Zero

February 24, 2014

Here’s an easy quiz for you. According to an article in the Washington Post over the weekend , the Obama Administration is considering four options regarding leaving U.S.  troops in Afghanistan after the end of this year. What do you think the number should be?

A.      10,000 (favored by U.S. military commanders, unsurprisingly)
B.      A somewhat smaller number, unspecified
C.      3,000
D.      Zero

Tell the president you want all our troops home, with none left behind in Afghanistan.

It’s long past time to end America’s longest war. In the words of the late, great Pete Seeger (a longtime Peace Action member):

“If you love this land of the free,
Bring ‘em home, bring ‘em home,
Bring ‘em back from overseas,
Bring ‘em home, bring ‘em home!”

Peacefully Yours,

 

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S. After you email the president, please click here and tell your friends to do the same.


Open Fire and Open Markets: The Asia-Pacific Pivot and Trans-Pacific Partnership

January 22, 2014

Excellent, concise analysis of the link between the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the U.S. military’s Asia-Pacific Pivot, published by our colleagues at Foreign Policy in Focus. The author is the always right-on Christine Ahn, who in addition to her attributions listed below is a Peace Action Advisory Board member.

Thomas Friedman once said the hidden hand of the market needs the hidden fist of the military. The TPP and the Obama administration’s Pacific Pivot pack both.

By , January 14, 2014.

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trans-pacific-partnership-tpp-member-states-trade-investment-pacific-pivot-china

By increasing U.S. market access and influence with China’s neighbors, Washington is hoping to deepen its economic engagement with the TPP countries while diminishing their economic integration with China. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The struggle for food sovereignty in the Pacific got a major boost last December when Billy Kenoi, mayor of Hawai’i’s Big Island, signed a law that prevents farmers from growing any new genetically engineered crops (with the exception of papaya). This follows a successful push on Kauai, at the other end of the islands, to force large growers to disclose the pesticides they use and which genetically engineered crops they are growing.

This is a major step in the battle for more ecologically sustainable agriculture in Hawai’i, which has suffered for over a century under the heavy weight of U.S. corporate and military domination.

Yet like other local, state, and national regulations intended to protect the public and the environment, these anti-GMO laws can be swiftly overturned if President Obama signs the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the world’s most ambitious and far reaching free trade agreement yet. On January 9, the U.S. Congress introduced “fast-track” legislation allowing the Obama administration to sign the TPP without undergoing public debate. Fast-track authority would grant the White House the power to speed up negotiations, while giving Congress only 90 days to review the TPP before voting.

The TPP spans 12 countries — including the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam — comprising 40 percent of the world’s economy. Like nearly all trade agreements signed since NAFTA, the TPP is almost to certain to allow multinational corporations from anywhere in the bloc to sue governments in secret courts to overturn national or local regulations, such as Hawai’i’s recent GMO laws, that could limit their profits. So it’s not just Hawai’i’s food sovereignty that’s at risk.

“This is not mainly about trade,” explains Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “It is a corporate Trojan horse. The agreement has 29 chapters, and only five of them have to do with trade.” More than 600 corporate lobbyists representing multinationals like Monsanto, Cargill, and Wal-Mart have had unfettered access to shape the secret agreement, while Congress and the public have only seen a few leaked chapters.

But the TPP is even more than a corporate Trojan horse. It’s a core part of the Obama administration’s Asia-Pacific Pivot, which is centrally about containing China.

A New Cold War?

Ahead of the fall 2011 Asia Pacific Economic Forum (APEC) meeting in Hawaii, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlined a plan to transfer U.S. military, diplomatic, and economic resources from the Middle East to the Pacific, in what she called “America’s New Pacific Century.” Describing the pivot in militaristic terms as “forward-deployed diplomacy,” Clinton hailed the TPP as a “benchmark for future agreements” leading to “a free trade area of the Asia- Pacific.”

Yet the TPP excludes China, which has become the second largest economy in the world and is poised to outpace the U.S. economy in a matter of years — a fact that is none too pleasing to U.S. elites accustomed to unrivaled hegemony.

Like the United States, the future of China’s economic growth lies in the Asia-Pacific region, which by all indicators will be the center of economic activity in the 21st century. By 2015, according to a paper from the conservative Foreign Policy Research Institute, “East Asian countries are expected to surpass NAFTA and the euro zone to become the world’s largest trading bloc. Market opportunities will only increase as the region swells by an additional 175 million people by 2030.”

Enter the TPP. By increasing U.S. market access and influence with China’s neighbors, Washington is hoping to deepen its economic engagement with the TPP countries while diminishing their economic integration with China.

