Monday, May 21, 2012

Who Will Speak for Us, the Antiwar Majority, in Congress?

With Kudos to PDA’s Barbara Lee!

Last week for the first time, the majority of Democrats voted in favor of the Lee Amendment limiting funding for the Afghanistan War to the safe and orderly withdrawal of US troops and security contractors. (101 ayes, 79 Noes).

This represents a sea-change of opinion from the time that Rep. Barbara Lee stood alone among her House colleagues eleven years ago, challenging the wisdom of the war.

It is unfortunately no surprise that this amendment was defeated 113-303. However, in our upcoming work it will be important to emphasize that the President's political base is now in clear opposition to his Afghanistan war policy.

On the 2013 NDAA as a whole (HR 4310) we did better than anticipated with a final vote of 120 Noes and 299 Ayes. Fortunately the majority of Democrats voted against the 2013 NDAA. (104-77). The reasons for Democratic voting on this item are ambiguous because the White House itself was displeased with the final version of the bill and because civil liberties was also an important concern. Yet clearly for many Democrats a major factor was the size of the military budget at a time when domestic programs are under attack.

Going forward, it seems possible that with greater unity we might achieve a better result in the next round of votes. The bill now goes to the Senate, where there will be various efforts to shorten the American stay in Afghanistan and to cut billions from the Pentagon budget.

Our Legislative Working Group will continue to support these initiatives, as well as stronger amendments to end the war in Afghanistan and to garner more NO votes against the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.

Provided below are links to the Roll-calls on the Lee Amendment and the 2013 NDAA itself. If your member of Congress voted for peace and against the authorization of $242 billion, it might be helpful to send a message of thanks.

Roll Call for 2013 Defense Authorization Act:

Roll Call for Lee Amendment

Many thanks for everyone who did the Congressional Calls last week. If you obtained any additional information from a Congressional Office, please pass along to

Ufpj-afghanistan mailing list

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What Is Obama's Position on Afghanistan? Say It Again?


‘Winding Down’ the War vs. ‘Losing Afghanistan’

By Tom Hayden
Beaver County Peace Links via HuffPost

May 16, 2012 - As a candidate opposing the Iraq War, Barack Obama improved his hawkish credentials by promising to track down Osama bin Laden, expand drone attacks, and escalate the American troop numbers in Afghanistan. Three years later, bin Laden is dead, the drones inflame Pakistan opinion and complicate a peace settlement, and 33,000 American troops are scheduled to pull out by the end of 2012 with "steady withdrawals" to continue after. Sixty-eight thousand U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan by this year's end, with the deadline for withdrawing most of them by December 2014.

By the numbers, Afghanistan has already directly cost taxpayers $528.8 billion, and the Obama request for Afghanistan this fiscal year is $107 billion. That does not include the hidden, indirect costs -- accrual such as long-term Social Security, disability, and medical care for veterans, etc. -- partly spurred by an order last year from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, which will add hundreds of billions, if not trillions to the ultimate financial impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The president's internal political calculation in 2008 was that he could never pull out of Afghanistan without killing Al Qaeda's top leadership and building a firewall against a Taliban return to power. While perhaps correct politically, this has led to an Afghan quagmire shaken by severe contradictions.

  • Hamid Karzai remains an unpopular, unreliable president whose term ends in 2014, the year of the troop withdrawal deadline. He seeks $3.5-6 billion each of the next two years to build up the Afghan armed forces, plus a Western commitment to funding for at least another decade, an impossible expectation.
  • According to Pentagon evaluations, those troops are unable to function independently, though insurgent infiltrators are skilled at shooting NATO allies. (Twenty percent of NATO fatalities have occurred this year, according to The New York Times).
  • Foreign aid to Afghanistan equals its entire gross national product and, according to the World Bank, "cannot be sustained."
  • "Intractable Graft by Elite Afghans" makes reform out of reach.

Earlier this year, the Taliban indicated through intermediaries a willingness to hold dialogue with the West, in Qatar, but demanded the release of several detainees now in Guantanamo, possibly in exchange for an American POW, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Those discussions are in trouble, partly because of Republican opposition to releasing U.S.-held Taliban combatants. As a result, the Obama administration's hope for progress in negotiations has hit the skids.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Afghanistan: Our Longest War and Biggest Fantasy

By Harry Targ
Beaver County Peace Links

On May Day, 2012 President Obama made a secret trip to Afghanistan and spoke to the nation and the troops on the ground about past, present, and future policy. What the speech revealed was a replication of a ten-year fantasy narrative about why we went to war on Afghanistan, what our goals were, and what the future holds in the region for the United States and, most importantly, the Afghan people.

The President announced he was signing an agreement between the two countries which will define “a new kind of relationship” in which Afghans will assume primary responsibility for their security and “we build an equal partnership between two sovereign states.” The future of this relationship will be bright as “the war ends, and a new chapter begins.”

The announcement sounded eerily like the policy of “Vietnamization” which President Nixon put in place in 1969; handing over ground action to the South Vietnamese government while the United States escalated the bombing of targets in North and South Vietnam and invaded neighboring Cambodia. The South Vietnamese government and military were incapable of assuming “primary responsibility” and in the end were overthrown by powerful forces in the countryside.

The President explained that President Bush correctly launched a war on Afghanistan in October, 2001 because the country allowed terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden an al Qaeda “safe-haven” for terrorist planning and attacks, ultimately leading to the tragedy of 9/11. While Bin Laden escaped to Pakistan, the U.S. continued fighting the Taliban who have “waged a brutal insurgency.”

Subsequently, he claimed, using the dehumanized language of violence –prone discourse, the U.S. military has “taken out over 20 of their top leaders” including bin Laden himself. But the war continues. While the United States downsizes its troop commitments policy will include:

  • a transition of the war to our Afghan military allies. Importantly Obama proclaimed that at the NATO summit this month in Chicago, “our coalition will set a goal for Afghan forces to be in the lead for combat operations across the country next year.” However, “international troops will continue to train, advise and assist Afghans, and fight alongside them when needed.”
  • training of Afghan Security Forces, leading to an Afghan force of 352,000 troops which NATO will support to create “a strong and sustainable long-term Afghan force.”
  • increasing US/NATO/Afghan cooperation “including shared commitments to combat terrorism and strengthen democratic institutions.” President Obama declared that these commitments, in the short run involving counter-terrorism and continued training, do not include the building of permanent U.S. bases.
  • pursuing a negotiated peace with the Taliban if they break with al Qaeda, renounce violence and “abide by Afghan laws.”
  • working towards stability in South Asia, including partnering with neighboring Pakistan. The President assured viewers that “America has no designs beyond an end to al Qaeda safe-havens, and respect for Afghan sovereignty.” In short, the central goal of United States policy is to destroy al Qaeda, in the short run to stabilize Afghanistan, and “to finish the job we started in Afghanistan…”

The speech reflects the classic pattern of U.S. military globalization coupled with tortured ahistorical fantasy narratives that have characterized policy since the end of World War II.