Monday, November 30, 2009

Obama's Leadership Called Into Question By Grassroots Democrats Over Afghanistan


The day after Thanksgiving, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern penned an OpEd for truthout speculating, essentially, whether our leader in the White House is a man of conviction and courage or... something else. He begins with a quote from Col. (ret) Larry Wilkerson referring to JFK's courageous defiance of the Pentagon when he refused to let the determined generals bomb Cuba in 1962, something that could well have ended in a nuclear exchange.
The Cuban crisis was not the only time JFK found himself at loggerheads with generals who thought they knew better and who verged on the insubordinate. Kennedy’s sustained arm wrestling with his senior generals over whether to send more troops to Vietnam was just as tense, and much more sustained.

In the end, he concluded that they had it wrong and decided against them. In short, he opted to behave like a President-- a “decider” (pardon the odd word). His overruling of the U.S. military brass on Vietnam had huge implications, both short- and long-term. This “real history” is highly relevant today.

The 46th anniversary of John Kennedy’s assassination passed by last Sunday virtually unnoticed. The unfortunate thing is this: his legacy on Vietnam is so widely misunderstood that it is easy to miss the relevance of his decision-making in the early Sixties to the dilemma faced by President Obama today as he decides whether to stand up to-- or cave in to-- the Pentagon’s plans for escalating another misbegotten war in Afghanistan.

Faux history has it that President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s infusion of hundreds of thousands, up to 536,000, combat troops into Vietnam was a straight-line continuation of a buildup started by his slain predecessor. Kennedy did raise the U.S. troop level there from about 1,000 to 16,500 “advisers”-- a significant increase.

But as he studied the options, cost and likely outcomes, Kennedy came to see U.S. intervention in Vietnam as a fool’s errand. Few Americans are aware that, just before he was assassinated, Kennedy had decided to pull all troops out of Vietnam by 1965.

The Pentagon was hell bent on thwarting such plans, and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara found it an uphill struggle to enforce the President’s will on the top brass. Senior military officers were experts at “slow-rolling” politicians who favored a course that the Pentagon didn’t like.

When in May 1962 Kennedy ordered up a contingency troop-withdrawal plan, it took more than a year for the military brass to draw one up... Assistant Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff, to whom fell the task of announcing President Kennedy’s death on Nov. 22, 1963, told James Douglass, author of JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, that Kennedy’s mind was fixed on Vietnam the day before. Instead of rehearsing for a press conference that day, Kennedy told Kilduff:
“I’ve just been given a list of the most recent casualties in Vietnam. We’re losing too damned many people over there. It’s time for us to get out. The Vietnamese are not fighting for themselves. We’re the ones who are doing the fighting.

“After I come back from Texas, that’s going to change. There is no reason for us to lose another man over there. Vietnam is not worth another American life.”

A month before, during his last visit to Hyannis Port, Kennedy told his next-door neighbor Larry Newman, “I’m going to get those guys out [of Vietnam] because we’re not going to find ourselves in a war it’s impossible to win.”... Obama is surely aware that the majority of Americans are no longer deceived by the pundits at Fox News. Recent polls show broader and broader popular opposition to sending more troops.

The choice, in my view, is between courage anchored in a determination to do the right thing and cowardice cloaked in the politics of the possible. Let me guess what you’re thinking-- “But that’s asking too much of a young President; cowardice is too strong a word; Obama cannot possibly face down the entire military establishment.”

John Kennedy did. So the question is whether Barack Obama is “no Jack Kennedy,” or whether he will summon the courage to stand up to the misguided military brass of today.

Tomorrow evening, President Obama will address the nation and, according to reports, kowtow to the generals and the Military Industrial Complex, breaking with the progressive base that elected him and signaling his status as a weak, lame duck one-term president. So much promise... but his epithet, at best, is likely to be that he was... somewhat better than his predecessor.

