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Archive for February, 2011

Posted by The Agonist on February 23rd, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Joshua Partlow | Kabul | Feb 21

Washington Post – To the shock of President Hamid Karzai’s aides, Gen. David H. Petraeus suggested Sunday at the presidential palace that Afghans caught up in a coalition attack in northeastern Afghanistan might have burned their own children to exaggerate claims of civilian casualties, according to two participants at the meeting.

The exact language Petraeus used in the closed-door session is not known, and neither is the precise message he meant to convey. But his remarks about the deadly U.S. military operation in Konar province were deemed deeply offensive by some in the room. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private discussions.

They said Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, dismissed allegations by Karzai’s office and the provincial governor that civilians were killed and said residents had invented stories, or even injured their children, to pin the blame on U.S. forces and force an end to the operation.

“I was dizzy. My head was spinning,” said one participant, referring to Petraeus’s remarks. “This was shocking. Would any father do this to his children? This is really absurd.”

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on February 22nd, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Derrick Crowe

General Petraeus and his public relations team reportedly engaged in a scummy attempt to deflect blame for an alleged civilian casualty event on Sunday, suggesting that Afghan parents caught in the crossfire of a coalition raid burned their own children to incriminate international forces. International forces led by the U.S. are accused of killing as many as 60 civilians during a several-day operation in Ghaziabad district in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the U.S.-led coalition has a long history of blaming the victims when they get caught in potentially explosive civilian casualty incidents, making this vile accusation particularly hard to believe.

To the shock of President Hamid Karzai’s aides, Gen. David H. Petraeus suggested Sunday at the presidential palace that Afghans caught up in a coalition attack in northeastern Afghanistan might have burned their own children to exaggerate claims of civilian casualties, according to two participants at the meeting.

[Unnamed sources in the room for the conversation] said Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, dismissed allegations by Karzai’s office and the provincial governor that civilians were killed and said residents had invented stories, or even injured their children, to pin the blame on U.S. forces and force an end to the operation.

Has Petraeus lost his mind? One better have some pretty solid evidence before accusing people who may have lost children or seen them badly injured of lying of hurting their own kids. From what I can tell, there’s no evidence of parental abuse being responsible for the reported injuries of children. Petraeus and his spin shop are trying to get ahead of the story, throwing multiple possible accounts of what happened into the mix to blunt the outrage that will surely result when a story about an awful set of civilian killings hits the news. But lacking hard evidence, Petraeus’ hypothetical seems ugly and vicious, relying on pervasive notions of Afghans as backward and barbaric to escape accountability.

A Pattern of Blaming the Victim

International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) press flak Rear Adm. Greg Smith claimed to have watched video of the attacks and said everything was just peachy:

During the next five hours, Smith said, surveillance drones tracked the fighters while the Apaches fired 30 mm Gatling guns, rockets and Hellfire missiles. “I have reviewed the footage and found no evidence women and children were among the fighters,” he said. “Again, no civilian structures were anywhere near where these engagements took place. It was at night and in very rugged terrain.”

And yet…

On Saturday, Wahidi, the provincial governor, sent a three-person fact-finding team up the valley to the village of Helgal. They returned with seven injured people, including a woman and a man, both 22 years old, and five boys and girls 16 or younger. Smith said they had burns and shrapnel wounds, none of them life-threatening.

Now, wait a second. Smith says there’s no evidence women and children were among the fighters, yet also says that civilians had shrapnel wounds? Then Smith does what he tends to do when there’s a potentially attention-getting civilian casualty incident: He blames the Afghan families:

The U.S. military “did have initial reports that the feet and hands of the children appeared to have been burned,” Smith said. “We have observed increased reporting of children being disciplined by having their hands and feet dipped into boiling water. No one is claiming this is the case in this instance, but it may well be.”

Recall that Smith did the same thing when U.S. special forces killed several Afghan civilians, including pregnant women, in Gardez, whom he said had been discovered “tied up, gagged and killed,” presumably by the families of the women.

“[Smith] added, however, “I don’t know that there are any forensics that show bullet penetrations of the women or blood from the women.” He said they showed signs of puncture and slashing wounds from a knife, and appeared to have died several hours before the arrival of the assault force. In respect for Afghan customs, autopsies are not carried out on civilian victims, he said.

In the Gardez case, Smith was either inventing or conveying bald-faced lies. The women did not die “several hours before the arrival of the assault force.” They died after special forces team members shot them, and one of them died while special forces troops dug bullets out of her to cover their tracks.