Obama’s “Pacific Pivot” also seeks to contain China militarily. By 2020, 60 percent of U.S. naval capacity will be based in the Asia-Pacific, where 320,000 U.S. troops are already stationed. The realignment will entail rebuilding and refurbishing former U.S. facilities in the Philippines, placing 2,500 marines in Australia, transferring 8,000 marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam and Hawai’i, and building new installations like the one on the tiny Pacific island of Saipan. Meanwhile, the U.S. military regularly stages massive joint military exercises involving tens of thousands of troops and nuclear-powered aircraft carriers with its key allies — and China’s neighbors — Japan and South Korea. It has been regularly conducting Cobra Gold exercises with Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and even Myanmar.

Official Washington seems to believe that these are necessary precautions. According to theRAND Corporation, for example, 90 percent of U.S. bases in the region are “under threat” from Chinese ballistic missiles because they are within 1,080 nautical miles of China. But who is threatening whom? The Chinese have precisely zero bases in the Asia-Pacific outside of their own borders.

Some U.S. analysts insist that a more robust U.S. military presence is necessary to curb China’s ambitious territorial claims in the region. Without a doubt, China has recently taken a more aggressive stance in regional territorial disputes over dwindling natural resources, angering many of its neighbors. But by turning to the United States as a check against China, less powerful nations invite a bargain with the devil as Washington will advance its own strategic interests. And by getting itself involved, Washington risksencouraging China’s rivals to behave more provocatively, as well as angering China itself. According to Mel Gurtov, “While accepting that the United States is a Pacific power, Chinese authorities now resist the notion that the United States has some special claim to predominance in Asia and the western Pacific.”

A One-Two Punch

“The hidden hand of the market,” as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman famously wrote in the 1990s, “will never work without a hidden fist.” The Asia-Pacific Pivot, a one-two neoliberal-militaristic punch, packs both.

Of all people in the world, Hawaiians know this especially well. Once a sovereign nation, Hawai’i was the starting point for America’s century of imperialism and conquest in the Pacific. Most people don’t know this critical history, but what fueled the overthrow of Hawai’i’s monarchy was trade. During the 1800s, American merchants were profiting handsomely from exporting sugar from Hawai’i to the United States. When faced with new tariffs that the U.S. government imposed to protect the domestic sugar industry in the American South, the exporters orchestrated a coup with the U.S. marines to overthrow the islands’ queen and annex Hawai’i so that Hawaiian sugar would not be subject to tariffs.

With the world facing the pressing issues of global climate change, biodiversity loss, rising food prices, and declining sources of fossil energy, what is now needed more than ever are policies that promote local, sustainable economies that ensure the well-being of their people and protect the ecosystems upon which all of our lives depend.

Local communities seem to get it — new laws like the GMO restrictions recently passed in Hawai’i are a step in that direction. But with multinational elites and the U.S. government pushing undemocratic monstrosities like the Pacific Pivot and the TPP, prospects for a more genuine security appear more distant than ever.

Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Christine Ahn is a Senior Fellow of the Oakland Institute and Co-chair of Women De-Militarize the Zone (DMZ).


Afghanistan — should we stay or should we go?

November 18, 2013

While Afghanistan has not been in the U.S. news much recently, key issues are now being debated regarding a possible enduring U.S. military presence past the end of 2014 deadline for “full withdrawal.”

The Reuters article below notes the two sticking point issues, immunity from prosecution in Afghan courts for any remaining U.S. troops and the right for U.S. troops to enter and search Afghan homes, with or without Afghan troops. Won’t hazard a guess as to how this plays out, but it may well be decided over the next week.

Exclusive: U.S.-Afghan security pact hits impasse as time runs out

Click for a zoom view

Reuters

Monday, November 18, 2013 11:56 AM GMT

 

By Dylan Welch and Hamid Shalizi

KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai has rejected a provision of a U.S.-Afghan security pact, putting the entire deal in jeopardy just days before the country’s elite gather to debate it, a senior Afghan official and a Western diplomat said.

The question of whether foreign troops will be able to search Afghan homes after NATO’s combat mission ends next year has long been a sticking point of an agreement setting out the terms under which remaining U.S. forces will operate there.

But in a series of meetings over the weekend the enter-and-search issue emerged as the biggest roadblock facing the security pact as Karzai dug his heels in, the Afghan official, who has been close to the talks, told Reuters.

Without an accord on the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), Washington says it could pull out all of its troops at the end of 2014, leaving Afghanistan’s fledgling security forces on their own to fight the Taliban-led insurgency.

