Archive for December, 2009

Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. The views expressed are his own. Sign our CREDO petition to reject escalation in Afghanistan & join Brave New Foundation’s #NoWar candlelight vigil on Facebook and Twitter. But make these your first steps as an activist to end this war, not your last.

UNAMA reports that civilian deaths are up more than ten percent over the first 10 months in 2009 compared to the same period last year.

The United Nations says the number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan increased in 2009 over 2008. According to the UN, in the first 10 months of this year 2,038 civilians died as opposed to 1,838 during the same period last year, an increase of 10.8 percent.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) says the vast majority of civilian deaths were due to fighting between Taliban rebels and pro-government forces. The UNAMA says 468 Afghan civilians were killed by either Afghan government forces, the US military or NATO troops.

These new numbers show that the conflict is far more dangerous for civilians than for combatants, due in large part to the use of IEDs by anti-Afghan-government forces and to the use of airstrikes by coalition forces.

Graph showing civilian deaths vs. coalition deaths
Learn more about Afghan civilian casualties at Rethink Afghanistan.

In a midterm election, you live or die by your base. The party that motivates its base to donate, volunteer and vote more effectively than the other will pick up seats in Congress. Unfortunately for Democratic incumbents, their base opposes the president’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan and wants troops brought home faster than planned. Democratic candidates for the House and Senate, then, must fight the president’s escalation if they want to mitigate their losses in 2010. If they don’t, the Democratic base should (and likely will) sit this one out.

Democrats emphatically oppose the war in Afghanistan and the president’s latest escalation. Prior to the president’s announcement at West Point, 61 percent of Democrats opposed sending more troops to Afghanistan versus 27 who supported an escalation [FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll. Nov. 17-18, 2009]. A USA TODAY/Gallup poll on November 20-22 found that 57 percent of Democrats wanted to start bringing troops home.

Ferreting out the implications of the post-escalation-announcement polling is slightly more complex, but shows a consistent picture of Democratic opposition to escalation in Afghanistan. When asked about the president’s stated policy combining another escalation with a drawdown beginning in 2011, 58 percent of Democrats expressed their support. However, when the same poll bifurcated the two components of the policy, it became clear that Democrats supported the drawdown date, not the troop increase:

  • A plurality of Democrats (43 percent) believed President Obama was sending “too many” troops.
  • 62 percent of Democrats either agreed with the timetable or wanted the troops to begin coming home sooner.

Gallup concluded:

It may be that while Democrats disagree with the specifics of the timetable as announced, they approve of the idea of having any timetable included. And it may be that while Republicans strongly disagree with the having any timetable included, they approve of the general idea of an increase of troop levels.

Democratic support for the total policy should be heavily weighted, then, toward the drawdown aspect of the plan and not the troop increase. That’s a severe problem for overly optimistic congressional Democrats who want to believe that the president’s speech made political room for them to support escalation. When November 2010 arrives, the only components of the president’s policy in evidence will be escalation and its costs, which the Democratic base loathe. Think about what that will mean if Democrats remain far more concerned with the costs of the Afghanistan policy than with the risk of terrorism (79 percent to 46 percent, respectively).

Pushing policies opposed by your base in a midterm election year is another way of asking to get wrapped in a burlap sack and hit with sticks. James Morone, writing about the health reform fight, explains [h/t Ezra Klein]:

Many Democrats are moving to whittle back health reform in order to win over moderate, fence-sitting, frightened independents.

Big mistake.

Go back and look at the midterm tsunami that swept the Democrats out of office the last time. The turnout for that wave was just 36 percent. Moderate, fence sitting independents don’t vote in midterm elections with a 36 percent turn out.

What really happened back in 1994? The Republican base — jubilant, mobilized and angry — turned out. The Democratic base — dispirited, disenchanted and demobilized — stayed home. As Democrats ponder which way to go in this latest round, they ought to read the political lessons more carefully: Short-term electoral success rests with the base, the people who got excited about “change we can believe in.” Long-term electoral success rests in designing and pushing through a program that then grows very popular.

Klein describes what happens when you jab your thumb in the eye of your base to try to scoop up independents and the spare opposition voter in a midterm cycle:

Dispirited Democrats will stay home. Energized Republicans will press their advantage. Add in that the wave of young voters who were energized by Obama’s campaign probably aren’t going to turn out for the midterm election anyway, and you’re looking at a pretty unfriendly landscape.

