Obama's Afghanistan Decision

Dear President Obama,

Thank you for being an empathetic model of manhood and
further, for bringing that quality into the American Presidency. But how do you explain those dead
Afghani and Pakistani daughters, mothers, sons and fathers, killed by US forces
since you took office, to your own daughters who you want to develop the kind of
empathy you have. You are teaching
them how to understand the suffering of others. In Ghana you took them to the slave port
and said that you wanted them to "engage in the imaginative act of what it would
be like if they were snatched away from Mom and Dad and sent to some place they
had never seen before." You want
them to identify with the suffering of others, "And get them to - to make sure
that they are constantly asking themselves questions about whether they are
treating people fairly and - and whether they are examining their own behavior
and how it affects others."

You have shown how empathy does not conflict with
strength, how it enhances rather than diminishes leadership. In this country, you have faced down the
health insurance industry from the memory of how your mother suffered at their
hands. At the same time, you bring
your empathy together with the power of your leadership when a woman at one of
your health care forums tells you through her tears of how her insurance company
is denying her life-saving treatment. We saw you go to her as you asked her to
come forward to you, and watched you embrace her telling her that she was not

As you are making your decision on the fate of
Afghanistan and Pakistan, I ask you, are the people there any less deserving of
your empathy? When you took office
you escalated the U.S. war in Afghanistan and allowed it to expand in
Pakistan. By the end of June, over
a 1,000 Afghani civilians were killed, 261 alone in the month of May. In other words, more than one-third of
the number of people killed in the Al Qaeda attack on the US in 9-11-2001 are
dead since January of this year in order to keep America safe, even though they
had nothing to do with fighting then or when they died. And with the increase our bombings have
caused in recruits to the Taliban, America is not more

While you
were telling Americans that you wake up every morning and go to sleep every
night thinking of how to keep America safe, you were denying that safety to the
families of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Mr. President, you know that the empathy that you so highly value cannot
be selective. When you engage it for some, say Americans, and refuse it to
others, like Afghanis and Pakistanis, you are telling the world that only
Americans lives are of value and that everyone else's lives can be put at risk
to protect American lives.

you have not lost your empathy or respect for the lives of people in countries
the US bombs and attacks. On May 9,
in a rare gesture of an American President, you apologized to President Karzai
when he met with you in Washington a few days after the US military killed an
estimated 140 Afghanis in Farah, 94 of them girls under the age of 18 who had gathered in a compound to take
shelter from the fighting. Some
villagers said the strikes hit an area which the Taliban had already left and
where there was no fighting. You apologized but you did not stop the
bombing. In fact, drone strikes on
Pakistani villages three days later in South Waziristan killed 8 people. Four days after that, US forces killed
25 civilians in a village in North Waziristan. None were Taliban, none were Al
Qaeda. And the drone attacks
continue, weekly, daily sometimes.

How will your decision on troop levels and military
plans for Afghanistan and Pakistan reflect what you are teaching your daughters
about the value of human life? Will
you show them the petitions from the women of Afghanistan brought to you by
Medea Benjamin from Code Pink? Will
you explain to them that Afghan women have asked that you disarm the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the
Northern Alliance, none of whom have the support of the people?

In your April speech in Islamabad you said that you
"have no sympathy and no patience for people who go around blowing up innocent
people." If you engage the
same kind of empathy you are teaching your daughters with the people of
Afghanistan and Pakistan, you will see that in their daily experiences of US
bombings and drone attacks they see the US attacks in the same light that you
see the terrorists who attacked the US.

Against a
US force of 68,000 troops in Afghanistan before you make your announcement in a
few days, Senator John
Kerry, when he returned from Iraq last month, told us that there were not more
than a thousand hard-core Taliban in Afghanistan. Women in Afghanistan estimate that there
are not more than 100. The rest are
boys and men who cannot find work, who are angry over the US bombing and
occupation of their country, who are driven to fight back against the US
military who killed their parents
or their children.

How difficult would it be to announce a plan to disarm
those "reconcilables" as General Patraeus calls them? To disarm not rearm! Rather than negotiating with the Taliban
to sell out women's rights as Hammid Karzai has done, why not pay those fighters
who are not hardcore terrorists to go home and restock their shops or rebuild
their farms. Then withdraw US
troops from Afghanistan and Pakistan allowing them to protect their people and
their country from the small number of hardcore terrorists remaining?

You have expressed your pain and sorrow in phone calls
to families of American soldiers who have lost a son or daughter, a husband or
wife. But what about the soldiers
still there in combat? If you are
truly pained by the loss of American soldiers in this war, bring those who are
still there in combat home and give them the support to put their lives back

Mr. President, it is frightening to look at your
advisors and see mostly hawks who are proponents of unending war. From your Vice President to your
Secretary of State and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, you have surrounded yourself
with people who dismiss the cost of human life in war in favor of war. They have left us with the blood of over
a million Iraqis on our hands. We
do not expect empathy from your Generals whom came to their prestigious ranks
through the military whose job it is to kill and destroy. They coldly speak of killing civilians
as "collateral damage" as if it is not killing, as if human life outside of the
United States is as significant as paper clips.

You have shown us that we can expect empathy from you,
except in war. Will you close that
gap? If you have not turned over
the Executive Authority of this country to the Generals as your predecessor had,
as it appears that you did when you took office in January, we will expect your
decision on troops in Afghanistan to be reflected in your empathy for Afghanis
and Pakistani as well as for American soldiers.

We are awaiting your decision on troop levels for
Afghanistan. More precisely, we are
waiting to see if you or the Generals are running this country as they have been
since 2001.

In closing, Mr. President, before announcing your
decision, please think hard and long from that place of empathy within you of
what it would feel like to receive that call telling you the fate of one of your
daughters, the kind of call that far too many Afghanis have received about their
boys and girls who are with them no longer.

With respect,

Kathleen Barry,

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