Incumbents are under all kinds of pressures in regard to the war and many Democrats-- not just vile, mangy Blue Dogs, but good ones as well-- are bending over backwards to give Obama some breathing room. We, on the other hand, have been most impressed with the 32 Democrats who voted against the war supplemental budget last June and with the 50 Democrats (+ 7 Republicans) who signed Jim McGovern's letter to Obama asking him to resist buckling in to the warmongers. [An 8th Republican, Utah conservative Jason Chaffetz jumped on the "bring the troops home now" bandwagon this morning.] Incumbents are getting tremendous pressure from Emanuel and the White House political team to stick with the president. Donna Edwards-- who was one of the 32 and one of the 50-- already has a machine hack challenging her in a primary. Today, however, let's take a look at what is being said about the escalation by Democratic candidates, not incumbents, who are running for Congress next year.

Marcy Winograd, author of the California Democratic Party resolution to "End the US Occupation and Air War in Afghanistan," is running against Blue Dog Jane Harman, an extremely bad faith player who continues to be an integral part of the Military-Industrial Complex. Marcy summed up one of the most prevalent lines of thinking among grassroots Democrats:
As Americans, we want to feel safe and secure and not awaken in the night to learn
of a horrendous attack on our soil. I understand that. We all do. What I don't understand is why
our President persists in pursuing a policy that history repeatedly condemns. President Obama is listening to the wrong people, those who mistakenly believe that occupation and drone attacks make us more secure, that sending our youth to fight and possibly die in Afghanistan insulates us from terrorism. Quite the contrary. No nation wants to be occupied, to be under the thumb of a foreign power with its eye on a natural gas pipeline or expanding military bases that serve as concrete reminders of "the other"-- "the occupier." When we escalate an indefinite occupation of Afghanistan, when we send in unmanned bombers into nuclear-armed Pakistan, when we build monumental cement fortresses in Iraq, we only engender hatred, create new enemies, and propel a dangerous narrative that we are at war with the entire Moslem world. As a community leader, a student of the Vietnam War moratoriums, I know that all the military might in the world cannot crush the desire for people to control their own destiny. In Congress, I would vote to combat the real enemy in Afghanistan: poverty. I would vote to partner with indigenous NGO's in the region to build schools, not bombs, and I would introduce legislation to require the President to annually seek congressional approval for war. Congress has the power to stop this escalation; we need courageous leadership in the House to exercise that power.

And it isn't just in the House where we need courageous leadership. In fact, we have some courageous leaders there already-- not enough, but with people like Donna Edwards, Alan Grayson, Barbara Lee, Raul Grijalva, Dennis Kucinich, Lynn Woolsey, Keith Ellison, Lloyd Doggett, Maxine Waters... at least progressive solutions get an airing. The Senate, or as many refer to it, the House of Lords, is a much bigger problem. Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, Sheldon Whitehouse, Dick Durbin, Al Franken, Barbara Boxer and Sherrod Brown can use some help in that bankster-owned corporate subsidiary.

In Massachusetts both frontrunners, Mike Capuano-- who already voted against the supplemental war budget last June and signed onto Jim McGovern's anti-war letter-- and Martha Coakley have come out strongly against escalation. Ohio isn't as blue as Massachusetts, though, and this is the kind of issue that separates the wheat from the chaff. The chaff in this race, is a tepid centrist who doesn't ever say what he believes unless he's forced to. We asked him for a statement and we got... crickets. His opponent, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, is a real leader and came out with an inspiring statement this morning:
President Obama is scheduled to address the American people tomorrow about his plans for dealing with the war in Afghanistan, a war he-- and our nation-- inherited from former President George W. Bush.  Neither President Obama nor the American public knew the extent to which conditions had deteriorated in Afghanistan, and those conditions have continued to deteriorate.  And now, as nearly all international forces have withdrawn their troops from Iraq, and with the U.S. deployment there expected to wind down in 2011, the monumental task of squarely addressing the complicated problems of Afghanistan confronts our nation.
At the risk of being called a naysayer, a name I’m not often called because of the “can do” attitude I normally adopt, I believe the costs are too great-- in human lives and economic resources-- to continue along the current path. It is clear to me that America must set a timetable for bringing our troops home from Afghanistan as soon as possible.
The impact of this conflict on the United States, and my home state of Ohio, is unacceptable. As the cost to American and Ohioans’ lives increases, billions are spent each month on the conflict in Afghanistan, ballooning our national debt and diverting resources we desperately need here at home.
So far, of the 4367 military deaths in Iraq and 928 military deaths in Afghanistan, Ohio has sacrificed more than 200 lives in military deaths and $33 billion to fund wars on these fronts-- priceless loss to Ohio’s future and $33 billion from a state with unemployment exceeding 10 percent. Looking just at the dollars, had we invested these funds, Ohio could have funded roughly 6 million Pell Grants, or hired a half million elementary school teachers or provided completely free health care for one year for every woman, man and child in the state. 