Two years ago, the United States ended its military mission in Iraq with a similar “zero option” outcome after the failure of talks with Baghdad, which refused to guarantee immunity to U.S. personnel serving there.

The United States is concerned that as campaigning intensifies for Afghanistan’s presidential election next April, it will be increasingly difficult to broker a security pact.

“They want a window left open to go into Afghan homes, but the president does not accept that – not unilaterally and not joint,” the Afghan official said, referring to house raids by U.S. troops either on their own or with Afghan forces.

The U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul declined to comment, but a Western diplomat in Kabul with knowledge of the talks confirmed the two sides had reached an impasse.

“It’s a very tense time,” the diplomat said.

“NO FLEXIBILITY”

On Thursday, a five-day national gathering of the country’s political, tribal and other elites, called a loya jirga, will begin to debate the BSA in Kabul.

If an agreement on the pact is not reached by then, Karzai may tell the meeting in his opening address that he does not agree with the article about house searches, the official said.

“If the jirga becomes about that one article then it risks seeing the entire document rejected,” the Afghan official said.

Talks stalled over the house-search issue during two meetings Karzai held at his palace with U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham and NATO’s commander, General Joseph Dunford.

“From our side there is no flexibility on this issue of allowing Americans to search Afghan homes, because this is more important than jurisdiction,” the Afghan official said.

Jurisdiction refers to giving all American service members in Afghanistan immunity from Afghan law, another U.S. demand that has been resisted by Karzai.

The issues of jurisdiction and unilateral military operations by U.S. forces have been the main bones of contention in the months-long negotiations over the security agreement.

The question of house searches, which have sometimes led to civilian deaths, is a highly charged one that has contributed to the rifts between Karzai and foreign forces in an increasingly fractious relationship.

The United States wants to be able to conduct such searches to continue targeting al Qaeda and other militants in Afghanistan. Karzai is concerned that the hated searches could sap support for the government and foreign troops who stay on.

Another meeting between Karzai, the U.S. envoy and the NATO commander was expected on Monday, though the official said there was little hope of a breakthrough.

(Editing by John Chalmers and Robert Birsel)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2013. Check for restrictions at: http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp


Here we go again – U.S. pushing for some troops to remain in Afghanistan

October 15, 2013

Published on Monday, October 14, 2013 by Common Dreams

‘Iraq Replay’: Kerry Demands Immunity for US Troops in Afghanistan

Suraia Sahar: ‘Immunity is just another extension of occupation’

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

US troops set out on a patrol in Paktika province, Afghanistan. There are currently 87,000 international troops in Afghanistan, including 52,000 U.S. troops.(Photo: David Furst/AFP/Getty Images)Secretary of State John Kerry is demanding immunity for U.S. military service members in Afghanistan as a precondition for a ‘bi-lateral security agreement,’ which would allow 10,000 U.S. troops in the country past the 2014 withdrawal date.

Critics are slamming this as another example of U.S. refusal to account for war crimes as it pushes for continuing military occupation in Afghanistan. “I don’t believe these occupiers should be protected from prosecution for war crimes,” Suraia Sahar of Afghans United for Justice told Common Dreams. “Immunity is just another extension of occupation.”

U.S. officials say that jurisdiction over crimes committed by U.S. service members in Afghanistan remains an unresolved potential deal-breaker in negotiations whose most recent round started late Friday. Karzai stated that he will refer the issue of immunity to the loya Jirga, a body of elders and leaders in Afghanistan.

On the U.S. side, in contrast, the agreement does not have to be run by the Senate, because it is made with executive powers, Al Jazeera America reports.

If the agreement is not decided by its late-October deadline, the U.S will have no legal basisfor keeping troops beyond the 2014 pullout date. There are currently 87,000 international troops in Afghanistan, including 52,000 U.S. troops.

The issue of immunity for U.S. troops has long been a point of contention for the Afghan people in a U.S.-led occupation characterized by a staggering civilian death toll and high-profile atrocities. The 2012 Panjwai massacre, in which 16 Afghan civilians were gunned down and killed, and 6 wounded by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, added fuel to calls from within Afghanistan for those accused of war crimes to stand trial in Afghanistan. Despite these demands, Bales was whisked out of Afghanistan to face trial in the U.S.

“This has been brewing for a while,” Kevin Martin, executive director of Peace Action, toldCommon Dreams. “This is what they were trying to do in Iraq, but the U.S. couldn’t get Iraq to agree. This is almost an exact replay.”