Video Evidence?

ISAF flaks have a bad habit of claiming to have incontrovertible video evidence that U.S. forces did nothing wrong which often doesn’t pan out. Remember the Farah massacre? Dozens of civilians died, and Col. Greg Julian swore that our forces weren’t responsible.

The footage shows insurgents streaming into homes that were later bombed, said Col. Greg Julian, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan. He said ground troops observed some 300 villagers flee in advance of the fighting, indicating that not many could have been inside the bombed compounds… Investigators later reviewed hours of cockpit video from the fighter jets as well as audio recordings of the air crew’s conversation with the ground commander. Julian said the military would release the footage and other evidence in the coming days.

Despite Julian swearing he watched hours of cockpit video vindicating the bombers, the U.S. military later admitted (.pdf) that the pilots did in fact kill those civilians after the pilots lost contact with their intended targets before firing.

Pardon me for not jumping to ISAF’s defense, after they lied about the use of grenades at the Farah massacre, or claimed the Afghans they shot up at Gardez were “dead when they got there” with bodies stashed near food preparation areas. And pardon me also for not trusting a thing that comes out of Rear Adm. Greg Smith’s mouth, the ISAF flak that tried to smear journalist Jerome Starkey for accurately reporting the facts about the Gardez killings. The job of an ISAF public affairs officer is not to tell you the truth, no matter how much that observation provokes their pique. The job of an ISAF PAO is to aid in the war effort by spinning events to the advantage of their side of the conflict. Smith is not a credible source (as proved by the Gardez/Starkey affair, if nothing else) and should be contextualized and held at arms length by any serious journalist.

Enough Spin Already

When asked about reports of his ugly attempt to blame the victims in Ghaziabad: “Petraeus, through a spokesman, declined to comment.”

I bet.

ISAF seems to be talking out of several sides of their mouth. Were there no civilians in the area, or did locals in the crossfire invent a story? Did the parents burn their own children, or was there shrapnel in them? And how would shrapnel get into the kids if there were no civilians nearby? This story is still developing, but it bears many of the hallmarks of ISAF’s past attempts to warp news coverage after attention-getting reports of mass civilian casualties surfaced.

Enough spin. If ISAF has video of the events in question, it should be made available to the public immediately. There should be an independent UN investigation into the killings and maimings in Ghaziabad, and, unless he has hard evidence, Petraeus should also publicly apologize for trying to deflect blame onto the families who lost loved ones or saw their children injured. Frankly, this kind of talk is tawdry and disgraceful.

Oh, and six more civilians were killed when one of ISAF’s missiles hit a mud-built home in Nangarhar.

If you’re fed up with this brutal, futile war that’s not making us safer, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on February 22nd, 2011

General Petraeus and his public relations team reportedly engaged in a scummy attempt to deflect blame for an alleged civilian casualty event on Sunday, suggesting that Afghan parents caught in the crossfire of a coalition raid burned their own children to incriminate international forces. International forces led by the U.S. are accused of killing as many as 60 civilians during a several-day operation in Ghaziabad district in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the U.S.-led coalition has a long history of blaming the victims when they get caught in potentially explosive civilian casualty incidents, making this vile accusation particularly hard to believe.

To the shock of President Hamid Karzai’s aides, Gen. David H. Petraeus suggested Sunday at the presidential palace that Afghans caught up in a coalition attack in northeastern Afghanistan might have burned their own children to exaggerate claims of civilian casualties, according to two participants at the meeting.

[Unnamed sources in the room for the conversation] said Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, dismissed allegations by Karzai’s office and the provincial governor that civilians were killed and said residents had invented stories, or even injured their children, to pin the blame on U.S. forces and force an end to the operation.

Has Petraeus lost his mind? One better have some pretty solid evidence before accusing people who may have lost children or seen them badly injured of lying of hurting their own kids. From what I can tell, there’s no evidence of parental abuse being responsible for the reported injuries of children. Petraeus and his spin shop are trying to get ahead of the story, throwing multiple possible accounts of what happened into the mix to blunt the outrage that will surely result when a story about an awful set of civilian killings hits the news. But lacking hard evidence, Petraeus’ hypothetical seems ugly and vicious, relying on pervasive notions of Afghans as backward and barbaric to escape accountability.

