Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

Jeff Huber’s recent piece describes the “tragic flaw” of the Obama presidency in his recent piece:

Candidate Obama stuck his nose in the wringer when he deflected criticism of his vote against the surge in Iraq by saying it took vital assets away from the effort in Afghanistan, the “war of necessity.” That may turn out to be the tragic flaw of his presidency. The war in Afghanistan is no more necessary than most other American wars have been. None of the 9/11 attackers came from Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda isn’t there any more. As best we can tell, what remains of al-Qaeda is in Pakistan, and very little remains of it.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit

Supporters of a deep investment of American blood and treasure in a long, costly and difficult counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign in Afghanistan have the obligation to clearly articulate how their proposals will lead to success. We deserve honest, well-explained justifications, not hand-waving past foundational considerations when such examinations would be inconvenient to COIN proponents. Instead, in today’s L.A. Times, John Nagl and Richard Fontaine hand-wave past such essential points as:

  • the failure of the Iraq surge;
  • the difficulties posed to COIN specifically by the corrupted elections and generally by the corrupt Kabul regime; and
  • the interplay between foreign troops supporting a corrupt government and the expansion of the insurgency.

Instead of pursuing massive counterinsurgency deployments in Afghanistan, we should begin drawing down our troops so we can lower the temperature and reduce the frighteningly quick pace of insurgent recruiting.

Nagl and Fontaine get off on the wrong foot right from the start, assuming that we share their love of counterinsurgency theory and just want COIN applied the right way:

Counterinsurgency is premised, they argue, on the presence of a legitimate national government that can win allegiance from local populations.

No, gentlemen, that’s the opponents of COIN quoting your argument back to you and accusing you of plowing ahead before you’ve established what you’ve described as a prerequisite for success. A brief reminder: In the preface to the COIN manual that Nagl wrote, Sarah Sewall calls a legitimate host nation government the “north star” of COIN operations. And, in his book, “Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife,” Nagl repeatedly cites the Five Principles of Counterinsurgency, which include:

2. The government must act within the law.

It’s awfully convenient to wave away the importance of a legitimate host nation government now that the government is tarred in a massive vote fraud scheme. By writing an op-ed dismissing the rigorous requirements he sets out in his own manual, Nagl handily avoids the central thrust of their opponents: that the presence and constantly increasing numbers of foreign forces in support of a corrupt and illegitimate central government drives insurgent recruitment.

By arguing in this way, Nagl and Fontaine are attempting to bypass the actual debate going on about the future of American foreign policy. Before they’ve exited Paragraph One, they’ve painted their opponents as people who don’t object to counterinsurgency per se, but instead just debate whether this particular situation is suited to it. That way, even if they lose the battle over COIN in Afghanistan, COIN itself escapes unscathed, its assumptions unchallenged. So let me be as crystal clear as I can be: counterinsurgency is a transparent attempt to make war palatable as a foreign policy tool. It is a prescription for decades-long military adventures at enormous cost in lives and treasure. This baby should be thrown out with the bathwater.

The op-ed doesn’t gain integrity as it goes along, unfortunately. Much of the article is consumed in detailing their preferred narrative about how the “surge” in Iraq “worked” and thus provides usable lessons for the Afghan experiment. Of course, they gloss over the fact that, not only did the surge in Iraq fail its stated objectives, but strong evidence exists that the positive impact attributed to it by conventional wisdom–the subsequent drop in inter-ethnic violence–can be more elegantly explained by other factors. Take, for example, a study by Environment and Planning A:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Satellite images taken at night show heavily Sunni Arab neighborhoods of Baghdad began emptying before a U.S. troop surge in 2007, graphic evidence of ethnic cleansing that preceded a drop in violence, according to a report published Friday.

The images support the view of international refugee organizations and Iraq experts that a major population shift was a key factor in the decline in sectarian violence, particularly in the Iraqi capital, the epicenter of the bloodletting in which hundreds of thousands were killed.