Kerry sought to assure the Afghan government that the U.S. will thoroughly prosecute war crimes, drawing on similar agreements in South Korea and Japan where immunity exists.

Yet, critics scoffed at these examples. “These are not very good agreements,” Martincontinued. “The people of Okinawa are furious at rape and sexual assault by U.S. troops.”

“This is part of our country’s sickness and addiction to militarism,” he added. “There is no reason the people of Afghanistan should accept immunity.”

Many hope that the disagreement over immunity will hasten a U.S. withdrawal from an occupation that continues to bring death and destruction to the people of Afghanistan. “It’s in the best interest of Americans and Afghans for US troops to withdraw as soon as possible. The Afghan people must have the space to decide their own future,” Rebecca Griffin from Peace Action West told Common Dreams. “The disagreement about jurisdiction over US troops may help speed along that process.”

_____________________

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

October 1, 2013

 Tuesday, Oct. 8th - National Teach-In on Syria & US Policy in the Region

6:30 to 7:30 pm EST

Live Streaming at  http://www.busboysandpoets.com/videos/live-streaming

09 June 2012 Homs, Syria

09 June 2012
Homs, Syria

The civil war continues in Syria.

Although a threat of a US. missile attack against Syria was averted, the raging civil war continues. The massive outpouring of anti-war sentiment from the people in every corner of the country and around the world prevented a US military strike.

Our victory was clear, but our work is far from over.

• How did the peace movement in the U.S. and world-wide stop Washington from proceeding with military action in Syria?

• How can we build on our success to change U.S. policy in the region?

• What’s happening now, on the ground in Syria and on the diplomatic front?

A dynamic panel will address these questions and our next steps to change US policy in the region.

Watch the teach-in online, gather for potluck dinners, show the broadcast to begin a discussion on what we can do now, share the info with your family and co-workers. Just click on this link between 6:15-6:30pm EST and wait for the broadcast to begin.

Oct 8 Tuesday - National Teach-In on Syria and U.S. Policy in the Region

6:30 to 7:30 pm EST Live Streaming at  http://www.busboysandpoets.com/videos/live-streaming

Panel:

Phyllis Bennis - Director, New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies

Stephen Miles – Coordinator, Win Without War

Nick Berning – Communications Director, MoveOn.org

Rep. Barbara Lee (invited) - 13th Cong. District, CA

moderated by Judith Le Blanc – Field Director, Peace Action

 This teach-in is sponsored by groups that have been working together on Syria:

Peace Action

Pax Christi

Sisters of Mercy

Win Without War

Institute for Policy Studies

CodePink

Just Foreign Policy

Progressive Democrats of America

American Friends Service Committee

Peace and Justice Resource Center

U.S. Labor Against the War

United for Peace and Justice

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Women’s Action for New Directions

The link will be available for viewing at http://www.busboysandpoets.com/videos after the event.


September 26, 2013

Tuesday, Oct. 8th
National Teach-In on Syria & US Policy in the Region
6:30 to 7:30 pm EST

Live Streaming at http://www.busboysandpoets.com/videos/live-streaming

With developments unfolding rapidly, it is still uncertain how things will play out in Syria.

A few weeks ago our nation was on the brink of yet another deadly military mistake. At the last moment, a threat of a U.S. missile attack against Syria was averted as the justifiable concern about chemical weapons moved away from a military incursion into a diplomatic process. The raging civil war has not yet stopped, but the massive outpouring of anti-war sentiment from people in every corner of the country and around the world prevented this new attack, and is helping to slow the flow of arms into Syria.

Our victory was clear, but our work is far from over.
Will there be a negotiated resolution to the armed conflict inside Syria, or will the fighting escalate into an even broader regional war?
How did the peace movement in the U.S. and world-wide stop Washington from proceeding with military action in Syria, and how can we build on our success to change U.S. policy in the region?
What’s happening now, on the ground in Syria and on the diplomatic front? What is the U.S. interest in Syria and how does this connect to U.S. policy in the Middle East more generally?
These are some of the important issues that a dynamic panel of people will address in the National Teach-In on Syria. You are invited to watch the teach-in on line as we dig deeper into the issues and learn the lessons.