A Pattern of Blaming the Victim

International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) press flak Rear Adm. Greg Smith claimed to have watched video of the attacks and said everything was just peachy:

During the next five hours, Smith said, surveillance drones tracked the fighters while the Apaches fired 30 mm Gatling guns, rockets and Hellfire missiles. “I have reviewed the footage and found no evidence women and children were among the fighters,” he said. “Again, no civilian structures were anywhere near where these engagements took place. It was at night and in very rugged terrain.”

And yet…

On Saturday, Wahidi, the provincial governor, sent a three-person fact-finding team up the valley to the village of Helgal. They returned with seven injured people, including a woman and a man, both 22 years old, and five boys and girls 16 or younger. Smith said they had burns and shrapnel wounds, none of them life-threatening.

Now, wait a second. Smith says there’s no evidence women and children were among the fighters, yet also says that civilians had shrapnel wounds? Then Smith does what he tends to do when there’s a potentially attention-getting civilian casualty incident: He blames the Afghan families:

The U.S. military “did have initial reports that the feet and hands of the children appeared to have been burned,” Smith said. “We have observed increased reporting of children being disciplined by having their hands and feet dipped into boiling water. No one is claiming this is the case in this instance, but it may well be.”

Recall that Smith did the same thing when U.S. special forces killed several Afghan civilians, including pregnant women, in Gardez, whom he said had been discovered “tied up, gagged and killed,” presumably by the families of the women.

“[Smith] added, however, “I don’t know that there are any forensics that show bullet penetrations of the women or blood from the women.” He said they showed signs of puncture and slashing wounds from a knife, and appeared to have died several hours before the arrival of the assault force. In respect for Afghan customs, autopsies are not carried out on civilian victims, he said.

In the Gardez case, Smith was either inventing or conveying bald-faced lies. The women did not die “several hours before the arrival of the assault force.” They died after special forces team members shot them, and one of them died while special forces troops dug bullets out of her to cover their tracks.

Video Evidence?

ISAF flaks have a bad habit of claiming to have incontrovertible video evidence that U.S. forces did nothing wrong which often doesn’t pan out. Remember the Farah massacre? Dozens of civilians died, and Col. Greg Julian swore that our forces weren’t responsible.

The footage shows insurgents streaming into homes that were later bombed, said Col. Greg Julian, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan. He said ground troops observed some 300 villagers flee in advance of the fighting, indicating that not many could have been inside the bombed compounds… Investigators later reviewed hours of cockpit video from the fighter jets as well as audio recordings of the air crew’s conversation with the ground commander. Julian said the military would release the footage and other evidence in the coming days.

Despite Julian swearing he watched hours of cockpit video vindicating the bombers, the U.S. military later admitted (.pdf) that the pilots did in fact kill those civilians after the pilots lost contact with their intended targets before firing.

Pardon me for not jumping to ISAF’s defense, after they lied about the use of grenades at the Farah massacre, or claimed the Afghans they shot up at Gardez were “dead when they got there” with bodies stashed near food preparation areas. And pardon me also for not trusting a thing that comes out of Rear Adm. Greg Smith’s mouth, the ISAF flak that tried to smear journalist Jerome Starkey for accurately reporting the facts about the Gardez killings. The job of an ISAF public affairs officer is not to tell you the truth, no matter how much that observation provokes their pique. The job of an ISAF PAO is to aid in the war effort by spinning events to the advantage of their side of the conflict. Smith is not a credible source (as proved by the Gardez/Starkey affair, if nothing else) and should be contextualized and held at arms length by any serious journalist.

Enough Spin Already

When asked about reports of his ugly attempt to blame the victims in Ghaziabad: “Petraeus, through a spokesman, declined to comment.”

I bet.

ISAF seems to be talking out of several sides of their mouth. Were there no civilians in the area, or did locals in the crossfire invent a story? Did the parents burn their own children, or was there shrapnel in them? And how would shrapnel get into the kids if there were no civilians nearby? This story is still developing, but it bears many of the hallmarks of ISAF’s past attempts to warp news coverage after attention-getting reports of mass civilian casualties surfaced.

Enough spin. If ISAF has video of the events in question, it should be made available to the public immediately. There should be an independent UN investigation into the killings and maimings in Ghaziabad, and, unless he has hard evidence, Petraeus should also publicly apologize for trying to deflect blame onto the families who lost loved ones or saw their children injured. Frankly, this kind of talk is tawdry and disgraceful.

Oh, and six more civilians were killed when one of ISAF’s missiles hit a mud-built home in Nangarhar.

