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 quagmire.
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 Raúl 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 Monitor op-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, getafghanistanright.com -- 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.
© 2009 The Nation