Preempting a Progressive Split on Afghanistan

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 12:05 pm
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As the Obama administration spends the next two months reviewing strategy options for Afghanistan, a progressive organization is attempting to cobble together a liberal consensus around basic principles for the future of the seven-year-old war — thereby fending off a progressive split over Afghanistan early in the Obama administration’s term.

The National Security Network, an organization that seeks to bring together policymakers, experts and Democratic activists, plans to release a document, titled “Principles for an Afghanistan Strategy,” later today. Assembled in consultation with Afghanistan experts from the development, diplomatic and defense communities, the two-page document urges the Obama team to create “a comprehensive strategy that recognizes the limits of military power.” It is agnostic on the question of deploying additional troops for the war, and its drafters hope to reach out to progressives who object to military escalation. On Tuesday, the Obama team announced it would deploy 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

“The ultimate goal here is for the Obama administration to come out with something 50-plus days from now that most people can live with,” explained National Security Network executive director Heather Hurlburt, referring to the progressive community. If a progressive consensus can be reached, Hurlburt said she planned on taking the consensus document to the Obama team’s review committee, which is headed by former CIA official Bruce Reidel, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy and Richard Holbrooke, the special administration envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mirroring the stated goals of the Obama team’s policy review, the National Security Network document seeks to address Afghanistan policy from the perspective of first-order concerns. It endorses the war, contending that “Afghanistan’s continuing deterioration would allow al-Qaeda central, which intelligence agencies identify as the greatest national security threat to the United States, to operate with impunity under a resurgent Taliban.” But the document also echoes recent recognitions by members of the Obama team, like Defense Secretary Bob Gates, that the war’s humanitarian and governance components “will be better served by a smaller-scale effort which can enable local, regional and non-governmental efforts than a massive one which cannot be sustained.”

As for the strategy to achieve those goals, the National Security Network urges the U.S. to support an effort to help the Afghanistan government “satisfy baseline economic and security requirements of its citizens” in order to win and hold popular allegiance. It supports “vigorous diplomacy” with all of Afghanistan’s allies “from India and Iran to Russia and the other Central Asian states”; tying Pakistan policy to Afghanistan policy; and to supplement military force by cracking down on both government corruption and the “stranglehold of the opium trade” which helps fund the insurgency.

Perhaps most controversially, the document endorses a counterinsurgency strategy against the Taliban-led coalition seeking to overthrow the U.S.-allied government in Kabul. Noting that counterinsurgencies are historically won by those who “outgovern …rather than outgun” their opponents, the National Security Network urges military leaders to make decisions “with an eye to meeting Afghan security concerns,” bolstering Afghan security forces and “phasing out tactics that have increased civilian casualties with questionable payoffs.” A United Nations report released this week found that civilian casualties have risen significantly in Afghanistan in 2008 , and over 60 percent of civilian casualties linked to U.S. military activities have been caused by airstrikes.

Hurlburt explained that consultations taking place over the past two weeks with experts rejected a strategy that focused narrowly on counterterrorism activities like specifically targeting Al Qaeda or Taliban leadership, out of fear that a strategy that neglected the concerns of the Afghan people wouldn’t work. “The counterinsurgency and development people together make the point the you can’t achieve your counterterrorism objectives without a modicum of government functionality,” she said. But what she said her “friends in the development community,” who urge a robust construction and humanitarian effort, “are not fully recognizing is how shallow the domestic pool of support is [for such efforts] at this point. That’s what the progressive advocacy community, like Get Afghanistan Right, understands.”

Get Afghanistan Right is a coalition of progressives that rejects military escalation in Afghanistan. Hurlburt said that she wanted to work out a sense from the “expert community” of what was achievable and realistic for Afghanistan before taking the document to “progressive advocacy” organizations like Get Afghanistan Right to secure buy in. She conceded that there would be disagreements that probably can’t be fully resolved.

“In my wildest dreams, if we could agree to disagree on troop numbers but get the other pieces right, and ask hard questions on those troop numbers” Hurlburt said she would consider the effort at consensus-building successful. “The other thing I’d really like to see is greater familiarization, so the expert community can see advocacy community has valid concerns, and the advocacy community can see the expert community are good people with serious concerns and not, to use an overused word, ‘war mongers.’”

Jason Rosenbaum, a blogger at the Seminal and a leader of Get Afghanistan Right, said he welcomed the National Security Network’s efforts. “We think there’s a lot of common ground among progressives on Afghanistan, especially when you get the around the question of the war-fighting part,” he said. “I would love to be on board that discussion as much as possible.” He said he considered “NSN an ally, and we consider VoteVets an ally in some senses,” referring to a progressive veterans’ organization that has pushed for an increase of troop levels in Afghanistan.

Get Afghanistan Right also released a statement of principles on Tuesday for the war, reacting to President Obama’s announced troop increase. “Without a clear strategy, benchmarks for success, and a plan to bring our troops home, this escalation will only prolong the American-led occupation — increasing anti-American sentiment throughout the region — while failing to make America any safer,” the organization wrote in a statement signed initially by 15 academics.

