Afghanistan: Hearings Not Escalation

Despite what most of the mainstream media would have you believe, a recent CBS News/New York Times poll
revealed that more Americans want troop levels in Afghanistan to remain
the same or decrease rather than to grow. It's time for Congress do its
job representing the people by taking a hard look at this war before
committing more treasure and lives to it -- and before President
Obama's ambitious progressive agenda at home is sacrificed to another

With President Obama already announcing his intention to send 17,000 more troops
-- even before his review of Afghanistan is complete -- this is a
moment when we need public hearings in order to change course and focus
on diplomacy, an international rather than NATO-led effort,
and rebuilding Afghanistan. At a time when we face historic economic
challenges at home and the need to repair our tarnished image abroad,
there are some encouraging signs that -- this time around -- members of
Congress won't simply follow the drumbeat for war.

One of those signs is the new Congressional Progressive Caucus Afghanistan-Pakistan Task Force
initiated by caucus Co-Chair Raul M. Grijalva. Beginning this month,
the task force will host a series of six forums that address the many
issues involved in Afghanistan policy, including: Afghan history; US
strategic interests; regional and international influences; role of the
military; and a comprehensive plan. Although topics will be explored
from a progressive perspective "each panel or forum is about education,
about laying out a range of options; not promoting a predetermined
agenda." The task force will use these forums -- which will be open to
the public -- to craft a policy recommendation for the entire caucus
(the largest caucus in Congress). Stay tuned for a detailed schedule by
the end of next week.

Also, CPC member Rep. John Tierney has already taken the initiative
to raise tough questions as Chair of the Subcommittee on National
Security and Foreign Affairs. Tierney held a hearing on "Afghanistan and Pakistan: Understanding a Complex Threat Environment"
which included testimony from Paul Pillar, former National Intelligence
Officer for the Near East and South Asia. (You might recall Pillar for
shedding light on cherry-picked intelligence
in the run-up to the Iraq War.) Tierney and Pillar both asked whether
it's in our national security interest to send more troops to
Afghanistan to prevent a safe haven for Al Qaeda when it already has
one in Pakistan and could easily establish them in Yemen, Somalia,
Sudan, Algiers, etc.?

Senator Russ Feingold has also been clear and outspoken in laying
out why we must not repeat the mistake of rushing to escalate in
Afghanistan. Recently, he e-mailed campaign supporters to again express
his concern. He linked to his strong Christian Science Monitorop-ed
in which he writes: "Few people seem willing to ask whether the main
solution that's being talked about- sending more troops to Afghanistan
- will actually work."

In a recent article, Nation
Editorial Board member Tom Hayden laid out some of the issues which
might be explored in Congressional hearings, including: exit strategy
and timelines; transparent budgeting; disclosure of casualties;
corruption in contracting; and human rights. "If the truth is fully
disclosed," Hayden argues, "the American people will be better able to
decide on whether to support these wars in the days ahead."

Public pressure is crucial if we are going to convince more of our
representatives to demand hearings and put a halt to escalation -- and
then begin the work of pushing the Administration to seek alternative,
non-military solutions. This week, Peace Action and 16 other national
organizations asked members of Congress to sign a letter to President Obama
calling on him to reconsider his escalation proposal. So far eight
members have signed on. The letter reads in part: "If the intent is to
leave behind a stable Afghanistan capable of governing itself, this
military escalation may well be counterproductive. A recent study by
the Carnegie Endowment has concluded that 'the only meaningful way to
halt the insurgency's momentum is to start withdrawing troops. The
presence of foreign troops is the most important element driving the
resurgence of the Taliban.'"

Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films -- one of my fellow-supporters of the anti-escalation coalition, -- is doing valuable work with his new documentary, Rethink Afghanistan, and asking people to sign a petition calling for immediate congressional oversight hearings.

"The President has demonstrated his commitment to plurality of
opinion and open debate on issues that impact our country most
profoundly...." Greenwald wrote. "This documentary... will foster the
kind of discussion, debate and dissent Obama has called for, hopefully
serving as a driving force to help make oversight hearings a reality."

We need more strong actions such as these to increase pressure for
constructive, non-military solutions. It would be good to see the
coalition at Accountability Now
-- devoted to preventing the opening of "government coffers for
looting" and building a different kind of economy -- get involved in
this fight.

President Obama repeatedly said during his campaign that the
definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and
expecting different results. We can't afford to repeat the mistake of
blind escalation in Afghanistan as we did in Iraq and Vietnam.

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