A Call for Clarity on the Afghanistan War

While President
Barack Obama reviews his strategy on Afghanistan, a perfect moment to
send a strong unified message to end the war is slipping through our
fingers. Whether it's because we seem to have bought into the lies
about the goals of this war or because we mistakenly feel that a
Democratic president is going to come to the right conclusion on his
own, one thing is clear: There's no debate within the Democratic Party
or in the White House about whether to end the war. The only thing
being debated is how to continue the war.

Similarly,
there's little debate among progressives about how this is a bad war,
and at the very least we need an exit strategy. Paralysis has set in on
the particular manner of ending the war: whether to wait for some sort
of "peace process," to pull out troops now versus later, to preserve
troop levels until Afghanistan's women are safe, or some variation of
these questions. We're in a bizarre situation: As Obama waffles on how
to continue the war in Afghanistan, progressives are waffling on how to
end the war.

Despite some
major differences between the Afghan and Iraq wars, U.S. military
operations and their consequences in both countries are the same.
Similar to Iraq, this war kills civilians and soldiers causing misery
on all sides. Similar to Iraq, this war has made women less safe.
Similar to Iraq, this occupation has become unpopular on the ground.
Similar to Iraq, our actions are leading to greater instability. And
similar to Iraq, our tax dollars are being disappeared into a sinkhole
of destruction rather than human needs. Yet, unlike Iraq, where
progressives were clear right from the start on ending the war,
Afghanistan seems to confuse our moral compass.

Our
actions in Afghanistan have caused a perfect storm of untold numbers of
civilian deaths, fundamentalist resurgence, and women's oppression.
We're protecting a corrupt government with a puppet president and
criminal warlords, and our deadly bombing raids have led to a
devastated and rightly bitter population and a stronger Taliban.
There's no promising indication that our military operations can
improve the situation, no matter how many troops are added. If ever the
Afghanistan war ever had any legitimacy, it's irreversibly gone.

Enabling Women's Oppression

One of the
original justifications for the war in 2001 that seemed to resonate
most with liberal Americans was the liberation of Afghan women from a
misogynist regime. This is now being resurrected as the following: If
the U.S. forces withdraw, any gains made by Afghan women will be
reversed and they'll be at the mercy of fundamentalist forces. In fact,
the fear of abandoning Afghan women seems to have caused the greatest
confusion and paralysis in the antiwar movement.

What this logic
misses is that the United States chose right from the start to sell out
Afghan women to its misogynist fundamentalist allies on the ground. The
U.S. armed the Mujahadeen leaders in the 1980s against the Soviet
occupation, opening the door to successive fundamentalist governments
including the Taliban. In 2001, the United States then armed the same
men, now called the Northern Alliance, to fight the Taliban and then
welcomed them into the newly formed government as a reward. The
American puppet president Hamid Karzai, in concert with a cabinet and
parliament of thugs and criminals, passed one misogynist law after
another, appointed one fundamentalist zealot after another to the
judiciary, and literally enabled the downfall of Afghan women's rights
over eight long years.

Any token gains
have been countered by setbacks. For example, while women are
considered equal to men in Afghanistan's constitution, there have been
vicious and deadly attacks against women's rights activists, the
legalization of rape within marriage in the Shia community, and a
shockingly high rate of women's imprisonment for so-called honor crimes
- all under the watch of the U.S. occupation and the government we are
protecting against the Taliban. Add to this the unacceptably high
number of innocent women and children killed in U.S. bombing raids,
which has also increased the Taliban's numbers and clout, and it makes
the case that for eight years the United States has enabled the
oppression of Afghan women and only added to their miseries.

This is why
grassroots political and feminist activists have called for an
immediate U.S. withdrawal from their country. After eight years of
American-enabled oppression, they would rather fight for their
liberation without our help. The anti-fundamentalist progressive
organization, Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan
(RAWA), has called for an immediate end to the war. Echoing their call
is independent dissident member of Parliament Malalai Joya, who tells her story in her new political memoir, A Woman Among Warlords.
The members of RAWA and women like Joya are openly targeted by the
U.S.-backed Afghan government for their feminism and political
activism. RAWA and Joya have worked on the ground, risking their lives
for political change and echo the vast majority of poor and ordinary
Afghan women. It's they whom we ought to listen to and express
solidarity with. If American progressives think they know better than
Afghanistan's brave feminist activists on how liberation can be
achieved, we're just as guilty as the U.S. government for subjecting
them to the mercy of women-hating criminals.

No Negotiations with Fundamentalist Criminals

Some on the left
have made the case that the Afghanistan war can come to an end through
a negotiated peace process where everyone has a seat at the table,
including women. But this ensures that only those within the corrupt
clique of Afghan politics remain involved in the future of Afghanistan
- such as a few female allies of the fundamentalists who are plentiful
in the current government.