Hurlburt was optimistic that progressive consensus is possible. She said that the network’s role was “to turn down temperature of rhetoric enough to see the truths that the other [progressive] side is offering them.” And she called the Afghanistan strategy review a test for progressives. “This is a great experiment in asking, can the progressive community do a better job with these types of challenges than [it did] in 1993 or 1977 or whatever. We’ve never done this successfully as a community — shape war policy, and shape policy of own [progressive] governments when we manage to elect them.”

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29 Comments

President Obama » Preempting a Progressive Split on Afghanistan
Pingback posted February 18, 2009 @ 1:44 pm

[...] Mortgage News Daily – Mortgage And Real Estate News wrote an interesting post today on Preempting a Progressive Split on AfghanistanHere’s a quick excerptAs the Obama administration spends the next two months reviewing … principles on Tuesday for the war, reacting to President Obama’s announced [...]


PoliTrix » Blog Archive » Scritti Politti: February 18, 2009
Pingback posted February 18, 2009 @ 7:40 pm

[...] Prevention: Spencer Ackerman reports on the efforts of the National Security Network, who hope to head off a possible split in the [...]


Leonel
Comment posted February 18, 2009 @ 8:30 pm

You need to to get over thinking about “experts,” and also about thinking on one hand, nation building, on the other, counter-insurgency tactics. This is not a tin-soldier war with winners and losers. Obama is going to figure out how to get out without the tent falling down. It is a political solution and the Iranians, Pakistanis, Russians need to help. Help convince him to not use any more Predators. Supposedly, the Pakistanis are just going to make their peace with the tribal villagers, Muslims, etc. The Russians and Iranians know we want out, so they are very happy to provide cover, I mean, help.


Eric Ferguson
Comment posted February 18, 2009 @ 9:27 pm

More troops can buy time, but that's all they can do. If we don't have an firm idea of the goal and how to get there, and if the new strategy doesn't involve helping Afghans gain security, electricity, running water, etc., then it's doomed.


oldandbald
Comment posted February 18, 2009 @ 11:36 pm

Obama will need to solicit input from a variety of experts in order to determine the objectives and means to achieve them. Realistically, most of the work will be diplomatic rather than military. Russia after 10 years and 160M troops pulled out without any victory. The Russian commanding general noted that the
solution needed to be primarily political and did not necessarily mean a change in the countries main
philosophy.


Veterans For America » News Analysis: February 19, 2009
Pingback posted February 19, 2009 @ 9:24 am

[...] US troops are “stalemated” in Afghanistan in the face of a resurgent, adaptable enemy, according to Gen. David McKiernan, the top US commander there. Some 17,000 more US troops are heading for the fight there, which will bring the our troop presence to some 55,000 troops. They will remain near those levels for up to five years, McKiernan said. What should the principles for an Afghanistan strategy look like? [...]


Anne Moore
Comment posted February 19, 2009 @ 11:11 am

We never seem to remember nor understand the lessons of Viet Nam; nor have we learned from the earlier Afganistan invasions or wars. We cannot win there. We must realize that “winning” can only be accomplished with great patience & by demonstrating to all people that we can help them, IF they want our help; sharing our skills with them; building schools; teaching & modeling democratic concepts; or just simply by not bombing their towns and killing their civilians.
A. Moore–retired history teacher


Leonard R. Jaffee
Comment posted February 19, 2009 @ 12:39 pm

We do not need a “progressive consensus” that “most people can live with.” We need to face the real legal, moral, and practical truth and act accordingly.

The US military cannot win the Afghan front or reduce “terrorism” with an Afghan campaign. But, since the US’s Afghan military invasion was and is ILLEGAL, Obama and Gates and their accomplices can continue to commit war crimes massively (with each additional killing or maiming or displacement the US causes).

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” wrought by another state — another national government or national military. Afghanistan did not attack the United States. Of the nineteen 9/11 terrorists, 15 were Saudis.

After 9/11, the US did not face an imminent threat of an armed attack of Afghanistan or any other state. Just so, Bush waited three weeks before starting to bomb Afghanistan. And the reason was just that Afghanistan’s Taliban government would not turn over bin Laden, not that the Taliban government made any threat of attacking the US or any of its territories.

The UN-Charter-required self-defense NECESSITY must be “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” This long-standing 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.

Obama and the US do not have a defense in the assertion that the Afghan “government” permits the US military’s (and NATO forces’) presence. The Afghan government is a US installation achieved by the US’s illegal invasion. With illegal invasion, the US military ousted the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Even if the current US puppet government WERE legitimate, US (and NATO) military operations are illegal, because the “government” has demanded that the US (and NATO) cede to the government the control of military operations.

Now, instead of withdrawing our illegally-present military from Afghanistan or at least yielding to the Afghan “government” control of military operations there (as that government has demanded), Obama is expanding our illegal Afghan war and invading Pakistan, which has not authorized our invasion and has not given any cause of our invading it for self defense. Pakistan has not attacked the US. No UN Resolution authorizes the US to invade Pakistan. So, each time the US military kills a Pakistani by invading Pakistan, Obama and Gates and their accomplices commit a war crime.