Minority Sunni Arabs were driven out of many neighborhoods by Shi’ite militants enraged by the bombing of the Samarra mosque in February 2006. The bombing, blamed on the Sunni militant group al Qaeda, sparked a wave of sectarian violence.

“By the launch of the surge, many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country, and they turned off the lights when they left,” geography professor John Agnew of the University of California Los Angeles, who led the study, said in a statement.

“Essentially, our interpretation is that violence has declined in Baghdad because of intercommunal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning,” said Agnew, who studies ethnic conflict.

From the study’s conclusion:

Our findings suggest that in these terms the surge has had no observable effect, except insofar as it has helped to provide a seal of approval for a process of ethno-sectarian neighborhood homogenization that is now largely achieved but with a tremendous decline in the extent of residential intermixing between groups and a probable significant loss of population in some areas. That is the message we take from the nighttime light data we have presented. Furthermore, the nighttime light signature of Baghdad data when matched with ground data provided by the report to the US Congress by Marine Corps General Jones and various other sources, makes it clear that the diminished level of violence in Iraq since the onset of the surge owes much to a vicious process of interethnic cleansing. This might resume if US forces withdraw. But as the case we have made strongly implies, the massive residential segregation and population loss happened anyway even when US forces were present in increased numbers. Perhaps they are not as central to events in Baghdad and Iraq as US government and popular opinion seems to believe. They certainly have not been over the past two years.

Ethnic cleansing in the magnitude of hundreds of thousands of people is not success, and the surge didn’t cause it. [Side note: The fact that the “surge worked!” myth has become accepted truth is a real problem for the anti-war movement, and we should be more aggressive in combating it. If we don’t, it will end up in the history books.] Nagl and Fontaine just hand-wave past establishing whether and how the outcome of the Iraq surge should be considered a “success” and just plow ahead, hands waving, into the lessons we should take from it.

Oh, and by the way, since they brought up Iraq…I seem to recall Nagl saying something about Iraq like

In truth, the establishment of a legitimate, functioning government is the surest means to fostering a lasting peace.

The hand-waving continues as we go along:

This is not to say that a stolen presidential election is meaningless. But our main goal should be helping the Afghan government work at the local level — providing the marginal but tangible improvements in security, governance and prosperity that ordinary Afghans say they want, and stopping the corruption and abuses they personally contend with and resent.

If it’s not meaningless, how does it bear on the situation? They never tell us. And that’s the point. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for, move along. If their readers refuse to be distracted by gesticulations, though, they might find that the most recent UN report on the security situation in Afghanistan said:

The level of alleged electoral irregularities has generated significant political turbulence leading to fears of a return to violence when election results are announced.

Readers might also discover that troop levels and government corruption are two of the main reasons insurgents give for taking up arms. From a recent DFID study:

Religious motivation is only one of several reason for joining or supporting the Taliban or Hizb-i Islami. A religious message does resonate with the majority but this is mainly because it is couched in terms of two keenly felt pragmatic grievances: the corruption of government and the presence of foreign forces.

Readers might also discover that every increase in yearly troop levels in Afghanistan has been accompanied by a yearly increase in civilian casualty rates since the UN started counting and by swiftly expanding numbers of locals taking up arms against the foreign occupier and corrupt central government. Never let on that more troops in more places will mean more fighting and more dead civilians. Wave the hands, distract the audience, palm the COIN.

By the way, Nagl is not willing to say “no” to “year sixteen of Afghanistan.” Are you?

Steve Hynd has more.

My wife and I went back to D.C. in January for the inauguration of Barack Obama. We’d lived and worked and volunteered in Washington during the absolute worst years for the progressive movement–the Tom Delay Congress–and danced in the halls in the Cannon House Office Building the night we retook Congress. Our journey to pacifism took us out of Washington, D.C. just before Obama won the 2008 election, but we planned to make one last pilgrimage to D.C. in January to celebrate our friends’ victory and to pay our respects to a life from which we were walking away.

