Progressives Launch Attack on Afghanistan

Friday, January 23, 2009 at 2:17 pm
U.S. Army soldiers and helicopters in Afghanistan (

U.S. Army soldiers and helicopters in Afghanistan (

Even before President Barack Obama took the oath of office Tuesday, a coalition of progressives assembled to steer him away from his long-discussed plans to increase the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan by nearly 30,000.

Starting last week, a website called Get Afghanistan Right began publishing critiques of escalation in Afghanistan, arguing that sending more troops to Afghanistan would be an expensive, bloody and ineffective approach to a war that has suffered from a lack of overall strategy. The progressives at the helm of the effort — Alex Thurston and Jason Rosenbaum of the liberal blog The Seminal; filmmaker Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films; and Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation magazine — contend that their first priority in writing against escalation is to dispel the perception that a consensus exists in the country on behalf of increased troop deployments. Though in its early stages, the effort signals two broader challenges that the Obama administration will face: finding a clear and viable strategy for a war that has grown more chaotic seven years after it began; and diminished progressive patience for the Afghanistan war.

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

“We need at a minimum to show that not everyone agrees” with an escalation, said Greenwald, the producer of popular progressive documentaries like “Outfoxed” and a prolific viral-video creator. “We don’t need to have a solution, have an answer, or have a ten-point program, but we do have to show that many people don’t agree, and encourage others to start asking questions, which I believe the smart people in the Obama administration will do.”

The effort so far focuses on fostering a debate within progressive circles before talking to a broader and more ideologically diverse audience. It may provide a test as to how deep American support is for an Afghanistan war that has suffered from years of policy, media and public neglect — something the Obama administration will have no choice but to confront.

For years, many progressives have argued that the real war on terrorism is in Afghanistan as a rhetorical bludgeon to argue against the Iraq war, and relatively few criticized Obama’s plans for escalation. Thurston was one of those few, arguing during the height of the general election that Obama’s position on Afghanistan was unworkable. “Come November 5th,” he wrote on his blog, “we’re going to need to pivot on Afghanistan: we’re going to need an honest debate about facts in the present, not outdated fantasies about what could have been in 2002, or even 2007.”

Get Afghanistan Right is a follow-on from that advice, emerging around the election after Thurston, Greenwald and other progressives found themselves on the same side of the issue through blog posts and email debates on progressive listservs.

Last week, when the site launched, its activist-authors encouraged readers to blog about Afghanistan themselves, and credited readers with producing “dozens of pieces” from 35 authors and 22 websites — among them a series of posts on the liberal Daily Kos, one of the most popular political blogs of any ideological disposition. The effort’s founders said they’ve received “a lot of emails this week,” in Thurston’s words, though no one specified an exact number. The arguments hosted on the website itself contended that Afghanistan’s history of resistance to foreign troops renders a troop increase inherently problematic; that a troop increase without a broader strategy to the region is folly; and that Afghanistan itself is no longer a just war.

A former civilian spokesman for NATO wrote to the site to argue that a foreign troop increase would fail. “It is immensely dishonest,” wrote Nicholas Lunt, spokesman for the military coalition in Kabul during 2007, “to pretend that outsiders can change this reality [of dysfunctional Afghan governance] by blanketing parts of the country with foreign soldiers and hoping that good governance (and that means widespread local acceptance or buy-in) will follow. It won’t.”

Vandel Heuvel feared that Obama’s embrace of the Afghanistan war could jeopardize the rest of his agenda. Like the other members of the effort, she cast her position as one of support for Obama, not opposition.

“I’m participating in Get Afghanistan Right because I want this administration to succeed,” she said in an email. “And with our first Community-Organizer-in-Chief in the White House, I believe we have a real chance with this project to persuade President Obama that he risks endangering the promise of his administration by escalating militarily–and further draining resources that are vital to rebuilding here at home.”