If you’re fed up with this brutal, futile war that’s not making us safer, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

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Posted by Peace Action West on February 22nd, 2011

From our partners at Peace Action West

Members of the House of Representatives are kicking off the 2011 session by ramping up the pressure on the White House to end the war in Afghanistan. In addition to the vote last week to cut all but $10 billion of the funding for the Afghanistan war, members have been speaking out and introducing new legislation to push for an end to the war.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) has reintroduced her Responsible End to the War in Afghanistan Act. The bill would limit military funding for the war in Afghanistan to funds for a safe and orderly withdrawal. Even though it’s just been introduced, it already has many more cosponsors than it had in the last Congress—another sign that congressional patience on the war in waning. Rep. Lee made a powerful case for the bill in the Huffington Post:

This momentum for a change in course in Afghanistan was evident last year, when 100 House Members voted in support of my amendment to limit funding in Afghanistan to the safe and orderly redeployment of U.S. armed forces.

Regardless of the situation in Afghanistan we have seen the Pentagon come back to us asking for more time, more troops, and more resources. In response, it is time for Congress to reassert its constitutional authority and compel the swift, complete withdrawal of all troops and military contractors.

It is time to break the near decade-long status quo of costly, destabilizing war in Afghanistan. It is time to bring our troops home.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) the Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus also wrote about his support for the bill, tying the massive amount of money spent on the war to struggles in his congressional district:

This war has cost the taxpayers in my congressional district more than $580 million so far. That’s enough money to hire 11,278 elementary school teachers for a year, or to send 84,653 students to college for a year. These are just some of the bad tradeoffs we’re making by spending our national resources on war instead of on fixing problems here at home. Ask yourself: which would you rather have? A war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost, or a more educated, more prosperous America?

Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) linked his support to the fact that a year after the push into Marjah, we’re not seeing signs of success:

When President Obama announced the troop increase, he assured the American people that the new forces would let commanders “target the insurgency and secure key population centers.”

Regarding the Marjah District specifically and Afghanistan generally, this assurance has proved to be false. Helmand Province, in which Marjah is located, saw insurgent attacks more than double this year, while across Afghanistan insurgent attacks were up 64 percent compared to last year.

According to Pentagon and other reports, the insurgency got smarter and larger over the course of 2010. Clearly, the troop increases failed to “reverse insurgent momentum,” Pentagon rhetoric notwithstanding.

The economic costs of this failed strategy are huge. Taxpayers in my district alone have paid $1.6 billion for the war so far, enough to send almost 300,000 students to college for a year.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) has also introduced a new bill to exercise oversight on the war. The US-Afghanistan Status of Forces Agreement Act directs the president to negotiate a SOFA with Afghanistan—a step that was critical in winding down the war in Iraq. Citing public support for congressional action on Afghanistan, Woolsey explained what her bill would accomplish in The Hill:

My bipartisan bill, The U.S.-Afghanistan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) Act, would require the president to negotiate and enter into a bilateral status of forces agreement with the Government of Afghanistan no later than 90 days after its enactment.

The SOFA would:

  • Establish that the temporary presence of United States Armed Forces in Afghanistan is at the request and invitation of the sovereign Government of Afghanistan.
  • Prohibit permanent bases.
  • Provide a date, no later than 1 year after the agreement is entered into with the Government of Afghanistan, for the complete, safe, and orderly redeployment from Afghanistan of all members of the United States Armed Forces, Department of Defense civilian employees, and contractors working for the Department of Defense.

A SOFA with Afghanistan would end the persistent waffling on dates for American troop withdrawals and give the American people what they want—a speedier, more certain end to this disastrous conflict.

With the July 2011 start date for withdrawal fast approaching, and little information about how significant this withdrawal will be or when it will end, this sustained pressure from Congress will be critical. See if your representative is cosponsoring this and other bills that promote peace here.

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Posted by alexthurston on February 21st, 2011

This article originally appeared on TomDispatch

The Cost of Our Wars
On Listening to Our Troops
By William J. Astore

“Support our troops” is an unconditional American mantra.  We’re told to celebrate them as warrior-liberators, as heroes, as the finest fighters the world has ever known. They’re to be put on a pedestal or plinth, holding a rifle and a flag, icons to American toughness and goodness.

What we’re not told to do is listen to them.