Right before we left for the inauguration, I got an email from Alliance for Justice announcing an event the day before the ceremony. The event was called, “Driving Change: The Role of Activists During the Obama Administration.” Bradley Whitford was slated to speak, and like good West Wing fans, we signed up. Van Jones was also on the program.

I confess that, even though we stood in the freezing cold for hours and hours to hear it, I cannot recall even generally what Obama said in his inaugural address. I don’t remember what Bradley Whitford said, either. But I remember Van Jones’ speech. I thought of the speech a few nights ago when someone forwarded me the results of the Netroots Nation 2009 straw poll. Here are some excerpts.

Van’s words came to mind as I opened my email because the results from the straw poll at Netroots Nation 2009 show a significant shift among NN09 participants away from a focus on anti-war advocacy. Results from two of the questions that dealt with anti-war activism show that very, very few activists rank “working to end our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan” among their top two issues, and a whopping one percent listed this work as the issue on which they spend most of their time.

Straw Poll Question 11 From Netroots Nation

Straw Poll Question 11 From Netroots Nation

Straw Poll Question 12 From Netroots Nation

Straw Poll Question 12 From Netroots Nation

Compare these results to those from 2008. The two sets of results are not perfectly comparable because the questions were phrased differently, but the disparities remain alarming.

  • Last year, 11 percent listed “the war in Iraq” as their top concern, placing it within 8 points of the top concern of the plurality of attendees.
  • When asked what their second concern was, “the war in Iraq” won a plurality among 2008 attendees with 17 percent.
  • Twenty-three percent of 2008 attendees listed “the war in Iraq” as their preferred top priority for the incoming administration, again a plurality.

These results clearly show that among Netroots Nations participants, far fewer 2009 participants prioritized ending the wars than last year’s participants.

What happened?

Deciphering this marked shift is complicated. My bet, however, is that the shift can be accounted for by several interlocking factors:

  • Adding Afghanistan to the question in 2009 may have screened out respondents who might have listed this among their priorities if it mentioned Iraq or Afghanistan independently.
  • Many progressives who focused on stopping the war(s) this year thought their job was done after the election/Obama’s announcement of an end-date to the occupation in Iraq.
  • The fact that a Democratic president presides over this ever-expanding military policy depresses attendees’ enthusiasm for challenging it.

The first explanation, if it is true, would probably mean that ending the Afghanistan war arouses considerably less enthusiasm than did ending the Iraq war. But, if that’s the case, it indicates a disconnect between NN09 attendees and progressives generally. Recent polling shows roughly 75 percent of Democrats oppose the Afghanistan war. Most of the arguments in favor of ending the Iraq war apply equally well, if not more so, to the Afghanistan excursion. If this explanation is true then it shows that NN09-ers need to catch up to the rest of the ‘roots.

The second explanation–that the netroots lack urgency over this issue following Obama’s election–speaks to a lack of stamina on the part of online progressive activists. Electing a politician–any politician–is only half of the job. Pointing to the election of a supposed peace candidate as the “win” is awfully convenient for the candidate. But hey guys–remember these words?

These are the stakes: To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.

That’s a campaign ad from a Democrat named Lyndon Baines Johnson. The election is a win, but it is not the win. Voting and organizing on behalf of a candidate is only a tactic, not a strategy–it supports a strategy to get your government to do something. A successful strategy would include public pressure after the campaign to get the politician to act on his campaign promises or to enact an agenda modified to include your demands whether or not they comprised his/her original platform. But voting for a peace candidate and then moving on to other issues is a sure-fire way to end up in another Vietnam. (Don’t look now…) At last count, there were still about 130,000 troops in Iraq, and the Obama Administration is considering another troop increase in Afghanistan. We’re not finished.