Currently, Get Afghanistan Right doesn’t take a position on Afghanistan beyond arguing that the troop increase is a poor course of action. Thurston, Rosenbaum and Greenwald said in interviews that there may be an expansion of the group’s position on the war more broadly in the future, but for the time being, the focus is on arguing against escalation. Partially, that’s due to the inherent difficulties in creating a consensus among any coalition of activists. But, Thurston said, “our main objective is to push the debate, and I don’t see it as our role to provide an extremely detailed policy position at this point, though that might change.”

Its leaders are also not entirely sure where their efforts go next. But beyond blogging against escalation, “it depends where people want to take it,” said Rosenbaum. He said people involved in the anti-escalation push have ties with “people who lobby, and have good relations with the Hill and that’s a definite possibility,” but it would be premature to sketch out next steps. Asked if Greenwald would create some of his popular viral videos for the website, he said simply, “Stay tuned.”

The Obama administration has no shortage of military and strategy reviews for the Afghanistan war. At her confirmation hearing last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged that the administration would conduct a broad-brush review of what the goals of U.S. policy are in Afghanistan. A spokesman for the National Security Council, Benjamin Chang, said it was unclear what the timetable was for that review to proceed. The administration will also inherit highly anticipated military reviews are underway from Gen. David Petraeus, commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East and South Asia; Gen. Douglas Lute, the so-called White House “war czar” responsible for coordinating government-wide policies in Iraq and Afghanistan; and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

But any movement to stop the troop increases faces obstacles. There has been, so far, something of a consensus within the administration on the troop increases that Obama advocated for Afghanistan since 2007 as a presidential candidate. The new administration “will increase our troop levels in Afghanistan, press our allies in NATO to do the same, and dedicate more resources to revitalize Afghanistan’s economic development,” promises the new White House website’s statement on Afghanistan.

Yet there has also been a recent vein of skepticism emerging from within Democratic foreign-policy circles. During Clinton’s nomination hearing, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, worried aloud that Afghanistan could become another Vietnam. Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), urged Michele Flournoy, the incoming undersecretary of defense for policy, to come up with “a clearly articulated end point” for the Afghanistan war, since otherwise “we tend to move in an ad hoc way, staying in different places and not necessarily resolving the problem in way that fits our national interest.” Additional skepticism toward a troop increase — though not yet opposition — has been voiced by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Penn.) as well.

“I don’t think there needs to be a troop buildup in Afghanistan,” said Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Flor.), a newly elected progressive Democrat, who argued that the majority of viable military missions in Afghanistan could be accomplished by Special Forces troops rather than tens of thousands of new Army soldiers, which he feared would “inflame the local population and the Muslim world.” Grayson added that he thought the administration would receive congressional “discretion” on Afghanistan befitting an incoming commander-in-chief and that “I hope he uses that discretion wisely.”

Anthony Cordesman, a defense expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, urged some patience as the Obama administration’s strategy reviews unfold. “Until you know what the [strategic] context is for a troop increase, where they’re going, how they’re focused, how it’d deal with aid issues, how it’s tied to Pakistan, you don’t have a position to criticize,” he said.

Indeed, few advocates of a troop increase consider such an increase a sufficient approach to the myriad problems of Afghanistan. Both Petraeus and Defense Secretary Bob Gates have embraced exploring negotiations with insurgents even as the fighting continues, a position Obama himself appeared to embrace during an October interview with Time’s Joe Klein. Flournoy, like many counterinsurgency advocates, said at her confirmation hearing last Thursday that she favored a “whole-of-government” approach that emphasized increased development aid and other non-military resources to deal with Afghanistan in supplement to troop increases.

“The bigger issue is, if we’re going to double down in Afghanistan while drawing down in Iraq, are we putting in the resources, the training and the other things to build up a legitimate and capable government in Afghanistan?” said Michael Noonan, a counterinsurgency advocate and defense expert with Philadelphia’s Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Thurston, speaking for himself and not the whole group, said he found “some consensus between the anti-escalation people, the pro-escalation people, as well as some people who are conflicted,” citing Petraeus’ recent call for regional diplomacy with Afghanistan’s neighbors. “Very few people, from what I understand, say ‘Put in more troops and see what happens.’”

