Anti-War, at Home and Abroad

The state of the Anti-War movement in the United States and Pakistan, and the consequences for politicians in 2010.

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.

Sign the Petition – “I vote and I demand my elected officials end this war”

By now, the full implications of the data contained in the 91,000 Wikileaks files are starting to sink in. Americans have been questioning the war for some time now, and they’re finally putting their foot down and demanding an end. Thousands of calls are pouring in to Congress from around the country, all demanding a NO vote on today’s war funding vote, and thousands more are signing our petition declaring “the Wikileaks ‘War Logs’ are further evidence of a brutal war that’s not worth the cost. I vote, and I demand my elected officials end this war by Dec. 2011.”

Sure, war supporters gave it the old college try. The White House and other political leadership stressed that the leaks contained no new information, incidentally clearing up once and for all the confusion we had over whether they were ignorant or merely incompetent and negligent prosecutors of US foreign policy. Some even tried to deflect the argument on to Wikileaks operator Julian Assange, as if the leak coming from him – or Paris Hilton or Spider-Man – has anything to do with the information it contained.

But their arguments are for naught, the war is now simply indefensible. The facts are on our side, and these leaks do nothing else if not confirm and validate the criticism so far levied against the war in Afghanistan. The effect is to make the IPS headline, “Leaked Reports Make Afghan War Policy More Vulnerable,” seem something like the understatement of the century. Gareth Porter writes:

Among the themes that are documented, sometimes dramatically but often through bland military reports, are the seemingly casual killing of civilians away from combat situations, night raids by special forces that are often based on bad intelligence, the absence of legal constraints on the abuses of Afghan police, and the deeply rooted character of corruption among Afghan officials.

The most politically salient issue highlighted by the new documents, however, is Pakistan’s political and material support for the Taliban insurgency, despite its ostensible support for U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

You could pick just one of those things Porter mentions and it could spell catastrophe for the war. Instead we have all of it. It does more than make the war policy more vulnerable, it puts any war supporting politician in Washington in serious electoral peril. We should take this opportunity, then, to understand what exactly is happening with the anti-war movement.

If left to their own devices, the mainstream media will craft their own stupid and obnoxious narratives about “lefty insurgencies” or “anti-incumbent fever,” and this will poison the eventual policy outcome. If we understand the facts now, and see this as not only a US political dilemma, but as part of a global anti-war movement now finally winding up at President Obama’s doorstep, then we can begin to accelerate our withdrawal more responsibly than the standard media narratives might allow (Get out now! No, stay forever!).

It is not simply a reaction to a failed policy, it is an articulation of an independent vision of selfish foreign and domestic policy interests. Americans, our NATO allies, and even our progressive allies in Pakistan are all working to end the war. It is not for ideology or partisan gain, it is purely in their own selfish interest, in our interest, to end the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

To best understand where the movement is coming from, it’s important to note that political candidates who are putting congress members in electoral peril are doing so as a response to overwhelming outcry from their constituents.

We heard this from Elaine Marshall, candidate for senate in North Carolina, who has been a strong opponent of the President’s escalation in Afghanistan. Throughout her campaign she has been approached by supporters who tell her, “‘I appreciate your stance, I appreciate you talking about it, I appreciate that you’re looking at more than just the headlines.” She explained her foundation in an interview with the Seminal:

I live in North Carolina, a strong military state. When you talk to people who’ve been [to war], and you understand the sacrifices folks are making, and then you look at the reason why they are stepping up to make that sacrifice, or those maybe joined before the actual situation came up and they now, because they’re good soldiers, become involved in it. In our prior engagements for the most part, we had a goal. We knew who the enemy was, we knew why we were there, we had a line drawn that we knew would be success, achievement, victory. We don’t have any of that in the war in Afghanistan.

