Thursday, May 21, 2009

Getting Real on Afghanistan

By Janet Weil

There's an old adage, “Show me what you spend your money on, and I will tell you your values."

President Obama’s request for a “speedy” congressional vote on $83 billion more in supplemental war funds to pay for more troops, more drone bombing, and more carnage in Afghanistan, has inadvertently shown his values in practice: war over diplomacy, and wishful thinking over clear-eyed realism.

It’s time to get real on the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. Military engagement there since October 2001 has yielded neither the capture of Osama Bin Laden, the political defeat of the Taliban, nor the improvement of life for Afghans, especially Afghan women.

This war has cost U.S. citizens, thus far, over $172.9 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service. The fiscal year 2009 budget deficit is now projected to be $1.75 trillion. Since it is borrowed money, the taxpayers -- and our children -- will have to pay it back. This will be a burden on the U.S. economy for decades. Meanwhile, military corporations such as DynCorp, Triple Canopy and Halliburton are raking in profits.

Moving from the cost in money to the cost in blood, this military misadventure has claimed the lives of nearly 700 U.S. servicemembers. Former NFL player Pat Tillman, used as a Pentagon poster boy until killed by “friendly” fire, is perhaps the only name of the dead of this war that Americans remember. Nameless to us -- but their deaths never to be forgotten or forgiven by their families -- are thousands of Afghan civilian casualties. Under Obama's policies, many more young Americans, and Afghan civilians, will die, for no gain.

Obama received a polite “no” from European leaders to his request that NATO forces take more of the combat load in Afghanistan. Large protests in France and Germany marked the 60th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which was created to protect Western Europe from the Soviet Union. There is no Soviet Union any longer, Europe is economically powerful and peaceful, and Afghanistan is a long, long way from the North Atlantic.

There are alternatives, far more affordable and rational, than accelerating the military option in one of the poorest and most war-torn countries on earth. The U.S. could halt its military operations, especially the hated drone attacks in the Afghan-Pakistani border areas, and help organize a peace assembly led by widely respected Afghans, both men and women leaders. The U.S. also has the ability to launch a regional diplomatic effort, including Russia, Iran, India, Pakistan, and Central Asian states.

The American people are tired of war and sick of seeing their tax dollars go to bail out bankers and keep military contractors in the black. Afghanistan is not “the right war,” it’s a sinkhole for our lives and tax dollars and could be a disaster for the Obama presidency, which began with such optimism. Diplomacy, a drawdown of military involvement, and an exit strategy with a timeline -- that’s the realistic path to freedom from endless war and debt. This course of action would show the values that most Americans support.
Weil is a CODEPINK staff member. Her nephew is preparing to be deployed to Afghanistan in November.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 5/09