Does this sound familiar?
“We have no strategic plan. We never had one.”
That’s how a senior US military commander described the war in Afghanistan to Washington Post reporter Karen DeYoung in her must-read front-page story Tuesday.
Another Pentagon official “only half-jokingly” referred to General David Petraeus’ “shadow government” of 200 military and civilian experts tasked with coming up with a comprehensive plan.
But instead of tough questioning of our Escalation Without a Plan in Afghanistan, we are on course to double our presence there by adding 20,000 to 30,000 more US troops. DeYoung writes that this strategy is designed to buy the Obama Administration time so it can devise our purpose for being there and what we hope to accomplish.
We don’t need the General’s shadow government. What will allow the Obama Administration to reengage the world and region in new and successful ways is to pursue regional diplomacy and targeted development, and a drawdown of our troops. We also need our legislators to begin speaking up for these non-military solutions.
Since my post last week arguing for a smarter strategy, I’ve tried to talk to many in Congress about the war. They have been hesitant to do so — with a few notable exceptions.
Senator Bernie Sanders told me, “It’s time for the new administration to reexamine our Afghanistan policies. I certainly don’t want to see Barack Obama caught in the kind of morass we experienced in Iraq under Bush.”
Congresswoman Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Vice Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, responded in an e-mail, “…What we urgently need is to reassess our war effort in Afghanistan and come up with a comprehensive strategy… and engage fully with countries that would benefit from a stabilized Afghanistan–like Pakistan, Iran, India, Russia, and China. In short, we need to strengthen our diplomatic efforts in this strategic region.”
Advocates for a drawdown of troops who are now meeting with legislators are also finding them reluctant to chart a different course. Most want to wait for President Obama to offer a new plan. But DeYoung writes that such a plan won’t come until April at the NATO summit in France. In the meantime, the majority of the 20,000 to 30,000 additional US troops probably will have arrived in Afghanistan. Isn’t that something our representatives — especially progressive leaders — should be speaking out against? Not to mention the fact that Tuesday’s excellent reporting by Walter Pincus on military base construction suggests that the US is settling in Afghanistan for the long haul.
I thought there were some positive signs in soon to be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Senate confirmation hearing — though I would hasten to add that any suggested challenges to the escalation policy didn’t exactly push the envelope. Senator Russ Feingold — who I previously wrote has been one of the few voices in Congress raising the right questions — spoke on the need to “explain to the American people how sending more American troops actually fits into a comprehensive regional strategy”.
Senator John Kerry, the new Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said: “I think… we’re on the wrong track… and I think unless we rethink this very, very carefully, we could raise the stakes, invest America’s reputation in a greater way as well as our treasure, and wind up pursuing a policy that is frankly unachievable…. I think anybody who has really… listened in the right ways, and not just accepted the briefing culture, will suggest to you respectfully, Madame Secretary, this really has to be rethought very, very carefully.”
Senator Clinton responded, “I think that your cautions are extremely well taken…. I share your concern as I know the President-elect does… More troops… presupposes that we have a set of discrete goals that we are trying to achieve. And that is in the process of being assessed and analyzed right now… Asking the hard questions and raising the red flags is exactly what this committee I know will do and should do…. My awareness of the history going back to Alexander the Great, certainly the imperial British military… the Soviet Union which put in more troops than we’re thinking about putting in — it calls for a large dose of humility about what it is we are trying to accomplish.”
A respect for history, raising the right questions, and a strong dose of humility — these are all things the nation is desperate for after eight years of the One Who Will Soon Be Gone. But we need to bring pressure through new coalitions such as the one at GetAfghanistanRight to move beyond the right words to the right policies.
For example, it’s a foregone conclusion that we need to do a better job with non-military development aid. Even Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the New York Times we need “more money and personnel to be devoted to the civilian agencies responsible for diplomacy and overseas economic development.” He also said, “We need to reallocate roles and resources in a way that places our military as an equal among many in government.”
But Admiral Mullen also issued the call for 30,000 more US troops, and the increases in non-military aid are relatively paltry compared to military spending in Afghanistan. Pincus reports on up to $4 billion being spent on military base construction alone in Afghanistan, while as a candidate Obama pledged to increase funding for “non-military aid” — which includes training for army and police — by $1 billion to a total of $3 billion. The emphasis is still clearly on a military solution to this 7-year quagmire in a country whose people increasingly don’t want us there. (That even includes women’s groups like the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) who support an international peacekeeping force.)
Doubling down on Afghanistan with 30,000 more troops without a plan — sent there so we can come up with a plan? No thanks. Contact your representatives. Tell them they need to start asking tough questions and opposing this wrongheaded policy. And check out GetAfghanistanRight.com. The estimable Rachel Maddow — always ahead of the curve — recently highlighted it on her show and you can bet it’s going to pick up even more steam after January 20.