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After OBL: McGovern/Jones Push for Real Withdrawal Plan

12:49 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Following the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the floodgates opened in Washington this past week for reconsideration of U.S. plans to continue the open-ended war in Afghanistan.

Now Representatives Jim McGovern and Walter Jones have introduced the “Afghanistan Exit and Accountability Act,” bipartisan legislation that would require the President present to Congress a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and a clear end date for the war. It would require the President to submit quarterly reports to Congress on the progress of troop withdrawal, as well as the human and financial costs of continuing the war. The President would also have to report how much money U.S. taxpayers would save if the war were brought to an end in six months, instead of five, ten, or twenty years.

Other Members of Congress have spoken out this week against indefinite continuation of the war, including Senators Dick Durbin , Richard Lugar, and Robert Menendez; (jointly) Representatives Lee, Ellison, Grijalva, Woolsey, and Waters; Representative Barney Frank; and Representative Cliff Stearns.

But among all this, the intervention of McGovern and Jones is unique in that it carries with it the prospect of a roll call, in which every Member of the House will have to choose a side: open-ended war in Afghanistan, or a clear plan for military withdrawal?

The FY 2012 defense authorizations bill is expected to come before the House in late May or June. It is expected that Reps. McGovern and Jones will then offer their bill as amendment.

Introducing the bill now gives Americans the opportunity to talk to their Representatives about this legislation, and to ask them to co-sponsor it.

In a sense, when you are asking your Representative to co-sponsor the bill, you are asking them to vote for the amendment. But few people know much in advance exactly when legislation is going to be on the floor; often, many interested people find out that an amendment is going to be voted on less than 24 hours before the actual vote takes place. That’s not much time to have a meaningful interaction with your Representative, given that for most people most of the time, interacting with your Representative means interacting with a staff person, who then talks to the Representative. You want to allow some time for those conversations, and meaningful consideration, to take place. That’s why you want to have a conversation with your Representative’s office now, asking them to co-sponsor the bill, rather than waiting for the amendment. Also, getting co-sponsors on the bill allows you to build momentum; it allows Members of Congress to see what other Members of Congress are doing, something that they take into account when they decide their position. If you can say, this bill has 100 co-sponsors, that’s going to help you move people who are on the fence.

The current high-water mark in the House for requiring a real timetable for withdrawal is the 162 Members who voted on July 1 last year for the McGovern amendment requiring a timetable for withdrawal.

Much has changed since then.

The President put forward 2014 as a date when a “transition to Afghan lead” – not necessarily a withdrawal of U.S. forces – would take place. Public opinion has further soured on the war, including Republican opinion: before Sunday’s news, two-thirds of voters said the war was not worth it, including nearly half of Republicans and the majority of independents, and three-quarters of voters wanted to see a substantial withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan this summer, including the majority of Republicans and independents.

And then came Sunday’s news.

Senator Durbin said this week he voted for the 2001 resolution authorizing the war “to go after” al Qaeda and bin Laden:

“Now here we are, 10 years later,” Durbin said. “If you asked me if I was signing up for the longest war in U.S. history, with no end in sight, even with the killing of Osama bin Laden, that was not the bargain, that is not what I was signing up for.”

Durbin asked:

“If you believe that resolution of this conflict by military means is highly unlikely and not a realistic basis for US policy, how can we send one more American soldier to fight and die in Afghanistan?”

Another significant change is that debate among Republicans about the war is getting more prominent with the start of the Republican presidential primary campaign. Two of the candidates – Gary Johnson and Ron Paul – want to end the war. When the question came up in last night’s Republican debate, the Republican audience cheered when Gary Johnson and Ron Paul said that they wanted to end the war

If you look at that roll call from last July, a fact that immediately jumps out at you is that of those 162 who voted for the McGovern amendment, 153 of them were Democrats and 9 of them were Republicans. Pushing Members now to co-sponsor the McGovern bill is an opportunity to test movement in the House in the last year, especially among Republicans, since public opinion, especially Republican public opinion, soured on the war and since Osama bin Laden – for many Americans, the target of the war – has been removed from the scene.

Pressure for a real withdrawal timetable could help end the war much sooner, because while on the one hand the Administration now says it is “seeking to use the killing of Osama bin Laden to accelerate a negotiated settlement with the Taliban and hasten the end of the Afghanistan war,” on the other hand, the Administration is pressing the government of Afghanistan for a “Permanent Bases Agreement” that would keep U.S. troops and bases in Afghanistan past 2014. The problem with that demand – in addition to the fact that it keeps U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan much longer than they need to be – is that the demand for an indefinite U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is likely to sabotage the peace talks in Afghanistan necessary to end the war.

So, if you don’t want to see the indefinite continuation of war in Afghanistan, you know what to do. You can write to your Representative here. Or you can call your Representative via the Capitol Switchboard, 202-225-3121. Ask your Representative to stand up for a real exit plan that has an end date, to start an irreversible process of bringing our troops home.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

An Anti-War Candidate Announces for President

11:20 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Last week, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson announced his candidacy for President of the United States.

