manufacturing a perceived reality where everyone can at least claim not to have lost – and forget about the next civil war we'll be policing. The West's occupation is failing, not succeeding.

Remarkably few are being fooled any more. At least fifty percent of Americans and over 70 percent of Europeans think the course we are staying on is simply the wrong one. Yet we're now being told by the White House and military that the promised December review will change nothing, and that we can forget 2011 or even 2014 as a date-proper when we can look forward to the end of the West's occupation.

The White House doesn't even want Petraeus to testify as part of that review, because it will just draw attention to how bad the news is. One administration source told Politico, in a fit of Orwell-speak, that "There's no success reportable from Afghanistan of sufficient gravitas or importance to warrant making a big deal of this review." As Robert Naiman writes, any student who tried that – "Dad, there's no success reportable from college of sufficient gravitas or importance to warrant making a big deal of this report card" – would be on a hiding to nothing.

As my pal Josh Mull wrote recently, Obama is playing games with us:

What will change in 2014 that won’t change by July 2011? Will there be no more Taliban in 2014? No more Al-Qa’eda? Will Afghanistan be a stable democracy, and Pakistan won’t have nukes? Will there be no more imperial “Great Game” in Central Asia in 2014? There will be no more regional ethnic and sectarian conflicts by 2014? What is it? Exactly what is the value of staying?

Just like the domestic politics, these questions have already been answered, these arguments already won. We know Afghanistan and Pakistan will still have problems whether we leave in 2011 or 2050.  These countries do not pose a threat to our national security, and those terrorists that do target us are at best unaffected by the war (they simply relocate to Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere) and at worst strengthened and empowered by it (increased credibility, fundraising, and recruitment).

No more playing games. No more generals fudging the timelines, no more waiting for the opposition to help you out, no more trial balloons about 2014 and beyond. Our soldiers are not toys, they are real people who die as a result of our policy choices. We are killing innocent Afghan civilians, more and more every month the war goes on. Our economy is in shambles and we can’t afford the trillions it takes for these occupations. We can’t play games with this stuff, and we will destroy our military, our economy, and our country if we continue to treat them as toys in our political game.

The President must stick to the July 2011 deadline. Begin withdrawal in the summer and finish by the end of the year, give or take a month or two. That’s very, very generous, and he has no excuse to stay a moment longer.

…End the war, President Obama. Don’t make us beat you to it.

By "beat you to it", Josh means the threat of, or an actual, primary challenge to Obama for 2012. Those who are anti-occupation and anti- dumb-intervention aren't the only people thinking it, or saying it, either. Those pissed at Obama's corporatism, his poodling to Republicans, his hippie-punching, are muttering too. And remember the challenge doesn't have to win, it just has to shape the debate in directions the Obama administration currently don't want it to go.

Update: This petition "against four more years of war" might just be the first real shot across Obama's bows.


• Stop placating Republicans and Pentagon generals who seek unaffordable and elusive “victories:
• Heed and not disappoint the 75 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of Independents who want a timetable for withdrawal;
• Launch regional diplomacy towards power-sharing in Afghanistan with greater urgency as the current military escalation;
• Announce a substantial troop reduction from Afghanistan in 2011, and a complete phase-out in two years;
• Stop the foreign drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas and send massive medical aid and infrastructure assistance instead;
• Keep his pledge to withdraw all US troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.


• That deficit hawks apply their budget philosophy to the trillion-dollar costs of these unfunded wars;
• That the Republican leadership permit hearings, full debate and roll call votes on war funding and related amendments;

As President Obama and Gen. Petraeus have said many times, there is no military solution in Afghanistan. We ask, how many more will die in pursuit of this impossible goal?

Tom Hayden, director, Peace and Justice Resource Center
Daniel Ellsberg
Ariel Dorfman, author, Duke University
Michael Ratner, President, Center for Constitutional Rights
William Quigley, legal director, Center for Constitutional Rights
Progressive Democrats of America [PDA]
Jean Stein, publisher
Rev. George Hunsinger, theologian, Princeton Theological Seminary
Carl Davidson, Progressive America Rising
Fatima Mojaddidy, Afghans for Peace, Oakland, CA
Afghans for Peace
Gar Smith, co-founder of Environmentalists Against War
John Gunther Dean, former U.S. Ambassador
to Cambodia, Denmark, Lebanon, Thailand and India
Jason Cross, Professor, Ann Arbor, MI
Matthew Evangelista, Chair, Department of Government, Cornell University
Dr. Cornel West, Princeton
Stephen Spitz, Falls Church, VA – Co-State, Coordinator, PDA Virginia
Tom Coffin, Atlanta, GA
Carolyn Eisenberg, Brooklyn, NY
Gordon Fellman, Brandeis
Shelagh Foreman, Peace Action, Massachusetts, MA
Andy Griggs, Los Angeles, CA
Linda L. Groetzinger
Norman J. Groetzinger, Chicago, IL
Dr. Judith Guskin, Hallandale Beach, FL
Russ Harrison, Hofstra Univeristy
Chris Lugo, Pacific Green Party, Oregon City, OR
Frances Fox Piven
Vernon H. Naffier, Ankeny, Iowa
José Pertierra, Attorney, Washington, DC
Barbara Reynolds, Chicago, IL
Richard W. Spisak Jr., Hobe Sound, FL
William A Wheaton, Altadena CA

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