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A Soldier’s Soul Screams ‘Get Out’

Last week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus held its second of six scheduled forums on Afghanistan. It was the first non-classified public forum on Capitol Hill to address the Obama Administration's newly released Afghanistan/Pakistan strategy. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson (Ret.) -- a Vietnam Veteran and former chief of staff for Secretary Colin Powell -- offered some powerful words of caution.

"My soldier's soul screams at me to get out," Wilkerson said. "Part of that is some 38,000 names on a Wall that I do not fail to visit twice a year every year for the last 25 years....Counterinsurgency is not a very optimal experience. It rarely is won, it rarely results in what we might call a viable civility, prosperity and dignity. Look at Iraq right now... We never solved the problems in the Gulf."

He spoke out against the use of bombs and predator drone strikes. He said that killing "a few" Al Qaeda or Taliban targets "coupled with 20 to 25 civilian deaths" was only helping the enemy's recruiting efforts.

"Research is now showing that the leaders that they replace them with are more radical than the leaders we hit," he said.

Although Wilkerson doesn't argue for withdrawal -- he said we need "to get this better" -- he nevertheless makes a pretty powerful case against escalation. "One thing I would not do is over-militarize our foreign policy," he said. "... We need to demilitarize as much as possible... Keep our sword sheathed, and only pull it out when it's absolutely necessary."

The next day a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee held a hearing on "Achieving Peace and Stability in the Graveyard of Empires".

Dr. Seth Jones, a political scientist with the RAND Corporation, also pointed to the seemingly impossible task of General Petraeus' counterinsurgency strategy. He said the ratio requirement "needed to win a counterinsurgency is 20 security forces per 1000 inhabitants... [Given] the population estimates in provinces where most of the insurgency is taking place, [this] translates into a force requirement of approximately 271,652 forces." (Other estimates are as high as 400,000 troops needed to execute the Petraeus Playbook.) So it really comes as no surprise that Petraeus already signaled he will ask for another 10,000 troops even before the dust had settled on Obama's announcement of an additional 21,000 troops.

Jones also warned that escalation by the US "may be interpreted by the population as an occupation, eliciting nationalist reactions...."

The soldier's soul had it right. This strategy won't work. We need to Get Out.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel is an American editor and publisher. She is the editor, publisher, and part-owner of the magazine The Nation. She has been the magazine's editor since 1995.


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