Congressional Democrats should already see the warning signs of an ugly election cycle in the voter-intensity tea leaves:

Among Republican respondents, 81 percent said they were definitely or probably going to vote, versus only 14 percent who were definitely or not likely to do so…Among Democrats? A woeful 56-40: Two out of every five Democrats are currently unlikely to vote.

Describing the danger of dampening Democratic turnout by pushing an Afghanistan escalation, MoveOn’s Nita Chaudhary said:

“There is no doubt Washington has to worry about how the base is reacting and feeling…It’s incredibly important heading into next year, because the base knocks on doors, makes phone calls and gives money.”

Bottom line: Congressional Democrats and their kindred spirits beyond Washington, D.C. must get over their reluctance to buck President Obama on Afghanistan if they want to get out of this election cycle with their skin on. Midterm elections are base-centered elections. Winning base-centered elections requires actions that energize the base. If the Democrats in Congress want to stanch the bleeding on this part of the electoral contest, they have to run against the president’s escalation in Afghanistan and fight it every step of the way. And if “our” representatives in Congress won’t fight the Afghanistan escalation, we have to be willing to walk away from them.  Cenk Uygur:

If that scares you and you start to worry about damaging a Democratic president, you’re never going to win at this game. You’re never going to get the policies you want. They don’t listen to reason, they listen to power…If you don’t have the stomach for being this tough on Obama and the Democrats, well then you don’t have the stomach for politics. And you will permanently be the Republican’s bitches.

Pushing an Afghanistan policy opposed by the base, supported by the opposition and that will send American boys and girls home in body bags is political malpractice, especially going into an election where more than 80 percent of your opponent’s base is ready to charge into the voting booth.  Issues exist in this election cycle other than Afghanistan, and reasons to oppose escalation in Afghanistan exist other than the purely political, but if Democrats won’t even act against escalation to save their own skins, they’ll deserve every bit of the political pain they’ll feel in November.

In 2010, I will not donate, block-walk, or phone bank for any incumbent who fails to take forceful action to stop this escalation and bring our troops home. Fair warning, Democrats: I’m not alone.

Tear the Sky Apart with Light

Posted: December 25, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Before the marvel of this night
adoring fold your wings and bow,
then tear the sky apart with light
and with your news the world endow,
proclaim the birth of Christ and peace,
that fear and death and sorrow cease.
Sing peace, sing peace, sing gift of peace, sing peace, sing gift of peace.

The love that we have always known,
our constant joy and endless light,
now to the love-less world be shown,
now break upon it’s deathly night.
Into one song compress the love
that rules our universe above.
Sing love, sing love, sing God is love, sing love, sing God is love.

Jaroslav Vajda, Before the Marvel of This Night.

A Child Is Born

Posted: December 25, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child as been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 7:5-6, NRSV

Our Journey To Smile just published a new video showing Afghan youth calling for peace. Check it out:

Hakim with Our Journey To Smile is a semi-regular commenter on Return Good for Evil.

This is great work, Hakim. Keep it up.

AFP reports that a NATO airstrike from a helicopter gunship killed three civilian men and wounded a woman in Kandahar province, Afghanistan.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) press release claims the helicopter crew fired at men placing IEDs next to the road and afterwards “discovered civilians in a car adjacent to the IED site.”

On Thursday, a “roadside mine” killed another seven civilians in Kandahar province.

Expect more civilian casualties as President Obama’s latest escalation sends more troops into Kandahar. Most civilians killed by insurgents die from IEDs and suicide attacks, while airstrikes in support of troops in combat account for most civilians killed by NATO and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. When this summer’s Operation Khanjar pushed into Helmand province, anti-Kabul-government forces responded by laying more IEDs, which led to a severe spike in civilian deaths.

Based on the Helmand experience, we know sending more troops into insurgent-controlled areas will mean IED attacks. We know new IED attacks will mean many more civilian deaths, not to mention the number of civilians that will be directly killed by U.S. forces. We’re doing it anyway. The people who will be killed have a right to life that exists independently of our goals in the region. We’re essentially making a decision for them that it’s better for them to be dead than under the thumb of the Taliban. If they want to make that decision, fine, let them. But that’s not our decision.

End the war in Afghanistan. Bring the troops home.

Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. The views expressed are his own. Sign our CREDO petition to reject escalation in Afghanistan & join Brave New Foundation’s #NoWar candlelight vigil on Facebook and Twitter. But make these your first steps as an activist to end this war, not your last.

You might as well join in.