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Liberal Democrats Take Aim at Funding for War December 5, 2009

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Published on Friday, December 4, 2009 by The San Francisco Chronicleby Joe Garofoli

Liberal Democrats, led by heavy-hitting members of Congress from California, are taking on President Obama for the first time, aiming to block funding for his plans to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.At the same time, voters who supported Obama’s candidacy last year are expressing their disappointment online and in street protests against his plan to increase American forces in the war-ravaged nation to nearly 100,000.

[Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland has sponsored a bill to cut off war funding. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images) ]Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland has sponsored a bill to cut off war funding. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

“This is not the hope you voted for,” read a sign at an anti-war protest in San Francisco this week. 

Congressional leaders predict that Obama will have to ask Congress for supplemental war funding in the next six months to pay for his plan, which his administration estimated would cost $30 billion. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who chairs the subcommittee that oversees the Pentagon budget, predicts it could top $40 billion.

Bay Area positions

That offers an opportunity for opponents, including Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, who has sponsored a bill that would cut off funding for the war, to leverage Congress’ power to challenge the war.

A week after saying there wasn’t Democratic support for an escalation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – typically the president’s biggest backer on Capitol Hill – continued Thursday to offer neutral statements on Obama’s plan except for saying she opposes a proposed war surtax to fund it.

Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ Afghanistan Task Force, worries about the annual cost of $1 million per soldier on the ground in Afghanistan.

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, added: “I expect more casualties, and I don’t see any end to what has been going on unsuccessfully.”

At a Senate Foreign Relations hearing Thursday, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said “the situation got worse” after she voted to fund Obama’s request to send 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan earlier this year.

“How can we now leap to the conclusion that more troops will mean less violence when the opposite seems to have occurred?” Boxer said.

Coalition abandoned

Obama is abandoning the coalition of liberals who helped elect him, analyst Phyllis Bennis of the liberal Institute for Policy Studies said, by relying on support from “the Pentagon, the Republicans and the right wing of the Democratic Party, who together will claim their due as an empowered pro-war coalition.”

That realignment, she said, could imperil Obama’s domestic agenda – including proposals to reform health care, establish climate change policy and fix the economy – by alienating liberals in his party and adding to the burgeoning federal debt.

“It ruins the potential for his domestic agenda,” Bennis said. “How is he supposed to do health care if he spends another $30 billion on Afghanistan? And if he doesn’t do health care or climate change or his jobs program, then he’s got a big problem politically.”

Grassroots dismay

Obama’s grassroots supporters are dismayed by his plan for a troop surge, even though he consistently called Afghanistan the “central front” in the battle against terrorism during his presidential campaign and has called for sending at least two more brigades, roughly 10,000 soldiers, there since 2007.

“I held out hope that he wouldn’t really do it,” Desiree Aubry, a San Francisco City College student, said at a San Francisco anti-war demonstration Wednesday night that drew 200 protesters.

The liberal organizing hub MoveOn.org wants supporters to lobby Congress to set a firm troop pullout date. And on the Web site of Organizing for America, an extension of Obama’s campaign effort, a poster identified as Jono Shaffer wrote: “This decision on Afghanistan is a slap in the face to those of us who supported you as a peace candidate.”

Still, Congress will give Obama the money needed to fund the expanded Afghanistan operation, said Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress who advised Obama on Afghanistan strategy during his presidential campaign. “And I don’t think it is going to have an impact on his domestic agenda.”
They’ll come around

Liberal congressional leaders like Pelosi will eventually support the plan out of political necessity, said Steven Hill, director of the Political Reform Program at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank.

While Obama’s Afghanistan plan may not be popular with the Democrats’ anti-war wing, it will play better with conservative Blue Dog Democrats. Obama needs those legislators to retain their seats next year to maintain a strong majority in the House, Hill said.

© 2009 The San Francisco Chronicle

The Campaign Cash Behind the Afghanistan Escalation December 1, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Published on Tuesday, December 1, 2009 by Facing South

by Sue Sturgis

President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech to the nation tonight from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in which he’s expected to announce he’s sending up to 35,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

[In this photograph taken on July 2, US Marines from the 2nd Battalion, wait for helicopter transport at Camp Dwyer in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Medics and air force pilots at the main US base in Afghanistan are gearing up for the grim reality of the new US war strategy -- a likely escalation in the number of casualties in an increasingly bloody battlefield. (AFP/File/Manpreet Romana)]In this photograph taken on July 2, US Marines from the 2nd Battalion, wait for helicopter transport at Camp Dwyer in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Medics and air force pilots at the main US base in Afghanistan are gearing up for the grim reality of the new US war strategy — a likely escalation in the number of casualties in an increasingly bloody battlefield. (AFP/File/Manpreet Romana)

Anti-war groups are already planning protests against the escalation. United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of more than 1,400 local and national groups, is holding numerous protest actions around the country today and tomorrow, as is the anti-war group Code Pink.Some are calling the president’s plan to ratchet up the war a betrayal of the Democratic base, which overwhelmingly opposes sending more troops. For example, a recent Gallup poll found that 60% of Democrats want the president to begin reducing troop levels in Afghanistan.

