President Obama's disappointing war plan

 In Afghanistan

Graph courtesy of Think Progress

In his speech to the nation this evening, President Obama closed the loop on a promise he made in December of 2009 to begin the process of ending the war in Afghanistan in July of 2011. That pledge was a recognition of impatience with the war effort, linking the escalation of the war with a promise to begin winding it down this year. Unfortunately, the president’s plan allows the war to last indefinitely and leaves in place almost twice as many troops as when he came in office.  The  American and Afghan people will pay the price for prolonging this disastrous policy.

Some of the media coverage portrays the plan as far more ambitious than what the military leadership was pushing for behind the scenes, but that greatly overstates the aggressiveness of the plan. Early leaks in the Wall Street Journal indicated that the Pentagon was comfortable with 5-10,000 troops withdrawing in 2011 (and we still don’t know how many of those will be support personnel rather than troops regularly engaged in combat). The New York Times called the plan a victory for Vice President Joe Biden, who has advocated a more focused counterterrorism strategy. That claim doesn’t hold up, however, given that the administration plans to plow ahead with a counterinsurgency strategy and still leaves a much higher number of troops in Afghanistan than necessary for targeted counterterrorism.

While the political pressure generated by the public and Congress surely contributed to the president’s decision not to opt for the kind of bare minimum withdrawal supported by people like Sen. John McCain, it still keeps the US on a dangerous and expensive path without justification. Some of the most important reasons the withdrawal plan is inadequate:

Rather than shifting to a more effective strategy, this plan leaves nearly 70,000 troops on the ground by the end of President Obama’s first term. The war in Afghanistan is already the longest war in American history. By withdrawing 10,000 troops this year and the rest of the forces from what the administration calls the “West Point surge” by September of 2012, President Obama will end his first term with nearly twice as many troops on the ground in Afghanistan as when he came into office, in a war that will by then be more than 11 years old.

President Obama and the military leadership claim that this level of military presence is necessary to maintain “fragile and reversible” progress. However, the facts on the ground belie the military’s claims that the strategy is working. Violence against US and NATO troops and Afghan civilians has increased. The Karzai government is still unstable, and the relationship with the US is fraught, as exemplified by Karzai’s unheeded warnings that NATO must stop air strikes that kill civilians.

Former DIA analyst Joshua Foust meticulously catalogued the many times over the years that the Pentagon has promised that we are at a “turning point” in Afghanistan—promises that haven’t brought about results.  An active duty colonel told Time’s Battleland blog, “The mendacity is getting so egregious that I am fast losing the ability to remain quiet; these yarns of ‘significant progress’ are being covered up by the blood and limbs of hundreds – HUNDREDS – of American uniformed service members each and every month, and you know that the rest of this summer is going to see the peak of that bloodshed.”

When does this war end? President Obama’s plan still lacks clarity about the complete withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. The 2014 date for ”transition” guarantees there will be a significant military presence in Afghanistan for at least another three and a half years. President Obama said that our commitment is not “open-ended,” but his language about 2014 was (deliberately) ambiguous. He did not say all troops would be out by the end of 2014. He only noted that the “process of transition will be complete,”as our “mission change[s] from combat to support.” “Combat troops” left Iraq last year, but there are still 50,000 soldiers on the ground there, so the 2014 date does not signify a complete withdrawal. There are reports of negotiations by the Pentagon that would leave a US presence in Afghanistan for “decades.”

There are better strategies. We don’t need 70,000 troops in Afghanistan to keep Americans safe. The raid that killed Osama bin Laden hammers home the point that we’ve been making for years—military response is not the most effective response to terrorism. Osama bin Laden was found through smart intelligence work and international cooperation. The administration acknowledges that there has been no significant threat from Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in years; by its own estimates, there are 50-100 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. Terrorist groups like Al Qaeda are not bound by national borders, and a massive military presence is unnecessary to protect Americans from terrorist attacks.