Similarly, some progressive organizations who don’t oppose escalation see value in Get Afghanistan Right’s efforts. Heather Hurlburt, executive director of the National Security Network, an organization that brings together Democratic politicians with progressive national-security thinkers, applauded the group for opening up the debate. “This shouldn’t be a debate about troop numbers,” she said, “it should be one about the long-term goal [in Afghanistan], and then then you come to [asking] how to get there.”

The network’s blog, Democracy Arsenal, published critiques of the effort last week, and Hurlburt said that “we don’t think that because the solution is not primarily military, the answer is to immediately bring the troops home. It doesn’t mean there’s no military role.” But she said that the more important role that the National Security Network would play in the debate was “as a convener,” bringing together progressive groups of different view points on Afghanistan “to deal with the contradictory points.”

Rosenbaum said that he understood the reticence on the part of some progressives to Get Afghanistan Right’s positions. “Most people that I’ve seen who aren’t with us for opposing escalation say ‘We want to see the [administration's] strategy first and then make up our minds,’” he said. “That’s a fair position. I just wonder if that strategy is coming.”

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Jaff Sassani
Comment posted January 23, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

President Obama and his changes of the foreign policy

The US Governments are following the set of the old “foreign policy” which are outdated and was unfair to the oppressed people around the world especially for the Muslim world. The policy was based on greed of the US Government officials. The policy was served individuals in power in the USA instead of the fundamental interest of the USA people.
The questions are for you Mr. President Obama are you really capable to change that unjust policy toward the Muslim world or not?
The old policies for over fifty years now are failed and it is counter productive now. The people around the world do not have respect for the USA people any more. They are looking at the USA as an imperialist. The USA is known to be aggressive nations and they are supporters of the dictators and corrupt leaders around the world especially in the Middle East and the Muslim world.
Those perceptions’ are used by the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), Al-Qaida of Osama bin laden, and Islamic organizations from Turkey to Indonesia to discredit the US Government in the Muslim world. It is working for them because of the absent of any meaning full economic plans for the Muslim world by the US Government and EU.
The US Governments under President Bush’s administrations’ and his foreign policy are responsible for the success of the USA enemies in the Middle East. The Iraqi and Afghanistan constructions projects are the joke among the people in the region. The US government did spend billion’s of tax payer’s dollars on the papers. But there is not much to be accounted for on the ground.
The majority of the people are unemployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The living conditions are harder than before. But there is lot of mafia organizations leaders with billion’s of dollars under their family names in the Banks around the world.
The Mafia leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan are well of. They are the close ally of the US Government. They are more powerful militarily; each one has their own militia forces too. They are abusing and killing people more than what Saddam Hussein and Taliban did to them before the wars.
The US Governments under the President Obama are going to be defeated soon if he is going to follow the Bush’s doctrine. Mr. Bush did not have any doctrine or visions for the region. He was under the control of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other special interest groups. He was very helpful to IRI and al-Qaida with his actions. Iran is getting stronger politically and militarily because of the Bush’s mistakes. The IRI and Al-Qaida are challenging the US Government in the Muslim world. Their goal’s are to defeat the US Government politically first and then militarily.
The US governments under President Obama have a chance to revive the status of the USA in the region. President Obama should adopt the new policy of equal treatment of the people in the Muslim world with the people in Europe.
The double standards of the US Government are counter productive in the Muslim world. The US Government did rebuild the Europe after the World War II as a partner of the Europeans’ people not Europeans’ corrupt politicians. What are there we do not understand about the west and the US Government policy makers. The questions are over and over why they are treating us like that? Why the US Government do not want to friend of our people in the Muslim world? If you do not want to be our friend; why you are supporting dictators and corrupt politicians against us? These questions are repeated every second in the Muslim world Mr. President.
Why the US Governments are treating the Muslim of Middle East differently from the Christian of Europe? We are human too. We want to live in peace and stable region. Stop supporting our dictators and corrupt politicians. Help us to establish rule of laws and democratic system for our people.
What are not understandable to you America? What are not understandable to you EU? What are not understandable to you Mr. President Obama? How much clearer we have to inform you and your people to be understandable?
The unjust policy of the west and the US government are burning the people in America. The majority of the American people did speak out; they do not want to be imperialist. So do not listen to former President Clinton or others.
The tricks and treachery policy are burning America. Stop hidden agenda do some thing for American people and the people around the world who love America and want to be friend of the American people.
Jaff Sassani
From the SKDC

Our goals are to inform President Obama and American people the truth about the Muslim world. We hope he will adopt the establishment of the Economic Union similar to the EU. We hope he will help our people instead of corrupt politicians. We hope for peace and stable foreign policy.