But while the president may be showing disloyalty to his political base, he’s remaining faithful to the defense industry interests that so generously funded his campaign.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets.org database, the top recipient of defense industry money in the 2008 election cycle was Barack Obama, whose haul of $1,029,997 far surpassed Republican contender Sen. John McCain’s $696,948.

During the 2008 cycle, the industry contributed a total of $23.7 million to federal candidates — far more than the $17.4 million it invested during the 2006 cycle or the $18.1 million in the 2004 cycle.

The top five defense industry contributors during the 2008 elections were Lockheed Martin at $2.5 million, Boeing at $2.1 million, Northrop Grumman at $1.8 million, and Raytheon and General Dynamics at $1.7 million each.

And it appears their investment may be paying off: The Associated Press reports that analyst Howard A. Rubel of the global investment bank Jefferies & Co. sent out a client note today stating that the fiscal 2010 Defense Department Budget will likely boost demand for precision munitions, communications gear, helicopters, armor and surveillance systems.

Among the companies whose stock Rubel rated as “Buy”? General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman.

© 2009 Institute for Southern Studies

Obama quietly deploying 13,000 more US troops to Afghanistan October 13, 2009

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A US counter-intelligence Marine and his translator meet with local villagers in Kirta, AfghanistanA US counter-intelligence Marine and his translator meet with local villagers in Kirta, Afghanistan Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

President Barack Obama is quietly deploying an extra 13,000 troops to Afghanistan, an unannounced move that is separate from a request by the US commander in the country for even more reinforcements.

The extra 13,000 is part of a gradual shift in priority since Obama became president away from Iraq to Afghanistan.

The White House and the Pentagon both announced earlier this year that the number of US troops in Afghanistan was to be raised by 21,000, bringing the total at present to 62,000, with the aim of 68,000 by the end of the year.

But the Washington Post, based on conversations with Pentagon officials, said that on top of those an extra 13,000 “enablers” are also being deployed. They are mainly engineers, medical staff, intelligence officers and military police. About 3,000 of them are specialists in explosives, being sent to try to combat the growing fatality rate from roadside bombs.

The deployment of such non-combat troops is in line with the professed aim of the new US commander, General Stanley McChrystal, to try to win the hearts and minds of the Afghanistan population.

In addition to the deployments under way, McChrystal has also requested an extra 40,000 troops he says are necessary to prevent the country falling into the hands of the Taliban. That request has provoked an intense debate within Washington, with some political advisers in the White House opposed to any further escalation of a war that is already proving unpopular at home.

The Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai, today expressed support for McChrystal’s request. “I’m fully behind him for what he’s seeking in this report,” Karzai told ABC’s Good Morning America.

As part of the internal debate, the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, who is cautiously supporting McChrystal, is due to meet later today the vice-president Joe Biden, who is opposed to the troop increase and favours a shift in priority to tracking down al-Qaida in Pakistan.

A decision on McChrystal’s troop request appears to have been postponed for a few weeks. Any extra troops will come as a result of a parallel reduction in the number of US troops in Iraq.

A US military planner told the Army Times: “We’ve increased forces in Afghanistan before we’ve reduced forces in Iraq in a meaningful way. If they want forces sooner than 2010, there are no additional forces available. You’ll have to pull them from Iraq and put them in Afghanistan.”

The US spokesman in Iraq, Brigadier General Stephen Lanza, said yesterday that the number of US troops in Iraq will be down to 120,000 by the end of the month, down 23,000 since January. But any further large-scale reductions will have to wait until after Iraqi elections next January.

He said the aim was to get all combat troops out of Iraq by August, leaving 50,000 troops to advise and support the Iraqis.

Will 39 Democrats Stand Up to Stop the War Funding? June 15, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War.
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Published on Monday, June 15, 2009 by RebelReports by Jeremy Scahill

The White House and the Democratic Congressional Leadership are playing a very dirty game in their effort to ram through supplemental funding for the escalating US war in Afghanistan and continued occupation of Iraq. In the crosshairs of the big guns at the White House and on Capitol Hill are anti-war freshmen legislators and the movement to hold those responsible for torture accountable.

In funding the wars, the White House has been able to rely on strong GOP support to marginalize the anti-war Democrats who have pledged to vote against continued funding (as 51 Democrats did in May when the supplemental was first voted on). But the White House is running into trouble now because of Republican opposition to some of the provisions added to the bill (and one removed), meaning the pro-war Democrats actually need a fair number of anti-war Democrats to switch sides. In short, the current battle will clearly reveal exactly how many Democrats actually oppose these wars. And, according to reports, the White House and Democratic Leadership have the gloves off in the fight:

Rep. Lynn Woolsey of California, a leader of the antiwar Democrats, said the White House is threatening to withdraw support from freshmen who oppose the bill, saying “you’ll never hear from us again.”She said the House leadership also is targeting the freshmen.

“It’s really hard for the freshmen,” she said. “Nancy’s pretty powerful.”

On June 11, the relevant committees in the House and Senate approved the $105.9 billion spending package. According to an analysis by the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation:

The bill includes $79.9 billion for the Department of Defense, primarily to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, roughly $4.4 billion more than the amount sought by the Administration. This funding is in addition to the $65.9 billion “bridge fund” in war funding for FY’09 that Congress approved last June. To date Congress has approved over $814 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, not including the $80 billion recommended by the Conference Committee, In addition, the Obama Administration is seeking $130 billion in for fiscal year 2010. Both the House and Senate could take up the conference agreement as early as this week.In addition to funding combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bill provides $10.4 billion for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and $7.7 billion for Pandemic Flu Response.

