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Bipartisan Afghanistan Dissent Emerges Indiscreetly and Discreetly

July 19, 2010

Republican National Chairman Michael Steele captured headlines earlier this month when an amateur video of his remarks on Afghanistan at a fund raising event appeared on YouTube. Sounding more like an anti-war radical than the custodian of conventional conservative wisdom, Steele termed Afghanistan “Obama’s war of choice” and said the president should understand that

the one thing you don’t do is engage in a land war in Afghanistan… Because everyone who has tried over a thousand years of history has failed. And there are reasons for that. There are other ways to engage in Afghanistan without committing more troops.

Steele said the U.S. should play a “background” role in the country, “sort of shaping the changes that were necessary in Afghanistan as opposed to directly engaging troops.”

Steele’s remarks produced calls for his resignation and the outcry prompted him to issue a clarification affirming his support for the U.S. troop surge. His YouTube views on Afghanistan are, nonetheless, not so different from the concerns that are surfacing on both sides of the aisle in Congress this summer, if couched in more nuanced terms.

The ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Richard Lugar (IN), for instance, wants answers to some insistent questions on Afghanistan, and quickly. At a hearing last week, Sen. Lugar told Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, to “bring us some thought of conclusion” from a conference of foreign ministers that takes place in Kabul July 20.

Secretary of State Clinton and others attending the conference, Sen. Lugar said, should return with “a different strategy of dealing with al Qaeda cells, as opposed to tens of thousands of forces marching and occupying and trying to revamp” Afghanistan. Lugar urged the administration to define an acceptable end state in Afghanistan that would allow the U.S. to redirect scarce resources to address extremist threats from Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere. “The problem,” he said, “is that we are expending enormous resources in Afghanistan” but do not have “a clear definition of success” for civilian or military operations.

Foreign Relations Committee Chair Senator John Kerry (MA) showed no less impatience with U.S. policy. He said at the hearing, “We need a better understanding of exactly what the definition of success is in Afghanistan and what an acceptable state looks like there and how achievable it is.”

Kerry added that he was not sure that the conditions he earlier said were essential to the troop surge were being met: the presence of reliable Afghan partner troops, the availability of capable local leaders, and a realistic possibility that cleared areas could be turned over to Afghan control. “It would be avoidance if we didn’t say that this is a difficult moment in the Afghan conflict, he said. “Our progress is decidedly mixed, particularly in the south where the Taliban are strongest.”

Congressional skepticism about U.S. Afghanistan policy is following a shift in public opinion against the war. One recent poll showed that only 29% of the U.S. public has a positive view of President Obama’s handling of the war, down from 38% in January. The same poll showed that a majority now believes U.S. policies in Afghanistan will not be successful in the long-run.

There are no mass demonstrations against the Afghanistan war in the streets of U.S. cities this summer, but, quietly, public opinion is affecting Congress and beginning to turn the tide. A majority in Congress still resists requiring the administration to prepare an exit strategy and a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan, but members are hearing from constituents of all persuasions that the war is exacting an unsustainable toll on U.S. resources with nothing to show in return. No members are likely to campaign this fall on a platform to expand the war in Afghanistan. Slowly but surely, Congress is getting the message from the grass roots that war is not the answer.

9 Comments
  1. Ellen N. Duell permalink
    July 20, 2010 9:14 am

    Afghanistan is a country that has a centuries-long heritage of being composed of many parts, each governed by a warlord who had absolute power in that part of the country. That is one of the reasons that a land-war there has never been, and would never be, “winnable”.

    There is much to celebrate in Afghan culture. We should not attempt to dominate them in any way. We need to accept the fact that we are only one nation among many in our world. We need to downsize U.S. military presence in other lands. Afghanistan should be for those peoples who have lived there, whose human heritage it is.

  2. Frank Swift permalink
    July 20, 2010 1:08 pm

    It is good to see that public opinion and many politicians are now against continuing and expanding the massively wasteful war in Afghanistan and the immoral nature of it in unnecessary lost lives.

    Stopping it immediately and diecting those dollars to life enhancing investments like clean energy production and implementation would help our economy and reduce our debt far more than the “band aids” proposed by the government.

    Frank

  3. July 20, 2010 1:10 pm

    I find it encouraging that more and more people in the US are doubtful about our invasion of Afghanistan. Intelligent people I know around the world wonder about our sanity, not to mention our perception of right and wrong. The time has come for the US to let our courage dominate over our fear and join the world community as an equal. Indeed, the time has come to end the barbaric war system which is dangerously close to omnicide, disastrous to our immoral global economy and to our spaceship earth. If there are people on other planets who can observe what we’re doing as a human family, their conclusion must be that we have lost our mind and lost our soul. We are terminally ill, and we don’t have time to go to the emergency room. But as St. Paul says, where sin abounds, there grace does more abound.