This was a historic event, because 1) Gary Johnson wants to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and 2) Gary Johnson is a Republican. He also wants to slash the military budget.

Gary Johnson is also opposed to the “war on drugs,” which he has called “an expensive bust“. Indeed, as The Hill noted:

Last year, he teamed up with singer Melissa Etheridge and actor Danny Glover for a Hollywood rally in favor of Proposition 19 — an initiative that would have legalized marijuana in California.

This suggests that Gary Johnson can play well with others around issues of common concern.

It is tremendously important that there be at least one Republican candidate for President who is against the war in Afghanistan.

Polls show that Republican voters have turned against the war. But the majority of Republican voters who want US troops out of Afghanistan are so far almost totally unrepresented by Republican officials in Washington. Gary Johnson’s campaign could break through the national Republican wall, because as a candidate for president, Gary Johnson will be able to get into the media, and the national Republican party leadership – “the party’s ruling class,” as The Hill put it – won’t be able to silence him. Even if he doesn’t get a dime from Lockheed or Raytheon, they won’t be able to keep him off the stage in the early Republican debates, and that will change the discussion.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll in March found that 56% of Republicans think the United States should “withdraw a substantial number of U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan this summer.” That is, the majority of Republican voters are ahead of the Obama Administration, which hasn’t yet committed to a substantial withdrawal this summer.

But the high-water mark in the House so far for Republican support on any initiative against the indefinite continuation of the Afghanistan war is nine votes. That’s about 5% of the Republicans in the House. 5% versus 56% – that’s a pretty big gap. The enforcement of the will of the Republican Party’s “ruling class” against the will of the majority of Republican voters is a key pillar sustaining the war.

This pillar of the war must be attacked. The candidacy of Gary Johnson is a weapon for doing so.

Of course, Gary Johnson’s candidacy faces obstacles. He is not a billionaire. He is not backed by the party establishment – no candidate against the war will be. He will not be backed by the establishment media.

On the other hand, Gary Johnson’s candidacy has a potential X weapon: Americans who typically don’t vote in Republican primaries and caucuses who want to end the war.

After all, we all want to support democracy in Cairo and Madison. Why not support democracy in the Republican Party on the question of the war?

Now, some may be thinking, what does this have to do with me? I am not a “Republican.”

But whether you are a “Republican” or not, you have to live with the consequences of the fact that the national Republican Party is not representing the majority of Republican voters who want to see US troops come out of Afghanistan, because this is a key buttress of the continuation of the war.

Corporations back Republicans and Democrats, as it suits their perceived interests. So do labor unions, environmentalists, women’s groups, and gay rights groups. Why should peace advocates be any different? What one does in November in one thing; what one does in the primary season is another. If there is no Democratic primary for President, if there is no anti-war primary for Congress where you live, why waste your anti-war vote in an uncontested primary?

Many states have open primaries: any voter can vote in any primary. In other states, you have to register with a given party in order to participate in that party’s primary. New Hampshire – a critical, early state, where the Eugene McCarthy campaign showed the Lyndon Johnson Administration the depth of anti-war sentiment – is in-between: if you register as an “undeclared” voter, you can vote in any primary.

But even if you live in a state with a “closed primary” – check with local authorities for rules and deadlines – political parties in America are squishy things. Who’s to say you’re not a “Republican”? You are if you say you are. In the future, you can say something else.

Of course, many people will consider the temporary assumption of a “Republican” identity, even for a day, as a bridge too far.

But consider: if you could stop the killing in Afghanistan by temporarily assuming a “Republican” identity, would that not be morally justified?

In Jewish law, the protection of human life takes precedence over all. Therefore, voting in a Republican primary to end the war is a mitzvah.

And what would Jesus do in this situation? Wouldn’t Jesus vote in a Republican primary to end the war? As the Bible says,

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.”

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

Barbara Boxer: Champion In The Senate AgainstThe Afghanistan War

10:34 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

afghanistan

afghanistan by The U.S. Army, on Flickr

If you’ve ever spent quality time trying to move an agenda through Congress, you know that moving an agenda isn’t just about lobbying individual Members. You need a “champion” for your issue. The champion introduces your bill. The champion recruits other offices to sign up. The champion introduces an amendment that carries the same idea as the bill and lobbies other Members to vote for it. The champion circulates letters to other offices. The champion raises the profile of your issue in the media.

When Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold lost his bid for re-election, advocates working to end the war in Afghanistan lost their champion in the Senate. It was Feingold’s office that introduced the bill, introduced the amendment, circulated the letter, led the lobbying of other offices, led the charge in the media.

Now California Senator Barbara Boxer has re-introduced Feingold’s bill requiring the President to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan – a timetable with an end date. So far, Senators Dick Durbin, Tom Harkin, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Sherrod Brown have signed on as co-sponsors of Senator Boxer’s bill.

The re-introduction of this bill is extremely timely and important, for two reasons.