We are happy to join with other national groups to sponsor this live streamed panel on Tuesday, October 8th:


Phyllis Bennis – Director, New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies
Stephen Miles – Coordinator, Win Without War
Nick Berning – Communications Director, MoveOn.org
Rep. Barbara Lee (invited) – 13th Cong. District, CA
moderated by Judith LeBlanc – Field Director, Peace Action

Watch this important discussion with others! This is a moment to bring people together, to take our organizing to a new level.
- Invite people to your home to watch the teach-in together.
- If you are at a school or college get a room and organize a screening.
- Ask your local library or religious institution to set up a public viewing.
- Ask you local community cable station to run the program live or taped.
- Use this teach-in as an opportunity to talk with others about how to strengthen the work of the anti-war movement.

We realize the time of this event might make it hard for some folks on the West Coast to see the broadcast, but we’ll be sending out information about how you can access this event after October 8th.

This teach-in is organized and sponsored by the following groups that have been working together on Syria:
Peace Action
Win Without War
Institute for Policy Studies
CodePink
Just Foreign Policy
Progressive Democrats of America
American Friends Service Committee
Peace and Justice Resource Center
U.S. Labor Against the War
United for Peace and Justice
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Women’s Action for New Directions


Sun Tzu would not be happy with Obama’s plans for Syria strike

September 16, 2013

An oped from  the FOX  website by Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer (ret.) is a former senior intelligence officer. He is the Director of External Communications for the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (CADS) and Senior Advisor on the Congressional Task Force on National and Homeland Security.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/09/09/sun-tzu-would-be-very-unhappy-with-obama-plans-for-syria-strike/#ixzz2f4T4uKOT

Sun Tzu:  “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

We have heard a lot of noise over the past week from the White House…and we are about to hear a whole lot more…

The president intends to conduct a surgical military strike against Syria in the near future because Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad violated international norms to send a message. And despite the limited duration of any such planned military action and the lack of clear and achievable objective  there is a frightening gap between Obama’s rhetoric and the reality we face.

The old adage applies here: plan for the worst, but hope for the best.  However, “hope” is not a strategy and it is not a sound policy regarding Syria.

The White House needs to expand its horizon and create realistic expectations of what any military action will bring.

Surgical strikes never go exactly as planned.

Many experts believe Assad will not heed the message and will instead continue to act illogically and use chemical weapons against his people, again.

What are we to do then; what then are our options; what will be the cost of the next move and the next move after that?

Congress is more aware than the president to the reality of political backlash that will come with the blind use of U.S. unilateral military force; and in the end what are our options if the message carried by our cruise missiles and manned bombers does not take?

Will we be obligated to widen our message to even more expensive deployments of more military force and troops?

Some in Congress have considered using the Syria strike as an excuse to kill the reduction in rate of budget growth (also known as the “sequester”) – therefore, this limited military action is unjustifiable both from the known expense – and the huge secondary expense that would likely follow.

This is the reality we face: any miss of our weapons will have tragic second and third order consequences that will expand the expense and scope of the conflict.

Are we ready for global escalation if any external casualties such as, a Russian technician or several Quds Force Iranian troops are accidentally killed?

The Iranians have already threatened us and the Russians have stated they will side with Syria in any conflict – is the White House prepared for this potential – are we prepared for an investment of our blood and treasure in another expensive, unfocused, ill-conceived war?

More importantly, imagine for just a second that we are wildly successful and degrade Assad’s military command and control so well that he is no longer able to launch chemical weapons attacks.

The secondary effect of our action will be to eliminate his ability to control, via his chain of command, the stockpiles of chemical weapons.  What if we render him unable to guarantee these weapons security?  Are we prepared to put the 75,000 boots on the ground to secure them?

Clearly it would not be an “international norm” for us to simply leave these chemical weapons available to the rebels – so how far are we prepared to go?

Syria is a symptom of a larger problem. Over the past 12 years (since the 9/11 attack) tactics to counter terror have distracted us from achieving any strategic focus.

We have now, as we have for the past decade, the finest, most lethal fighting force that mankind has ever seen.

There is no doubt that we would quickly dispatch any military challenger.  From Fallujah, Iraq to Gardyz, Afghanistan, to other secret battles that are not yet public – we have won hundreds of tactical engagements and yet, somehow, we have yet to win a single strategic victory.

During World War II there was a clear strategy that was followed bring victory in that war in less than five years.

During the Cold War, there was a very clear strategy of containment and mutually assured destruction and all tactics were based on insuring the success of these larger strategies.

Our great tactical capacity now drives our Pentagon budget and creates the temptation for politicians to this lethal capability without regard to a strategy that would focus our efforts to achieve global success.

There is no clear national interest for Congress and the American people to get behind regarding Syria – and no strategy behind which we can all pull together and support.  We are now in an era of dominance without purpose.