Today, I’d like to suggest six vows we should make when it comes to those troops:

Vow #1: Let’s start listening to them.  And when we do — when we begin to recognize them in all their frailty and complexity, their vulnerabilities and imperfections — we’ll realize that they’re as restless and conflicted about our wars as many of us are.

How do I know?  I’ve had the privilege of reading hundreds of emails from today’s (and yesterday’s) troops sent to me in response to articles I’ve written for TomDispatch.com.  From these I’ve selected a handful of passages to share with you: voices that resonated with me, words that often got me right in the gut.

Consider this passage from an Army national guardsman, a non-commissioned officer who answered his country’s call and deployed to Iraq:

“I am… on my second tour of Iraq.  My unit… has been plagued by suicides and psychiatric problems.  Our guards-men even prior to deployment come from compromised social and economic environments, leaving them very susceptible [to military recruiters].  Many of our soldiers are almost forced into volunteering for multiple tours due to the lack of economic opportunity and the cold fact that there is no other way to support their families…

“I have seen blatant corruption among the [private] contractors [in Iraq] and even cases of outright human trafficking and forced prostitution among female third country nationals… My hope is that the U.S. can withdraw from this senseless war… This war has bankrupted the U.S. and caused untold suffering among U.S. Forces and women.”

When we praise our troops as volunteers in our “All-Volunteer Military,” how many of us consider that significant numbers of them are not truly volunteers?  Rarely do we face the fact that our country has been running a poverty draft, sweeping up the disenfranchised and disadvantaged, with an emphasis on the rural working class, and sending them halfway across the world into harm’s way.

Which leads to my second vow:

Vow #2: Let’s stop consoling ourselves with the myth that all our troops are volunteers — a myth which leads most Americans to pay remarkably little attention to and take no responsibility for the wars our “volunteers” are fighting.

The second part of this sergeant’s letter calls for yet another vow.  It reminds us that war, by its nature, breeds corruption and gives free rein to abuses of all sorts.  Indeed, as a historian of past wars, the harsh realities of psychological casualties, of forced prostitution, of rampant corruption should hardly surprise me — but I confess that they still do.  As one officer who specializes in contracting wrote me from Baghdad, he found the amount of war profiteering by private contractors in Iraq “mind-blowing, but nonetheless eye-opening.”

Despite evidence of endemic corruption and rampant war profiteering, why do our eyes remain glazed over, if not stubbornly shut?  Is it because our government-military-media complex is always seeking to put the best spin on our wars?

Vow #3: Let’s stop putting a happy face on our wars.  Americans should start taking them in for what they truly are in all their waste and inhumanity.  Only then might we be moved to put an end to them.

As we glamorize war, or, if not war itself, the “voluntary” decision of young soldiers to fight and possibly to die in them for us, we continue to play down the hardships involved, while refusing to consider the hopelessness of the tasks we’ve assigned them.

A helicopter pilot wrote me recently as he was preparing for deployment to Afghanistan.  The odds of successful “nation-building” in that country were not good, he assured me, when you consider past “abject failures” in Haiti and elsewhere.  How in the world did such nation-building efforts, denounced as worse than useless by Rush Limbaugh and presidential candidate George W. Bush in 2000, come to be considered right, just, and true — or even practical?

As this pilot summed up the Sisyphean situation in which he and other American military personnel have been placed: “Somehow this heretofore impossible task [of nation-building in Afghanistan] will now be accomplished by complete novices while people are trying to kill them.” 

Just ponder that sentence: All by itself it could serve as an antidote to the Afghan Kool-Aid being drunk in the halls of the Pentagon.  Which leads to my next vow:

Vow #4: Don’t send novices on nation-building exercises in places where the natives are hostile and the rebels are trying to kill them. 

Again, if you listen closely to our troops, you might be surprised at their views on how and why we fight.  Consider the following confession from an Army lieutenant colonel:

“I have been in uniform for almost 30 years – obviously I love my country.  But it is astonishing to see a nation that once was so committed to liberty and truly assisting the world, turn into a narcissistic empire fighting out of insecurity, as opposed to increasing security. (Whatever happened to walk softly and carry a big stick?)”

Here’s a simple truth Americans seem to have lost touch with: greater security doesn’t come from fighting more wars; it comes from fighting fewer of them or none at all.

Vow #5: Some things are worth fighting and dying for, others aren’t.  It’s time for us to do a far better job of figuring out the difference.