The current battle over war funding has brought with it a couple of high-stakes actions, which have threatened passage of the bill. Many Democrats were up in arms about an amendment sponsored by Senators Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham that would have blocked the release of photos depicting US abuse of prisoners (which the White House “actively” supported. Facing warnings that the provision could derail the funding package, the White House stepped in, deploying Rahm Emanuel to the Hill to convince legislators to drop the amendment, while at the same time pledging that Obama would use his authority to continue to fight the release of more photos:

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel ‘rushed’ to Capitol Hill and prevailed upon Senate Democrats to remove the torture photo measure in exchange for an explicit White House promise that it would use all means at its disposal to block the photos’ release. Obama also issued a letter to Congress assuring it he would support separate legislation to suppress the photos, if necessary, and imploring it to speed passage of the war-spending bill. The rider would “unnecessarily complicate the essential objective of supporting the troops,” Obama wrote.

In other words, Obama took a position that amounted to providing political cover to Democrats to support the war funding, while pledging to implement, through other means, the very policy they supposedly found objectionable.

Secondly, the White House and Congressional leadership added a provision to the bill that extends up to $100 billion in credits to the International Monetary Fund. While this sent many Republicans to the microphones to denounce the funding, the Democratic leadership portrayed the IMF funding as a progressive policy:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is trying to paint the IMF provision as a “very important national security initiative.” The IMF, she said, “can be a force for alleviating the fury of despair among people, poor people throughout the world.”

It is a pathetic symbol of just how bankrupt the Congressional Democratic leadership is when it comes to US foreign policy that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are trying to use funding for the IMF to convince other Democrats to support war funding. The IMF has been a destabilizing force in many countries across the globe through its austerity measures and structural adjustment schemes. Remember, it was the policies of the IMF and its cohorts at the World Bank and World Trade Organizations that sparked global uprisings in the 1990s.

To support the IMF funding scam, the Center for American Progress, which has passionately supported Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, released a position paper today called, “Bailing Out the Bailer-Outer: Five Reasons Congress Should Agree to Fund the IMF.”

Thankfully, some anti-war Democrats seem to understand the atrocious role the IMF has played and have tried to impose rules on the funding that would attempt to confront the IMF’s austerity measures by requiring that “the funds allocated by Congress for global stimulus are used for stimulatory, and not contractionary, purposes.”

By adding the IMF provision to this bill, the White House is making a bold statement about the intimate relationship of the hidden hand of US neoliberal economic policy to the iron fist of US militarism.

At the end of the day, the real issue here is: How many Democrats will actually stand up on principle to the funding of the wars, regardless of the bells and whistles the White House and Democratic Leadership attach or the threats they need to endure from their own party?

In order to block passage, 39 Democrats need to vote against it in the House. As of this writing, 34 reportedly are committed to voting against it. Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake has been doing great coverage of this issue, much of which can be found here. So too has David Swanson at AfterDowningStreet. This does seem to be one issue where phone calls and letters matter-tremendously. See where your representative stands here. As of this writing, these are the legislators who are reportedly leaning toward a “No” vote, but have not yet committed. They are the people most likely to be convinced by hearing from constituents:

  1. Steve Cohen
  2. Keith Ellison
  3. Chakah Fattah
  4. Mike Honda
  5. Doris Matsui
  6. Ed Markey
  7. Jim McDermott
  8. Gwen Moore
  9. Jared Polis
  10. Jan Schakowsky
  11. Jackie Speier
  12. Mike Thompson
  13. John Tierney
  14. Mel Watt
  15. Anthony Weiner

UPDATE: I just spoke to Trevor Kincaid, Jan Schakowsky’s communications director and he told me that Schakowsky will not release a statement on her position on the supplemental “until after the vote.” I asked him if she was concerned about going back on her 2007 pledge never to vote for war funding that did not call for troop withdrawal. He said, “She is currently reviewing the pros and cons of the bill.” He would provide no further comment.

Also, Jane Hamsher reports that it now appears Keith Ellison is voting no.

© 2009 Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

After the Latest U.S. Airstrike, Can Anyone Wonder Why Do ‘They’ Hate Us? May 10, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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child_burnt afghanistan

In the eyes of the children whose families die in U.S. led wars, the Americans are the terrorists.

Posted by Liliana Segura, AlterNet at 2:23 PM on May 8, 2009.

About a half-hour north of Jalalabad, the children along the road change. No waving. No smiling. No thumbs up. No screaming for candy. Only serious stares and empty eyes!

I have seen this in Iraq, and it’s deeply uncomfortable until you get used to it — if you get used to it. Children by nature are friendly, when they’re unfriendly it’s because their parents, possibly their extended family, maybe their whole community is worse than unfriendly. And the change can be fast, in the next village, yet most of the time the change comes slow. But you have to be looking. Otherwise you look up and the smiling and enthusiastic little ones are suddenly frosty and distant little ones.

