Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Current Discussion About Afghanistan

As President Obama continues to deliberate on which path he wishes to take in regard to Afghanistan, it is becoming increasingly clear that ending the war or significantly reducing the number of troops committed to the conflict are options that are not even on the table:

Mr Obama did not indicate to the bipartisan group whether he was leaning towards or against a significant troop escalation.

Instead, he suggested he was looking at the middle range of the spectrum, somewhere between a major increase in forces and a large drawdown.

''The President reiterated that we need this debate to be honest and dispense with the straw-man argument that this is about either doubling down or leaving Afghanistan,'' one senior Administration official said after the meeting.

Mr Obama also said ''his decision won't make everybody in the room or the nation happy''.

Obama even met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers yesterday to discuss various options surrounding the conflict:

Although lawmakers sought after the meeting to express bipartisan support for Obama as he makes the most far-reaching foreign policy decision of his tenure, Democrats questioned whether the Afghan government remains a viable political partner after the flawed Aug. 20 presidential election, and Republicans challenged the administration's determination to defeat the Taliban.

In recent weeks, Obama has made clear that defeating al-Qaeda is the goal of his policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the group's leadership is believed to be operating in the largely ungoverned tribal areas. His national security team will assemble Wednesday at the White House for a meeting focused on Pakistan, whose nuclear-armed government has shown more willingness recently to take on the Taliban within its borders.

So the war will apparently slog on as members of Congress continue to blindly support vague efforts in a country with which the United States has been engaged in for the last eight years. This is a familiar exercise that we have watched happen with President Bush with the only exception being that Obama is actually consulting with Congress. The end result will be the same. More troops, more money poured into a seemingly bottomless pit, more lives lost, more "accidental" bombings, and on it goes.

In the middle of all of this, the media is portraying President Obama as trying to find the "middle ground" on this issue. This has been defined by the Los Angeles Times as "somewhere between a major increase in forces and a large drawdown". As Peter Hart at FAIR points out, this is quite a large range and really isn't helpful to the discussion. Hart makes a suggestion:

If you look at polls of the public, there is very little support for sending more troops--and much more support for either keeping troop levels where they are, or decreasing the size of U.S. forces in the country. So the "middle" ground isn't so hard to locate--it's somewhere between decreasing U.S. forces or keeping them at current levels. The fact that the debate in Washington doesn't seem to reflect that is, of course, telling; perhaps a more open media debate would change that.

What would a more open media debate look like? Take a look at the line-up that was put together by the folks at Democracy Now! this morning. There coverage included:

- An interview with Rep. Barbara Lee, the only lawmaker who initially voted against going to war in Afghanistan. She has now introduced a bill to block any surge in troops.
- An interview with a woman identified as Zoya, who is a member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.
- A discussion with independent journalist Rick Rowly on this recent reporting on the return of the warlords to Afghanistan.

This is the type of reporting and news gathering that should be happening in the so-called "mainstream" media. We should not simply be hearing what is coming out of policy-makers in Washington and then be told that this is how the debate is going to be framed. We need a more in depth look into how these decisions will impact the people of Afghanistan, the financial status of the United States, and examine why other voices are not being included in this debate. It is the kind of reporting like you see on Democracy Now! or the type of filmmaking like you see in ReThink Afghanistan, the latest from Brave New Films.

Glenn Greenwald makes an interesting point that would be interesting to explore through a more open media debate:

The great fallacy at the heart of discussions of Afghanistan is this: if one can plausibly argue that a war was originally justified, then that proves that the war should continue even eight years later (there's no need for us to leave because the Taliban let Al Qaeda use that country to attack us in 2001 and therefore it's self-defense). Often, the discussion, for many war supporters, rarely progresses beyond that point. But whether a war is "justified" is a completely separate question from whether it's "wise." Just as was true for Iraq, the supposed "costs" of leaving Afghanistan are endlessly highlighted (the Taliban will return, Al Qaeda will come back, it'll be a brutal and lawless state), while the costs to the U.S. from staying -- and from continuing to be a nation in a state of perpetual war and occupation -- are virtually ignored.

and dday asks an interesting question that should be addressed as well:

So the Taliban has been in control of at least half the country for at least two years, more than enough time for Al Qaeda to pack up from the border region and reinstall themselves into these safe havens. Skelton stated specifically that if the Taliban regains hold in "all or part of Afghanistan," Al Qaeda would return to plot attack. Well, the Taliban control lots of the country. But Al Qaeda aren't there. They don't need to be.

This persistent lie about Al Qaeda's aims in the region underpins the entire case for escalation, just the way the domino theory underpinned consistent troop buildup in Vietnam. And yet nobody in the media, up to and including Chris Matthews today, has bothered to challenge this basic falsehood. Nobody has asked the question, "If Al Qaeda is so desperate to find a safe haven, why haven't they returned to Afghanistan now, when the Taliban controls large swaths of the country?" It's not like they aren't under as much threat from drone attacks in Pakistan as they would be in Afghanistan.


Will anyone present these basic facts to the "serious foreign policy" dittoheads when they go on and on with a demonstrably false argument about safe havens and how we must send as many troops as possible into danger or we'll all be killed in our beds?

With a lot of political "reporters" like NBC's Chuck Todd running around Washington, I am not holding my breath that we are going to get these questions asked.

This piece is crossposted here.


Grumpy said...

Whether we stay or leave, their will always be more loyalty to tribes and ethnic factions than to a central government. But leaving means Taliban control and a return to a safe haven for al-Qaeda. A real Catch-22.

Chris Johnson said...


So why hasn't Al Qaeda come back in droves since the Taliban has control over more than half the country for the last two years?