With respect to how we fight, the email message that hit me the hardest lately came from a recently retired general and former infantry division commander.  In his considered words:

“As an old warrior, I keep wondering how it is our leaders keep praising our supposedly superior arms while licking wounds inflicted by [Afghan] village warriors armed with little more than IEDs and small arms.  As for the drones, if I were a Jihadi/Taliban, I would think them a coward’s way of doing business — an obvious sign of cultural weakness.  [Because of the end of the draft,] our leaders breathe war and our people care not.  We reap what we sow.”

Are we as a nation breathing war more and yet caring less precisely because the killing in our name is now being done by “volunteers” and ever more of it by remote control?  And here’s a question: As we praise ourselves for our innovative, comparatively low cost (to us) high-tech weapons like our “Predator” and “Reaper” drones, is our reliance on massive firepower only serving to strengthen the resolve of the enemies we’re fighting?  Which leads to my next vow:

Vow #6: Don’t get involved in land wars in the Middle East and Central Asia — unless you’re willing to reap what you sow.

Whether we realize it or not, the truth is that we’re already reaping what we’ve sown.  Leaving aside the “collateral damage” we’ve inflicted on others, our own harvest is measured in the wounded bodies and minds of our troops who still aren’t getting the medical and psychological care that they’ve earned and deserve.  And in these budget-cutting times, is it not likely that we’ll soon hear about cuts in benefits even possibly for wounded veterans?

Which leads me to a final vow:

Bonus Vow: Recalling Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, let’s vow to care for those who have borne the battle, and for their families, and strive to achieve a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Finally, a special “thank you” to all the troops and veterans who have written me from the boonies, whether deserts or mountains — or even the green and peaceful hills of retirement.  I hope my vows do you some justice.

William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and professor of history, is a TomDispatch regular.  He welcomes reader comments at wjastore@gmail.com. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Astore discusses the difficulty of speaking one’s mind in the military, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

Copyright 2011 William J. Astore

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Posted by robertgreenwald on February 19th, 2011

Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker is using phony budget projections to manufacture a staged “fiscal emergency” in his state so that he can whack programs and political opponents, but even his fake “emergency” pales in comparison to the cost of the Afghanistan War to his state. In fact, the U.S. would only have to bring home 151 troops from Afghanistan to save more money than Walker’s ridiculous union-busting plan. Better yet, ending the Afghanistan War altogether would save taxpayers in Wisconsin $1.7 billion this year alone, more than ten times the amount “saved” in Walker’s attack on state employee rights.

One might ask, “Isn’t Walker’s fake budget crisis a state budget issue? How would ending the Afghanistan War pay for that?” We get this question a lot when we talk about the cost of war to a state’s taxpayer. Keep in mind that state budgets are tangled with federal spending. That’s especially true over the past couple of years, as state budgets have relied on federal Recovery Act funds to balance their books during the recession. Spending decisions at the federal level are therefore doubly important, as they not only affect the national budget, but also what funds are available to help preserve state-level public structures.

That brings us to Walker’s slash-and-burn approach to the state budget. 



“Under Walker’s plan, most public workers – excluding police, firefighters and state troopers – would have to pay half of their pension costs and at least 12 percent of their health-care costs. They would lose bargaining rights for anything other than pay. Walker, who took office last month, says the emergency measure would save $300 million over the next two years to help close a $3.6 billion budget gap.”

So on average, Walker’s slash-and-burn attack on the unions in his state would save $150 million per year for two years. But if Wisconsin is truly in a state of fiscal emergency, as Walker claims, why is he not demanding the president withdraw troops from Afghanistan and make the savings available as fiscal aid to states? Every troop deployed in Afghanistan costs the U.S. $1 million per year, so simply bringing home 151 troops would save more money than his plan. And, with fiscal 2011 Afghanistan War spending alone to top $1.7 billion for Wisconsin taxpayers, an end to the war would free up more than ten times his plan’s cash, which the president could use for state fiscal aid.

Of course, the end of the Afghanistan War would mean that people with whom Walker is cozy would lose some important revenue streams. Remember Wackenhut, the war contractors that disgraced us by holding drunken, nude firelight romps in Afghanistan on the State Department’s dime? Walker got them a sweet privatized state security contract in a prior fit of “cost-savings” that failed to add up. But who needs to rein in death, destruction and obscenity when you can take a whack at the unions, right? Walker’s not actually interested in fixing a supposed emergency. He’s interested in paying off allies and zinging enemies, and you can tell that by his silence on war spending that’s bleeding his state taxpayers dry.