The same is true for candidate Tommy Sowers, running for Missouri’s 8th congressional district. He recently published an op/ed questioning the President’s strategy of bolstering Afghan security forces, and whether or not such a massive, long-term financial commitment was even feasible in our economic environment. He’s received high praise for his essay, as well as for his position on the war itself, as he has conducted town halls across the state. He explained what he was hearing from his constituents in an interview with myself and Jason Rosenbaum last week:

First, across the country, districts like this carry the burden of the war in a visceral way. When I’m in a room, I ask folks if they are veterans or if they’re related to people currently serving – it’s almost the entire room. So, on a very personal level, these people are asking, “What are we accomplishing over there?” A lot of families ask their own family members that are over there this question.

Second, on a fiscal level, this district has suffered under Republican incumbent rule in terms of infrastructure. There’s great concern about the debt, and people ask, “Why are we spending so much money over there?”

Sowers is a veteran himself, having served in combat during the Iraq war, and many in Marshall’s family chose to serve their country in the military, so it’s clear where their personal convictions are rooted. And the overflow of public outcry and support from their constituents gives them the momentum to go from average anti-war candidates to populist juggernauts.

And that’s where the electoral peril comes in.

Did you catch Sowers’ comment about “suffering under incumbent rule”? The electoral peril is not a hypothetical, it’s very real. It’s an election year, and Sowers is coming directly at his opponent on this issue. He told us:

My opponent sits on the NATO parliamentary assembly, so you’d think she’d have an interest in the issue, but I’m not certain she’s even visited Afghanistan. The only thing I’ve heard from her is we need to do everything over there – more troops, more money. That’s what you get with a former lobbyists trying to influence military policy.

Uh oh. His opponent doesn’t even have much chance to reverse her position, her hands are already all over this war. Now she’s staring down the barrel of Tommy Sowers, all because she couldn’t even hedge her bets on an exit timetable or anything, she had to do the lobbyist thing and give it all away, “more troops, more money.” Marshall’s opponent in North Carolina is no better, refusing to fund a $32 billion one-year extension for teachers on one hand, while on the other having plenty of freebie money for Wall Street and the war-makers.

It’s too late to change positions or blow this off as some kind of far left anomaly in the primaries. These folks have had their resumes scrutinized, they’ve won their nominations, and now they’ve moved on to delivering a spirited beating to their opponents. Time’s up. Either our representatives start to end the war, or they can wait until these candidates get to Washington and take their seats.

But what happens when they do get to Washington? That’s where we truly see the selfish national interests laid out. They will not simply block the war and call it a day. As we’ve discussed previously, Marshall has talked about expanding international cooperation in terms of developing Afghanistan, as well as reforming our port/border security with an eye on counter-terrorism. Sowers, too, has a definite objective in mind when it comes to securing US interests in Afghanistan.

I’m a secure our nation sort of guy, an ass-kicking Democrat. I think we should pursue and kill and capture terrorists where they are. That’s the problem in Afghanistan, we’re pursuing them where they were. For every special forces team tied up training an Afghan police force that one day won’t be paid is a special forces team that can’t operate in Yemen, Pakistan or Somalia. […]

My strategy is informed by history. We are fighting an ideology. I’ve seen first hand when I had price on my head in Iraq. But there’s ways to fight this war much more intelligently.

Look back to the history of the cold war, how did we combat that? We contained, we deterred, we used trade, aid, proxies. And we occasionally sent guys like me to kill and capture the real bad folks. Overall, we let the system collapse in on itself.

See? It’s not a response to the war, Sowers is putting forward his own strategy for fighting terrorism. I’ve made my reservations about that strategy clear, but again, these candidates are not mirror images of activist bloggers like myself, they are independent political movements unto themselves. Sowers and Marshall aren’t conforming to any ideological constraints, they’re putting forward their own, selfish national security strategies and are backed by popular momentum.