First, the White House is currently debating how to follow through on the President’s promise to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July. Will it be a mere token withdrawal, signifying nothing, as the Pentagon has demanded? Or will it be a “significant and sizable reduction” that sends a clear signal to everyone in Afghanistan and the U.S. that U.S. troops are on their way out, as the Democratic Party has demanded?

In this context, it’s very important for Senators to speak up. And signing on to a bill that says that the President has to establish a timetable for U.S. withdrawal that has an end date is an essential way to speak up.

When a Senator signs on to a bill like the Boxer bill, that Senator is basically communicating two things: first, I am unhappy with the status quo and I think that the Administration needs more pressure from people who think the way I do; second, if an amendment is introduced that contains the same basic idea as this bill, I am likely to vote for that amendment.

It’s this second function – stalking horse for an amendment – that is the principal reason that the text of the bill matters. Otherwise, the Senators are basically signing a piece of paper that says, “I am concerned about what the Administration is doing and I think that the Administration needs more pressure from people who think like me.”
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Petraeus: Kucinich-Jones-Paul Resolution Today Would Give Osama the Victory

7:31 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

The U.S. House of Representatives is now debating for two hours a resolution [H.Con.Res. 28] calling for President Obama to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan no later than Dec. 31, 2011.

[FCNL has provided a toll-free number for calling Congress on this vote: 800-530-1748. You can watch the proceedings on houselive.gov.]

Relative to the opinions of the vast of majority America’s working families, the Kucinich-Jones-Paul resolution is a mainstream, middle-of-the-road, motherhood-and-apple-pie proposal.

This week, the Washington Post reported that nearly two-thirds of Americans – including half of Republicans – believe that the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting, and nearly three-quarters of Americans say Obama should withdraw a “substantial number” of combat troops from Afghanistan this summer. The Post didn’t report what Republicans thought specifically about substantial withdrawal, but a reasonable inference from the report is that the majority of Republicans support substantial withdrawal.

Last month, the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution calling for a “swift withdrawal,” a call repeated yesterday by the Out of Afghanistan Caucus. Also yesterday, 80 Members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama calling for a significant and sizeable reduction in U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan beginning no later than July.

What did General David Petraeus have to say about all this in his Congressional testimony? He invoked the Osama Defense: if the resolution passed, it would give Osama the victory.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, Petraeus called the resolution a mistake…
[...]
“The Taliban and al-Qaida obviously would trumpet this as a victory, as a success,” Petraeus said.

If the Osama Defense is what Petraeus has to offer by way of defense of the current policy after 10 years, more than a thousand Americans dead, hundreds of billions of dollars spent, he is essentially conceding the argument: two-thirds of Americans are right, the war is not worth fighting. And we should get out.

The resolution is not expected to pass. A similar resolution last March only received 65 votes. But last month, 98 Members – including almost half of the House Democratic caucus – voted to cut funding for the war. More than 150 Members of the current House have publicly challenged the war since last July. As AP notes:

Lawmakers on both sides of the issue will be watching the vote total closely to see if the opposition gains support.

Washington Smackdown: Petraeus vs. “Substantial Drawdown”

12:59 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Gen. David Petraeus spoke today before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and is speaking tomorrow before the House Armed Services Committee, selling Congress a “progress” story about the war in Afghanistan that isn’t believed by US intelligence analysts. Whether Members of Congress choose to believe Petraeus’ reassurances over the assessments of the U.S. intelligence community (“who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?”) could prove decisive in determining whether the July drawdown of U.S. forces from Afghanistan that President Obama has promised will be “token,” as the Pentagon wants, or is “substantial,” as the overwhelming majority of Americans want. The stakes are high: a substantial drawdown of U.S. forces from Afghanistan this year would save many American and Afghan lives and tens of billions of dollars, and would open political space in Afghanistan for a negotiated political settlement that ends the civil war.

The Los Angeles Times reported:

When Gen. David H. Petraeus appears before Congress on Tuesday to tout progress in Afghanistan, he will face a series of pessimistic assessments about the state of the war, including the intelligence community’s conclusion that tactical gains achieved by a U.S. troop surge have failed to fundamentally weaken the Taliban.

At a hearing last week,

Gen. Ronald Burgess, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, offered a sobering view – one that is shared by the CIA, U.S. officials say – that contrasted sharply with the optimism expressed in recent days by Petraeus, who will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

“The Taliban in the south has shown resilience and still influences much of the population, particularly outside urban areas,” Burgess said, speaking of a region where the U.S. has been focusing many of its resources.

The U.S.-led coalition has been killing Taliban militants by the hundreds, he said, but there has been “no apparent degradation in their capacity to fight…”

There is a politically feasible alternative to General Petraeus’ urgings to “stay the course.” That alternative is for the Obama Administration to follow through on its promise to begin withdrawing troops in July with a substantial drawdown of U.S. forces. A bipartisan letter to President Obama circulating in the House, signed by more than 50 Members so far, is urging the President to carry out a significant withdrawal. (You can urge your Representative to sign the letter here.)

