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Don’t Go There Mr. President!

Tom Hayden first published in The Nation of March 27, 2009)

17,000 or 21,000 more US troops will not protect Americans against Al Qaeda attacks

The Obama plan instead will accelerate any plans Al Qaeda commanders have for attacking targets in the United States or Europe. The alternative for Al Qaeda is to risk complete destruction, an American objective that has not been achieved for eight years. A terrorist attack need not be planned or set in motion from a cave in Waziristan. The cadre could already be underground in Washington or London. The real alternative for President Obama should be to maintain a deterrent posture while immediately accelerating diplomacy to meet legitimate Muslim goals, from a Palestinian state to genuine progress on Kashmir.

President Obama is right, at least politically, to take very seriously the threat of another 9/11 from any source. Besides the suffering inflicted, it would derail his agenda and perhaps his presidency. This is all the more reason he must understand that by repeatedly threatening to “kill Al Qaeda” he is provoking a hornets’ nest without protection against a devastating sting.

The hard choices are laid out very clearly in writings by the CIA’s former point man on Osama bin Ladin, Michael Scheuer, who also ran the agency’s rendition program and still supports it. Scheuer is a tough guy, in other words, who says the options are either to kill all the jihadists, make it quick and withdraw (not a real option), or begin pursuing an agenda that addresses what he calls Muslim issues: the American military and civilian presence in the Arab Peninsula, the unqualified US support for Israel, US support for states that oppress Muslims (China, India, Russia), US exploitation of Muslim oil and suppression of its price, US military presence in the Islamic world, and US support and protection of Arab police states.

Such an approach would create an option to violence for many millions of jihadi sympathizers and potential recruits. It would create an incentive not to inflict terrorism, blow up airplanes and hotels, or deploy a nuclear bomb in a suitcase. It would disturb the multinational oil companies and the Israel lobby but open a better path to stability than wars against the Muslim world.

Escalation of American troop levels is a slippery slope. John F. Kennedy sent 16,300 Americans to save South Vietnam from the Vietcong.

President Obama obviously has no intention of sending hundreds of thousands of American troops into Afghanistan or Pakistan. But escalation, once it begins, is increasingly difficult to stop. Already Obama’s generals want more troops than the president is sending. The neoconservatives and Republicans are demanding a “must-win war” and denouncing any talk of an exit strategy. A gradual American escalation may play into the jihadist game plan, drawing more Western troops into jeopardy or permitting a retreat into mountainous wastelands if necessary. Any “redeployment” (another word for retreat in the minds of the neocons), other than returning with Bin Ladin’s head on a platter, provokes a right-wing reaction at home. The easy solution to these pressures is another escalation followed by another, like one drink at a time. (See Daniel Ellsberg, “Secrets”, 2002]

A regional diplomatic and political solution is possible, but not by imposing US-NATO dominance.

In the model currently applied, military force is to be followed by diplomacy with NATO at the center. Whatever the reason--access to oil resources, global dominance, the clash of fundamentalisms, distrust of the region--this desire for Western dominance delays and may even derail any possible diplomatic solution. The primary powers in the actual region include Iran, India, Russia and China, all distrusted on various levels by the US government, which therefore wishes to include them only as junior partners or satellites of NATO. Take the example of Iran: with 150,000 American troops on its border with Iraq, and upward of 100,000 more on its border with Afghanistan, is it going to revert to its 2001 posture of supporting the United States in Afghanistan? Or take the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (China, Russia and Central Asian countries): will they be persuaded to welcome NATO? They already are on record calling for US military withdrawal from the region. Or take the Kashmir crisis” does the United States expect Pakistan to withdraw support for the Taliban and other jihadists it sees as a bulwark against the Indian threat in Kashmir and Afghanistan while the United States tilts toward India?

The other problem with a diplomatic solution for the United States is the uncomfortable matter of democracy. In Afghanistan, the Karzai regime might not survive this year’s election, in which case the United States will be seeking a substitute who signs off on the occupation. In Pakistan, the United States has spent nearly a decade, and $11 billion in taxpayer money, supporting a military dictatorship and now, after the assassination of Benezir Bhutto, the United States has been backing the Zardari regime against the more popular movement of Nawaf Sharif supported by thousands of lawyers and civil society in the streets. Anything resembling genuine popular democracy in Afghanistan or Pakistan would end the Western military occupation, or at least the air war, house-to-house roundups, and mass incarceration at Bagram and force a reversal of the ratio of 18-to-1 spending priority on the military. (See Tariq Ali, “The Duel”, 2008, and Ahmed Rashid, “Descent into Chaos”, 2008.)

The cost is far too high, another trillion in time

Bush’s war costs in Afghanistan have been $173 billion from 2001 through 2009. Obama’s proposals for Iraq/Afghanistan are $144 billion this fiscal year, but are not broken down. The secret war by the US-trained “Freedom Corps” in Pakistan is budgeted at $400 million. As America’s infrastructure decays, the Army Corps of Engineers is spending $4 billion for construction in Afghanistan this year, including 720 miles of roads this year alone. The expansion of Afghanistan’s army will cost “up to” $20 billion in the next several years, while Afghanistan’s entire national budget is $1.1 billion this year. Cost overruns and corruption being what they are, it is easy to predict the Afghan/Pakistan wars costing $1 trillion by the end of the president’s first term. Military spending will continue to outpace civilian reconstruction aid indefinitely.

In summary, be prepared for a war that spans the length of the Obama presidency, an Obama War. Expect the Congress to be inert and distracted. Expect little help from the media.

But hey, we’ve been here before

It’s time for a new movement against reckless escalation, especially one that threatens to divert our attention from the crisis at home, while only leaving poverty, malnutrition and anti-American hatreds rising abroad.

The movement could begin this week, a living memorial to the passing of Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968.

—Tom Hayden first published in The Nation of March 27, 2009.
Tom Hayden is the author of The Other Side (1966, with Staughton Lynd), The Love of Possession Is a Disease With Them (1972), Ending the War in Iraq (2007) and Writings for a Democratic Society: The Tom Hayden Reader (2008).

Don’t Escalate, Negotiate.

Call your Member of Congress and let them know you oppose escalation in Afghanistan. If you’re not sure who represents you, visit the House of Representatives website and input your address--it will give you the name of your Congressperson (and it will take you to an e-mail form). You can reach your Congressperson through the Capitol switchboard: (202) 224-3121. United for Peace and Justice gathered some fantastic fact sheets to help you prepare.

  • Call the White House and tell the president you oppose escalation in Afghanistan: (202) 456-1111.
  • Sign the petition over at Rethink Afghanistan calling for oversight hearings on the Afghanistan policy. (They’ve also just posted Part 2 of their excellent film… See the trailer.)
  • Sign Sojourner’s petition to Obama.
  • Sign the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s petition calling for an investment in peace, not war, in Afghanistan.

The Nation: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090413/hayden

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