When they shall paint our sockets gray
And light us like a stinking fuse,
Remember that once we could say,
Yesterday we had a world to lose.
–Stanley Kunitz, Statement, Poets Against the War
Today, the New York Times reports that the Obama Administration may widen the use of unmanned aerial vehicle strikes to attempt to kill Taliban leaders inside Pakistan outside the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). And, officials inside the administration want the president to validate Bush policies authorizing commando raids across the Afghanistan/Pakistan border without the approval of the Pakistani government. These officials want to solidify the undeclared war in with elements based in Pakistan and expand it. (The article calls it a “covert war,” but how covert is a war if a search for the terms “covert war” and “pakistan” turns up more than a dozen relevant articles on the Times’ website for the past 12 months?)
The new policy proposals urge airstrikes on areas near Quetta. There’s just this one, tiny little problem:
Missile strikes or American commando raids in the city of Quetta or the teeming Afghan settlements and refugee camps around the city and near the Afghan border would carry high risks of civilian casualties, American officials acknowledge.
Pakistan is a basket-case right now…a nuclear-armed basket-case. Their economic and political spheres teeter all over the place and the civilian government lacks firm control over the military. The people of Pakistan already seethe about these airstrikes, but according to Juan Cole, this new policy of cross-border raids and airstrikes could cause Pakistani popular outrage to boil over:
But, of course, it’s not a precision sort of business, and if you strike at a village, you are likely to kill locals and civilians. And the Pakistani public is starting to really, really mind. And I think in the same way that they rebelled against the president’s overreaching, there’s going to be increasing trouble with the Pakistani public if we go on infringing against their sovereignty.
Noah Shactman over at Danger Room sounds a similar warning:
Already, some counterinsurgency specialists warn, the unmanned attacks have been destabilizing to an already-fragile Pakistan government. “If we want to strengthen our friends and weaken our enemies in Pakistan, bombing Pakistani villages with unmanned drones is totally counterproductive,” influential counterinsurgency adviser David Kilcullen recently told Danger Room. And that was before the mass protests in Lahore, the standoff between Pakistan’s two leading politicians — and these new reports, the drone war may extend even further than before.
Speaking strictly from a strategic perspective, this proposed policy is a total farce. The U.S. will dig itself deeper, widen the existing conflict, destabilize a nuclear-armed state and incite more attacks on U.S. interests.
From a moral standpoint, this new policy is repugnant. Only the most rank utilitarian calculation could justify the murder of large numbers of civilians in pursuit of opponents.
From a Christian perspective, this proposal is an abomination: there’s no way to reconcile this with Jesus’ commands to love your neighbor as yourself, much less his commands to love your enemies.
At the same time that the president’s advisors push him to expand U.S.-backed violence in Afghanistan, public opinion polling continues to show strong anxiety about official and actual policies in Afghanistan. According to the latest USA Today/Gallup poll on the issue:
American support for the war in Afghanistan has ebbed to a new low, as attacks on U.S. troops and their allies have hit record levels and commanders are pleading for reinforcements, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows.
In the poll taken Saturday and Sunday, 42% of respondents said the United States made “a mistake” in sending military forces to Afghanistan, up from 30% in February. That’s the highest mark since the poll first asked the question in November 2001 when the U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban government that sheltered al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
In January 2002, 6% of respondents called the war “a mistake.”
Those who said the war is going well dropped to 38% in the latest poll, the lowest percentage since that question was asked in September 2006.
As I’ve said before, President Obama risks his entire reserve of political capital on an escalation policy. We in the peace and justice movement have to make it politically possible for Obama to reverse U.S. policy in Afghanistan, and then we must force our policymakers–including Congress and the President–to follow through and bring our troops home. You can start by doing a few quick things:
- Call your Member of Congress and let them know you oppose escalation in Afghanistan. If you’re not sure who represents you, visit the House of Representatives website and input your address–it will give you the name of your congressperson (and, it will take you to their email form). You can reach them through the Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121. United for Peace and Justice prepared some fantastic fact sheets to help you prepare.
- Call the White House and tell the President you oppose escalation in Afghanistan: 202-456-1111.
- Sign the petition over at Rethink Afghanistan calling for oversight hearings on the Afghanistan policy.
These are just a few small steps. They are insufficient on their own to stop escalation. We’re going to have to get active in our local communities if we’re going to actually affect policy.
What are your thoughts on local actions we can take to stop an escalation?