This alternative is politically feasible because:

a) a super-majority of Americans support a substantial withdrawal;
b) the Democratic Party is on record in favor of a “swift withdrawal” that begins with “a significant and sizeable reduction in U.S. troop levels by no later than July of this year”;
c) influential voices in the Administration, including Vice-President Biden, have argued in favor of a substantial withdrawal of forces, beginning in July; and
d) a substantial withdrawal of U.S. forces would bring tangible benefits, including fewer American and Afghan lives lost, tens of billions of dollars saved at a time when budget deficits are being invoked as a justification for draconian cuts in domestic spending, and improved prospects for a negotiated political resolution that ends the war.

Public opinion:

Nearly three-quarters of Americans say Obama should withdraw a “substantial number” of combat troops from Afghanistan this summer, including 80% of independents, the Washington Post reports. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting, including two-thirds of independents.

The Democratic Party:

Last month, the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution stating that “the Democratic Party supports prioritizing job creation and a swift withdrawal of U.S. armed forces and military contractors in Afghanistan which must include a significant and sizable reduction no later than July 2011.” Last July, Nancy Pelosi said she expected to see a “serious drawdown” from Afghanistan in the summer of 2011.

Vice-President Biden:

Last year, Vice-President Biden told us we could “bet” on “a whole lot of people moving out” in July 2011.

Tangible benefits of a substantial withdrawal:

Fewer U.S. soldier deaths

If U.S. soldiers being killed in Afghanistan is bad, then more U.S. soldiers being killed in Afghanistan is more bad and fewer U.S. soldiers being killed in Afghanistan is less bad.

Since 2001, the more U.S. soldiers there are in Afghanistan, the more get killed.

In January 2009, there were a about 34,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which at that point, was the highest level so far. Today, there are nearly 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The consequence of this escalation in terms of U.S. troop deaths has been that 837 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since President Obama took office, as opposed to 575 U.S. soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan under President Bush (as shown by the “U.S. Deaths in Afghanistan: Obama vs Bush” web counter.)

US Deaths in Afghanistan: Obama vs Bush. Click here to learn more.

The 837 U.S. soldiers who were killed under President Obama were killed over a period of roughly 26 months. The 575 U.S. soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan under President Bush were killed over a period of roughly 114 months. So, on average, under President Bush, 5 U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan per month, while under President Obama, 32 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan per month, a net increase of 27 U.S. soldiers killed per month. Thus, if we returned to the average Bush-era troop levels in Afghanistan, as opposed to the average Obama-era levels, we would save the lives of 27 U.S. soldiers per month, or about 326 U.S. soldiers over the course of a year.

Of course, it is not likely that we would return to average Bush era troop levels in Afghanistan immediately. Suppose we assume, very modestly, that a substantial drawdown occurs over the course of a year, that is, by July 1, 2012, as President Obama runs for re-election, there are fewer than 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a few less than when he took office. We’d expect the monthly death rate then to return to about 11 U.S. soldiers per month, for an average death rate over the year of about 22 per month. This would still save the lives of about 120 U.S. soldiers over the course of the year.

Fewer Afghan civilian deaths

If Afghan civilians being killed is bad, then more Afghan civilians being killed is more bad and fewer Afghan civilians being killed is less bad.

Since 2001, the more U.S. soldiers there are in Afghanistan, the more Afghan civilians get killed.

Unlike the U.S. soldiers, we don’t know precisely how many civilians have been killed in the war in Afghanistan, and we likely never will. There are different estimates by different parties, which make comparisons over time much more challenging .

However, we do know clearly what the trend has been in Afghanistan since 2008: more U.S. troops in Afghanistan, more civilian deaths. The UN has reported a 15 percent increase in civilian deaths between 2009 and 2010, following a 14 percent increase between 2008 and 2009. So, if we reduced troop levels to 2008 levels, we should be able to reduce civilian deaths by 24%. It’s certain that the UN figures are an undercount of civilian deaths, but even taking them at face value, a reduction in civilian deaths over the period of 24% would save the lives of 329 Afghan civilians.

Tens of billions of dollars saved, countering claimed need for domestic cuts

A rough estimate has been that it costs about $10 billion to put 10,000 US soldiers in Afghanistan for a year. Suppose that this figure is roughly correct for our purposes here. Suppose a “token withdrawal” over the course of the year following July 1 consists of no more than 10,000 troops. And suppose a “substantial withdrawal” would leave no more than 30,000 US troops in Afghanistan on July 1, 2012 – again, just a bit less than the level when President Obama took office.

If we pretend that the withdrawal of troops would happen at a constant rate, then the first scenario is like having 95,000 troops in Afghanistan on average for a year, and the second scenario is like having 65,000 troops there on average for a year. Thus, a “substantial drawdown” would result in an average of 30,000 less troops in Afghanistan over the course of the year, resulting in a savings of $30 billion – half of what the House Republican leadership wants to save by eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Americorps, and cutting money for infant nutrition, community health centers, Head Start, and rental assistance, among other things.

Open political space for a negotiated resolution

Finally, a significant reduction of U.S. troops in Afghanistan would create political space in Afghanistan for a negotiated political resolution to end the war, as Afghan President Karzai and others have argued.