The US could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars by shifting to a more effective counterterrorism strategy based on policing and intelligence. That can be paired with regional diplomacy, internal political negotiations, and development and humanitarian aid. A recent report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee shows that we can be far more effective by switching from a military-dominated aid approach to small, Afghan-led programs that make real differences in people’s lives. There are many credible plans that the administration could draw from that propose more significant troops withdrawals.

The financial and human costs are unjustifiable. Given the absence of real benefits of the current strategy to the American and Afghan people, the enormous financial and human cost of the wars is untenable. American taxpayers have already spent more than $400 billion on the war. At the cost of roughly $1 million per year per soldier, the president’s plan signs up the American people to shell out tens of billions of dollars a year into the foreseeable future. President Obama’s 2012 budget request already contains painful cuts to programs like Pell Grants for college and low-income home heating assistance—cuts that would be unnecessary if the US got its priorities straight.

More importantly, the human cost of the war is devastating. More American troops have died in Afghanistan since President Obama took office than in the previous seven years of the war. A new Defense Health Board report shows a sharp increase in the number of troops needing multiple amputations due to IED attacks. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental and physical wounds affect thousands of troops, and the suicide rate has been skyrocketing amongst active duty troops and veterans. Last year was the deadliest year on record for US troops, and 2011 is on pace to beat that tragic record.

Meanwhile, May was the deadliest month for Afghan civilians since the UN started tracking civilian casualties. Any illusions the military has of winning hearts and minds are blasted by angry Afghans protesting in the streets, often bringing bodies of villagers killed in NATO air strikes to show in graphic detail the havoc the military presence has caused.

Americans want this war to end. The impatience with the war that President Obama tacitly acknowledged in his 2009 speech has grown significantly in strength and intensity. A recent Pew poll has a record number of Americans wanting to see troops out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. With the US military involved in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, and Libya, 72% of Americans want to see US military engagement abroad scaled down.

The expression of this frustration at wasting lives and money on a war Americans don’t want or need has manifested in strong congressional pushback. Last month, a record number of House members, including nearly every Democrat and 26 Republicans, voted for an amendment requiring a plan for an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan. Twenty-seven senators followed with a letter to the president calling for a significant and sizable withdrawal. Many unusual suspects, from Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) have taken the floor of Congress and the airwaves to call for a faster withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The combination of lack of public support, unjustifiable cost, and failure of the military strategy makes President Obama’s modest plan to slow walk a withdrawal from Afghanistan glaringly inadequate.

What’s next? 

The work of supporters of a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan to mobilize voters and pressure politicians has had an enormous impact. We have laid the groundwork to continue to push back against the continuation of the war, and have a slew of new congressional allies to work with to keep the pressure on the administration.

With the 2012 election on the horizon, and several Republican candidates calling for a quicker military withdrawal from Afghanistan, we will have an opportunity to keep the Afghanistan war at the forefront of the debate and hold politicians who still support the war accountable. We must remain vigilant until every last troop comes home from Afghanistan.




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Showing 5 comments
  • Paul Streur

    This just proves to me that no sitting President has ever had any power over the Pentagon! They run and ruin this country for the sake of more medals and a more lucrative retirement. I was in the military during the Korean mess, and was NOT allowed to vote my way, I had to vote the Company commanders way – republican. I walked away rather than vote for someone I didn’t believe in.

  • Jerry Gates

    Rebecca Griffin articulates the negatives considered in Obama’s phased withdrawal program, one of which is soldier injury and death which is considerable but not as dear as the cost to Afghanistan’s citizens, which is intolerable.

    Winning hearts and minds isnt happening, and while it may be in vogue to feel that the drone attacks are the only strategically reputable game in town from the military vantage point, it makes common sense to note that the more nationals and soldiers getting killed represents the ratio in terms of cost /benefit analysis dive for the rock bottom of the charts in terms of hearts and minds. As time goes by MORE PEOPLE hate each other and it increases exponentially if Pakistan and Iraq are considered, the flam don fere still smoldering there as well.

