Freeing Up Resources … for More War

Hours after President Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress, the New York Times printed the news that he plans to gradually withdraw “American combat forces” from Iraq during the next 18 months. The newspaper reported that the advantages of the pullout will include “relieving the strain on the armed forces and freeing up resources for Afghanistan.”

The president’s speech had little to say about the plans for escalation, but the few words will come back to haunt: “With our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat Al Qaida and combat extremism, because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens halfway around the world. We will not allow it.”

Obama didn’t mention the additional number of U.S. troops — 17,000 — that he has just ordered to Afghanistan. But his pledge that he “will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people” and his ringing declaration, “We will not allow it,” came just before this statement: “As we meet here tonight, our men and women in uniform stand watch abroad and more are readying to deploy.”

Get the message? In his first speech to Congress, the new president threw down a 90-month-old gauntlet, reaffirming the notion that committing to war halfway around the world — in Afghanistan and now in Pakistan too — will make Americans safer. With drumrolls like that, the mission could outlive all of us.

And so, a colossal and fateful blunder, made by a very smart leader, arguably our best and brightest, is careening forward with the help of silence that defers all too readily to power. This is how the war in Vietnam escalated, while individuals and groups muted their voices. Many people will pay with their lives.

The reasons why the war in Afghanistan cannot be won are directly connected to why the war is wrong. In essence, people do not like their country occupied for years on end, especially when the occupiers are routinely killing civilians (whatever the rationale). Monochrome words like Taliban and “terrorists” might seem tidy and clear enough as they appear in media coverage, or as they roll off a president’s tongue, but in the real Afghan world the opponents of the U.S. war are diverse and wide-ranging. With every missile strike that incinerates a household or terrorizes a village, the truly implacable “extremists” can rejoice at Uncle Sam’s assistance to their recruiting efforts.

Those who are fond of talking and writing about President Obama’s admirable progressive values will, sooner or later, need to come to terms with the particulars of his actual policies. In foreign affairs, the realities now include the ominous pairing of his anti-terrorism rhetoric and his avowed commitment to ratchet up the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan.

I don’t often make predictions, but I’m confident about this one: Within a few years, some members of Congress, and leaders of some progressive groups with huge email lists, will look back with regret as they recall their failure to clearly and openly oppose the pivotal escalation of the Afghan war.

They could save themselves a lot of shame, and save others their lives, by speaking out sooner rather than later. In the process, they might help save the Obama presidency from running aground in Afghanistan.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He writes the Political Culture 2013 column. Read other articles by Norman, or visit Norman's website.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. John S. Hatch said on February 25th, 2009 at 4:57pm #

    I think the decision to escalate war in unwinnable Afghanistan (with lots of footdragging in Iraq by Generals Petraeus and Odiniero) demonstrates once again the strength of the Military Industrial complex.

    They don’t care if they are destined to lose wars (after all it’s not they who will die) just as long as they have lucrative conflicts.

    President Karzai’s own brother is a drug/warlord, and poppy growth is at an all time high because America dares not annoy the drug/warlords who control it.

    Given America’s legendary contempt for dark-skinned non-Americans who talk funny, indifferent ‘collateral damage’ is bringing an endless supply of new recruits amongst those who would defend their own country.

    Perhaps Mr. Obama is afraid to confront the military (I would already have fired Petraeu and Odiniero), or perhaps he’s not as smart as he can seem when talking in shallow cliches.

    So you have the most corrupt country in the world invaded by the most corrupt military, with absolutely no outcome but disaster possible.

  2. rg the lg said on February 25th, 2009 at 6:26pm #

    And … is anybody at all surprised?

    I am not.

    No one can be elected unless they either pledge to ‘keep America’ strong … or they promise to “protect Americans from evil.” What that means is: maintain our position at the top of the dog pile … by whatever means it takes!

    RG the LG

  3. mary said on February 26th, 2009 at 6:31am #

    A poem by the late Adrian Mitchell, a lifelong opposer of war – I wish that it was true.


    Today we are going to unbomb you,
    Today we are going to reattach your children’s limbs,
    Knit their arteries back together,
    Remake their screams into laughter.

    Today we have declared that war can be undone,
    Bombs can be recalled,
    Shrapnel can be extricated
    As if it had never punctured skin and bone,
    Memories can be unscarred.

    Today we have discovered how
    Houses can rise in a second from rubble,
    Our miracle magical builder’s kit
    Can even make home improvements.

    Today we have decided that lies can be untold,
    News can be unmanaged,
    Countries can be unoppressed,
    Hate and fear can be reversed as if they never were here.

    Today the coffins will all be empty,
    Body bags will be unstitched,
    The undertaker will be told to get a job as a florist,
    Soldiers will upturn their helmets for plant pots,
    Ministers will be made to sign on the dole
    And the Queen will be put to work washing out bed-pans.

    Today we’ll strike a souvenir pendant
    Out of our bullets
    For the day when history was unmade.

    Today we are going to unbomb you,
    Surprise you,
    Surprise ourselves,
    We are going to do what we have not done before,
    We are un-waging war.

  4. Kevin Deery said on April 6th, 2009 at 10:16am #

    Hello the poem First Act of The Republic, was not written by the late Adrian Mitchell but by a very close friend of mine Neil Young. A journalist for the Western Morning News, here in the Southwest.

    Kind Regards

    Kevin Deery