Chet Twarog
Comment posted January 23, 2009 @ 3:23 pm

Suggested readings:
Andrew J. Bacevich's book: “The Limits of Power –The End of American Exceptionalism” 2008
Gore Vida: “Imperial America” 2004; Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace” 2002; and “Dreaming War: blood for oil and the Cheney-Bush junta” 2002.

Chet Twarog
Comment posted January 23, 2009 @ 3:27 pm

Sorry for my spelling error: Gore Vidal

Leonard R. Jaffee
Comment posted January 23, 2009 @ 4:36 pm

An important, even critical, FACT is missing from the subject article's discussion . Our Afghan war and occupation are ILLEGAL.

The UN Charter says all member states must settle their international disputes by peaceful means; no state can use military force except in self-defense or when authorized by the Security Council. After the 9/11 attacks, the Council passed Resolutions 1368 & 1373, which condemned the September 11 attacks; but neither authorized use of military force in Afghanistan.

Our Afghanistan invasion was not self-defense per article 51 of the Charter. The 9/11 attacks were criminal attacks, not “armed attacks” by another country. Afghanistan did not attack the United States. Of the 19 hijackers, 15 were Saudis. After 9/11, the US did not face an imminent threat of an armed attack. Just so, Bush waited 3 three weeks before initiating his October 2001 bombing campaign.

The UN-Charter-required self-defense NECESSITY must be “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” This classic principle of self-defense was affirmed not only by the U.N. General Assembly, but also by the Nuremberg Tribunal.

Suppose, before 9/11, Afghanistan’s Taliban government asserted that a certain international terrorist organization had set up headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri and that the organization had executed a terrorist attack against Kabul. The Taliban government demanded that our government render to the Taliban government the terrorist organization’s leaders. Our government refused, asserting sovereignty. The Taliban invade the US to find and apprehend the terrorist organization’s leaders, and the Taliban’s invading force topples our government.

Philip Ricketts
Comment posted January 23, 2009 @ 5:52 pm

If anyone reading this HAS NOT yet read 'Charlie Wilson's War' by George Crile, I consider it required reading,,, THEN tell me your rationale for continuing to throw money down the military black hole known as Afghanistan. We Created the bigger mess now known as the civil war in Afghanistan…. we should leave

The Washington Independent » Progressives Launch Attack on Afghanistan
Pingback posted January 23, 2009 @ 9:54 pm

[...] The effort so far focuses on fostering a debate within progressive circles before talking to a broader and more ideologically diverse audience. It may provide a test as to how deep American support is for an Afghanistan war that has …Original post by unknown [...]

mel bernstine
Comment posted January 24, 2009 @ 9:49 am

Progressives want us to throw in the towel, talk and hope for the best. It's obvious that a troop increase needs to be carried out in the context of a coherent overall strategy, but that is a no-brainer. We still need to up the ante of force.

John Woodward
Comment posted January 24, 2009 @ 5:23 pm

Afghanistan is not a nation in the sense that western nations think of a nation. It is, rather a loosely knit coalition of tribes whose loyalties shift with the circumstance of the moment. Many of them are often at war with each other. A central government is never in control of the entire country, and its power ebbs and flows with the whims of various powerful sheiks. The one thing that unites them (if only on a temporary basis) is the presence of a foreign invader. Alexander and his Greeks found out about this the hard way. He barely made it through the Kyber Pass with a badly mauled army.
The British tried to pacify the place for about a hundred years without success. Then the Russians had a go at them, also without success. Now we are there, offering a multitude of new targets for them to shoot at. If there is any truth to the saying ” those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it” our chances of military success there are not very good.
This dismal picture is further complicated by the fact that Afghanistan and Pakistan do not have a border as western nations know one. The border as drawn on the map is merely a piece of paper that is totally ignored by the tribesmen in the area. The line on the map which supposedly represent the boundary of the two countries goes right through the tribal territories of the two most powerful tribes in the area, the Masud and the Afridi. I have unwittingly walked across this “border” on several occasions unaware of it untill my surveyor informed me that we were in Afghanistan. How do you know that? I asked. I was informed we had passed a rock cairn which our guide said was supposed to represent it.