– Embedded journalist in Farah Afghanistan, March 2009

 This was written during a four-day convoy ride with the Regional Corps Advisory Command of the U.S. Marines. The author, a Vietnam vet who says he has traveled to 109 countries — including multiple trips to Afghanistan — and “reported from more than a dozen wars,” has no doubt seen his share of action. But reading it this week, days after a U.S. airstrike killed up to 130 people in Farah, Afghanistan, including 13 members of the same family, this quote from an journalist embedded with soldiers in a warzone that is escalating at this moment, is chilling.

It is a glimpse into the black and white logic that gave birth to the “War on Terror,” where there is a “good” side and a “bad” side, and as long as we know where the bad guys are, perpetual war against an entire people is justifiable. Thus, if a child stares coldly at U.S. military convoys, it must be because their “parents, possibly their extended family, maybe their whole community(!)” is comprised of terrorists. Thus by the unfortunate accident of lineage and geography, they too must be terrorist in the making themselves.

Is it too obvious a point that the “frosty and distant” children who stare at U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan might do so not because “their parents, possibly their extended family, maybe their whole community is worse than unfriendly” but because “their parents, possibly their extended family, maybe their whole community” were recently slaughtered by the U.S. military, like those killed this week in Farah?

Even in the face of an official apology from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reports that villagers collected “two tractor trailers full of pieces of human bodies” and remarks from Afghan president Hamid Karzai that the U.S. forces must operate from a “higher platform of morality,” the Pentagon has tried to claim that the civilian victims of this week’s deadly airstrikes in Farah were actually killed by the Taliban, who staged the massacre in order to pin the blame on the U.S. For those who see the fight against the Taliban as a battle of good versus evil, this might seem plausible.

But six years into the bloody war on Iraq, almost eight years into the war in Afghanistan, five years after the release of the photographs of torture at Abu Ghraib, weeks after the release of the grisly CIA torture memos, and one day after a U.S. soldier was found guilty of raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, then killing her family it is hard to imagine that people around the world still have much faith in the infallibility — let alone moral superiority — of the U.S. military, even over the murderous Taliban. As more civilians die by U.S. hands in the escalating war on Afghanistan — including children and their families — the less convicing such cynical claims and cover-ups will be.

 

Liliana Segura is a staff writer and editor of AlterNet’s Rights and Liberties and War on Iraq Special Coverage.

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Looking Forward to What, Mr. President? April 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About Justice, About War, Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Pakistan, Torture, War.
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Roger Hollander, www.rogerhollander.com, April 24, 2009

 

O.K.  Let’s for a moment entertain the president’s thesis.  The problems facing the country are enormous.  No one can deny that.  Are they that critical, however, so as to justify ignoring the prosecution of those responsible for war crimes and violations of the United States Constitution of the gravest nature?

 

Since this is hypothetical I am willing for the moment to grant the president his argument: to wit, the need for the government to attend to critical matters is so vital that at the very least investigations and prosecutions of the Bush era crimes have to be put off.  In other words, as the president has put it, we need to look forward not backwards.

 

(There are those supporters of the president’s position who allege that those who are screaming for investigation and prosecutions are extreme leftists, partisan, out for revenge, etc.  There arguments are too facile and prima facie ridiculous to merit a response.  All I am granting here for the sake of argument is the hypothesis that it is in the country’s interest to attend to matters other than the Bush era crimes.)

 

What then, are we “looking forward” to?

 

In foreign policy the president has made a promise about withdrawal from Iraq that is so full of loopholes and caveats that any serious analysis cannot but conclude that the generals will have there way and the U.S. military presence, supported by an army of mercenaries, dozens of military bases, combat troops operating under a different name, and the largest embassy in the history of the world, will be extended indefinitely.  The president has gone ahead with a major escalation of the futile aggression in Afghanistan along with an escalation of the bombarding border areas of Pakistan with unmanned drone missiles.  His generals have assured him that the value of the “military gains” will outweigh the recruiting boon to al qaeda and the Taliban (who as we speak are marching towards Kabul) that results from the massive killing of civilians (the ghost of light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel-troops-home-for-Christmas General Westmoreland lives on)  .  With respect to the Middle East, so far President Obama has followed the Bush agenda to a tee, with uncritical support of Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip.  Whether he has the guts to stare down Netanyahu with respect to the latter’s threats to attack Iran remains to be seen.

 

On the home front looms the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the catalyst of which was the sub-prime mortgage scandal and the massive Ponzi schemes that the banks (banksters) and finance industry have run with toxic illegal loans and the unregulated derivatives market.  The president has put in charge of dealing with the crisis the very team (Geithner, Summers, Rubin) that created it and is throwing taxpayers monies down the same Black Hole created by George Bush, known as the Toxic Assets Relief Program (TARP), the premise of which is that bad debts equal money.  The “relief” goes to the Wall Street mafia while the nations’ mortgage defaults and employment goes through the ceiling.

 

In one of the country’s other most critical issues, that of health care reform, a major plank in the president’s campaign platform, the president apparently has reneged on his previous support for a single-payer national program (similar in theory and practice to Medicare), which he now tells us is “off the table.”  This can be considered as nothing less than sacrificing the national interest by caving in to the bloated blood-sucking private health care industry.

 

Well, Mr. President, I have gone along with you in agreeing on the seriousness of the problems facing our nation; but if what you have shown us about how you intend to deal with them is your justification for putting aside taking steps to achieve JUSTICE (and restore a semblance of respect for the rule of law) for the most heinous of war crimes and constitutional violations, then you have failed miserably to make your case.