We have great weapon systems, great men and women manning them, and the ability to use them anywhere on the planet in a time of our choosing…but for what purpose?

Syria is not a justifiable purpose.

We, as a nation, cannot achieve success if we fail to establish a strategic objective – to begin with what we wish to accomplish in mind.

We have waited too long to engage on the Syria issue and we are now reacting to this lose/lose prospect in Syria.

We must establish a strategy that allows us to anticipate events; not allowing events to shape us.

There are things we can and should do to truly help the people of Syria.  But simply conducting a punitive military strike will only make things worse for them and us.

We have options –diplomatic, special operations, humanitarian, and transnational or international coalition – that we must examine before we act with a kinetic option.

It is time for President Obama to level with the American people and Congress – to tell them how bad things could get if we fail in this quick kinetic action.  In addition, formulate a strategy that allows for U.S. engagement, and, dare I say, long term success and victory.

Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer (ret.) is a former senior intelligence officer and the New York Times bestselling author of Operation “Dark Heart: Spycraft an Special Operations on the Frontlines of Afghanistan – And The Path to Victory.”  His latest book is The Last Line. He is the Director of External Communications for the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (CADS) and Senior Advisor on the Congressional Task Force on National and Homeland Security.


Zero Option for Afghanistan – Needed ASAP, not the end of 2014

July 15, 2013

The news that the Obama Administration is considering a “zero option” – leaving no troops behind in Afghanistan after the end of 2014 – got some coverage last week but not a lot. I wrote a letter to the editor to the New York Times based on its article on this issue. It didn’t get published (no surprise there, they get a lot of letters), but here it is, feel free to crib from it and send a letter to your local paper. Below my letter is the Times article.

July 10, 2013

To the editor,

I had two thoughts upon reading about the contentious negotiations between Presidents Hamid Karzai and Barack Obama over a possible continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan past the supposed end date of December 31, 2014 (“U.S. Considers Faster Pullout in Afghanistan,” July 8).

 

The first thought, with a bow to Casey Stengel, was “can’t anybody here play this game?,” the game being diplomacy. Yes, it is good news President Obama is considering a “zero option,” not leaving any U.S. troops behind in Afghanistan after the end of 2014, and perhaps even accelerating their withdrawal. However, it appears this is at least as much a threat to force President Karzai back into negotiations as it is a serious policy option. Both presidents need to come together in an earnest way to help figure out Afghanistan’s post-war future, with the strong involvement of Afghan civil society leaders, particularly women’s organizations, as well as other national and regional forces. The stakes are too high for threats and posturing; we need to see some genuine leadership from the two presidents.

 

My second thought was how could either president possibly explain to the families of Afghan or U.S. soldiers who will perish in fighting over the next year and a half what in the world they died for? The “zero option” needs to be implemented as soon as possible, not at the end of next year. U.S. support for Afghan-led reconstruction, development and reconciliation is the key issue for the future, not residual U.S. forces or a long-term military aid agreement.

 

Sincerely,

 

Kevin Martin

Executive Director

Peace Action

July 8, 2013

U.S. Considers Faster Withdrawal from Afghanistan

By MARK MAZZETTI and MATTHEW ROSENBERG

WASHINGTON — Increasingly frustrated by his dealings with President Hamid Karzai, President Obama is giving serious consideration to speeding up the withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan and to a “zero option” that would leave no American troops there after next year, according to American and European officials.

Mr. Obama is committed to ending America’s military involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and Obama administration officials have been negotiating with Afghan officials about leaving a small “residual force” behind. But his relationship with Mr. Karzai has been slowly unraveling, and reached a new low after an effort last month by the United States to begin peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar.

Mr. Karzai promptly repudiated the talks and ended negotiations with the United States over the long-term security deal that is needed to keep American forces in Afghanistan after 2014.

A videoconference between Mr. Obama and Mr. Karzai designed to defuse the tensions ended badly, according to both American and Afghan officials with knowledge of it. Mr. Karzai, according to those sources, accused the United States of trying to negotiate a separate peace with both the Taliban and their backers in Pakistan, leaving Afghanistan’s fragile government exposed to its enemies.

Mr. Karzai had made similar accusations in the past. But those comments were delivered to Afghans — not to Mr. Obama, who responded by pointing out the American lives that have been lost propping up Mr. Karzai’s government, the officials said.

The option of leaving no troops in Afghanistan after 2014 was gaining momentum before the June 27 video conference, according to the officials. But since then, the idea of a complete military exit similar to the American military pullout from Iraq has gone from being considered the worst-case scenario — and a useful negotiating tool with Mr. Karzai — to an alternative under serious consideration in Washington and Kabul.