The third explanation is related to the second and speaks to our willingness to work to hold the president accountable and to pressure him to enact policies that align with the the views of those who worked to get him into office. If you look at the election as a win or a loss through the lens of particular issues, then the 2008 election was a win for Republicans on Afghanistan. The policy supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats is the policy being enacted.

If we want a progressive foreign policy, we’re going to have to fight for it. Correction, we’re going to have to fight him for it. Policymakers always portray their elections as blanket public endorsements of their entire agenda, but as CNN’s recent poll shows, that’s not the case. It’s our job as activists to support the policies with which we agree and to work to excise those policies with which we disagree, even if they are policies on which the President campaigned. This straw poll shows that we still haven’t got that particular memo. The percentage of NN09 participants who report spending most of their time “working to enact President Obama’s agenda generally” is ten times greater than those spending most of their time working to end our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. For progressive activists with anti-war principles, that number should be terrifying.

We need progressive activists to work to enact many aspects of President Obama’s agenda, that’s true. But just as important–perhaps more importantly–we need progressives to fight to create political space for the President to grow even beyond his original platform, and we need progressives to drag him out of the worst paradigms of the Bush years. And nowhere is this effort more important than in regard to Afghanistan and the larger frame of the War on Terrortm, which the president rejects in the explicit language of his rhetoric but to which he clings in his assumptions about the proper response to international terrorism.

The war in Afghanistan will eclipse the cost of the Iraq war, with all of the opportunity cost that implies. It’s killing massive numbers of civilians and dragging us into moral culpability for the actions of a warlord-ridden narco-state. And as recent statements by senior Obama Administration officials show, no one in the administration has any idea what success looks like or how the war will end.

Not to mention, there are still 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, whose generals daily hatch new schemes to reinvigorate the apparatus of the occupation.

The election was a win for the anti-war movement in this country, but it was not the win. We’ve made great strides, including the election of Barack Obama. It would be a catastrophe if we blew it now, after we’ve come so far, because we took our eye off the ball.

The Washington Post today published a report warning that the deepening U.S. involvement in Afghanistan will be far more costly than the Iraq War.

As the Obama administration expands U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, military experts are warning that the United States is taking on security and political commitments that will last at least a decade and a cost that will probably eclipse that of the Iraq war.

…Aid expenditures, excluding the cost of combat operations, have grown exponentially, from $982 million in 2003 to $9.3 billion last year.

The costs are almost certain to keep growing. The Obama administration is in the process of overhauling the U.S. approach to Afghanistan, putting its focus on long-term security, economic sustainability and development. That approach is also likely to require deployment of more American military personnel, at the very least to train additional Afghan security forces.

These growing costs mean that many of the criticisms Democrats leveled at President Bush’s Iraq policies now apply equally well to the misguided U.S. policies in Afghanistan. Take, for example, the rhetoric of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

If we could not afford the war in Iraq, we certainly cannot afford the war in Afghanistan. To learn more, watch Part Three of Rethink Afghanistan: The Cost of War.

Kill the Bill!

Posted: June 5, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

A rare opportunity just emerged to kill the supplemental appropriations bill funding operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here’s a quick summary of the politics around the legislation. Here’s a shorter version: items attached to the legislation provoked blocs of Republicans and Democrats into opposition. The White House lobbies hard for this legislation, but if you call in to your members right now, you can help kill this bill and force it to come up for debate again…meaning we get more chances to attach items to the legislation demanding swift withdrawal of our forces.

Locate your member of Congress, call them, and tell them:

Vote no on the supplemental appropriations bill.

Congressional switchboard: 202.224.3121.

Donald Rumsfeld earned considerable scorn from across the ideological spectrum for his attitude toward post-war planning. One episode in particular illustrated his Defense Department’s attitude toward post-invasion planning:

In a piece from October 2004 entitled “Pre-war planning was non-existent,” Knight Ridder reported on a meeting held at a US Air Force base just days before the start of the war in March 2003. The meeting was held to discuss the plans to oust Mr. Hussein and restore democracy in Iraq. When the presentation came to the subejct [sic] of postwar Iraq, the slide being shown said ” To Be Provided.”

