We are now entering the time frame pointing to the 2012 presidential election, when antiwar networks and peace voters, as Representative Barbara Lee says, can become a factor in the President’s calculus and convince him to campaign for re-election against the wars.
For background, the Bob Woodward book, Obama’s Wars, is worth reading carefully for clues to a peace strategy. Woodward tells the inside story of the executive review regarding Afghanistan last year. He reports that:
[Obama] repeated that he wasn’t buying into a $1 trillion, 10-year counterinsurgency strategy. "I want an exit strategy," the president said.
Obama was almost fretting. "A six-to-eight-year war at $50 billion a year is not in the national interest of the United States." That was what was before him.
"I can’t lose all the Democratic Party. And people at home don’t want to hear we’re going to be there for ten years."
What was unsaid, what everyone knew, was that a president could not lose—or be seen to be losing—a war.
Obama was the commander-in-chief, but there were other voices in the room. Vice-President Joe Biden led questioning of the war’s costs. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supported whatever the generals wanted. Gen. David Petraeus opposed timelines and argued for a military surge, saying, "All we have to do to is begin to show progress, and that’ll be sufficient to add time to the clock and we’ll get what we need."
What has changed since that time is the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives, dimming the president’s stated expectation that a timetable would come from the Hill. If only for political reasons, the Republicans are not going to give the president that cover. It remains to be seen if a majority of Democrats will stand up as they did last year. In addition, with the loss of Russ Feingold, there is no sign of antiwar opposition coming from the Senate for now.
But public opinion remains stubborn, with 60 percent saying the war is not worth fighting. About 75 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independent voters oppose the war.
One task for peace advocates is public education, in targeted Congressional districs, about the costs of the war and the existence of diplomatic alternatives, and outreach to other political constituencies concerned about the economy and budget crises.
At this point, no one beyond the Barbara Lee bloc is calling for a termination of the funding. But significant voices within the establishment are moving towards the exits.
The New York Times published an excellent piece on talks with the Taliban by Scott Atran on October 26. Atran makes the point that the time for introducing a diplomatic offensive is now, instead of waiting until the US begins drawing down. Instead, the current strategy is, as top White House adviser Bruce Riedel phrases it, "until we kill them, they’re going to keep trying to kill us." But the rising slaughter of so-called mid-level Taliban insurgents and their local supporters, Atran warns, "may create a whirlwind that no one will be able to control."