At any rate, state politicians in Wisconsin and beyond are going to have to face a moment of truth when federal stimulus aid runs out at the end of this year. Their citizens hate the Afghanistan War, and they won’t go along with draconian cuts to vital public structures or attacks on collective bargaining. They can either wise up and join the chorus of people calling for an end to the war, or be ready to face tens of thousands of fed-up protesters and angry voters. Your move, folks.

If you’re fed up wit this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

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Posted by Jake Diliberto on February 18th, 2011

Recent reports indicate Defense Secretary Gates & General Petraeus will be out of their positions by the fall season. In short, it means President Obama will have some dirty dancing to do prior to his next Presidential race. America’s most touted General will leave a conundrum for his next successor to manage.

It was obvious from the beginning; the Afghanistan to “Iraq Surge” strategy was a gimmick for President Obama’s communication team. There was no evidence that fixing Afghanistan’s issues would occur within a window of 2-years. Nonetheless, in Jan 2009, President Obama found himself in a political squabble with military leaders, then outflanked, first by Gen McChrystal’s 44 PG assessments, and then followed up by General Petraeus Counter-Insurgency demands.

In effect, President Obama is little more than useless at getting control over his Generals. Awkward enough, General Petraeus and Gates departure means more than a simple changing of command.

General Petraeus, is credited, and said to “saving Iraq” from its self-implosion, and single handedly transformed the US global strategy. In 2011, the renowned American General now finds his reputation at risk.

History should show, at times of war–when a General is winning–said General does not pass the reigns off, said General stays to finish the task. Generals want to leave legacies and General David Petraeus is not any different. He wants his legacy as the one who transformed national security for the United States, and others do as well.

A veterans group, Vets For Freedom is lobbying congress, pushing for Petraeus to get a 5th star, and to be senior military commander of the US.

Why would the General be so willing to give up his prized position in the middle of the longest war in America’s history?

What started, 2001 as Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, has turned into Operation Enduring Obligation and Af-Pak ought to be renamed bleeding America brokistan.

The American troops have done a great job killing the Taliban, but nation building is not working as if Gates and Petraeus imagined and they are trying to save face. Conspiracy theorists like Wayne Madsen assume, Petraeus is being pulled for a GOP presidential run, but Madsen makes a big oversight. Gates and Petraeus firstly want to save their legacy.

Last week, an interview with an unnamed officer in Afghanistan said,

“It’s a lie, the alleged success. I have no idea what is successful besides billions of dollars being wasted on sickest Government I have ever seen.”

Mathew Hoh and former CIA agent Bob Baer have made the Afghanistan issues even more public, and the point of Gates and Petraeus departure prove what many knew for the past 2 years– Afghanistan is the Graveyard of more than Empires, it’s the Graveyard of Military hubris.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on February 18th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

As usual every Thursday at 10.30 pm Central Time, I'll be podcasting with Josh Mull of Rethink Afghanistan & the Seminal and Bob Morris of Polizeros. The main topic tonight, as it has been for the last few weeks, will be events in the Middle East, as dominos fall. We'll also be talking about happenings in Pakistan, where the Raymond Davis affair is raising the diplomatic temperature. And I'm hoping we get time to discuss America's own protests in Wisconsin and Ohio today. It's pure hubris to compare those to events in the Middle East, but as Leninology blog notes today in an excellent post, "the global crisis that links them is raising the same questions everywhere".

You can listen here and download previous shows here.

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Posted by robertgreenwald on February 18th, 2011

Americans of all ideological persuasions are fed up with the Afghanistan War. We’re fed up with a $5.7 billion-per-month military campaign that’s gone nowhere over the past 12 months. We’re fed up with being told we’ll have to do without vital public services because of the sorry state of our national finances, while at the same time our politicians are spending $2 billion a year to police a dusty Afghan town called Marjah. But most of all, we’re tired of the song-and-dance from officials who think they can spin a year full of ugly setbacks as “progress.” We know better.

We’re so fed up, in fact, that over the past week, with the help of Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan campaign, several hundred ordinary Americans pooled their resources in an online fundraising drive and picked three everyday people to star in the first-ever anti-Afghanistan-War TV ad. The ad has run all this week in Washington, D.C. on CNN to get make sure politicians know we want our troops brought home–because it’s time.