The Knight Ridder story detailed the results of this lack of planning:

In fact, some senior Pentagon officials had thought they could bring most American soldiers home from Iraq by September 2003. Instead, more than a year later, 138,000 U.S. troops are still fighting terrorists who slip easily across Iraq’s long borders, diehards from the old regime and Iraqis angered by their country’s widespread crime and unemployment and America’s sometimes heavy boots.

The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency was particularly aggressive in its forecasts, officials said. One briefing occurred in January 2003. Another, in April 2003, weeks after the war began, discussed Saddam’s plans for attacking U.S. forces after his troops had been defeated on the battlefield.

Similar warnings came from the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and the CIA’s National Intelligence Council. The council produced reports in January 2003 titled “Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq” and “Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq.”

Unlike the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in which Iraqi troops were trying to maintain their grip on Kuwait, “they are now defending their country,” said a senior defense official, summarizing the Joint Staff’s warnings. “You are going to get serious resistance. This idea that everyone will join you is baloney. But it was dismissed.”

Many of us opposed to the Iraq war heaped scorn on Rumsfeld and his subordinates for the irresponsibility of planning a war and refusing to plan for the post-war period. Because the U.S. failed to do serious intellectual work to contemplate the contingencies possible after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the administration was caught off guard by the emergence of opposition to their post-war agenda for the country. Here, the administration typified a phenomenon described in Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power:

“Most people believe that they are in fact aware of the future, that they are planning and thinking ahead. They are usually deluded: What they are really doing is succumbing to their desires, to what they want the future to be. Their plans are vague, based on their imaginations rather than their reality. They may believe they thinking all the way to the end, but they are really only focusing on the happy ending, and deluding themselves by the strength of their desire.”

Ironically, this passage could apply equally well to either the Defense Department’s behavior during the early phases of the Iraq war or to the peace and justice movement’s behavior during and after the 2006 congressional elections and the 2008 presidential elections. In both 2006 and 2008, once the strategy of our movement became largely electoral, we mistook Election Day’s victory for “Mission Accomplished,” leaving us unprepared for the fierce resistance to our agenda following our successful toppling of the opposing regime. With evidence mounting that MoveOn has thrown in with the militarists on Afghanistan, with the preferred presidential candidate of the anti-war movement now busily expanding one or two wars (depending on whether you view the war in Afghanistan and the “covert” war in Pakistan as one war or two) and the party swept into Congressional control on anti-war sentiment busily cramming more and more money into the War Department, it’s pretty obvious that the anti-war movement’s post-election strategy remains “To Be Provided.”

MoveOn’s defection robs the anti-war movement of one of its most effective structures for collective action, and without that structure the movement’s unity and strategic vision have taken a body blow. I commend folks working to pressure them back into the fold, but at some point we’re going to have replace them with new structures. A new “mother-ship” database would be a good place to start.

But just as important as new structures is new vision–a strategic reset triggered by the realization that the anti-war movement was never about electing a politician but about affecting government policies. The election of Barack Obama in 2008 and the election of more Democrats in 2006 were not ends in themselves but means to the ends–ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (if the anti-war movement is truly an anti-war, vs. anti-Republican-led-war, movement). Now is a good moment to begin that reset, because a new, solid target has appeared on the horizon: the 2010 National Defense Authorization (NDAA).

Even though it’s a “budget” document, the NDAA is an authorizing document, not an appropriations document; in general, it sets policy rather than appropriating funds (although in rare instances a relatively tiny amount of appropriations get tacked on to the NDAA, but that’s not its primary function). Therefore, it’s a prime vehicle for setting restrictions on U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. For example, debate around a recent NDAA focused on whether or not to revoke Congressional authorization for the ongoing occupation in Iraq. So while it doesn’t have a sexiness of a half-trillion dollar, earmark-laden Christmas tree, it can be a powerful vehicle for forcing public debate and broad policy changes.