 

You can count me out, and despite the psychotic-like ranting and ravings of the radical right (to which you have not stood up) and a mainstream media that has its collective head in the sand, I believe that I am part of a rapidly growing soon to be majority.

 

Someone, Mr. President, perhaps it was you, once quoted FDR telling those who were crying for radical reform to “make me do it.”  Well, Mr. President, do it.

How Many Democrats Will Stand Up to Obama’s Bloated Military Budget and $75 Billion More in War Spending? April 9, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Obama wants billions more for the Iraq/Afghanistan wars on top of a US military budget that already surpasses Bush-era spending by $21 billion. Where is the resistance?

by Jeremy Scahill

Much of the media attention this week on President Obama’s new military budget has put forward a false narrative wherein Obama is somehow taking his socialist/pacifist sledgehammer to the Pentagon’s war machine and blasting it to smithereens. Republicans have charged that Obama is endangering the country’s security, while the Democratic leadership has hailed it as the dawn of a new era in responsible spending priorities. Part of this narrative portrays Defense Secretary Robert Gates as standing up to the war industry, particularly military contractors.

The reality is that all of this is false.

Here is an undeniable fact: Obama is substantially increasing US military spending, by at least $21 billion from Bush-era levels, including a significant ratcheting up of Afghanistan war spending, as well as more money for unmanned attack drones, which are increasingly being used in attacks on Pakistan. (David Swanson over at AfterDowningStreet.org does a great job of breaking down some of the media coverage of this issue across the political spectrum).

Obama’s budget of $534 billion to the Department of Defense “represents roughly a 4-percent increase over the $513 billion allocated to the Pentagon in FY2009 under the Bush administration, and $6.7 billion more than the outgoing administration’s projections for FY 2010,” bragged Lawrence Korb, author of the Center for American Progress‘ report supporting Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, in an article called, ” Obama’s Defense Budget Is on Target.”

Obama and his neoliberal think tankers clearly didn’t think much of Rep. Barney Frank’s call earlier this year to cut military spending by 25% to pay for urgently needed social programs and economic aid to struggling Americans. “To accomplish his goals of expanding health care and other important quality of life services without ballooning the deficit,” Frank said, Obama needed to reduce military spending. “If we do not get military spending under control, we will not be able to respond to important domestic needs.” Well, not only is overall military spending on the rise, but Obama is about to ask for billions more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a “supplemental” spending bill, the type which were staples in Bush’s campaign to mask of the full military budget and total cost of the wars. Obama could seek the funding as early as Thursday.

Now, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that we may actually see some spine coming from Congress in standing up to Obama’s request for this additional $75.5 billion in war funds. The WSJ characterized the situation as one of “raising tensions” between Obama and some lawmakers opposed to the wars. It should be noted off-the-bat that the Congresspeople speaking out are, predictably, members of the usual suspects club and the Democratic leadership is probably at this moment sharing cocktails in the backroom with McCain and McConnell, but, nonetheless, it is worth examining what is being said:

“I can’t imagine any way I’d vote for it,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a California Democrat and leader in the 77-member congressional Progressive Caucus. It would be her first major break with this White House.Ms. Woolsey fears the president’s plan for Iraq would leave behind a big occupation force. She is also concerned about the planned escalation in Afghanistan. “I don’t think we should be going there,” she said.

Similar sentiments echo across the House. Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) said he fears Afghanistan could become a quagmire. “I just have this sinking feeling that we’re getting deeper and deeper into a war that has no end,” he said.

Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.) dismissed Mr. Obama’s plans as “embarrassingly naive,” and suggested that the president is being led astray by those around him. “He’s the smartest man in American politics today,” Rep. Conyers said. “But he occasionally gets bad advice and makes mistakes. This is one of those instances.”

Obama has vowed to break with the Bush-era tradition of seeking such supplementals to fund the war, saying that beginning in 2010 he will fund the wars as part of his overall budget. The anti-war caucus of Democrats is unlikely to have enough votes to block it given the increasingly overt pro-war nature of the Democratic leadership. And, as the WSJ notes, the funding bills are likely to pass “since many Republicans will support them.”

An interesting point nestled half-way through the WSJ piece illustrates a point some antiwar activists have been making since Obama’s election-he is likely to win increased support from Democratic lawmakers for wars they may not have supported when Bush was in power:

The president argues that Afghanistan has been neglected, allowing al Qaeda to regroup and exposing the U.S. to new dangers.Rep. John Larson (D., Conn.) suggests Democrats may be less inclined to joust with the current White House on the issue than they were with former President George W. Bush. “We have somebody that Democrats feel will level with them,” said Mr. Larson, the House’s fourth-ranking Democrat.

This truly is one of the most important trends to watch with the Obama presidency, particularly as it relates to war policy. Obama is in a position to greatly advance the interests of empire, precisely because he is able to build much wider support for policies that are essentially a continuation of those implemented by Bush.