As Reuters reported on March 2:

“Admitting that there was ‘friction’ with his Western allies over strategy in Afghanistan, Karzai said he had told his allies the military surge should be scaled back to permit negotiations. ‘The military is less inclined to accept it (this argument). The political side, the civilian side, is more inclined to it,’ he said.”

“Substantial drawdown” isn’t pie in the sky. Congress can make it happen. Urge your Representative to speak up.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

Conyers, McKeon: Petraeus Must Testify on Afghanistan Review

3:26 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Representative John Conyers, Chair of the Congressional Out of Afghanistan Caucus, is pressing President Obama to make General David Petraeus available to testify on the Administration’s review of Afghanistan policy, Amanda Terkel reports for the Huffington Post. Thirty Democratic Members of Congress have joined Rep. Conyers in a letter to President Obama, urging the President to make Petraeus available to testify early in the new Congress. California Rep. Buck McKeon, incoming chair of the House Armed Services Committee, has also called for Petraeus to testify, so this is a request that will be hard for the Administration to ignore.

Rep. Conyers’ request is straightforward. As the Democrats’ letter notes, “the enormous cost and importance of our war policy in Afghanistan warrants vigorous constitutionally-mandated congressional oversight as early as possible next year.” General Petraeus is the principal author of current Administration claims of “progress.” To conduct effective oversight, Congress should call Petraeus to testify.

The Politico reported in November that the Administration was trying to bury the Afghanistan review, because they new that after a year of the current military escalation policy, their claims of progress were thin. The Administration doesn’t want Petraeus to testify, Politico reported, because it does not want to call attention to the fact that military escalation has failed.

As the Los Angeles Times and the New York Timeshave reported, the consensus reports of U.S. intelligence agencies contradict the rosy claims of progress of the White House/Pentagon review. Congressional testimony by Petraeus will call attention to the contradiction between claims of “progress” and the more pessimistic – and realistic – assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies.

This is important for ending the war, because while US officials have conceded rhetorically that there will be no military victory, and that the end of the war will include a negotiated political settlement with the Afghan Taliban, actual U.S. policy today isn’t centered on political negotiations to end the war. Actual U.S. policy today is still centered on the escalation of military force. In order to compel U.S. policy to focus on political negotiations to end the war, Washington resignation and acceptance that military escalation has failed and will continue to fail must become stronger than it is today.

Thus, the nose of official Washington must be rubbed in this failure as often and as intensely as possible.

People rightly complain that there is not enough controversy and not enough reporting about Afghanistan policy, but part of the reason for this absence is that major news media tend reflect what Washington is talking about. Put Petraeus on the witness stand; I guarantee the press will come.

Bogus Afghan “Review” Shows Need for Journalism on Classified Information

10:29 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Today, the Obama Administration is announcing the results of its promised” “review” of Afghanistan policy, a year after President Obama acceded to the demands of the Pentagon to send 30,000 more troops. The top line of the story the Administration is presenting is “progress,” and the main evidence for that “progress” is the say-so of General Petraeus and his subordinates.

But the collective assessment of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies gives a very different picture. In particular, the intelligence agencies say Pakistan remains unwilling to stop providing support and sanctuary for members of the Afghan Taliban.

Many experts inside and outside of the U.S. government believe that if it persists, the unwillingness of Pakistan to stop providing support and sanctuary for members of the Afghan Taliban will be fatal to current U.S. strategy. And many experts inside and outside of the U.S. government believe that there is no reason to expect that the unwillingness of Pakistan to stop providing support and sanctuary for members of the Afghan Taliban will not persist, because Pakistan’s policy is based on deeply held beliefs about Pakistan’s core national security interests, and how they see those core interests as threatened by what they perceive to be the pro-India U.S. policy in Afghanistan. There is no indication that what the Pakistanis perceive to be a pro-India U.S. policy in Afghanistan will change, so there is no reason to believe that the Pakistani policy to respond to U.S. policy will change.

For example, as the Guardian reported, in one of the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson wrote in September 2009 that

“there is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance … as sufficient compensation for abandoning support to these groups”

And, the Guardian also reported, citing another cable released by WikiLeaks:

The army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, had been “utterly frank” about the consequences of a pro-India government coming to power in Kabul, noted a 2009 briefing in advance of his visit to Washington. “The Pakistani establishment will dramatically increase support for Taliban groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which they see as … an important counterweight.”

So this conclusion of the intelligence agencies about Pakistan is a very damning indictment of present U.S. policy. Current U.S. policy in Afghanistan is premised on a belief that Pakistan’s relationship to Afghanistan’s insurgencies will change, when there is no reason to believe that it will change, absent a change in U.S. policy to accommodate Pakistan’s interests.

And the reason that we know that the collective assessments of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies give a very different picture than the “progress” story that the Administration is presenting to the public today is that news outlets such as the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times have reported on the National Intelligence Estimates for Afghanistan and Pakistan, even though the NIEs are classified.

