Forget the Generals, Americans are committed to Ending War

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

General Petraeus began his rogue propaganda tour earlier this week, and it’s caused quite a stir among policy wonks about the crisis in civilian-military relations. Bernard Finel and Jason Fritz, in particular, have had a fascinating discussion on the origins of the civ-mil crisis. I admit the crisis is deeply troubling, certainly for a President struggling against a reputation for weakness. But I took a slightly more stubborn line to the renegade Petraeus:

We’ve heard this propaganda from Petraeus before, it’s nothing new. They’ve been shoveling this garbage on us for years. Now the majority of Americans are pushing for an exit, and no matter what any rogue general says, we’re ending the war in Afghanistan.

In other words, bring it on. Well, Petraeus did bring it, and now we have our first public poll conducted (partially) after his campaigning began. As expected, he’s failing.

A majority of Americans see no end in sight in Afghanistan, and nearly six in 10 oppose the nine-year-old war as President Barack Obama sends tens of thousands more troops to the fight, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

With just over 10 weeks before nationwide elections that could define the remainder of Obama’s first term, only 38 percent say they support his expanded war effort in Afghanistan – a drop from 46 percent in March. Just 19 percent expect the situation to improve during the next year, while 29 percent think it will get worse. Some 49 percent think it will remain the same.

Even a heavy media push by Petraeus can’t deter the movement to end the war. When they sell us war, we push back. We’re done listening to this nonsense about “oil spots” or progress or breaking Taliban momentum or whatever it is they’re hocking this week. We’re ending the war, period.

As I said earlier this week, we’re not just seeing the majority of Americans move against the war, we’re also seeing Congress begin to awake to these demands. Nevermind the generals, just listen to what the US is telling our friend in the Taliban, Afghan President Hamid Karzai:

The back-and-forth revolves around the work of two American-backed Afghan task forces, one known as the Major Crimes Task Force and the other called the Sensitive Investigative Unit. It has created perhaps the most serious crisis this year in relations between Afghanistan and the United States. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Karzai to express her displeasure with any decision that undermines anti-corruption enforcement, and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) flew to Kabul this week with a warning to Karzai that his actions put at risk U.S. funding and congressional support for the war.

Now that’s what civilian control looks like. It doesn’t matter what the Commander-in-Chief, or his generals, say – the people control the policy of war. Kerry isn’t being over-the-top with Karzai either. We are close to cutting off the war funds entirely, tripling our votes in the House of Representatives since just last year. A quick glance at the history of Vietnam will tell you that the last thing the “Host Nation” government wants is for us to cut off funding, but that’s what’s on the table being discussed right now.

It doesn’t have to be that way though. Petraeus can back off, Obama can grow some backbone, and congress can commit to the compromise of the July 2011 withdrawal time table. This wouldn’t be abandoning Afghanistan, as many in congress are still willing to back the Vice President’s “Counter-Terrorism Plus” approach of limited special forces and drone strikes against Al-Qa’eda. Furthermore, we would still have the State Department and other civilian agencies to continue with humanitarian and development missions.

July 2011 is almost a year from now. That should be plenty of time for Petraeus to COIN it up or spread his oil spots or whatever it is he thinks he’s doing. It’s plenty of time for Karzai to get his act together and clean up the corruption in his government. It’s plenty of time for the Pakistani military and intelligence services to back off their covert war against us. July 2011 the US begins to pull out, to be completed ideally by December of the same year.

But that’s only if we see some immediate action from the folks running this war – set the timetable in law, stop the “conditions based” caveats and commit to the ending the war on schedule. If not, we de-fund the entire enterprise.

From the AP:

The numbers could be ominous for the president and his Democratic Party, already feeling the heat for high unemployment, a slow economic recovery and a $1.3 trillion federal deficit. Strong dissent – 58 percent oppose the war – could depress Democratic turnout when the party desperately needs to energize its supporters for midterm congressional elections.

And this is in today’s edition of the Hill:

A majority of voters want the conflict to end quickly — no matter their party affiliation, according to recent polls.

And Senate candidates on both sides of the aisle say they support that goal.

Prominent liberal activists, reacting to President Obama’s plan to move 30,000 troops into the region, warned late last year the surge could cause Democrats to stay home in the midterm elections.

Now the issue is spreading across the political spectrum as the last of the surge prepares to move into place — just after Obama ordered the remaining U.S. combat troops out of Iraq.

Time’s up. Campaign season is starting, and congress has no choice but to either push for an end to the war or suffer humiliation and defeat at the polls. Candidates who support the war wither from an enthusiasm gap while candidates who oppose the war are inundated with fundraising and volunteer efforts. They can’t afford to do what the war makers are saying and hang around until 2012, 2013, even 2014, to see if “conditions improve.” If they don’t end the war, they’re toast.

Obama and Petraeus can make this a lot easier on themselves by cutting congress some slack, give them something to work with. Back off the propaganda, set the timeline in stone. That way everyone looks good. Obama can be a strong Commander-in-Chief, Petraeus can look like a shrewd commander, and congress can throw its full weight behind the July 2011 exit date knowing that the majority of the American people support them.

That’s if they want it to be easy. If they want it to be hard, then they can keep up the propaganda and continue to waffle on the July 2011 draw down, and face an even angrier electorate. I can tell you that among activists, the people who actually do all the work to get candidates elected and force all the strongest parts of legislation, none of them are talking about this July 2011 compromise bulls**t. Most folks are talking about ending the war now, cutting off funding now, and yes, they’re the same ones who’ll urge their organizations to stay home in November if there’s no end to the war in sight.

How will it end? A graceful drawdown in July 2011, or a fierce and immediate stop on the next funding vote? We’ll see what President Obama does now that Petraeus’ propaganda tour has failed.

In the meantime, we must continue to stand behind those candidates who do support an end to the war, and maintain the pressure on those members still holding out. That’s our ticket to ending this war, and it’ll be up to the President to determine whether we do it the easy way or the hard way.

So, what’s it going to be, Obama? Call off your generals, the American people are committed to ending this war.

What the candidates are saying about the War:

Plug in to the Movement to End the War

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