Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Unsure about Afghanistan

The other day a front page writer at DailyKos, the largest Democratic/progressive blog around, ran a poll of its members about when the U.S. should get out of Afghanistan. The results are captured above (there may in the end have been slightly more participants. I took the screen shot after about 24 hours when the post had long scrolled away into web oblivion.)

I think it's fair to say, the activists of DailyKos are unsure about Afghanistan. Immediate withdrawal got the (marginally) largest vote. Options that contemplate (maybe) a fairly quick U.S. departure (either bin Laden neutralized or less than 24 months) also showed substantial support. It seems fair to conclude that somewhere between one third and one half of these Democratic progressives want out fairly urgently.

But more than a quarter also indicate they just don't know what to do about Afghanistan. That's a lot in a place where many contributors like to demonstrate how cocksure they are.

According to an article in today's Washington Post, the Obama administration doesn't know what to do either. The troop increase they contemplate is intended simply to give them time to figure out.

They do know the U.S. is failing to meet any rational objective in Afghanistan as surely as it has in Iraq. In fact, they are casting around to figure out what the objective of the war there might be.

"We have no strategic plan. We never had one," a senior U.S. military commander said of the Bush years. Obama's first order of business, he said, will be to "explain to the American people what the mission is" in Afghanistan. ...

Obama has offered few public comments on Afghanistan since the election. "We haven't seen the kinds of infrastructure improvements; we haven't seen the security improvements; we haven't seen the reduction in narco-trafficking; we haven't seen a reliance on rule of law in Afghanistan that would make people feel confident that the central government can, in fact, deliver on its promises," he said last month on NBC's "Meet the Press." "We've got to ramp up our development approach," he said, without providing details.

The president-elect set out a "very limited" objective of ensuring that Afghanistan "cannot be used as a base to launch attacks against the United States." He cited the need for "more effective military action" -- even as he warned of fierce Afghan resistance to the presence of foreign troops -- and said the "number one goal" is to stop al-Qaeda.

I take from this that we've finally got a President who knows 1) the U.S. is not all powerful and 2) who knows when no policy prescription looks like a good choice.

All of this should imply an opportunity for the peace movement, if we can rise to it. Since Afghanistan has proved a long, costly, and mostly meaningless war with no "victory" in sight, most people (even this President) will support ending it so long as they don't think pulling out will empower al-Qaeda to kill us.

We need to do the education to get as many as possible of the wavering progressive activists on board with rapid departure. That should be possible -- Obama is not going to fix the Afghan quagmire.

The peace movement has to promote the rather simple notion that ceasing to bomb Afghan communities will actually hurt al-Qaeda recruiting.

Neither the U.S. nor some partnership with the European Union is going to change Afghan society. So far we've only empowered the more venal war lords and opium traders -- Afghans are going to have to fix their battered country themselves, though material recovery aid intelligently and respectfully offered might help. Personally, I'd like to see aid to women's groups, if possible. But aid doesn’t mean more weapons, for anyone.

Of course the most important way Obama can reduce al-Qaeda's attractiveness is by showing that strength means knocking Israeli heads in the interests of peace instead of enabling the killing of Palestinians. That would really take balls, but it is the only road to peace across the region. Not perhaps likely, but the sole road to a wider peace, nonetheless.

UPDATE: Naturally there's a blogosphere campaign about this. See Get Afghanistan Right.


amazon grace said...

Darn it, Jan, this is such an interesting, useful and thoughtful post, except for one small thing.

It would take courage, leadership, unusual insight and political will for a US president to stop enabling Israeli suppression of the Palestinians. It would not take balls. I bet Cynthia McKinney, Cindy Sheehan, or Starhawk would pull it off, all without the use of testicles.

janinsanfran said...

amazon grace -- you are right, though I really was referring to Obama who brings to mind testosterone metaphors all too easily. I wrote a post last June about how I see him deploying sexual energy as part of his charisma. This is going to be a feature (and a bug) of having him as president.

I'm not much for guys, but he sure improves on the frat boy.

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