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday [my emphasis throughout the following]:

Two new assessments by the U.S. intelligence community present a gloomy picture of the Afghanistan war, contradicting a more upbeat view expressed by military officials as the White House prepares to release a progress report on the 9-year-old conflict.

The classified intelligence reports contend that large swaths of Afghanistan are still at risk of falling to the Taliban, according to officials who were briefed on the National Intelligence Estimates on Afghanistan and Pakistan, which represent the collective view of more than a dozen intelligence agencies.

The reports, the subject of a recent closed hearing by the Senate Intelligence Committee, also say Pakistan’s government remains unwilling to stop its covert support for members of the Afghan Taliban who mount attacks against U.S. troops from the tribal areas of the neighboring nation. The officials declined to be named because they were discussing classified data.
[...]
Pakistan, which is due to receive $7.5 billion in U.S. civilian aid over three years, denies secretly backing the Taliban. However, intelligence gathered by the U.S. continues to suggest that elements of Pakistan’s security services arm, train and fund extremist militants, according to military and State Department documents disclosed this year by WikiLeaks.

[...]
Key members of Congress are watching the Obama strategy warily. “Our political and diplomatic efforts are not in line with our military efforts,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who is under consideration as the next chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.”It may be time to consider a smaller troop footprint.”

Speaker-designate John Boehner announced yesterday that Rogers will indeed be chair.

The New York Times reported:

As President Obama prepares to release a review of American strategy in Afghanistan that will claim progress in the nine-year-old war there, two new classified intelligence reports offer a more negative assessment and say there is a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border.
[...]
The findings in the reports, called National Intelligence Estimates, represent the consensus view of the United States’ 16 intelligence agencies, as opposed to the military, and were provided last week to some members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. The findings were described by a number of American officials who read the reports’ executive summaries.
[...]
The White House review comes as some members of Mr. Obama’s party are losing patience with the war. “You’re not going to get to the point where the Taliban are gone and the border is perfectly controlled,” said Representative Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat who serves on the Armed Services Committee and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, in an interview on Tuesday.

Mr. Smith said there would be increasing pressure from the political left on Mr. Obama to end the war, and he predicted that Democrats in Congress would resist continuing to spend $100 billion annually on Afghanistan.

Note that the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times cite unnamed officials, and then quote members of the Intelligence Committee. It’s a reasonable guess that Rep. Rogers and Rep. Smith are familiar with the contents of the NIEs, and that they are among the unnamed sources.

Today, the Washington Post reports on the White House/Pentagon review:

A White House review of President Obama’s year-old Afghan war strategy concluded that it is “showing progress” against al-Qaeda and in Afghanistan and Pakistan but that “the challenge remains to make our gains durable and sustainable,” according to a summary document released early Thursday.
[...]
The overview of the long-awaited report contained no specifics or data to back up its conclusions. The actual assessment document is classified and will not be made public, according to an administration official who said that interested members of Congress would be briefed on it in January.

This example shows why we need journalism on classified information, including WikiLeaks. If the assessment of the 16 intelligence agencies is different from the White House/Pentagon review, the public need to know that in order to have an informed opinion.

We know that the majority of Americans already believe the war in Afghanistan to be a pointless enterprise:

Sixty percent of Americans now say the war is not worth fighting, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, a more than 20-point rise since Obama’s election.

As Think Progress notes, “the same poll shows that while Americans want Obama’s primary focus to be on the economy, their second priority is to bring the troops home from Afghanistan – more than reducing the deficit.”

We know that many Afghanistan experts believe the same thing. In an open letter to President Obama, experts with decades of experience in the country are saying that

With Pakistan’s active support for the Taliban, it is not realistic to bet on a military solution.

The Taliban’s leadership has indicated its willingness to negotiate, and it is in our interests to talk to them.

The experts ask President Obama to “sanction and support a direct dialogue and negotiation with the Afghan Taliban leadership residing in Pakistan.”

The Red Cross says Afghanistan security has deteriorated to its worst point since 2001 and is preventing aid groups from reaching victims of conflict. Access “in 30 years has never been as poor and as difficult as it is today,” said the head of the Afghanistan Red Cross office.

But there is a fundamental difference between knowing that an outside expert thinks something and knowing that a U.S. government official thinks it, especially when it is the job of the U.S. government official to have definitive expertise on the subject. The fact that consensus assessment of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies is different from the White House review is a fact in its own class. When the 16 intelligence agencies concluded that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons research program, that helped prevent U.S. war with Iran, as former President George W. Bush acknowledged in his memoirs.

That’s why we need journalism on classified information. That’s why we need whistleblowers like former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who revealed not only that the Iraq-Niger uranium story was false, but that Bush Administration officials knew it to be dubious at the time that they used it as a key public argument for going to war with Iraq.

And that’s why we need WikiLeaks. As former FBI agent Coleen Rowley has suggested, if WikiLeaks had been around in 2001, government whistleblowers would have had an outlet for their concerns about government inaction in the face of what they believed was an impending terrorist attack, and perhaps the events of 9/11 could have been prevented, a suggestion recently echoed by Representative Jim McDermott.

