Obama’s domino theory by Juan Cole

March 30, 2009
Obama's domino theory

The president sounds like he's channeling Cheney or McCain -- or a Cold War hawk afraid of international communism -- when he talks about the war in Afghanistan.
By Juan Cole
President Barack Obama may or may not
be doing the right thing in Afghanistan, but the rationale he gave for it on
Friday is almost certainly wrong. Obama has presented us with a 21st century
version of the domino theory. The U.S. is not, contrary to what the president
said, mainly fighting "al-Qaida" in Afghanistan. In blaming
everything on al-Qaida, Obama broke with his pledge of straight talk to the
public and fell back on Bush-style boogeymen and implausible conspiracy

Obama realizes that after seven years,
Afghanistan war fatigue has begun to set in with the American people. Some 51 percent of
Americans now oppose the Afghanistan war, and 64 percent of Democrats
do. The president is therefore escalating in the teeth of substantial domestic
opposition, especially from his own party, as voters worry about spending
billions more dollars abroad while the U.S. economy is in serious trouble.

He acknowledged that we deserve a
"straightforward answer" as to why the U.S. and NATO are still
fighting there. "So let me be clear," he said, "Al-Qaida and its
allies -- the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks -- are in
Pakistan and Afghanistan." But his characterization of what is going on
now in Afghanistan, almost eight years after 9/11, was simply not true, and
was, indeed, positively misleading. "And if the Afghan government falls to
the Taliban," he said, "or allows al-Qaida to go unchallenged -- that
country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our
people as they possibly can."

Obama described the same sort of domino
effect that Washington elites used to ascribe to international communism. In
the updated, al-Qaida version, the Taliban might take Kunar Province, and then
all of Afghanistan, and might again host al-Qaida, and might then threaten the
shores of the United States. He even managed to add an analog to Cambodia to
the scenario, saying, "The future of Afghanistan is inextricably linked to
the future of its neighbor, Pakistan," and warned, "Make no mistake:
Al-Qaida and its extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from

This latter-day domino theory of
al-Qaida takeovers in South Asia is just as implausible as its earlier
iteration in Southeast Asia (ask Thailand or the Philippines). Most of the
allegations are not true or are vastly exaggerated. There are very few al-Qaida
fighters based in Afghanistan proper. What is being
called the "Taliban" is mostly not Taliban at all (in the
sense of seminary graduates loyal to Mullah Omar). The groups being branded
"Taliban" only have substantial influence in 8 to 10 percent of
Afghanistan, and only 4
percent of Afghans say they support them. Some 58 percent of Afghans
say that a return of the Taliban is the biggest threat to their country, but
almost no one expects it to happen. Moreover, with regard to Pakistan, there is
no danger of militants based in the remote Federally Administered Tribal Areas
(FATA) taking over that country or "killing" it.

The Kabul government is not on the
verge of falling to the Taliban. The Afghan government has 80,000 troops, who
benefit from close U.S. air support, and the total number of Taliban fighters
in the Pashtun provinces is estimated at
10,000 to 15,000. Kabul is in danger of losing control of some
villages in the provinces to dissident Pashtun warlords styled
"Taliban," though it is not clear why the new Afghan army could not
expel them if they did so. A smaller, poorly equipped Northern Alliance army
defeated 60,000 Taliban with U.S. air support in 2001. And there is no prospect
of "al-Qaida" reestablishing bases in Afghanistan from which it could
attack the United States. If al-Qaida did come back to Afghanistan, it could
simply be bombed and would be attacked by the new Afghan army.

While the emergence of "Pakistani
Taliban" in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas is a blow to
Pakistan's security, they have just been
defeated in one of the seven major tribal agencies, Bajaur, by a
concerted and months-long campaign of the highly professional and well-equipped
Pakistani army. United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates replied last
summer to the idea that al-Qaida is regrouping in Pakistan and forms
a new and vital threat to the West: "Actually, I don't agree with that
assessment, because when al-Qaida was in Afghanistan, they had the partnership
of a government. They had ready access to international communications, ready
access to travel, and so on. Their circumstances in the FATA (Federally
Administered Tribal Areas) and on the Pakistani side of the border are much
more primitive. And it's much more difficult for them to move around, much more
difficult for them to communicate."
As for a threat to Pakistan, the FATA
areas are smaller than Connecticut, with a total population of a little over 3
million, while Pakistan itself is bigger than Texas, with a population more
than half that of the entire United States. A few thousand Pashtun tribesmen
cannot take over Pakistan, nor can they "kill" it. The Pakistani
public just forced a military dictator out of office and forced the
reinstatement of the Supreme Court, which oversees secular law. Over
three-quarters of Pakistanis said in a poll last summer that they had an
unfavorable view of the Taliban, and a recent poll found that 90
percent of them worried about terrorism. To be sure, Pakistanis are
on the whole highly opposed to the U.S. military presence in the region, and
most outside the tribal areas object to U.S.
Predator drone strikes on Pakistani territory. The danger is that
the U.S. strikes may make the radicals seem victims of Western imperialism and
so sympathetic to the Pakistani public.