Congress will utilize the following process to craft the NDAA: (the Senate follows a similar legislative process; I focus on the House as it’s the chamber with which I am most familiar):

  • House Armed Services subcommittees will meet to craft their portions of the legislation. They will hold hearings to gather testimony (often testimony invited from experts who tend to back the chairman’s intended policy choices), and then hold a final hearing to pass their subcommittees’ portion of the NDAA. During this process, the chairs of the subcommittees work behind the scenes with the chair of the full committee to ensure their subcommittees’ portions of the legislation are acceptable. They also feel out other committee members to gather intelligence about possible challenges and amendments that could be presented that are germane to their subcommittee’s product. This part of the process is critical–it creates the starting point for the final legislation, and, due to the complexity of the full NDAA, this represents one of the only true opportunities for in-depth consideration of each component.
  • The full House Armed Services Committee (HASC) will have a full committee hearing, where the various initial components of the NDAA crafted by the subcommittees are gathered and folded into the larger bill. At this point, the behind-the-scenes wrangling over needed changes to these various pieces becomes public: during each subcommittee chair’s presentation of their legislation, the other members of the committee may challenge their assumptions or offer amendments–or oppose the subcommittee’s draft language altogether. Important changes can be made at this stage, but because the entire bill is under consideration, in-depth discussion of any particular piece can be undermined by time constraints and the exhaustion of members of Congress as the hearing drags on. After each piece is presented by the various subcommittee chair (a process that takes hours), a final vote is held on approving the legislation for consideration by the full House.
  • A Rule is passed by the House Rules Committee that sets the ground rules for consideration of the NDAA. The shape of this rule can deeply affect the outcome of the legislation as it decides how vulnerable the legislation will be to amendment, while also potentially limiting parliamentary challenges to the legislation like points of order or motions to recommit the legislation to the originating committee. The rule also determines the length of time the House will set aside for debate on the legislation.
  • The NDAA is scheduled for consideration by the full House of Representatives. During this process the chair of HASC and the ranking member of the minority party split the bloc of time in half, which they then subdivide among members wishing to speak about the legislation. If the rule allows for amendments to the legislation, amendments are offered and debated. The final bill is passed if it survives any potential parliamentary challenges like points of order or motions to recommit it to the committee.
  • The House and Senate must pass identical versions of the NDAA. If the bills which emerged from the two chambers’ legislative processes are not identical (and this almost never happens on any legislation of substance), the two chambers appoint conferrees to a conference committee to work out a compromise bill. This conference report is then reported back to each chamber, where members vote on it. Once it passes, it is sent to the President for his signature.

This process provides an opportunity for the anti-war movement to refocus on our overriding goal: to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each of these steps provides opportunities for citizens to influence the process and for creative public education. Focus on affecting the process can help our movement–fractured by our failure to plan for continued public pressure beyond an electoral victory–to recreate structures that have been co-opted by the administration and by Congress.

The subcommittee process is already under way.  Here’s a list of subcommittee hearings coming in the next week:

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

10:00 a.m.; 2118 Rayburn House Office Building
House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee will meet to receive testimony on the Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Budget Request for Military Construction.

2:30 p.m.; Room SR -222; Russell Senate Office Building
The Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee will meet to receive testimony on support for military family programs, policies, and initiatives in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2010 and the Future Years Defense Program.

2:30 p.m.; Room SR-232A; Russell Senate Office Building
Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee will meet to receive testimony on strategic forces programs in review of the Defense Authorization Request forFiscal Year 2010 and the Future Years Defense Program.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

9:30 a.m.; Room SH-216, Hart Senate Office Building
The Senate Armed Services Committee will meet too receive testimony on the Department of the Navy in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2010 and the Future Years Defense Program.