Given the increasing death toll in Afghanistan, it is clear that progress in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban has slowed or worsened. We cannot remedy this by simply sending additional troops, given the conditions and corruption in Afghanistan.

And even in areas of the country thought of as deeply red, Americans are waking up to the folly of the kind of wasteful war that Obama is following Bush into. Right now the entire state of Montana is represented by one rather awful congressman, unhesitant, jingoistic war-booster Denny Rehberg, who never missed a pro-war Bush vote in the past 8 years and has been clamoring for Obama to commit more American troops and as fast as possible. This year Rehberg will face a far sharper opponent than he has in the past, Tyler Gernant, who is also far less likely to rubber-stamp any president's policies, regardless of political party, than Rehberg. And that's especially true when it comes to something as important as war and peace:
We have been fighting in Afghanistan for twice as long as we fought in World War II. Our government has spent over $220 billion since the invasion of Afghanistan eight years ago. The ongoing cost is nearly $1 million a year for every soldier deployed there. The human costs on our troops and their families are incalculable. Despite the additional 21,000 troops that were deployed earlier this year, the country has not seen an increase in stability. In fact, 2009 has been the deadliest year for American troops in Afghanistan. An additional 30,000 to 40,000 troops, on top of the 68,000 that are already there, could bring the total cost of our military presence in Afghanistan to over $100 billion a year and still not bring stability to the region. Our efforts thus far have focused too heavily on providing a military solution to a political problem caused by a diffuse tribal system of government.

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution for Afghanistan. Pulling out completely could further destabilize an already unstable region, but increasing our troop presence is not a solution in and of itself. Until the Afghans take ownership in their own unique system of government, our outside efforts will continue to fail. Our definition of victory in Afghanistan cannot, and should not, be imposing our system of government upon them. In the end, our goal should be to neutralize Afghanistan as a terrorist training ground while providing Afghans with the tools for effective self-governance. To the extent that military force is a part of that solution, our commitment should be limited in time and focused on providing the necessary security so that a political solution can be reached.

Regina Thomas is running in the Democratic primary in Georgia's 12th CD against Blue Dog stooge John Barrow, who has opposed President Obama on every item in his agenda and finally seems to have found something he can support-- more war. As a state senator, Regina fought hard for her Savannah constituents in terms of education, healthcare and a host of economic issues. She told me that she sees her most important role in politics as making sure her constituents have access to rewarding jobs so they can raise their families with dignity. When she decided to challenge Barrow she talked about healthcare, education and, of course, jobs, jobs, jobs. This morning, though, she was still reeling about reports of Obama's acquiescence to the Pentagon to escalate the war in Afghanistan. "Sending more troops isn't the right answer," she told us. "I am and have always been against this war! We are spending money that we do not have, money that could and should be used for healthcare, education, and to help stimulate economic prosperity in our own country. Our troops have fought hard and bravely in an untenable situation; they are worn. Mothers, fathers, spouses, siblings, other family members and friends are tired of waiting for bodies to be shipped back to the USA for burial. If the President wants to spend more money on this war, I cannot support that. In fact, we've seen that the lion's share of all monies sent to war zones have been used for contractors and sub-contractors and only God knows what else. I say "Bring our troops home!" 

