Monday, January 12, 2009 at 1:02 pm
Today a cohort of progressive bloggers unveils a new effort against the planned 20,000-troop increase of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. A website called GetAfghanistanRight, set up by bloggers at the Seminal and Brave New Films — and with the support of Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel — went live today, with the intent of blogging about the morass in Afghanistan this week. Its mission statement:
We oppose military escalation in Afghanistan and support non-military solutions to the conflict.
This was probably inevitable, for two reasons.
First, the actual strategy employed in Afghanistan is rather murky — as Gen. Petraeus’ remarks to the U.S. Institute of Peace on Thursday indicate — and, pending some strategy review from the Obama administration and U.S. Central Command, it’s by no means clear why sending additional troops stands a greater chance of yielding success. For that matter: what is success in Afghanistan? The fact that there isn’t an obvious answer is a sure indication of policy drift. This is something that isn’t just a matter of concern for bloggers. Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Penn.) has been warning about the dangers of a military-only escalation, as has Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.).
Second, for at least four years, there’s been something of a dodge taken by liberals when discussing Afghanistan. To speak broadly, liberals have endlessly invoked the mantra that the real center of the war on terrorism is in Afghanistan, rather than in Iraq. But that’s been a statement about Iraq, rather than Afghanistan. To put it a different way, liberals, I think it’s fair to say, have discussed Afghanistan not on its own terms, but as a cudgel against the Iraq war. That’s by no means monolithic. A bunch of progressives — the Democracy Arsenal crew, Matt Yglesias, I daresay myself — have written about Afghanistan (TWI sent me there last year) from that perspective of first-order-national security importance. But lots of us have been content to take the safe position of rallying to the more-popular cause of the Afghanistan war as a way of insulating ourselves to charges of excessive dovishness for opposing the Iraq war. Well, as he’s said all along, Barack Obama will be calling that bluff.
But here’s the other thing. It’s only the first day of GetAfghanistanRight, but there’s nothing persuasive up on the site right now indicating what getting Afghanistan right means. Does the blog favor, say, supporting Hamid Karzai’s efforts to negotiate some kind of peace deal with insurgent groups? It doesn’t say. (If so, how does it overcome some of the difficulties inherent in that approach?) Should the U.S. be scaling up its aid assistance to the Afghan people or scaling it back, so as not to “sink deeper into the Afghan quagmire,” as one of the blog’s affiliated posts puts it? More fundamentally, what sort of Afghanistan is and isn’t in the U.S. interest; what strategy makes sense to support that goal; and what are acceptable costs? Just because the architects of the war haven’t presented such a vision doesn’t mean that critics of it shouldn’t present their own. As it stands right now, the blog presents links that support the proposition that things are bad in Afghanistan. But that statement itself doesn’t imply anything about future policy: everyone agrees that things are bad in Afghanistan. And that’s why some of them, myself included, favor a troop increase.
For instance, this is the way GetAfghanistanRight frames its argument:
“With the economy continuing a severe decline and the international scene in turmoil, we absolutely cannot afford a hugely expensive troop increase in Afghanistan. The country desperately needs many of the reforms and programs proposed by the incoming Obama administration. But, an escalation in Afghanistan will cripple our ability to mitigate the effects of the recession while making that country less stable. The success of the President-elect’s broader agenda depends on his ability to get us out of President Bush’s wars,” Robert Greenwald said.
That’s a statement about American priorities, but it’s not a statement about the war in Afghanistan. Does it mean that the U.S. should get out of Afghanistan? Does it mean that the U.S. should simply not add troops to Afghanistan? Does it mean that the U.S. should change strategy — and if so, to what? Does getting Afghanistan right mean doing different things to reach some goal of a stable Afghanistan; or does getting Afghanistan right mean getting U.S. troops out?
Again, it’s only day one of GetAfghanistanRight. Perhaps — and presumably — these questions will be addressed as its first week of blogging gets underway. Indeed, if there’s going to be an effort to actually persuade people against the troop escalation that President-elect Obama campaigned on, they’ll need to be.
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