Jim Pivonka
Comment posted February 19, 2009 @ 6:18 pm

I strongly oppose negotiations with the Taliban as a politico-religious force. The British opening to the Right (Fundamentalist Saudi and Taliban) has been unhelpful and distasteful.

I know of one progressive voice I trust on the subject of Afhaniistan: Sarah Chayes. I suggest that progressives who do not want to ally themselves with religious fanatics, school bombers, and the suppression of women study her website and her recommendations for appropriate action in Afghanistan.

http://www.sarahchayes.net/images/Afghanistan_p…
http://www.sarahchayes.net/


Friday Brain Dump « Three Steps Forward
Pingback posted February 20, 2009 @ 1:22 pm

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A Response to NSN on Afghanistan - The Seminal :: Independent Media and Politics
Pingback posted February 20, 2009 @ 3:58 pm

[...] recently released “Principles for an Afghanistan Strategy” attempts to build progressive consensus on the war on Afghanistan, but has failed to do so. I and many of my colleagues in the progressive [...]


mike fogelsanger
Comment posted February 20, 2009 @ 4:42 pm

change we can… ah you know the rest


PoliTrix » Blog Archive » Troop Surge in Afghanistan Means No Progressive Consensus
Pingback posted February 20, 2009 @ 7:20 pm

[...] Spencer Ackerman reported in the Washington Independent Wednesday in Preempting a Progressive Split on Afghanistan: The National Security Network, an organization that seeks to bring together policymakers, experts [...]


AMERICAN NONSENSE » Troop Surge in Afghanistan Means No Progressive Consensus
Pingback posted February 20, 2009 @ 7:24 pm

[...] Spencer Ackerman reported in the Washington Independent Wednesday in Preempting a Progressive Split on Afghanistan: The National Security Network, an organization that seeks to bring together policymakers, experts [...]


Video: Daily Kos Troop Surge in Afghanistan Means No Progressive Consensus
Pingback posted February 21, 2009 @ 12:18 pm

[...] Spencer Ackerman reported in the Washington Independent Wednesday in Preempting a Progressive Split on Afghanistan: The National Security Network, an organization that seeks to bring together policymakers, experts [...]


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Pingback posted February 23, 2009 @ 8:25 am

[...] Last week, the National Security Network – which describes itself as “the progressive national security community” – released a statement on Afghanistan. Our friend Spencer Ackerman reported on it’s release in the Washington Independent. [...]


Troop Surge in Afghanistan Means No Progressive Consensus at Rethink Afghanistan
Pingback posted February 23, 2009 @ 11:31 am

[...] Spencer Ackerman reported in the Washington Independent Wednesday in Preempting a Progressive Split on Afghanistan: The National Security Network, an organization that seeks to bring together policymakers, experts [...]


Afghanistan: When Will the “Experts” Remember the Geneva Conventions? at Rethink Afghanistan
Pingback posted February 23, 2009 @ 3:40 pm

[...] Last week, the National Security Network – which describes itself as “the progressive national security community” – released a statement on Afghanistan. Our friend Spencer Ackerman reported on it’s release in the Washington Independent. [...]


Wind Energy
Comment posted February 24, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

Aw, come on people! The continued deployments are a sop to the Pentagon and the war profiteers, and nothing more. This isn't about winning, or nation-building, or freedom or ANY of that nonsense. It's about a very powerful group being bowed to.

Why don't we just GIVE them the God damned money and bring everyone home?


Sleep
Comment posted March 5, 2009 @ 11:35 am

“iberal consensus around basic principles for the future of the seven-year-old war ” inother words quit, surrender, cut and run.


That Afghanistan Consensus - The Seminal :: Independent Media and Politics
Pingback posted March 14, 2009 @ 6:44 pm

[...] The New York Times and noted approvingly that Gelb, a founder of the National Security Network — which doesn’t always see eye to eye with Get Afghanistan Right — wrote something he could embrace. Jason emailed me: I would agree with a lot of what Gelb [...]


John Ellis
Comment posted March 16, 2009 @ 4:46 pm

I say take out there poppy fields stop the flow of opiates to the world put up a death star over the boarder remove the current ineffective leaders improve hospitals schools water and power. train moderates for police national guard and regular army.


John Ellis
Comment posted March 16, 2009 @ 11:46 pm

I say take out there poppy fields stop the flow of opiates to the world put up a death star over the boarder remove the current ineffective leaders improve hospitals schools water and power. train moderates for police national guard and regular army.


The ‘Good’ War « Ten Percent
Pingback posted April 10, 2009 @ 1:36 pm

[...] 2009 — RickB The invaders killed a teacher and her family, one an infant. Meanwhile the pro-war Democratic administration is trying to co-opt and enforce message discipline on the anti-war forces they used [...]


slava
Comment posted March 9, 2010 @ 10:56 am

why us their mountains, deserts, let there live themselves


Soberlivingstaff
Comment posted June 27, 2010 @ 4:30 am

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louis vuitton
Comment posted August 6, 2010 @ 7:45 am

Thanks again for an excellent article.


2919803
Comment posted September 7, 2011 @ 12:50 pm

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3234726
Comment posted September 7, 2011 @ 12:51 pm

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