Paulette Garin is running for southeast Wisconsin's blue-trending House seat, currently held by a smooth-talking but duplicitous GOP rubber stamp, Paul Ryan. Paulette sees the Afghan situation very much the way Regina sees it: "If President Obama authorizes sending another 30,000 – 40,000 troops to Afghanistan as anticipated, it would clearly be a move in the wrong direction. Our involvement in Afghanistan has been morally suspect and legally questionable from its inception. Who are we fighting? Al-Qaeda? The Taliban? What are we fighting for? The War on Terror? Protect President Karzai and a government of doubtful credibility?
"We have placed our troops and our treasure in an un-winnable conflict at a cost of almost $1Million dollars per soldier per year. Too many lives have been lost on all sides struggling to endure this conflict. Our continued involvement is economically unsustainable. We cannot allow Afghanistan to become the next Vietnam. There is no military solution in Afghanistan. Our military has served us well-- but to no avail-- please bring them home to their families. 

President Barack Obama said in his inaugural address, 'your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.' Therefore, our efforts in Afghanistan should be focused on a political solution and increased humanitarian aid." 

When Charles Pierce interviewed Marine Corps General (ret) Anthony Zinni about the Iraq War for Idiot America, Zinni told him that the Bush era political elite was incapable or unwilling to grasp the lessons of history. His words are no less true today, in terms of Afghanistan, than they were then: "There's a difference in failures based on arrogance and incompetence and ignorance, and mistakes that everybody makes in the course of very involved and complex undertakings like this one." I'm not accusing President Obama of Bush's and Cheney's "arrogance and incompetence and ignorance," but, in the end, what really is the difference-- to the families in Afghanistan and in the U.S. who lose family members? To the increasingly brittle fabric of American security that has been wrecked by a political-military-intelligence establishment fumbling in the dark, and to our reeling economy?

Last week I sat in on an Afghanistan conference call with Bill Hedrick, the Democratic candidate who nearly beat reactionary GOP party-boy Ken Calvert (R-CA) in 2008 and plans to finish the job next year. Hedrick was just back from a trip to Fort Benning in Georgia where he said good-bye to his son, Adam, and daughter-in-law, Natalie, who were deploying for their third tours of duty in Iraq. Another son, Jesse, nearly lost his life fighting in Iraq earlier and another daughter-in-law, served 2 tours of duty there as a convoy driver, "I’m proud of their service to our country and fortunate they have returned home safely from each tour as thousands have not. Right now, well over 40,000 more families like mine are sitting on the edge of their seat while a decision will be made between a variety of viewpoints from military experts and commanders.  Should the U.S. increase our troop presence in Afghanistan?  I say no. That’s a George W. Bush strategy. We have lost nearly 1000 (920) American troops in Afghanistan with that policy. The time is now to set a clear exit strategy, benchmarks, and timeline for drawdown so the Afghan government cleans up and steps up to take responsibility for rooting out Taliban insurgents. Government corruption and a dependence on American troops are preventing the Afghans from stepping up.  Increasing American troop levels does not solve those problems. It only puts more of our brave young men and women at risk and spends taxpayer money half way around the globe while the effects of the Bush recession continue to plague our economy." He continued:
Right now, here at home, people have either lost their jobs or are worried about losing them.  They are wondering how they will afford to pay their mortgage. We have 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan right now at a cost of more than $65 billion this year. Sending 40,000 more troops will cost another $40 billion per year. That’s $1 million per troop per year. 1 million dollars. That’s money we should be spending to help small businesses create good-paying jobs. There is too much corruption in the Karzai government in Afghanistan.  Even Karzai’s brother was quoted as saying he uses his brother’s position to gain influence and power he would not otherwise have.

With an open-ended intervention, they will continue to feed off the American presence.  A line must be drawn. In addition to setting a clear exit strategy that includes benchmarks and a timeline for transition, focusing on senior-level military training and strategic support to root out corruption in the Afghan government are better steps to take than sending in 40,000 new U.S. troops. We should not increase U.S. troop levels. At all.