Rep. McDermott continued:

“The American people have the right to know. The most important of our freedoms is free speech. The First Amendment is what makes a democracy work. If the public doen’t know what’s going on, then they can’t vote intelligently and when the government wants to hide stuff, then the people are cut off from information.”

Vietnam War whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg – who is getting arrested at the White House today in protest of the current wars – suggests that if we had a whistleblower like Bradley Manning before the Iraq war, the war could have been prevented: “I also say we invaded Iraq illegally because of a lack of a Bradley Manning at that time.” Indeed, Senator Durbin – who inexplicably asserted that WikiLeaks and Julian Assange are nothing like Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers – said in April 2007 that as an intelligence committee member he knew in 2002 from classified information that the American people were being misled by the Bush Administration into a war with Iraq, but could not reveal this because he was sworn to secrecy.

This is a key reason that the attacks on WikiLeaks are so outrageous. As Human Rights Watch notes, if the U.S. prosecuted Julian Assange for releasing classified State Department cables “this would imperil media freedom everywhere.” The attacks on WikiLeaks are attacks on the freedom of the public to access information that we need in order to make informed judgments about U.S. policy; in particular, information that we need to end current wars and prevent future ones.

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has a letter in support of WikiLeaks here.

You can tell President Obama here that he should keep the promise of a significant drawdown of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in 2011.

The Richard Holbrooke Memorial Peace Talks to End the Afghan War

9:24 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

When a Member of Congress dies, sometimes other Members name a bill after that Member that advances some cause identified with the Member. So, for example, we had the “Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act” – Kennedy was a champion of volunteer service.

Such naming has multiple effects. Of course it honors the departed. But, like the Spanish hero El Cid, whose companions suited him up and placed him on his horse to drive off their foes, it also gives the departed one last ride into battle. When you name something the “Our esteemed colleague who just passed” Act, you’re laying down a challenge – don’t leave this one on the cutting room floor. And everyone gets to cheat death a little by giving the departed one last accomplishment associated with that person’s name.

The uncompleted challenge of Richard Holbrooke’s diplomatic career was a peace deal in Afghanistan. It was the hope of many that Holbrooke would help broker a peace deal between the warring factions in Afghanistan and between their regional patrons that would end the war. This hope was encouraged by Holbrooke’s role in negotiating the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the war in Bosnia.

This unfinished business was apparently very much on Holbrooke’s mind as they prepared him for surgery from which, presumably, he had some inkling that he might not return.

You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan,” Holbrooke said, according to family members.

Are peace talks to end the war a pipe dream? Not according to many Afghanistan experts with decades of experience in the country.

In a letter to President Obama, the experts argue that

- With Pakistan’s active support for the Taliban, it is not realistic to bet on a military solution.

- The Taliban’s leadership has indicated its willingness to negotiate, and it is in our interests to talk to them.

The experts ask President Obama to “sanction and support a direct dialogue and negotiation with the Afghan Taliban leadership residing in Pakistan.”

The signers of the letter include people whose names one sees regularly cited as experts on Afghanistan in major U.S. media: Ahmed Rashid, Gilles Dorronsoro, Anatol Lieven, and Alex Strick van Linschoten. That they are experts with many years of experience in Afghanistan does not prove that they are right; it proves that their proposal deserves a fair hearing.

This week finds us at another fork in the road, as the Administration reviews its Afghanistan policy one year after the last major decision to escalate militarily. The Pentagon has lobbied hard for this review to not to have any meaningful policy consequences. It would be a grave mistake to allow the Pentagon to dictate this. The failure of military escalation to produce any meaningful positive result should have the consequence that the Administration moves much more aggressively to support meaningful peace talks with the Afghan Taliban leadership and the Pakistani military to end the war.

Suit Holbrooke up in his armor, and place him on his horse. We need real peace talks now.

Stan Greenberg: Afghanistan War Likely Cause of Primary Challenge

8:48 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Press reports have suggested that Administration officials are trying to make Democratic voters forget that the Administration promised to start drawing down troops from Afghanistan in July 2011 by “pivoting” to the “aspirational goal” that “most” U.S. “combat troops” will be withdrawn by 2014. The Administration still says it will withdraw some troops in July 2011, but press reports suggest that the Administration may try to make this a “symbolic” withdrawal, not the “serious drawdown” (as Speaker Pelosi put it) involving “a whole lot of people” (as Vice-President Biden put it) that Democrats were led to expect.

But if these press reports about Administration strategy are correct, Administration political strategists may have another think coming. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg suggests that continued escalation of the war in Afghanistan would be likely to draw a primary challenge, the Christian Science Monitor reports:

As Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg was leaving a Monitor breakfast last week, he was asked about the possibility that President Obama might face a Democratic primary challenge in 2012.

Mr. Greenberg’s two-word answer: “Watch Afghanistan.”

As the Monitor notes, a recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 62 percent of Democrats say US troops should not be in Afghanistan.