Marshall is concerned about rebuilding North Carolina, not Afghanistan. Sowers is concerned about killing terrorists who threaten the United States, not training the corrupt, expensive Afghan police force. These aren’t flighty peaceniks, they’re looking out for number one, the United States. It is in our interest to invest in our own country, to secure ourselves from terrorism, and to assist the international community with developing Afghanistan and other conflict regions. But it is not in our interest to continue this decade-long, trillion dollar occupation of Afghanistan, nor the covert proxy war with Pakistan’s military and intelligence services.

In fact, Pakistan is where we see those same selfish interests replicated. Just as our candidates look out for the United States, Pakistanis are looking out only for their country. Take, for example, their reaction to the leaks’ confirmation of ISI and Pakistan army involvement with the insurgency. Mosharraf Zaidi writes:

Virtually no serious commentator or analyst anywhere, even those embedded deep in the armpit of the Pakistani establishment, claims that the Pakistani state was not instrumental in the creation, training and sustenance of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. Given the nature of the relationship between the Pakistani state and the Afghan Taliban, one that goes right to the genetic core of the Taliban, it is hard to imagine that all ties can ever be severed. Again, for serious people, this is an issue that is done and dusted. Pakistan’s state, and indeed, its society, had, has and will continue to have linkages with the Afghan Taliban. Moral judgments about these linkages are external to this fact.

These linkages do, however, deserve the scrutiny of the Pakistani parliament. If somehow, Pakistanis are involved in supporting any kind of violence against anyone, that kind of support had better be couched in a clear national security framework that articulates why it is okay for Pakistanis to underwrite such violence. Absent such a framework, the violence is illegal, and the space for speculation and innuendo about Pakistan is virtually infinite. It is that space that Pakistan’s fiercest critics exploit when they generate massive headlines out of small nuggets of insignificant and stale information that implicates Pakistan in anti-US violence in Afghanistan (among other things).

Zaidi is representative of a broader progressive movement in Pakistan, the closest parallel and ally that Americans have there, and yet what is his response? It’s not a call for an immediate end to Pakistan’s “Strategic Depth,” their support of militants, and there’s no mourning the loss of American lives because of that policy. There is only acknowledgement that the relationship with militants – specifically the Afghan Taliban – is deeply embedded in Pakistani society, as well as a call for the government to better articulate this relationship in a “national security framework.”

He is not looking out for our best interests, that is not supporting the militants who kill American soldiers, he’s looking out for Pakistan’s best interests, and that includes their historic ties to militancy in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jammu & Kashmir, etc. Seems harsh, but remember that they are a parallels to ourselves. When was the last time an American pundit, even a liberal one, shed a tear for the thousands of Pakistani soldiers and policemen killed doing our selfish American bidding? That would be never.

But if that’s not clear enough, there’s also the actual Pakistani anti-war movement. Appealing directly to the principles of the “American founding fathers,” the group calling itself the Coalition of Conscience put forward this list of demands:

  1. The foreign presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan is part of problem rather than the solution; > The coalition Governments must immediately order a cessation of all military and sting operations in the region and allow peace to be negotiated.
  2. Al-Qaeda is a convenient tool to blanket all opposition to US policies in the region and impose unilateral policies; > All efforts to use this pretext to prolong the presence in the region and to pursue an international agenda other than peace must cease.
  3. On going coalition operations have a fragmenting effect on both Pakistan and Afghanistan; > All coalition operations with divisive effects must be stopped.
  4. The entire spectrum of violence and instability in Pakistan is a backwash from Afghanistan created by the presence of foreign forces. Support to insurgent and terrorist groups in FATA and Balochistan originate from Afghanistan. If this is not stopped, the instability will spread to other regions as well; > We demand the Government of Pakistan to make its own independent policies to ensure peace and development in the region; the mother of all civilizations.
  5. Afghan movement is led by leaders who are indigenous to Afghanistan and legitimate representatives of resistance to foreign occupation; > These leaders must be treated as party to peace and brought into a comprehensive dialogue process as reflected in Pak-Afghan Jirga of 2007.
  6. Failing a clear timetable from the coalition for the cessation of war; > The Government of Pakistan will be urged to exercise this nation’s legitimate right to secure its interests against all hostile bases inside Afghanistan, supporting and funding terrorism and insurgency in Pakistan.
  7. In order to ensure long term stability and prosperity in the region; > The Government of Pakistan must carry forward the inconclusive negotiations of 1996 and assist all Afghans (Resistance and Northern Alliance) to mediate peace. We welcome support from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and China with no covert agendas.
  8. It is not Pakistan’s responsibility to ensure logistics for coalition forces in Afghanistan knowing well that much of it is used to destabilize and terrorize Pakistanis; > This support must stop unless approved by UN and conducted under transparent international safeguards and inspections.
  9. Gross violations and exercise of human rights on selective bases are widely documented; > All Pakistani prisoners kept by coalition countries, Pakistan, and Afghanistan in illegal detention centers must be brought back immediately and subjected to Pakistani courts.
  10. Rendition centers, trials under duress and extra judicial killings including drones and blanket air strikes violate basic human rights; > War reparations and criminal trials of coalition leaders who have knowingly falsified evidence in support of war before their own people; their Parliaments; and before the UN Security Council must be brought before Law. All Pakistani leaders guilty of same must be tried under Pakistan laws.

The “coalition Governments” they refer to, that’s us, as well as our NATO allies. They are demanding “independent policies” from the Pakistani government, a reference to US interference. Most of the rest is pretty mundane, nothing you haven’t seen from almost any other peace movement, Pakistani or otherwise. But make a special note of number six.

Failing a clear timetable from the coalition for the cessation of war; > The Government of Pakistan will be urged to exercise this nation’s legitimate right to secure its interests against all hostile bases inside Afghanistan, supporting and funding terrorism and insurgency in Pakistan.

That means war with the United States. All of our troops operating supply lines in Pakistan, all of our troops stationed in Afghanistan, all of our intelligence centers and facilities for launching drone and special forces raids – these are what they’re referring to by “all hostile bases.” When I warned about the collapse of Pakistan, and our troops getting caught in the middle of it, this what I meant. From their perspective, our war is the root of their terrorism and insurgencies, and they will react to secure themselves.

This is the state of the present anti-war movement, in the United States and in Pakistan. In the US, Americans are putting forward their own policies, an end to the war, revamped port security, as well over-the-horizon counter-terrorism. In Pakistan, they are demanding an end to the war, our war, which is so destabilizing for their country.

None of this is remotely ideological or partisan, nor is it merely reactionary to the existing policy of war. It is an independent calculation of selfish national interests. Here it is Pakistani interests. In the case of Sowers and Marshall, it is American interests.

Ending the war is firmly in our national interests, and any politician who doesn’t start supporting the United States will be put in serious danger of losing their seat. How long until our war supporting representatives come to be seen as puppets for Hamid Karzai and General Kayani, much the same as some Pakistani politicians are viewed as puppets of the United States?

With the leaks confirming so much of the criticism about the war, every action the supporters take is automatically drenched in blood. Every time they are voting for more war funding, they are voting for American soldiers to be killed by ISI and Pakistan Army operatives. Every time they vote against an exit timetable, they are voting against the economic interests of the United States.

This is what’s happening as we watch the war disintegrate in front of us. The facts show that the war is destroying our economy, it is making us less safe, and continuing it will lead to even further disaster. There is no angry far left, no hippies, no anti-incumbent fever, no bleeding-heart liberals, and no wobbly pacifists. There are only Americans stepping up and taking their country back, back from the catastrophe of war, and setting it on a better path toward securing our interests at home and in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Anyone who still supports the war, after all of our facts have been confirmed by the Wikileaks release, now stands firmly against American national interests, both domestic and foreign. The consequences will be hellish come November.

Want to be part of the movement? Sign our Petition declaring “I vote and I demand my elected officials end this war.” Join us on Rethink Afghanistan’s Facebook page, and be sure to check out the Meetups in your area.