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Review This: Afghan War Collapses

Posted by Josh Mull on December 16th, 2010

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on Firedoglake or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

As we discussed previously, the Obama administration’s Afghanistan Strategy Review is basically an act of political theater, a demonstration of Obama walking back his massive overcommitment to occupying Afghanistan. Today’s speech confirmed that. Obama put a happy face (progress!) on the war, which is now an unmitigated disaster though you’d never guess that from the speech, and the warmakers (very quietly) took steps toward keeping their commitment of beginning withdrawals in July 2011.

So we got something good out of it, the July 2011 isn’t completely off the table (as the generals would have you believe), but they’re still not entirely comfortable stating that. However, the mainstream media got the spin loud and clear. Immediately following this morning’s press conference, CNN went live with two correspondents, one in Kabul and the other in Islamabad, above the bold headline “U.S. troops to begin pulling out of Afghanistan in July 2011″.  Sounds good!

But sadly, it’s not that simple. President Obama and Secretary Clinton talked a lot of game about 9/11 and honoring the memory of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. They wove some interesting tales about progress in Helmand and increased cooperation from the Pakistanis. They insisted that they would not be making policy based on opinion polls, and that the American people should trust that they’re working for the long term public interest. All lies.

There is no progress to speak of, Afghanistan is a nightmare, Afghan and American deaths are through the roof. Pakistan’s national security establishment is sponsoring just as much terrorism and militancy as always, and their civilian government is a joke. And the “opinion polls” don’t reflect a moment of “doubt” as Secretary Gates said, but the total collapse of public support for the war. There is no confidence in this administration; the policy has to end, not re-adjust.

Think that’s over the top? Let’s see what’s happening.

First, via David Swanson, we have video of Veterans for Peace and a host of other activists in an act of civil disobedience at the White House fence:

Looks like a little bit more than just a moment of doubt, don’t you think? These people were all arrested protesting this war, a big sacrifice to make for what Secretary Clinton blows off as “opinion polls”. But as long as she wants to bring it up, what do the polls say?

Via ThinkProgress:

As the White House releases its review of the strategy in Afghanistan, claiming “progress” has been made and that a July troop withdrawal is on track, Americans appear increasingly impatient with the decade-long war. A new ABC News-Washington Post poll finds that a record 60 percent of Americans now think the war has “not been worth fighting” — a more than 20-point increase since President Obama’s election two years ago. As the Post notes, it’s “a grim assessment,” and the war in Afghanistan is now as unpopular as the Iraq war was under the Bush administration:

Negative views of the war for the first time are at the level of those recorded for the war in Iraq, whose unpopularity dragged George W. Bush to historic lows in approval across his second term. On average from 2005 through 2009, 60 percent called that war not worth fighting, the same number who say so about Afghanistan now.

Meanwhile, the same poll shows that while Americans want Obama’s primary focus to be on the economy, their second priority is to bring the troops home from Afghanistan — more than reducing the deficit

Ouch. Our top two priorities are the economy and bringing the troops home. And Obama is now in essentially the same boat as Bush, with a deeply unpopular war locking up and crashing his entire administration. Is it starting to become clear why they have to walk back to the July 2011 date? Something kind of important happens in 2012, Obama better start caring about opinion polls.

And let’s be totally clear about what these polls represent. It’s not as if the American people just woke up one day and decided to be dicks about the whole thing. Screw you, Obama, we don’t like your war anymore! People want this war to end because of the facts. Here’s Robert Naiman:

Many experts inside and outside of the U.S. government believe that if it persists, the unwillingness of Pakistan to stop providing support and sanctuary for members of the Afghan Taliban will be fatal to current U.S. strategy. And many experts inside and outside of the U.S. government believe that there is no reason to expect that the unwillingness of Pakistan to stop providing support and sanctuary for members of the Afghan Taliban will not persist, because Pakistan’s policy is based on deeply held beliefs about Pakistan’s core national security interests, and how they see those core interests as threatened by what they perceive to be the pro-India U.S. policy in Afghanistan. There is no indication that what the Pakistanis perceive to be a pro-India U.S. policy in Afghanistan will change, so there is no reason to believe that the Pakistani policy to respond to U.S. policy will change. [...]

And the reason that we know that the collective assessments of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies give a very different picture than the “progress” story that the Administration is presenting to the public today is that news outlets such as the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times have reported on the National Intelligence Estimates for Afghanistan and Pakistan, even though the NIEs are classified.