1:00 p.m.; 2212 Rayburn House Office Building
The Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee will meet to receive testimony on the Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Budget Request for the U.S. Special Operations Command.

What you can do:

Find your elected representatives:

Check to see whether they serve on House Armed Services or the Senate Armed Services subcommittees. If so, call the congressional switchboard (202.224.3121), ask for your elected official and tell them:

  • “I oppose the continued occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
  • “I expect you to use the subcommittee process to explore non-military options and push for a swift end to U.S. military action on a firm timeline.”

Then, link up with anti-war groups like United for Peace and Justice and Peace Action West to participate in group actions and stay up-to-date.

Because we’re facing the consequences of a movement-wide lack of post-election planning and the loss of a major organizing structure in MoveOn, we’re in a tough time in the U.S. peace and justice movement. This is a good moment to refocus and re-engage in the policy-making process while we work to repair the damage. Take a few minutes to call your elected official and reconnect with the larger peace and justice movement.

We pulled a Rumsfeld, folks; it’s time to get moving again and repair the damage.

Large sections of both the Democratic Party and the peace and justice community continue to show considerable reluctance to protest the policies of the Obama administration, regardless of the blatant similarities between his policies (and the policies’ drawbacks) and those of President Bush.

During the Bush administration, Democrats (myself included) made a fair amount of hay trashing President Bush’s plan for a “10-year, trillion dollar war” in Iraq. Consider this statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (rightly) lambasting Bush’s listless “strategy” in Iraq:

“…President Bush is proposing, a 10-year war, a war without end, costing trillions of dollars at the expense of our military readiness…We do have a military crisis not seen since Vietnam. …Again, we cannot afford the President’s commitment in Iraq…This deployment, in addition to our military capacity, to protect the American people, is also unsustainable financially.  According to the recent report by the Joint Economic Committee, this war could end up costing American taxpayers $3 trillion.  Think of the opportunity cost of that money…”

Now, consider this from this month’s news:

Afghanistan war funding surpasses the outlay for Iraq for the first time in next year’s proposed Pentagon budget…The Pentagon’s $534 billion base budget is $21 billion, or 4 percent, larger than last year’s.


The United States could have fighting forces in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade, the top Army officer said, even though a signed agreement requires all U.S. forces to be out of Iraq by 2012.

If we couldn’t afford 10-year trillion-dollar wars under President Bush before the economic meltdown, how in the world can we afford them now? The answer is simple: we can’t.

Jeremy Scahill put it best (h/t Steve Hynd):

Ah, good thing the US quest for violent global domination was brought to a screeching halt with the November presidential election. Without Obama’s election, we’d still have an occupation of Iraq, mercenaries on the US payroll, torture of prisoners, an unending and worsening war that kills civilians in Afghanistan, regular airstrikes in Pakistan, killing civilians and an embassy the size of Vatican city in Baghdad, which was built in part on slave labor. Not to mention those crazy “Bush/Cheney” neocons running around trying to become the “CEOs” of foreign nations. Wow, glad that’s all over. Whew! And, it’s a really good thing Bush is no longer in power or else the US would come up with some crazy idea like building a colonial fortress in Pakistan to defend “US interests” in the region.

This is what happens when movements about causes get co-opted by movements about people. I voted for Obama; I wish him all the success in the world in the path of peace and justice. But right now our country continues to careen off that path because people bought the easy lie that they can rely on a Great Man to set the world to rights. Quite a lot now depends on our ability to see through the lie in time to prevent it from robbing us of the potential of the peace and justice movement we’ve built over a decades-long slog, begun long before there was an Obama to ride it to the White House. As Dr. King said,

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood — it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.”

Friends, if you don’t wake up–soon–to the fact that the President’s “success” is dependent on your holding him accountable through social action and protest, your children will be @#! lucky to grow up in even a shell of the U.S.A. of your childhood.