For months, public opinion polls have been very clear on Americans’ opposition to the Afghanistan War. This past week, Gallup’s latest poll showed that 72 percent of Americans want Congress to act this year to speed up troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. This support cuts across ideological lines, with strong majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents wanting Congress to rein in the war. And yet, somehow, President Obama and Congress persist in requesting and approving funds to keep this war going long past a time period acceptable to most of their constituents.

What will it take to get policy-makers’ attention to the fact that the war isn’t making us safer and isn’t worth the cost? The worst year for U.S. troop deaths ever so far in the war? Check. The worst year for civilian casualties? Check. The highest annual cost of the war so far? Check. We could throw in 9 percent unemployment at home, an economic crisis, and deficit hysteria at home as well. There’s simply no justification for continuing to spend almost $6 billion a month on a futile, brutal war while cutting programs that keep people from freezing in the winter.

Take, for example, one of the hardest hit cities in the new economy: Detroit, Michigan. The Detroit metropolitan area has an unemployment rate of more than 11 percent. But this year alone, taxpayers in Detroit will pay $180.4 million for the war. WIth that same amount of money, Detroit could have hired 2,523 elementary school teachers, 3,435 firefighters, or 2,815 cops for a year. Our communities here in the U.S. are suffering in a terrible economic vise. When do we stop wasting money on this futile war and start getting serious about getting American back on its feet?

Some Members of Congress, thankfully, do hear the voices of their constituents. Today, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and a bipartisan set of cosponsors introduced the Responsible End to the War in Afghanistan Act, a bill designed to force the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. And, many of these elected officials spent the week working to restrict funding for war during the debate over the continuing resolution to fund the government. They face an uphill fight in a Capitol awash with war industry lobbying dollars, but every time they take a vote, they’re building on the last roll call, expanding the number of people willing to stand up and say, “enough.”

That’s why we helped run the first-ever anti-Afghanistan-War ad on TV in Washington, D.C. this week: to support the efforts of public servants willing to cast the tough votes, and to tell our politicians we want our troops brought home–because it’s time.

If you’re fed-up with this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the costs, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

UPDATE: Several Members of Congress have posted blog pieces today at The Huffington Post on this issue. Take a look:

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on February 18th, 2011

Things have been busy this week at Rethink Afghanistan and in the anti-Afghanistan-War movement generally, so I thought it might be helpful to post a recap of the last few days.

On Sunday, February 13, the television ad we created from your “Because It’s Time” wall postings began airing on CNN in Washington, D.C. To our surprise, we discovered that this was the first-ever anti-Afghanistan-War ad aired on TV. Go team! The ad will run through this coming Sunday, February 20, thanks to your generous donations.

We spent several days working with Members of Congress and online writers to organize a “blog blitz,” were we flooded a number of high-traffic websites today with anti-Afghanistan-War blog posts, including The Huffington Post. Here’s a list of posts:

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-09)
A Responsible End to the War in Afghanistan

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (AZ-)
The Afghan Escalation Has Failed To Deliver

U.S. Rep. Michael Honda (CA-15)
One Year After Escalation, Afghanistan War Still Faltering

Matthew Hoh (Director, Afghanistan Study Group)
Memorials to Purposelessness

Steve Clemons (Director, American Strategy Program, New America Foundation)
It’s Time to Change Course in Afghanistan

Robert Greenwald (Director, Brave New Foundation)
Fed-Up Americans Run First Ever Anti-Afghanistan-War TV Ad

Derrick Crowe (Political Director, Brave New Foundation)
On Anniversary of Marjah Push, Escalation Strategy Still Failing

Digby (Blogger, Digby’s Hullabaloo)
“Happy” Anniversary

Steve Hynd (Editor, Newshoggers.com)
One Year On, Where’s That Government-In-A-Box?

(A note about the participants: Reps. Lee, Honda and Grijalva got us their blog posts during a very, very hectic week on Capitol Hill, while also working on several amendments that aimed to constrain military spending during the debate on the continuing resolution appropriations bill. Several of the other writers were also traveling or grappling with very busy schedules. We appreciate their participation very much, especially during a week like this.)

Our ad buy and blog blitz coincided with a couple of important dates. February 13 marked the one-year point for the escalated military campaign, which began with the assault on Marjah in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. And today, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee reintroduced her bill that would force an orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops. This confluence of dates and events really helped us break through the noise and get Afghanistan back on the public radar after a long lull in coverage.

Keep an eye on this blog for next steps to build on this momentum. Thanks for your support, as always.

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