 

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

Rep. McDermott: “The Medical-Industrial Complex in this Country is Bigger than the Military-Industrial Complex” April 1, 2009

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www.democracynow.org, April 1, 2009

We speak with Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), a leading advocate for a single-payer healthcare system, about healthcare reform on Capitol Hill. McDermott also speaks about his recent trip to Afghanistan and his thoughts on President Obama’s escalation of the war

AMY GOODMAN: At today’s news conference at the G20 summit in London, President Obama also spoke about the situation in Afghanistan.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We also discussed the progress that was made yesterday at the Hague, where more than seventy nations gathered to discuss our mutual responsibilities to partner with the Afghan people so that we can deny al-Qaeda a safe haven. And in the days ahead, we’ll consult further with our NATO allies about training Afghan security forces, increasing our civilian support, and a regional approach that recognizes the connection between the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

 

AMY GOODMAN: After the G20 meeting, Obama is heading to Strasbourg, France, and Kehl, Germany, where he will take part in a major NATO summit commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the alliance. Afghanistan is expected to be at the top of the agenda, and Obama is expected to ask for NATO’s support for his escalation of the war. Obama has said he plans to send an extra 17,000 soldiers and 4,000 advisers to Afghanistan.

Congress member Jim McDermott recently traveled to Afghanistan as part of a congressional delegation. He’s a Democratic [representative] from Seattle, joining us now from Washington, D.C.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Congressman McDermott.

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Hi, Amy. How are you?

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Well, we hear that there was a secret meeting between the House Democrats and President Obama before he left, the topic being Afghanistan. Is this true?

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: I was not in the meeting, so I don’t know if it occurred or not.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you just came back from Afghanistan. What is your assessment of the Obama administration’s policy to expand the war there?

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Well, I think it’s almost larger than the Obama policy, but I am very worried about any escalation that we do in Afghanistan. We went roaring into there nine years ago and dropped bombs all over [Tora Bora] and did all kinds of things and put on this big effort, and then it didn’t work. We didn’t get rid of Osama bin Laden, and we didn’t get rid of the terrorists. And so, we moved onto Iraq and just left it to fester.

Now we’re coming back, eight years later, having continued to kill civilians and create enormous animosity toward Americans. And the history of the Pashtun people—there are 40 million Pashtuns who live in an area that straddles the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan—they threw out the British on two occasions in the 1800s, and they threw out the Russians a few years ago. And my belief is that we are going into something that we really don’t understand.

AMY GOODMAN: What is that?

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Well, we have some idea that we’re going to make it a peaceful, quiet place that it has never been. There has been fighting in that area for over a thousand years, and the tribal areas are so tumultuous that Pakistan has never tried to exercise any governmental control of those areas. They’ve just ceded it to the local tribes. And for us to think that we’re going to go in there and be more successful than the Pakistan government is, when we don’t speak Urdu and we don’t speak Pashto and we don’t speak Balti and we don’t speak all the languages, we don’t know the customs, is simply to get us enmeshed in another quagmire, similar to what we got into in Vietnam, when we didn’t understand what we were dealing with.

And I think that the issue here—if you read a book called Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, he talks about how you get to know the people, how you sit down, how you learn, and he winds up building schools. He’s built more than a hundred schools for girls in that area. But it requires listening to the natives, not coming in with a fixed idea that as an American you know what’s best for them. And I’m afraid that our leadership is barging in there again, thinking we know what’s best for them, and this is how we’re going to do it. And every time a drone bombs a wedding party, we make more enemies for ourselves.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman McDermott, you took a trip to Iraq in 2002 before the invasion, which you were criticized for by those who supported the Bush administration. You were opposed to the war in Iraq. So was President Obama. He spoke out in 2002. Why do you think he has taken this different tack with Afghanistan?

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Well, I think the President of the United States is always caught in the pressure between what might be good public policy, seen from a civilian side, and what the military says is a good policy. The President of the United States has the responsibility to protect the American people. That’s his first, first responsibility. And as happened to John Kennedy, they got him in office, and they said, “Hey, look, we’ve got this problem in Cuba. Let’s go down there, and, you know, in an afternoon, we can wipe out the Cuban resistance and get rid of this guy Fidel Castro.” That led to the Bay of Pigs debacle.

And the military answer that Americans tend to favor, that is, if we have strong arms and we have bombers and we have all this kind of stuff, that somehow that will prevail, has proven wrong over and over and over again. And the only way we’re going to really solve these situations is with soft power, that is, with diplomacy and economic aid.

And I think that President Obama is right now listening to those military advisers in ways that I think are, in the long run, not going to be good for the country and not good for his presidency, frankly. I worry about him. I want him to succeed. I want him to be the best president we ever had. But I’m worried that he’s listening to the wrong people. He’s not listening to enough people who say, “Take a cup of tea and listen to these people and figure out what needs to be done.”

AMY GOODMAN: You’re not far from the Canadian border, when you’re back home in Seattle. President Obama’s first foreign trip was to Canada. Canada is pulling out their troops from Afghanistan. Then he met with Gordon Brown, the prime minister of Britain, in the White House. Many were surprised they didn’t hold a joint news conference. They sat there taking a photo op and ended up extending it to more than twenty minutes. It looked like it was sort of a sort of flub of the Obama administration, since the British leader had always been treated differently in the past. The Brits are very much—the population—opposed to war in Afghanistan. Why do you think it is Obama is taking this different tack? I mean, when it comes to the other countries in the world, it seems that the US is once again, as with Iraq, trying to pull other countries along, and they’re resisting, they’re pulling out.