Joya struggled
her way into getting a "seat at the table" through the 2005 elections.
For representing her people's views that war criminals ought to be
brought to justice, she has been rewarded with death threats,
assassination attempts, and the loss of her electoral title. Asking
ordinary women and men to have a seat at a negotiating table with war
criminals is akin to asking them to silence themselves or mark their
foreheads with a target.

The reason why
democratic forces in Afghanistan are completely underground and
constantly living in fear of being killed is that time and again the
U.S. government has insisted on bringing warlords and even Taliban
leaders to the negotiating table. Asking the Obama administration to
sponsor a "peace process" between civilian representatives and our
warlord allies whose private militias we have armed, is the same as
asking for exactly what President George W. Bush did eight years ago in
Bonn, Germany after the fall of the Taliban. That process predictably
led to the establishment of today's corrupt government. In fact, the
Obama administration is very likely to patch up the recent failed
presidential elections in the same way: by creating a power-sharing
deal between two corrupt sides and their proxies and claiming that all
sides were represented at the negotiating table.

Given our
violent role in Afghanistan over the past three decades, the United
States has scant credibility in sponsoring any kind of "peace" process.
The most responsible action the U.S. can take is to end its occupation
immediately, and clean up its mess.

Let's Call for an Immediate End to the U.S. Occupation

Those who make
the case that withdrawing U.S. troops will unleash another bloody civil
war where Afghan women and men will be at the mercy of the Taliban and
warlords, are raising the exact same justification made for the war in
2001: that it's our moral duty to protect Afghans from fundamentalist
violence. This logic ignores the fact that we have nurtured and created
the very fundamentalist violence that targets Afghans as explained
above. By empowering war criminals and protecting a corrupt government
that has forgiven the crimes of all sides including the Taliban, and
that even includes some Taliban leaders, all we have done is complicate
a war that was on-going. "A member of RAWA who goes by the pseudonym
Zoya in a U.S. speaking tour last month made it clear that it's hard to
imagine things getting worse if the U.S. does pull out immediately. The
damage isn't being prevented by the United States - it's being carried
out by the United States.

Instead of
subjecting Afghans to the three oppressive forces of a stronger
Taliban, a corrupt and criminal government, and a deadly foreign
occupation, the first thing we Americans can control most directly is
to end our occupation immediately. This alone won't address the Taliban
and Northern Alliance. But it will reduce the oppressive forces at
work, and potentially reduce the legitimacy of the warlords and the
motives driving the Taliban.

How do we undo
the damage we have subjected innocent Afghans to? Afghans themselves
have the answers to that. Surveys have shown that a majority of Afghans
want a complete disarmament of our warlord allies - essentially that
the U.S. needs to take back the guns we put into the hands of the
Northern Alliance and their private militias. Surveys have also shown
that Afghans want war crimes tribunals to hold all the corrupt and
criminal fundamentalists accountable in some sort of court, perhaps
even the International Criminal Court (U.S. government officials
shouldn't be exempt from this type of accountability either). With
weapons, warlords, and U.S. troops gone, real democracy could
potentially take root and pro-democracy forces could someday operate
freely. Many have also called for a massive Marshall Plan for
poverty-stricken Afghanistan, to flood the country with money in the
hands of small groups, organizations, and civil society, and eventually
to help rebuild the country with a strong, non-drug-based economy. With
all the money freed up from military operations that would be fairly
feasible.

As for the
Taliban, even the U.S. government publicly admits that the Pakistani
government's own agencies have long supported the renegade army as a
tool for national and regional stability. With the U.S. troops gone,
the Taliban's raison d'etre inside Afghanistan would be greatly
weakened. If the United States were to take the lead in regional talks
between Pakistan, India, Iran, Russia, and China to address the
Pakistani government's fears of a hostile regime in Afghanistan, it
would go a very long way toward undermining the Taliban.

These measures
are necessary but may not guarantee stability for Afghanistan. Still
the current occupation only guarantees instability, so at the very
least the time for a non-military solution is now. In other words, we
can choose to repeat a failed experiment with predictably negative
results by extending the war in any number of ways. Or we can implement
the complex, constructive measures that could potentially help
stabilize Afghanistan, undermine the fundamentalist misogynist
criminals, help the Afghan people take back their country, and
undermine the conditions for violence.

These are
complex demands to make of the Obama administration. But it has taken a
complex set of destructive American policies and many years to destroy
Afghanistan. It will take a similar amount of time and complexity, as
well as trial and error, to help rebuild Afghanistan for ordinary
Afghans, and by extension make Americans safer. We can make these
demands as secondary points in our call for an end to the war. But the
primary demand easily fits on a protest placard: "End the U.S. War in
Afghanistan NOW." Let's make that call loudly, clearly, and
ubiquitously, as soon as possible, so that Obama and Congress can't
ignore us any longer.

This article originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus, and is reprinted here by the author's request.