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Obama’s Afghanistan Review: A Whitewash of a Disastrous Occupation

According to the Obama administration, nothing can happen in the U.S. war in Afghanistan that doesn’t mean good news.

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And if they did? We know that war doesn’t work against terrorism – what does work, what has worked in every example where the U.S. has managed to find and capture top al Qaeda officials or information, has not been bombing but good intelligence, good police work, good cooperation with other governments and international institutions. That hasn’t changed. That’s why we need – and shouldn’t fear – negotiations with everybody at the table. Including the Taliban. 

The U.S. war and occupation has not made Afghans safer, more secure, more prosperous – they still have one of the lowest life expectancies on earth. The war has not protected women – Afghan women still die in childbirth at rates second highest in the world. And children are not better off – UNICEF reports that Afghan babies are more likely to die before their first or fifth birthdays than any other children in the world. 

War isn’t working. Sixty percent of Americans know it. The U.S. intelligence agencies know it too.  And we’re thinking even President Obama knows it.

 

The president was quoted in Bob Woodward’s recent book Obama’s Wars as saying he would not lose his political base over Afghanistan, yet he is risking exactly that. Despite some significant political victories on gay rights and disarmament in the lame duck session of Congress that have him looking much better than after the mid-term election “shellacking” just seven weeks ago, Obama and his political advisers must know his chances of re-election will be very poor if the economy is still in the doldrums and we remain mired in a seemingly endless war in Afghanistan. His base, both on the war and peace side, and the economic justice side, simply won’t hustle for him as it did in 2008 (and without said hustle he’d still be the junior senator from Illinois). 

Our main concern is not for the president’s re-election prospects, it’s to end this disastrous war as soon as possible. But it’s conceivable the two could be strategically linked. The president’s anti-war base must connect the urgency of getting out of Afghanistan and making serious cuts in the military budget, with the immediate need to reinvest in the working economy, job creation, and environmental restoration. That means building powerful alliances with the key movements rising in response to the economic crisis, and fighting now for immigrant, labor, community and civil rights. 

If the president and his political team are as savvy as everyone thinks they are (or at least were in the 2008 campaign), they’d do well to get in front of that wave and run on a genuine peace and green prosperity platform.  Imagine if that happened, and President Obama really did start paying attention to his anti-war base, and began carrying out the dramatic shift in policy necessary to insure a real withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, a genuine move to close Guantanamo, a final withdrawal of all remaining troops in Iraq, a serious level of pressure on Israel to end its occupation, as well as to launch a serious New New Deal to create green jobs and rebuild the economy…  Then not only would the president likely coast to re-election, but the Afghan and U.S. people would be the real beneficiaries – instead of banks, war profiteers and Wall Street – and THAT election would really be one for the history books.

Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies ( www.ips-dc.org) and co-author of Ending the U.S. War in Afghanistan: A Primer. Kevin Martin is Executive Director of Peace Action ( www.peace-action.org), the country's largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with 100,000 members.

 
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