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Well, I think the President, when he came into office, one of the charges that was constantly railed against him was he’s not going to be a good commander-in-chief, he’s not going to be strong, he’s not going to protect us, he’s going to be weak, he’s going to capitulate to our enemies. And again, as I said about John Kennedy, John Kennedy was under the same kind of criticism as he came into office. And I think the President is responding to that by trying to be a strong leader. And if you listen to his speeches, he keeps talking about protecting the American people, protecting the American people.

George Bush, in his attacks on Iraq and on Afghanistan, did not make us safer in the long run. We have two festering wars now in the Middle East and maybe a third one in Pakistan, if you want to look at it that way. And that kind of advice that your answer is to march out and bomb people and use guns and tanks and all this military hardware is hard for a president not to react to. Otherwise, we’ll call him weak, and we’ll say, “Well, he gave in, and he lost the first war,” all that kind of stuff. And a president doesn’t want that kind of image. So I think the President is caught in a very tough situation, and I think it’s important for him to know there are people like me and many of my friends in Congress who are interested in supporting him in adopting a much more diplomatic approach to what goes on in Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: And how much access do you have to President Obama?

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Well, at this point, they’re sailing in one direction. But I think as they go down the road and need votes, they’re going to have to listen to people who don’t agree with them on the idea of expanding the war. I mean, 17,000 troops and now 4,000 troops, that’s mission creep, in my view. We’ll have everybody that we take out of Iraq in Afghanistan if we’re not careful, and we will have not brought the troops home, which I think ought to be our main goal, and we will not have established peacefulness in that area.

So, I think as things develop—remember, the President has only been in office for sixty days. So let’s—I’m willing to give him some time. I’m worried, but I’m willing to give him some time to get his feet on the ground and figure out what’s going on and actually assess it for himself, because he’s very smart and very thoughtful and asks hard questions, and I don’t—I haven’t given up at all on him. I think he’s going to be a good president. But it’s—I just worry, from my own experience.

I mean, I was in the Vietnam thing. I was a physician in Long Beach who took care of casualties coming home. So I know what war is about. And war is never glorious. It’s never an exciting thing to get involved in. It seems exciting when you’re a long way away. And all those chicken hawks in the Bush White House looked at war in Iraq and in Afghanistan as somehow glorious and wonderful, and we’ll just go over there and whop ’em. And, of course, it didn’t work out that way. And that’s what always happens to people who have not had the experience of being in it. Now, President Obama has not been in the military, but he can learn from some of us who’ve been there and understand what the real costs of this are going to be. And I think there’s a better way to make the American people safe than to use weapons of destruction all over Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Jim McDermott, I wanted to turn to another key issue of our day. It’s the issue of healthcare. You’re a doctor. I mean, in the lead-up to the March 5th healthcare summit at the White House, in the corporate media there was almost no mention of single payer, which in some polls is the number one approach that Americans support, except a mention by those who slammed it. You are one of the advocates of single-payer healthcare. So is Congress member John Conyers. You’ve both introduced bills. What are these bills? What is single payer? What are its chances?

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Basically, a single-payer system, which is what every industrialized country in the world, except the United States, has adopted, is a system in which you guarantee a set of benefits for every citizen of the country. No matter how much money, where they live, what color they are, what ethnicity they are, whatever, everybody is entitled to the same generous benefit package. And that’s true in France, and it’s true in Germany, and it’s true all over the place. The French, for half the money that we spend, are getting, by the World Health Organization, the best healthcare in the world.

Now, the second thing that you have to have besides a generous benefit package is a single-payer system. And you can put the money together through the government, or there are a lot of different ways it’s done in all the countries of the world, but when a patient goes into a hospital in Canada, they hand a card in for the national plan, and that’s the end of it. And you are not threatened with bankruptcy in Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Japan, Italy, Spain. None of these countries can a citizen be bankrupted by their illness. But it is the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States, because we have put the emphasis on individuals doing it.

A single-payer system is a common good way of dealing with risk that none of us know when it’s going to hit us. And I think that it’s what this country needs, but unfortunately, we have a large health insurance industry that is fighting back, tooth and nail, to prevent that from coming into existence. It’s going to be a tough battle. This is not going to be something that’s easily put together.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play what President Obama himself said about single payer before his presidential campaign. This is what he said back in June of 2003, before he was elected even to the US Senate.

    STATE SEN. BARACK OBAMA: I happen to be a proponent of single-payer universal healthcare coverage. I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent—14 percent—of its gross national product on healthcare, cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that’s what Jim’s talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out: a single-payer healthcare plan, universal healthcare plan.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Well, there you have it. That was the state legislator Barack Obama speaking in 2003. Congress member Jim McDermott, he has now said, at least those in his administration have said—Max Baucus, the leading senator on healthcare, along with Senator Kennedy, have said that it’s off the table. It took a lot of pressure to even get one single-payer advocate. And then, finally, it was two at the healthcare summit. Then it was John Conyers.

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Well, clearly, the economic forces, the medical-industrial complex in this country, is bigger than the military-industrial complex in this country. And people don’t recognize that, but it is a huge industry that is resisting change. The medical-industrial complex basically wants to keep the system the same, except for the fact they want to shift some of the cost off onto the government.

