Official results from Afghanistan’s presidential election are not due until September 17, and widespread reports of vote-buying, ballot-rigging and intimidation make it unlikely that the final numbers will accurately reflect the will of the Afghan people. But we do have a sense of the evolving sentiments of the American people with regard to the almost eight-year-old US occupation of a country known as “the graveyard of empires.” Americans, once overwhelmingly supportive of the intervention, are wising up to conditions in Afghanistan, which, as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen admits, are “serious and deteriorating.” And a majority is increasingly aware that the more blood and treasure we pour down the Afghan drain, the less we’ll have to spend on economic recovery, healthcare reform and building a green economy at home. Those who want to protect Obama’s reform agenda should seek alternatives to a militarized strategy in Afghanistan.
Mullen’s commanders are reportedly readying a request for more US troops. Even without an additional buildup, troop totals are expected to reach 68,000 by the end of this year. President Obama, who now calls Afghanistan “a war of necessity,” seems inclined to wade deeper into the quagmire. He’s doing so just as many US allies–including a growing number of British officials–have begun talking about an exit strategy.
The American people, conscious that this summer has produced the highest death tolls yet for US troops, are disinclined to follow the lead of the generals or their president. Fifty-one percent say the human and economic costs of continued US occupation are too great; according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, they oppose dispatching more troops by an almost 2-to-1 margin. The fact that they are turning against this misguided enterprise presents an opening for Congressional critics and activists to check Obama’s wrongheaded strategy. Senator Russ Feingold has spoken out against further escalation and for a withdrawal timeline. Almost 100 House members are co-sponsoring Representative Jim McGovern’s call for an exit strategy.
Robert Greenwald’s “Rethink Afghanistan” project is highlighting the fact that civilians, especially women, are ill served by the occupation and that “there is no ‘victory’ to be won in Afghanistan.” Groups like Peace Action and Progressive Democrats of America are ramping up campaigns against a new troop surge. And the Friends Committee on National Legislation has used a recent RAND study to build a case for using diplomacy (including negotiations with elements of the Taliban), development of civil society, effective policing and the wise use of intelligence to combat terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As FCNL’s Joe Volk has written, “Of course, the answer is not to just stop the war fighting and do nothing. The answer is to stop the war fighting, deny the terrorists their cosmic battle and shift into a law enforcement mode through international cooperation, development, and diplomacy.”
That’s a smart strategy. Unfortunately, the administration won’t embrace it without a push from Congress. That’s why the McGovern resolution, which has bipartisan support, is such an important initiative. Getting more House members to sponsor it will take work, but the argument is clear: a growing movement is seeking alternatives to military escalation. Trust the judgment of the American majority, who say this war is no longer worth fighting.