    Getting more shooters out than state dept NGO’s makes better sense, and getting half out now, fifty percent of the remainder out by next august and a residual tour of combat special ops and regular army representing each of the commands at company strength and see if the Taleban back off, then read the tea leaves but getting more out asap is what to do, Rebecca makes a very compelling argument ,more could be said about other pressing matters and the weights in the equations of war, the balances are tipping heavily against eacalation on any front but the home front where all is not quiet tonight, bring them k=home brothers and sisters and let us pray we can bring them some love and comfort after such a bloody war. We won, people, put it to bed, it’s the right time and the right thing, just do it, for once. Mr President, Rebecca Griffin, I exhort you her argument is air tight, indight this matter with due diligence and be advised of how your compassionate acedemics feel, feel us Mr president, we are right.

  • kara j lincoln

    Nice job every one.

    it would be nice to hear from your friends in Afghanistan. what would they feel would help them.

    as i still editing soon to release, i think of the many good folks giving reflection, sensitivities + sharing skills that make local community work.

    yet her In US, just yesterday a man was taken away in a wretched rage as he had chased another with a fishing gaft. he is left imprisoned in his head unable to process the abuse from family as a child. his rudeness, very loud music although he would air play guitar excellently, high safty risk of continuing to drive a fishing boat + seeing his sadness as he fights with himself with visible body language, has restraining orders on him to stay away from family, on parole + night before talked with another that feared him, telling her over his loss of girl friend he was going to commit suicide + take 3 others along with him.

    this was not something i could accept, + had to call for support. as many watched wishing the other guy would of killed him.

    this is part of our problem everywhere, how many would offer assistance due to having some of these above acts happened elsewhere repeated times. taken to jail, + released.

    i watched the several armed police try to find him. as they stated they could only address what was happening that day, as i asked to take him directly to a psych ward. at that time police did not know he had tried to commit suicide. later in the night when i told them after i had heard, dispatch reported they had a padded cell.

    the point of this story is you have folks so tired of having their work interfered with from irresponcible people. you have folks that are trying to do job well. you have folks as in the gentle 1 legged old fishermen that went in another boat to find him, when all the police where surrounding the guys boat looking for him. all the sensitivity that was positive given to this young man raging, when found was hiding like a scared child, was not enough.

    when yet in patches + pockets on this planet we have very skilled neuro scientists/councelors that know exactly how to help this young man process his past, gain respect for himself + others + then starting the process of maintaining sharp sensors, only then should be allowed to drive a boat. meanwhile his developed skills can be supported /exchanged elsewhere with less safty risk to himself + others. as i shared in starting a fund + an energy redirect in this local community thought toward his rehab + music.

    i’ve observed him for week or so only, i am 1 dock away. the Coast Guard is 2. he has been coming in + out of marina as a commercial fisher men driving unsafe seen by others, + come to dock, not even tie up + pass out, motor running, supposedly on meth. this many know as his continued history as they fished near being burdened by him.

    the government, NOAA, National Fisheries, F+W are enforcing regulations that also hamper the small commercial fisher folk. as they make it more difficult for them to do their business. right now the maguson stevens act is up for comment thru a federal portal until july 30. for them thinking maybe we do need to update. after several complaints of their legistical regulating causing safty risk , as each hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. was 1 of my many inputs..

    we have experienced so much inefficency from these entities, grant you CG has helped many save their boat/life, but at what expense with their expensive fuel consuming equipment. this is a good example. 2 docks away, they patrole few times a day, yet this young raging man has been this near.

    i’ve asked in my many proposals for cooperative thought, vs. every one pulling own way leaving so many missing, worn torn threads, actually causing more harm.

    it takes a local sensitive skilled community to go beyond this. they are here in patches + pockets. where they prioritize feelings as if they where a gushing wound – that many would respond too quickly trying to help. yet when folks imprisoned in their own head from all the tradgedies that do happen, folks feel but don’t know how to follow thru locally. as can, such as to gather as in a ‘way potluck + tell yourself that your feelings are important + you don’t want to accept anything less then a local community that you part time cooperatively build.- 1 that sustains you to self-express without leaving a negative footprint on any life.

