Missing from the Afghan 'Surge': A Congressional Debate

A key fact about the recent history of Iraq is absolutely critical to
the nascent debate about Afghanistan: there was more to the Iraq
"surge" than sending additional troops, so if folks are going to
justify sending more troops to Afghanistan on the grounds that sending
more troops "worked" in Iraq, we should be talking about the other
elements of US policy in Iraq that changed after November 2006, not
just about more troops.

Analysts say elements of the real policy changes that took place in
Iraq - changing the troops' mission from offense to defense,
increasing support for indigenous forces, and stepping up diplomacy
within the nation and among its neighbors - could be very relevant for
Afghanistan, the San Francisco Chroniclereports.
They say the mission of troops should shift from hunting insurgents to
protecting civilians, and focus money on Afghan rather than US troops.
"You can get 70 Afghan soldiers for the price of one American soldier
deployed to Afghanistan," noted one analyst. Empowering local leaders
may require political reforms - such as allowing governors to be
elected locally instead of appointed by Kabul, which would require
reform of the Afghan Constitution.

In particular, regarding "stepping up diplomacy within the nation,"
the US made deals in Iraq with insurgent groups that led to a dramatic
reduction in violence.

So if you want to "replicate the success of the surge in Iraq" in
Afghanistan, it seems pretty clear that you are going to have to come
to some arrangements with some armed groups that are currently
considered "Taliban." If you're not talking to Taliban, you're not
replicating the Iraq surge.

But another key element is missing with regard to Afghanistan that was
present in 2006-7 with regard to Iraq: public and Congressional
debate. An escalating sequence of political events, including the
Lamont Senate campaign, the recapture of the Congress by a Democratic
majority, the Congressional fight in the spring 2007 over a timetable
for withdrawal - all sent a clear message to the Bush Administration,
the US military, the Iraqi government and parliament, and Iraqi
society generally that time was running out for the US occupation, and
that was a key cause of the change in policies. Even Defense Secretary
Gates, while opposing a timetable for withdrawal, acknowledged that
Congressional pressure was helpful in bringing about change in Iraq.

This public and Congressional pressure is missing today. President
Obama has ordered more troops to Afghanistan. But while Obama
Administration officials have made suggestions in the direction of
other elements - working to get the assistance of Iran and other
neighbors, working with elements of the Taliban - the actual change
we've seen so far in Afghanistan is: more troops.

If there were more pressure, the Obama Administration would be moving
more quickly to put these other elements in place. If there were a
public and Congressional debate about an exit strategy, about a
timetable for withdrawal, about blocking the Pentagon from building
permanent military bases in Afghanistan, real change in US policy
towards Afghanistan would be happening faster.

Robert Greenwald's Brave New Foundation is working to spark that
debate. They've produced a 10 minute "mini-documentary" questioning
the wisdom of sending more troops in support of the same failed
policy. Help spread the word by watching and sharing the video:

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