  4. Sam Grossman, DVM permalink
    July 20, 2010 1:34 pm

    THE PROBLEM: WE BELIEVED THE CATCHY PHRASE, “WE ARE FIGHTING THEM OVER THERE SO THAT WE WONT HAVE TO FIGHT THEM HERE”-OR WORDS TO THAT EFFECT.

    THE REALITY: WHEN WE FIGHT THEM OVER THERE, WE END UP FIGHTING THE PEOPLE OF THE LANDS WE INVADE, WHILE THE TERRORISTS SET UP SHOP IN OTHER COUNTRIES.

    ANOTHER REALITY: OUR HOMELAND IS NO MORE SAFE THEN IT WAS ON NINE-ELEVEN.

    THE SOLUTION: SHOW OUR TROOPS THAT WE REALLY CARE ABOUT THEM BY BRINGING THEM HOME FROM AN UNTENABLE POSITION AND STRENGTHEN OUR SECURITY BY ASSIGNING THEM TO GUARDING OUR BORDERS, PORTS, UTILITY FACILITIES, AND OTHER LIKELY TARGETS OF TERRORIST ATTACKS, SUCH AS BRIDGES, TUNNELS, IMPORTANT BUILDINGS, ETC.

    ADDITIONAL BENEFITS: HIRE THE UNEMPLOYED TO ASSIST THE TROOPS IN THEIR PARTICULAR LOCALE, THUS AMELIORATING THE UNEMPLOYMENT NIGHTMARE.
    THIS WILL MAKE US MORE SECURE AND HELP OUR ECONOMIC RECOVERy, ALL THE WHILE SAVING BILLIONS EVERY MONTH.

    IF YOU AGREE WITH THE ABOVE, PLEASE FORWARD THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW, SO THAT WE REALLY WILL HAVE SECURITY AND BE ABLE TO SAVE OUR TROOPS AND THEIR FAMILIES FROM THE AGONY THAT RESULTS FROM WARFARE.

  5. Georga Grivois permalink
    July 20, 2010 2:15 pm

    It is and has been clear that this war was a mistake from the get go and I am heartbroken and dismayed that we have sacrificed so many of our wonderful young troops for such an unwinable war! Even one more day in this abomidable situation is too long and it is criminal to put our soldiers in harms way for no good cause! Bring the Troops home! We as Americans must stand up and demand this from our Government!

  6. REESORT permalink
    July 20, 2010 2:34 pm

    If we leave and the Taliban continues to provide training camps for terrorists, our military could turn them into parking lots for camels in short order. So we need to get out and stop the wasted blood and treasure.
    Or is this really all about oil pipelines and lithium?

  7. Lizzie permalink
    July 20, 2010 4:55 pm

    It’s true that we do not want to allow the Taliban or anyone else to establish training camps in Afghanistan– or anywhere else– but, as we have seen time and time again, waging war in Afghanistan will not achieve anything but tragic loss of life and staggering levels of debt for the U.S….

    We are spending a lot of money waging unwinnable war, but what if we got smart and used that money to make it worth the while of the Afghan people and their local warlords to wipe out the Taliban, et al.? There must be some way to do this. Afghanistan is a poor country, so why can’t we put our best minds to it and find a way to cut an enforcable deal with the warlords and the people that will give them income while achieving our goals? Surely such a deal would be more affordable that war. Surely we’re smart enough to figure something out.

  8. Diane H. Fabian permalink
    July 20, 2010 10:11 pm

    Fidel Castro once said that there would be no need to attack the US — the US would destroy itself economically as it feeds its addiction to war.

    Terrorism can’t be fought with conventional armies. We have known this for a long time. We know that nothing can be accomplished by military actions in Afghanistan.

    Our government has kept us at war more often than not since WWl. Over the past decade, our collective resources poured into war while the US continues to be neglected. The survival of this country will depend upon stopping war long enough to rebuild and strengthen our deeply damaged country.

  9. Bruce J. Ackerson permalink
    July 20, 2010 11:23 pm

    The Berlin meeting in 2001, where the Taliban were threatened with invasion by the USA over their slow development of the pipeline carrying Caspian oil across Afghanistan, demonstrates the US imperial corporate and geopolitical interest in a war with Afghanistan. It never has been about Al Qaeda. How else could one explain Bush’s comments a year after the Afghan invasion that Osama bin Laden’s capture or killing was simply not that important. The push at at that time was to capture the oil fields in Iraq for western oil companies (wresting them away from Chinese contractual control).

    Why is Obama in lock step with Bush Afghan policies? Either he is beholden to corporate military industrial influence due to campaign contributions or he feels he must demonstrate his military commitments to those who accuse him of being soft on defense. Either way it produces little difference between Republican or Democrat response to the all powerful military industrial complex. They will continue to make money in our never ending war economy since WW II. This insanity will eventually bankrupt us like all previous empires prove. Given our falling away from formerly expressed ideals of human rights, our imperial destruction proves a good thing.

    I am not anti-American. I love my country’s ideals. However, I support our republic, not our empire.

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