    so many do just this. do a layout of biome – prioritize wild to stay wild so as to support the natural grown food thru foraging, small farm, backyards linking for community gardens. now we have food/medicine that fuels. hands in the dirt + being part of what sustains us heals us. when ‘boon with the natural world.

    not waste repeated funds for a dysfunctional position – + each of you will have to assess your position + if it does not interrelate back into your self, allowing you to be a calm you, or you to be a cooperative community builder for this local, global + beyond community awareness, then perhaps you should step down.

    for no way should anyone being listening or riding on your wave – not knowing they shouldn’t due to not knowing how to center + ground oneself. so each can be supported to build a path as you walk it into your opening.

    yes folks do this to their young child, as they respectfully communicate + they walk into the future as they remain present in the moment. not do for their childs’ future where they become unpresent in the moment with them now.

    we have solutions when we self-empower + self-develop + not settle for our own misuse. or that from another. but this is not easy when we try to do it alone. but by sharing now we gain synergy, we build a shared community tool shed, we recycle + refurbish from a old behavior of survival attempt to now a fresh air of hybriding within local natural resources limits. not the ecological whoring as in the green bio-tech that doesn’t work as in AL GOres or Bill Gates, rather the indigenous built on curriculum as in Miguel Altieri’s agroecology. or permaculture now with Jenny + the many good folks.

    we don’t throw funds at another thinking they do_in when they doing the wrong way + interfering in our ability to simply do. as in MOnsanto + all the GMOs or Barack wanting to take Walmart to India. read Navdanyas dairy, the farmers will tell you how destructive these companys are.

    we don’t throw funds at expensive doctors when we can grow or purchase herbal formulas form skilled doctors that diagnose correctly + then efficiently taper off western meds that leave harmful side effects, then taper off herbs.

    we don’t throw funds away on any product or service that ecologically whores. rather we twelcome these folks into a ‘tapering transition so together we share what we perceive, supporting that whore that we built unconsciously to now come back into local community until they can rethink + choose what + where to be again a local, global + beyond participant.

    so this list goes on a lot of what we do, but you have to ask your self what are you do_in. you don’t have to allow this either. + if we join together here now our fuel gets stronger with mental clarity + physical strength. so together we gain harmony so locally we do for our self. no more do we support another to go off + speak for us, unless it is a interchangebale role, not an incumbent.

    a ‘tapering transition of 2 yr term only to recycle this dysfunctional entity that no longer listens to 72% as you state.

    give Barack, whom is in a responsible role that many of us have worked for now, as well those gone, give Barack a line item veto, to stop the foolishness that he himself has done, along with telling us all whom has controlled his direction. who has stopped him from listening to us. whom does not allow transparency locally + beyound. whom now stops this from opening up, so we can now share what works to reprogramm all this aggression, all this quiet rage deep within that has been carried for so long that folks can’t even feel themself. rather the acts that are presently taking place are beyond our human consumption. our neuro processing cannot handle it, nor can the many patches ++ pockets of dycfunctional communities that are imprisoned in ways carried forward that are not normal. not ecologically balanced to provide our natural fuel, that we as living biological beings are dependent on.

    folks local + afar, we are a human family. have compassion for the raging young man in us all as well the general that is mislead from the factions that have allowed this young man to be driving on commercial fishing boat for a slong as he has.

    folks reflect with your natural world, ‘booon with it so as to gain fuel direct from our living source. + reflect with the many good folks we are fortunate to have that can guide us to come back into our self + self observe. take a nother look. you don’t have to do this alone. together gather + have a fresh local grown natural potlock, invite your farmers, now talk. not take a look. this is the best indicator. many in patches + pockets locally + beyond have no food without processing, without GMOs. take a look at Walmart + watch the shopping carts of the many obese, ill folks with medical equipment.

    folks say no for these are the same deuded ecological whore that are supplying the war economy. so which position here are you in..

    it’s a beautiful sunrise + i’d like to hear your story. i’m watching the low tide + going out to forage seaweed. the earth gives us amazing free resources if we are sensitive not to take the females or not to pick that last plant + maintain our natural foraged gardens, etc.

    good day folks, lucky us to beable to share on the many good forums + thank you!

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