The officials cautioned that no decisions had been made on the pace of the pullout and exactly how many American troops to leave behind in Afghanistan. The goal remains negotiating a long-term security deal, they said, but the hardening of negotiating stances on both sides could result in a repeat of what happened in Iraq, where a deal failed to materialize despite widespread expectations that a compromise would be reached and American forces would remain.

“There’s always been a zero option, but it was not seen as the main option,” said a senior Western official in Kabul. “It is now becoming one of them, and if you listen to some people in Washington, it is maybe now being seen as a realistic path.”

The official, however, said he hoped some in the Karzai government were beginning to understand that the zero option was now a distinct possibility, and that “they’re learning now, not later, when it’s going to be too late.”

The Obama administration’s internal deliberations about the future of the Afghan war were described by officials in Washington and Kabul who hold a range of views on how quickly the United States should leave Afghanistan and how many troops it should leave behind. Spokesmen for the White House and Pentagon declined to comment.

Within the Obama administration, the way the United States extricates itself from Afghanistan has been a source of tension between civilian and military officials since Mr. Obama took office. American commanders in Afghanistan have generally pushed to keep as many American troops in the country as long as possible, creating friction with White House officials urging a speedier military withdrawal.

But with frustrations mounting over the glacial pace of initiating peace talks with the Taliban, and with American relations with the Karzai government continuing to deteriorate, it is unclear whether the Pentagon and American commanders in Afghanistan would vigorously resist if the White House pushed for a full-scale pullout months ahead of schedule.

As it stands, the number of American troops in Afghanistan — around 63,000 — is scheduled to go down to 34,000 by February 2014. The White House has said the vast majority of troops would be out of Afghanistan by the end of that year, although it now appears that the schedule could accelerate to bring the bulk of the troops — if not all of them — home by next summer, as the annual fighting season winds down.

Talks between the United States and Afghanistan over a long-term security deal have faltered in recent months over the Afghan government’s insistence that the United States guarantee Afghanistan’s security and, in essence, commit to declaring Pakistan the main obstacle in the fight against militancy in the region.

The guarantees sought by Afghanistan, if implemented, could possibly compel the United States to attack Taliban havens in Pakistan long after 2014, when the Obama administration has said it hoped to dial back the C.I.A.’s covert drone war there.

Mr. Karzai also wants the Obama administration to specify the number of troops it would leave in Afghanistan after 2014 and make a multiyear financial commitment to the Afghan Army and the police.

The White House announced last month that long-delayed talks with the Taliban would begin in Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban opened what amounts to an embassy-in-exile, complete with their old flag and a plaque with their official name, “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”

But the highly choreographed announcement backfired, with Afghan officials saying the talks gave the insurgents undeserved legitimacy and accusing the Obama administration of negotiating behind Mr. Karzai’s back.

To the surprise of American officials, Mr. Karzai then abruptly ended the negotiations over a long-term security deal. He has said the negotiations would not resume until the Taliban met directly with representatives of the Afghan government, essentially linking the security negotiations to a faltering peace process and making the United States responsible for persuading the Taliban to talk to the Afghan government.

The Taliban have refused for years to meet directly with Afghan government negotiators, deriding Mr. Karzai and his ministers as American puppets.

There have been other points of contention as well. Meeting with foreign ambassadors recently, Mr. Karzai openly mused that the West was to blame for the rise of radical Islam. It was not a message that many of the envoys, whose countries have lost thousands of people in Afghanistan and spent billions of dollars fighting the Taliban, welcomed.

The troop decisions are also being made against a backdrop of growing political uncertainty in Afghanistan and rising concerns that the country’s presidential election could either be delayed for months or longer, or be so flawed that many Afghans would not accept its results.

Preparations for the election, scheduled for next April, are already falling behind. United Nations officials have begun to say the elections probably cannot be held until next summer, at the earliest. If the voting does not occur before Afghanistan’s mountain passes are closed by snow in late fall, it will be extremely difficult to hold a vote until 2015.

Of potentially bigger concern are the rumors that Mr. Karzai, in his second term and barred from serving a third, is trying to find a way to stay in power. Mr. Karzai has repeatedly insisted that he plans to step down next year.

The ripple effects of a complete American withdrawal would be significant. Western officials said the Germans and Italians — the two main European allies who have committed to staying on with substantial forces — would leave as well. Any smaller nations that envisioned keeping token forces would most likely have no way of doing so.