Veterans For America » News Analysis: January 26, 2009
Pingback posted January 26, 2009 @ 9:26 am

[...] into the war that is likely to rage on for years to come. The terrain isn’t helping. And another front in the war is opening up, at home. Hopefully feeding the children of Afghanistan helps set the stage for eventual peace. But what of [...]

Afghanistan-Pakistan « jeb sharp - work in progress
Pingback posted January 26, 2009 @ 3:32 pm

[...] Also–here’s Spencer Ackerman on the wisdom of those extra 30,000 troops… Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Pakistan welcomes appointment of U.S. envoyFacing Reality in Afghanistan: Talking with the TalibanEnvoy to Afghanistan namedBomb Kills 3 U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan [...]

Comment posted January 28, 2009 @ 9:26 am

For More information about Pakistan, please visit

Jaff Sassani
Comment posted January 28, 2009 @ 10:28 am

Stop the process of Kurdish Genocide in Turkey

Israeli Government and Jewish lobbyist in Europe and America are helping Turks of Turkey for the Kurds Genocides in Turkey. Kurdish traders’ like Barzani, Talabani, Zebari and Barham Salah are partners of that crime against the Humanity.
We are asking President Obama to correct the wrong policy of the US government in the Middle East. The lobbyists in America are supporting Turkey to make money. They are calming that Turkey is fighting terrorist organizations of PKK only. PKK are not violent organizations any more. They are asking the Turks of Turkey for peaceful settlement of Kurdish right in Turkey.
The Turks of Turkey are insisting to continue with the wars. The Turks of Turkey are hiring Israeli Government, Europeans and American lobbyist, Traders Barzani and Talabani mafia groups to finish of the Kurdish populations in Turkey.
Since the collapse of the former Soviet Union the Turks of Turkey killed and displaced at least ten million Kurds in Kurdistan region of Turkey. We are appealing to you directly Mr. President Obama to stop this unjust practice by Turkey.
We are calling on the Kurdish people world wide to join Eraiain liberations movement to stop the Turks and Israel plans for our people’s Genocide in Kurdistan of Turkey.

Comment posted January 30, 2009 @ 11:14 pm

SoD Gates has already said that the Taliban cannot be defeated, they need to negotiated with, and we'll eventually need to compromise with them. Why not do that sooner rather than later?

Comment posted January 31, 2009 @ 7:14 am

SoD Gates has already said that the Taliban cannot be defeated, they need to negotiated with, and we'll eventually need to compromise with them. Why not do that sooner rather than later?

Is Progressive Pressure Affecting Afghanistan Policy? - The Seminal :: Independent Media and Politics
Pingback posted March 9, 2009 @ 8:00 am

[...] has given the President a powerful, consistent message since he took office. Spencer Ackerman noted skepticism from progressive lawmakers in January: There has…been a recent vein of skepticism emerging from within Democratic foreign-policy [...]

Video: Is Progressive Pressure Affecting Afghanistan Policy?
Pingback posted March 9, 2009 @ 3:16 pm

[...] has given the President a powerful, consistent message since he took office. Spencer Ackerman noted skepticism from progressive lawmakers in January: There has…been a recent vein of skepticism emerging from within Democratic foreign-policy [...]

Is Progressive Pressure Affecting Afghanistan Policy? « Get Afghanistan Right
Pingback posted April 4, 2009 @ 4:35 pm

[...] has given the President a powerful, consistent message since he took office. Spencer Ackerman noted skepticism from progressive lawmakers in January: There has…been a recent vein of skepticism emerging from within Democratic foreign-policy [...]

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