We read the news. We know what’s going in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And not just from what our intelligence agencies or newspapers are saying, but from the Afghans themselves:

In the last nine years, civilians who welcomed deployments of ISAF in the hope they would limit the power of local militias have watched as the foreigners have routinely allied themselves with Afghan strongmen at various levels, allowing them to consolidate their power through lucrative contracts for security and logistics or recognising those self-same same militias as ‘local police’. The foreigners are understandably seen as complicit in the crimes of their allies. Always the immediate attractions of force protection (of the foreign troops) or of allies who promise to be able to hunt down Taleban trump justice, but with horrible long-term consequences. Using night raids, maltreating prisoners and launching attacks to ‘protect civilians’ all cause anger and a sense of outrage. The issue may not be strict legality (or the lack thereof), but rather a perception of powerlessness and the arbitrary abuse of power. As Ladbury and CPAU concluded in their research on what drives men to support the insurgency, what ‘links both the issue of air strikes and house searches is the feeling that the occupation has no legal limit and that Coalition forces are unaccountable to anyone’.

They don’t want us there, we’re not helping. Here’s Tom Andrews:

Nationwide, security in Afghanistan has not improved. According to the Pentagon’s own report to Congress in November 2010, the portion of the population living in districts with a ‘satisfactory’ security rating “remains relatively unchanged over the past three quarters.” In fact, “the number of Afghans rating their security situation as ‘bad’ is the highest since the nationwide survey began in September 2008. This downward trend in security perception is likely due to the steady increase in total violence over the past nine months.” [...]

The militarization of aid is failing those we seek to help. Over 100 aid workers have died this year, far more than in previous years , and a recent report of 29 aid organizations led by Oxfam International found the likelihood of attacks on aid workers has been increased because the distinction between military and civilian efforts has been “severely blurred to the point of being unrecognizable to many Afghans.” The report continues that a failure “to re-establish the civil-military distinction in Afghanistan … will have dire consequences for the Afghan civilian population – particularly once the IMF [International Military Forces] withdraw.”

The situation is actually so bad that the Red Cross called an emergency press conference ahead of the administration’s strategy review:

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which usually seeks to avoid the public eye, held a rare news conference here on Wednesday to express deep concern that Afghanistan security had deteriorated to its worst point since the overthrow of the Taliban nine years ago and was preventing aid groups from reaching victims of conflict.

“The sheer fact the I.C.R.C. has organized a press conference is an expression of us being extremely concerned of yet another year of fighting with dramatic consequences for an ever growing number of people in by now almost the entire country,” said Reto Stocker, the head of the Afghanistan office.

By every measure that the Red Cross tracks, the situation has worsened throughout the country for civilian casualties, internal displacement and health care access and all of it is “against the background of a proliferation of armed actors,” Mr. Stocker said.

And let’s remember this – the military pays attention to the opinion polls, even if the Obama administration doesn’t. They know we’re leaving, and Petraeus is working hard right up to the deadline to try and rain enough hate and missiles down on Afghanistan to reduce it to a smoking rubble. Wired reports:

If anything, to show progress in time for the strategy review, the fight in Afghanistan has become more like the fight in Pakistan, with air strikes tripled. What’s more, Special Operations raids are at a new high, surface-to-surface missiles are in use in Kandahar, and Marine tanks are rolling through Helmand. “The emphasis is shifting,” General “Hoss” Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently remarked, away from counterinsurgency and toward counterterrorism.

Right, “counter-terrorism” means blasting anything that moves with f#&king rockets. Got it?

This Afghan Strategy Review is a farce, it’s a game the administration is playing to cover up for its disastrous policy. It has to stop. We don’t want spin, we want a firm commitment to begin pulling out in July 2011, and we want it finished by no later than December. Pull back to the bases, get our troopers out of danger and stop the reckless bloodshed of missiles, air strikes and night raids. At this point Obama could probably even get away with not negotiating with the Taliban as long as he follows through on the exit strategy.

Time’s up. The polls are in the toilet and they aren’t going up. Rethink Afghanistan and other projects like it are well over a year old now. Newsweek and the Council on Foreign Relations told us to rethink Afghanistan six months ago, and those are the status quo, always way behind the times. Even the troops can’t figure out what the hell they’re doing in Afghanistan. The American people are waaay past a strategy review.

No more reviews, no more spin, no more war. Time to bring the troops home.

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