Note that the same Quinnipiac poll found military families split on the war, “with 49 percent backing the US role and 47 percent saying the troops should come home.” That suggests significant dissent among the troops, because if every GI Jane and Joe is telling Mom and Dad that the war makes sense and the prospects are good, you wouldn’t expect half of military families to say that US troops shouldn’t be there. Dissenting troops tend to produce dissenting veterans. Dissenting veterans tend to produce dissenting veteran candidates for office.

If Stan Greenberg thinks a Democratic primary is a serious prospect if the escalation of the Afghanistan war continues, then that’s a claim that cannot be dismissed. Greenberg has been studying elections for a long time, and is paid top dollar to be right more often than most other people.

A key reason that some folks don’t take this threat very seriously yet is that when they think of a primary challenge, their first thought is: “who is the candidate?” It’s a natural thought. If they can’t think who the candidate is, then it doesn’t seem like a serious threat.

But this misses the fact that the potential pool of credible candidates is actually quite large, and if you look back to the past, few people could have predicted well in advance who might emerge as a credible candidate.

To be a credible candidate for President, at least one of the following three attributes is minimally sufficient, in addition to being legally eligible and having a plausible message: a) you have a huge pile of money b) you are famous and have a big base of public support or c) you can rely upon the support of a big organization.

Now, of course, most Americans don’t have any of these three attributes. Relative to the entire population, they are rare attributes. But relative to the fact that you only need one candidate for a primary challenge, the set of Americans who have at least one of these attributes is quite large.

How many Americans would have predicted in the summer of 1991 that a year later billionaire Ross Perot would be leading President George H. W. Bush and Governor Bill Clinton in national polls? How many Americans would have predicted in the spring of 1987 that Jesse Jackson would win seven Democratic primaries and four caucuses a year later, including Delaware, Michigan, and Vermont, leading the New York Times to call 1988 the “Year of Jackson“? How many Americans would have predicted in late November 1967 when Senator Eugene McCarthy announced his candidacy for President that he would nearly defeat incumbent President Johnson in the New Hampshire primary four months later, amidst rising Democratic discontent about Vietnam? How many Americans would have predicted in 1932, when FDR was first elected promising to balance the budget, that the threat of Huey Long’s presidential candidacy would help produce the New Deal, with Roosevelt adviser Raymond Moley reporting that FDR said he wanted to “steal Long’s thunder“?

This history suggests that if conditions are right, candidates are likely to emerge. Therefore, it may not be so easy to sweep President Obama’s July 2011 drawdown promise into the dustbin of history. A Democratic Presidential candidate has a big megaphone. If some Americans forget that President Obama promised to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in July 2011, a Democratic primary candidate is likely to remind them.

If you don’t want to see this scenario play out, tell President Obama to keep his promise for a “serious drawdown” of troops in 2011.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

The Washington Post Wants Your Social Security to Pay for the War

7:37 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

For the Washington Post, there’s no such thing as a war that America can’t afford.

In an editorial Wednesday, the Washington Post takes President Obama to task for being concerned about the cost of the war in Afghanistan and the fact that it conflicts with domestic priorities. That the Washington Post, a knee-jerk supporter of war for empire, would slam President Obama for this is the opposite of surprising. Nonetheless, what the Washington Post actually said in its editorial is still breathtaking:

Mr. Obama repeatedly cites the cost of the war and the need to shift resources to domestic priorities — though spending on Afghanistan is well below 1 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.

We have been led to believe that official Washington is seized with urgency about long-term projections of U.S. budget deficits. Yet here is the Washington Post, downplaying the cost of the war in Afghanistan on the grounds that it is “well below 1 percent” of U.S. GDP.

Logically, there are two possibilities.

One possibility is that the Washington Post is saying that in the future, we can ignore any government expenditure or savings that amounts to less than 1% of U.S. GDP as being too small to bother about.

The other possibility is that according to the Washington Post there are two standards for judging costs. One standard is for war, in which an expenditure of less than 1% of GDP is too small to bother about. The other standard is for domestic spending that benefits the majority of Americans, in which a reduction of government expenditure of less than 1% of GDP is something that should be seriously considered.

Considering the Washington Post‘s view of proposals to reduce the projected long term deficit in the unified budget by cutting Social Security benefits through raising the normal retirement age to 70, it’s seems apparent that the Washington Post‘s view is the latter: if it’s for war, less than 1% of GDP is a pittance, but if it’s for America’s working families, we can’t afford it.

I asked economist Dean Baker how much raising the normal retirement age would be likely to save. He said it would be about 0.7% of GDP. Thus, according to the across-the-board “less than 1% of GDP” standard, this would be too small to bother with.

But that is not the view of the Washington Post. In a front-page news analysis on September 24, the Washington Post took Congressional Republicans to task for not “offering solutions” to “tackling the ever-growing cost of entitlement programs” in their “Pledge to America.”

What’s the very first example of a “solution” that the Washington Post complains the Congressional Republicans did not offer?

“raising the Social Security retirement age”

Therefore, the conclusion is clear. The Washington Post wants you to work until age 70 before collecting Social Security benefits – or receive reduced benefits for retiring earlier than age 70 – in order to pay for the Washington Post‘s sacred war in Afghanistan.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.