I asked him if he thought going against both the Republican orthodoxy and Obama determination to do what no one has ever been able to do-- dominate Afghanistan-- might not harm him politically, he answered the way more and more Democrats are handling this inevitable question:
I’ll risk it. When I decided to run in 2007 it was in great part because of my disagreement with the Iraq policy and how it has affected my family. Efforts in Afghanistan match many of my initial concerns with Iraq. We are looking at another trillion dollar war with no assurance it makes us safer. If the decision is to send more troops, there must be a clear exit strategy. We must avoid another open-ended commitment. People in my district, both Democrats and Republicans, are having trouble making ends meet. We need to leave Afghanistan and use those billions of dollars to help people here who can’t pay their mortgage, can’t find work, and need health care.

Doug Tudor, a career naval officer, now retired, is running to represent the Florida constituency being abandoned by Adam Putnam. Doug is battling a Blue Dog-backed reactionary, Lori Edwards, who steadfastly refuses to commit to any positions other than favoring apple pie and motherhood. Ask her about Afghanistan and she says it's complicated and she's studying it. Perhaps she should consider running for office after her studies. Meanwhile Doug has thought long and hard about war and about Afghanistan and says it's a war that should never have happened in the first place. "The mission was to remove the Taliban from power and to kill or capture the leadership of Al Qaida. Without going into the many catastrophic failures of the Bush Administration, we are now at a point where Al Qaida has been severely disrupted. It is time to refocus our mission from counter-insurgency to counter-terrorism, using intelligence sharing, special forces, and tactical strikes to complete the mission. To do so, America and NATO need to rapidly reduce forces, thus encouraging the Karzai government to stand up as we stand down. Americans will not like the brutality President Karzai uses to hold control of his country, but this is an Afghan fight that needs to be fought by Afghans. Counter-insurgency is not worth a single additional American WIA or KIA.”

One of the top DCCC targets for 2010 is likely to be Thaddeus McCotter, a Michigan Republican likely to get a teabagger primary opponent after calling teabaggy hero Jim DeMint "nuts". His Democratic opponent is Natalie Mosher who opposes escalating the war in Afghanistan. "The decision to send more troops to Afghanistan," she told us, "comes seven years too late. The Bush Administration used poor judgment to fight the war on terror in the deserts of Iraq instead of the mountains of Afghanistan. I do not support any troop increases to Afghanistan. Our men and women in uniform are the bravest and most skilled soldiers in history, but the challenge in Afghanistan will not be overcome with the traditional military approach. As such, we should start to bring our troops home now and target terrorist cells on a case by case basis with small, tactical special-forces units that specialize in this type of warfare."

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At 11:19 AM, Blogger Jack Lohman said...

Wouldn't it be nice to know that these decisions were being made independent of the hundreds of millions of dollars that pass hands from the defense manufacturers to the political parties and candidates.

At 4:04 PM, Anonymous Jonathan said...

".... It is time to refocus our mission from counter-insurgency to counter-terrorism, using intelligence sharing, special forces, and tactical strikes to complete the mission. To do so, America and NATO need to rapidly reduce forces, thus encouraging the Karzai government to stand up as we stand down. Americans will not like the brutality President Karzai uses to hold control of his country, but this is an Afghan fight that needs to be fought by Afghans. Counter-insurgency is not worth a single additional American WIA or KIA.”

Amen Brother Doug, Amen.

At 9:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Regina Thomas is running in the Democratic primary in Georgia's 12th CD against Blue Dog stooge John Barrow, who has opposed President Obama on every item in his agenda"

....not true, Barrow voted for the Lilly Leadbetter Equal Pay Act, voted to expand affordable health care access to 6 million deserving children (S-CHIP) and voted for the Economic Stimulus bill (the largest single govt investment in education, health care and energy in US history) which has helped get us out of the Great Recession. In fact Barrow has a 93.6% voting record with the Democratic Caucus (

Sorry Howie, just because you write it on your blog, doesn't make it true.

At 12:23 PM, Blogger DownWithTyranny said...

Barrow's voting record is not 93.6 or whatever nonsense you pulled out of your ass. On substantive votes, it's a 29.41 this year (and 55.53 for his entire career)


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