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Shoot First, Ask Questions Later? Say It Ain't So, Mr. President.

Yesterday's announcement by the White House that the president was ordering 17,000 more US troops into Afghanistan was particularly troubling to many of us who - unlike Mr. Limbaugh and his followers on Capitol Hill - actually want President Obama to succeed.

As a candidate, President Obama offered - and American's overwhelming chose - "new thinking" on foreign policy and national security. We had all seen the devastating results of a "Bring 'em on" foreign policy where the hole dug by "shock and awe" militarism got progressively deeper and the incessant demand from Pentagon officials for yet more troops to deal with the consequences became increasingly greater. President Bush was always ready to meet these demands. The result was a weakened America, a broken military and more than a trillion dollars - and counting - added to the national debt.

We were relieved when the new president announced during his first week in office that he was ordering a comprehensive review of an obviously failed US policy in Afghanistan. Things had steadily gone from bad to worse there. What was desperately needed was a fundamental course correction guided by a healthy dose of "new thinking".

New thinking was not in evidence yesterday when the White House announced that it was ordering 17,000 more US troops into harms way in Afghanistan even though it's comprehensive review would not be completed for several more weeks.

Military commanders apparently warned that it would be too risky not to deploy troops now out of fear that they would not be in place by the anticipated spike in fighting this spring. Nothing surprising here - when you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Military commanders have a point of view born out of their training and orientation.

But, new thinking requires a broader view than what can be seen from a military lens. It begins with considering the risk that a military escalation will actually make things worse, not better.


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First off, where does military escalation end? According to the Army and Marine Corps field manual, counterinsurgency operations require, at a minimum, twenty counterinsurgents per 1,000 residents. In Afghanistan, this would mean combined forces of 640,000 troops. No, I did not incorrectly add an extra zero - that is 640,000 troops. In short, even if we wanted to go down this road, we can't.

Several independent analysts have publicly warned that the presence of foreign soldiers fighting a war in Afghanistan is probably the single most important driving force in the resurgence of the Taliban. New thinking would at least consider the option of reducing, not increasing our military imprint as a means of dividing and weakening the armed opposition. At the very least, it would withhold final judgment and action until all of all options are subject to a truly comprehensive review.

The risks are too high to do anything else. As Katrina vanden Heuvel writes in The Nation:

Escalating the occupation of Afghanistan will bleed us of the resources needed for economic recovery, further destabilize Pakistan, open a rift with our European allies, and negate the positive consequences of withdrawing from Iraq on our image in the Muslim world.

We hope that this early display of shoot first, ask questions later will be an anomaly for the new administration. What the nation needs is a truly comprehensive plan for Afghanistan and the region that is fundamentally different from the approach that led us to where we now find ourselves. What we don't need is another military quagmire and an albatross around the neck of a nation and an administration that we all need to succeed.

Tom Andrews

Tom Andrews

Tom Andrews, a former Member of Congress from the first Congressional District of Maine, is senior adviser to the human rights group, Fortify Rights. Andrews is the former President of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. Tom also served as National Director of Win Without War, a coalition of forty-two national membership organizations including the National Council of Churches, the NAACP, the National Organization of Women, the Sierra Club, and MoveOn.  He is also a co-founder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

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