Obama's dark vision of the overthrow of
the Afghanistan government by al-Qaida-linked Taliban or the "killing"
of Pakistan by small tribal groups differs little from the equally apocalyptic
and implausible warnings issued by John McCain and Dick Cheney about an
"al-Qaida" victory in Iraq. Ominously, the president's views are
contradicted by those of his own secretary of defense. Pashtun tribes in
northwestern Pakistan and southern Afghanistan have a long history of
dissidence, feuding and rebellion, which is now being branded Talibanism and
configured as a dire menace to the Western way of life. Obama has added yet
another domino theory to the history of Washington's justifications for massive
military interventions in Asia. When a policymaker gets the rationale for
action wrong, he is at particular risk of falling into mission creep and
stubborn commitment to a doomed and unnecessary enterprise.

Salon contributor Juan Cole is a professor of modern Middle Eastern and South
 Asian history at the University of Michigan and the author of "Engaging the
Muslim World."

Obama’s Afghanistan proposal under fire

March 27, 2009


By: Alex Isenstadt
March 27, 2009 02:46 PM EST

President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan proposal is under fire from the liberal base, which is becoming increasingly disappointed in his war policies.

Russ Feingold, the liberal and often defiant Wisconsin senator, said today that that Obama’s plan “could make the situation worse, not better.”

Peace Action, a liberal anti-war organization, is organizing a coalition to petition Congress to oppose Obama’s Afghanistan plan.

“It’s a shame President Obama believes he can pursue the same militaristic strategy as his predecessors and produce a different result,” said Kevin Martin, executive director of Peace Action.

And Win Without War, another anti-war group, also slammed Obama.

“I regret that President Obama, in his desire to protect our nation from a genuine threat, has outlined a policy that will undermine our security, not enhance it,” said Tom Andrews, the organization’s executive director. “In short, the president’s policy is playing into the hands of Al Qaeda and the Taliban by providing them with a cause that unites and strengthens them.”

The criticisms of the troop expansion in Afghanistan are similar to the liberal concerns over the slower than expected pace of withdrawal from Iraq.

Feingold argued that Obama’s plan was overly Afghan-centric when it should adopt a more regional approach and deal with Pakistan and Afghanistan jointly.

“As the bombing near the Khyber pass this morning highlights, we need to fully address the inextricable links between the crisis in Afghanistan and the instability and terrorist threats in Pakistan,” Feingold said.

Obama’s plan calls for sending 4,000 American troops to Afghanistan and boosting aid to Pakistan. It also calls for setting benchmarks for progress in fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban in those countries.

But today Feingold said, “This new administration must ensure that we do what we must not only in Afghanistan, but also in Pakistan.”

Peace Action West urges the President to rethink the military surge.

March 27, 2009

Press Contact: Reva Patwardhan (o) 510-849-2272, ext. 112, (m) 510-681-7075

Oakland, CA – Today, just hours after President Obama revealed his official strategy for Afghanistan, which includes plans for 21,000 additional troops, foreign policy advocacy groups are urging the President to rethink the military surge.

President Obama’s plan calls for sending 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. These additions will augment the 17,000 troops Obama has already pledged to send by the end of the summer.

“The New York Times reported yesterday that the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban are putting their differences aside to unite in the face of the coming influx of US troops,” stated Rebecca Griffin, Political Director for Peace Action West. “A military escalation is going to unite the insurgency, and ultimately mean more American and Afghan casualties and less security. Historical data shows that policing, intelligence, and political reconciliation are far more effective at defeating terrorism than military force.”

“President Obama’s plan indicates that he understands a key principle of effective foreign policy: civilian tools are essential for US, Pakistani and Afghan security,” stated Rebecca Griffin, Political Director for Peace Action West. “However the proof will be in the funding. Peace Action West hopes to see more details in the president’s plans outlining a dramatic shift in resources from military force to civilian instruments of security, as well as a clear timeline for withdrawal for our troops.”

In an interview with 60 Minutes last week, President Obama said, “there’s got to be an exit strategy.” However details on that strategy were markedly missing from the official plan released today.

