What did you think about President Obama’s speech last night? Read my take, which appears here today in the San Francisco Chronicle, and share your thoughts in the comments below.
The White House has been telling Americans fed up with the war that the deal signed Tuesday with the Afghan government is the light at the end of the tunnel. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is selling the same deal to NATO allies as a sign of the United States’ enduring commitment.
The reality is that the new strategic partnership agreement is not all things to all people. By the end of this summer, there still will be 68,000 troops in Afghanistan. The new agreement authorizes the U.S. military to “advise and assist” the Afghan military through at least 2024. That could translate to another 12 years of repeating our mistakes, with tens of thousands of soldiers still in harm’s way.
This means that a large majority of Americans have reason to be disappointed. According to a recent CNN poll, 77 percent of Americans want all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, with 55 percent wanting them out sooner. Last month, a Pew poll found that 59 percent of swing voters want them home as soon as possible. Americans want out of a war that costs us $2 billion a week. The NATO summit coming up this month is a chance to take real steps toward that goal.
The U.S. occupation is the primary target for the Afghan insurgency, which makes an enormous military presence inherently destabilizing to the Afghan nation. Recent revelations have underscored this reality, such as the photos of soldiers posing with dead insurgents, and the accidental mass burning of Qurans. It is no surprise that Afghans are growing more resentful of the American military presence. The international community could play a constructive role in helping Afghans rebuild their country and strengthen their government. But the trust needed to build that kind of partnership between Afghans and Americans is sorely lacking. A clear and responsible plan to withdraw U.S. troops as soon as possible would be a first step in building that trust.
Withdrawing should not mean abandoning Afghanistan. The United States has a responsibility to keep its commitment to Afghans. We also have an interest. After more than 10 years of war, our futures are linked. Afghanistan’s many challenges – from the lack of public support for the Karzai government to widespread corruption – are rooted in politics. These problems require political solutions that can’t be delivered at gunpoint. Ending the occupation could provide an opening for a diplomatic and development mission that would be not only more effective, but much less deadly and costly.
At the May 20-21 summit in Chicago, NATO will address its role in Afghanistan, and could lay groundwork for making this crucial strategic shift. This week marks one year since Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan. His death, along with a diminished al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan, removed the primary justification for this war. The next few weeks will be an opportunity to set forth a clear commitment and timeline to bring the troops home.
That means now is the time to act. If you want this war to end, call your congressional representative now. The House will be taking up a defense policy bill the week before the NATO summit. Tell your elected representative to use this debate to take a stand for a serious, detailed plan to end this war.
Rebecca Griffin leads Peace Action West’s campaigns for alternatives to war. http://www.peaceactionwest.org