And Afghanistan would probably see far less than the roughly $8 billion in annual military and civilian aid it is expecting in the coming years — an amount that covers more than half the government’s annual spending.

Mark Mazzetti reported from Washington, and Matthew Rosenberg from Kabul, Afghanistan. Thom Shanker contributed reporting from Washington.


Action Alert: Call Congress and Demand Cuts to Pentagon Pork!

June 11, 2013

In the next few days the House of Representatives will vote on Pentagon funding. Some of our friends in Congress will offer amendments to cut overflowing Pentagon coffers.

While our communities lack money for vital services, should shoveling more of our tax dollars to the wasteful, reckless Pentagon really be our nation’s priority?”

Make a free call to your Representative NOW at 877-429-0678 and say:

“Please vote for amendments that cut the Pentagon budget without affecting troop benefits and bring all our troops home from Afghanistan before 2014.”

Your Representative is deciding now on how to fund the Pentagon. They need to hear from you that we need more funding for our communities, not for Pentagon waste.  Your Representative will need to decide on how to vote on likely amendments that:

*Bring our troops home from Afghanistan before the President’s deadline of 2014;

*Axe unneeded and wasteful weapons such as the F-35 Jet, V-22 Osprey plane and Abrams tank;

*Cut nuclear weapons and troops abroad.

You can reach your Representative in their Washington, DC office by calling toll-free 877-429-0678 between 9-6 PM Eastern.  Or you can find their local number here:  http://www.contactingthecongress.org

We will know more about which amendments will make it to the floor on Wednesday and we will post updates on our blog to keep you informed as it happens.

There are only a few times a year that Congress votes on the important Peace Action issues you care about.  Please call now and forward this email to your friends, family and colleagues.

Humbly for Peace,

 

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S. – Stop out-of-control Pentagon spending by calling your Rep. now, toll-free, 877-429-0678 and forward this important email to as many people as possible!

*Thanks to our friends at Friends Committee on National Legislation for the toll-free number.


A bit more on military and foreign policy in the State of the Union

February 13, 2013

Just a few points to add to Brother Matt Rothschild’s comprehensive commentary on the speech:

It took the president almost 45 minutes to mention foreign policy. Understandably, he still wants to focus on the economy, but this seemed extreme, especially since there is no good reason to “silo” domestic and foreign policy when there are great opportunities to connect the dots. For instance, the president’s mention of rebuilding our infrastructure, and specifically repairing 70,000 bridges in this country – great! Why not connect that with the need to drastically cut Pentagon spending in order to reinvest in community needs, stimulate the economy and create jobs? Why not bring the troops home from Afghanistan sooner, some of them can surely help rebuild bridges? The answer of course is the president is far too timid and afraid to take on the military-industrial complex (or by this point he is just “one of them”).

On Afghanistan, the “No drama Obama, I got this, we’re ending two wars” act is wearing thin. The president seems to want kudos for announcing that 34,000 troops will come home from Afghanistan in a year (meaning about that many would remain until the end of 2014, and then the Pentagon wants 8,000 or more to stay after the “end of the war.”).

Sorry, but I think it’s incumbent on the president to make the case why U.S. troops should continue to fight, kill and die in this pointless war for almost another two years. Polls show a solid majority of the public want all the troops, not half of them, home in a year. The president needs to listen to the public, not the generals and their talk of “fighting seasons” and foot-dragging on troop withdrawal.

The president’s quick “you can trust me” justification on drones, kill lists and targeted assassinations was abominable. This issue is moving rapidly at the grassroots, in the media and even in Congress, and the administration surely knows it is on very shaky moral and legal ground.

There was nothing new on any olive branch or changed policy on Iran in advance of the next round of negotiations later this month. Maybe that’s okay, the negotiating stance will be more important than anything he could have announced in the speech.

On nuclear disarmament, the administration evidently decided to back off earlier plans to specify a modest proposal to cut deployed strategic nuclear weapons by about one-third, to 1,000 – 1,100 warheads, instead only mentioning pursuing further reductions with Russia. This was likely a political choice not to raise Republican hackles, but once again shows timidity. Going deeper with nuclear weapons reductions, initiating negotiations on a Nuclear Weapons Convention to eliminate nukes worldwide, scrapping plans to “modernize” the entire nuclear weapons production complex and arsenal (with a projected price tag of over $200 billion over the next decade) – all of these should be on the table and need U.S. leadership, and would be wildly popular in the U.S. and around the world.

Lastly, I couldn’t help but think that when the president said, “we’ll maintain the best military the world has ever known,” the world must have said, “uh oh!”

 


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