“Afghans are increasingly incensed at the civilian casualties caused by night raids and air strikes. A military escalation in Afghanistan not only fails to achieve its goal of eliminating terrorism, it undermines US security,” Ms. Griffin argued. “A recent poll, conducted by ABC, BBC and ARV German news, indicates only 18% of Afghans said they support additional US troops to Afghanistan. It’s time the Obama administration gave Afghan civilians the voice and means for determining their own future.”

Peace Action West is calling for grassroots pressure on the president and Congress to fully fund non-military solutions, and rethink the military surge here: http://www.peaceactionwest.org/witness/

Peace Group Warns Obama to Reconsider His Plan in Afghanistan

March 27, 2009


CONTACT: Barbra Bearden

Ph: 301.565.4050 ext. 330 Cell: 617.240.7253


Paul Kawika Martin

Ph: 301.565.4050 ext. 316 Cell: 951.217.7285


(Washington, DC) Today President Obama announced his plan to send upwards of 20,000 more American troops to Afghanistan. Peace Action began organizing grassroots activists and lobbying against the escalation in late February.

Peace Action organized 19 other national organizations to petition Congressional Representatives to sign a letter to the President asking him to reconsider the escalation. The bipartisan letter signed by six Republicans and eight Democrats states in part, “The 2001 authorization to use military force in Afghanistan allowed military action ‘to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.’ Continuing to fight a counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan does not appear to us to be in keeping with these directives and an escalation may actually harm U.S. security.”

This poorly conceived strategy continues failed Middle East policies where military engagement serves as the primary diplomatic tool. The war weary American public does not support an escalation of the U.S. presence and neither should the otherwise popular U.S. President.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reported on Peace Action protests across the country March 20th, “Marge Manke, 72, of Louisville, said she is a Quaker and member of the Peace Action Community and has been against the Iraq war since before it started. She also opposes the war in Afghanistan and held a sign saying: “Dear President Obama, Don’t let Afghanistan be your Vietnam.”

Dozens of national organizations are joining Peace Action in a call for local protests in reaction to Obama’s statement between April 6th-9th and a coordinated call-in day to the White House scheduled for Tuesday, March 31st.

“It’s a shame President Obama believes he can pursue the same militaristic strategy as his predecessors and produce a different result,” said Kevin Martin, Executive Director of Peace Action. He continued, “While President Obama has made some good statements on increasing diplomacy and economic aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the emphasis is clearly on military operations. John F. Kennedy was in a comparable situation when he was elected. He chose to escalate then as well, and the consequences of his decision left our country mired in an unwinnable war.”

The President should de-escalate our military presence in Afghanistan keeping regional stability and human rights at the forefront of any diplomatic talks. There is a political solution to instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan; but, that solution cannot be reached while the U.S. and NATO impose military dominance. According to a RAND Corporation report, since 1968, only seven percent of all terrorist groups that have ended were taken down by military force. In contrast, 43 percent gave up terrorism as they were integrated into the political process.

The U.S. and international community should increase funding for Afghan-led humanitarian aid, development work, and landmine clean up. An ABC news poll at the end of 2008 found that only 18 percent of Afghans support an increase in military presence. Much of the strife among the Afghan people stems from the use of controversial Predator drone and air strikes as well as nightly raids in private homes.

Our current presence in Afghanistan costs the American tax payer more than $2 billion per month. The proposed plan for Afghanistan would increase that figure by 60 percent this year. When asked about the increased costs Martin said, “Here in the U.S., Obama’s escalation, and the continuing occupation of Iraq, threatens the president’s, and our country’s, urgent economic and domestic agenda.”

It is clear that U.S. troops cannot sustain any more extended deployments. According to CNN the suicide rate for U.S. troops has surpassed that of the general population for the first time since Vietnam. The occurrence of suicide is highly correlated with more than three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Martin concluded, “Nothing indicates a military strategy will provide stability in Afghanistan. There is only one thing certain about the impact of this escalation more death, destruction, and misery.”


Peace Action is the country’s largest peace and disarmament organization with 100,000 members and affiliates and chapters in 28 states. Dating to the founding of the Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy in 1957, Peace Action works for the abolition of nuclear weapons, cuts in military spending in order to fund human and environmental needs, and a new U.S. foreign policy based on international cooperation and human rights. http://www.peace-action.org/

Editors Notes:

Congressional Letter to President Obama: http://www.peace-action.org/Afghanistan/sign_on_letter.html#endorsing

Louisville Courier-Journal: http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20090320/NEWS01/903200340/1008/rss01

RAND Report: http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9351/index1.html

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/26/AR2009032602135.html?referrer=emailarticle

ABC Poll: http://abcnews.go.com/PollingUnit/story?id=6787686&page=1

CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/09/09/army.suicides/index.html

Carnegie Report: http://carnegieendowment.org/publications/index.cfm?fa=view&id=22619&prog=zgp&proj=zsa

Call for National Action for Peace in Afghanistan

March 27, 2009

Today, President Barack Obama announced his plans to send another 21,000 troops to Afghanistan. This poorly conceived strategy continues failed Middle East policies where military engagement serves as the primary tool. The war weary American public does not support an escalation of the U.S. presence and neither should the President.

While he also made some good statements on increasing diplomacy and economic aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the emphasis is clearly on military operations. Predictably, the Pakistan and Afghan factions of the Taliban are already uniting to oppose our escalation of troops. As the spring fighting season approaches, only one thing is certain — more death, destruction, and misery in a desperately poor country that has had little respite from war for decades.

Here in the U.S., Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan and the continuing occupation of Iraq threaten our nation’s urgent economic and domestic agenda. Now is the time for more diplomacy, not more war!

Peace Action calls for immediate action for peace in Afghanistan. Here are four things you can do:

1) Call the White House today – 202-456-1414 – to show your immediate opposition to President Obama’s plan.

Make sure President Obama knows that you disagree with his plan to send more troops to Afghanistan. Call the White House comment line at 202-456-1414 between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM ET.

2) Call again on TUESDAY, March 31st.

Nationally, dozens of other organizations will make coordinated calls to the White House. This planned day of action will show the strength of our movement and reflect the national discontent with unending wars.

3) March with Peace Action and UFPJ in New York on April 4! Join us at the corner of White and Lafayette streets in Manhattan at 11AM.

Building on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we are marching on the anniversary of his historic speech against the war in Vietnam and the anniversary of his assassination. On Saturday, April 4, we are taking our message to Wall Street in NYC: addressing this country’s economic crisis must include drastic cuts in military spending and that means ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The last thing our country needs is a new quagmire in Afghanistan – it is time to bring the troops home, not send more.

4) Help organize local actions April 6 – 9

Congress will be in recess so this is a perfect time to meet with your representatives while they are home. Actions can also be community or media-focused — vigils, rallies, public education forums with local speakers, film showings or other events to educate and mobilize support in your community. Here are some resources to get you started. This is an important time to educate people about Afghanistan and the urgent need to change U.S. policy. Find a Peace Action affiliate near you, here.

Peace Action Supports:

  • A halt to the planned escalation of 21,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
  • A strong commitment to diplomacy as the only solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. The U.S. must support negotiations already underway among various actors in Afghanistan, and must also engage all countries in the region with a stake in a peaceful Afghanistan. The announcement that Iran will join negotiations over Afghanistan is a positive development. The U.S. should foster this development by openly engaging Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.
  • A dramatic shift from military spending by the U.S. to funding for Afghan-led humanitarian community development and reconstruction projects to enable Afghan communities to improve daily life for their own people. Our goal is to put an end to U.S. war funding.

War Toll

March 25, 2009
Died in Iraq from Mar 15 to 21:
Spc Gary Moore  25  Del City OK
71 Iraqi sisters and brothers were killed.
In Afghanistan were killed:
Sgt Timothy Bowles  24  Tucson NM
Sgt Christopher Abeyta  23  Midlothian IL
Spc Robert Weinger  24  Round Lake IL
Spc Norman Cain III  22  Oregon IL
Cpl John Dean  25  England
Cpl Graeme Stiff  24  England
Cpl Matthew Hopkins  21  Australia
Sgt Brett Till  31  Australia
Cpl Tyler Crooks  24  Ontario
Cpl Scott Vernelli  28  Ontario
Pvt Jack Bouthillier  20  Ontario
Pvt Corey Hayes  22  New Brunswick
Cpl Daniel Geary  22  Rome NY
Army suicides in 2008  –  140
in 2009  –   48

War Toll

March 24, 2009
Those who died in Iraq from Mar 8 to 14:
Cpl Patrick Malone  21  Ocala FL
152 Iraqi brothers and sisters were killed.
In Afghanistan were killed:
Cpl Marc Diab  22  Canada
Pvt Patrick Devoe II  27  Auburn NY
Cpl Christopher Harkett  22  England
Cpl Nicholas Belda  23  France
Sgt Archie Taylor  37  Tomball TX
Afghanis killed: 22    Pakistanis: 45
In 2008, 41 marines committed suicide,
another 146 attempted.


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