And I think that the fight is going to be around a central issue when we get to the debate in the Congress, and that is whether—because the President has said, “We’re going to keep the private insurance industry as it is. If you’re in it, fine, don’t worry about it. You can stay right where you are. You’re not going to be forced into anything. But we’re going to give you a public option, and you can move to that public option.” Now, the question will be, is that a good public option? Is it a less expensive public option? Because it should be less expensive than something provided by the insurance companies. And if it is, will people move into that ultimately, and we will wind up with a basic system that’s run through a public option?

AMY GOODMAN: Like Medicare for all?

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: It could well be Medicare for all. That’s what—you know, Pete Stark and John Conyers have been talking about that for a long time, and that’s one way to do it. There are a number of ways. But a public option, some people say it should be the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program, the program that I’m in as a federal employee. I put some money in, the government puts some money in, and that provides my healthcare benefits. And we ought to open that up to everybody in America. Let that work—

AMY GOODMAN: A new—a new development now is that Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced the American Health Security Act of 2009 in the Senate. Is this your bill from the House?

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: It’s exactly the same. Bernie called me up and said, “Jim, do you mind if I put my bill—your bill in in the Senate?” And I said, “Of course not, Bernie.” It’s good have allies, because Bernie is a good advocate. And this issue has to be on the table. Right now, we spend—in our healthcare dollar, about sixty cents of every dollar is federal money in Medicare, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits, military benefits, Indian health, public employees. All this is already paid for in the public. So it’s not as though we don’t have a public option. We have just kept people out of that public option and kept them out there either on their own or in their employment insurance. And we’ve got to open it up to let them into the federal system.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, you’re going to be a columnist for now the online Seattle P-I, Post-Intelligencer, which folded recently. Now, Seattle Times, the only major paper in Seattle. You have said that newspapers should be bailed out like AIG was bailed out. Your position now?

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Well, here’s my feeling. The thing that we lose with newspapers are investigative reporters. We don’t need the editorial page, where they tell us what they think or what they, who they think we should vote for. What they need are investigative reporters who go out and probe and find out what’s going on.

The blogosphere helps some, but the fact is that you need people who will go and stick their finger in the chest of people like me and say, “Why are you doing that?” and make us say, so that the people can make an informed choice. Democracy is based on an informed electorate. And as you lose those investigative reporters in newspapers, the people will be more and more in the dark, and they’ll be subject to television news coverage, which is a minute and a half at the most on any subject, and you do not get any in-depth view of what’s going on. So we need newspapers from that standpoint, and I don’t know how we get them, but that’s—I think that we ought to be thinking very much about losing our democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you support this approach to have them—this new nonprofit option that has been introduced into Congress?

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Yeah, Ben Cardin from Maryland has put a bill in in the Senate. I looked at that. The Manchester Guardian is a nonprofit, and so is The Independent in Great Britain. So it is possible to run a newspaper as a nonprofit. They would have to give up their editorializing about which candidates you should vote for. That kind of stuff would have to go. But otherwise, I think it’s a good option, and I would like to see some of these newspapers take that role. Unfortunately, the corporations who own them have a viewpoint that they want to go through the editorial page, and it would be hard for them to give that up. So it’s going to be a real test of whether newspapers are for getting people information or influencing public opinion.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Jim McDermott, I want to thank you for being with us, Democratic congressman from Washington state, also a doctor and now a columnist for the online Seattle P-I.

Yet More “Plus ça change…” You Can Believe In March 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About Pakistan, About War, Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, War.
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Roger Hollander, www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com, March 29, 2009

“Good morning. Today, I am announcing a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“This marks the conclusion of a careful policy review that I ordered as soon as I took office. My Administration has heard from our military commanders and diplomats. We have consulted with the Afghan and Pakistani governments; with our partners and NATO allies; and with other donors and international organizations. And we have also worked closely with members of Congress here at home. Now, I’d like to speak clearly and candidly to the American people. “

These are the opening sentences in Barack Obama’s March 27 speech in which he announced the escalation of the U.S. occupation and agression in Afghanistan.  Note the list of people and institutions with whom the President consulted before coming to a decision about his policy: military commanders and diplomats, Afghan and Pakistani governments, partners and Nato allies, donors and international organizations, members of Congress.  There is one glaring omision: THE AMERICAN PEOPLE .  Not to mention world public opinion.  Note that Obama has a tendeny to speak down people rather than listen to them.  As with his excluding from consideration a single-payer national health plan, which is favored by a vast majority of Americans, for President Obama a peaceful and diplomatic solution in Afghanistan/Pakistan which for most Americans is a fervent hope, is “off the table.”

The lead in a Time Magazine article covering the speech suggested that George Bush must have left an old speech lying around in his desk.  

When Obama was criticized from the left prior to his inauguration for retaining the key members of the Bush team of militarists and war profiteers (Gates, Petraeusl, Mullen, Jones) and adding Hawks such as Hillary Clinton and Rahm Emmanuel, he countered by declaring that he would be making the decisions and not his advisors (Obama the Decider).  Well, if Obama ever was indeed a peacenik, he surely has since succumbed to the Stockholm Syndrome in a big way.

Yet More “Plus ça change…” You Can Believe In.

“There was a day when the world rightly called Americans honest even if crude; earning their living by hard work; telling the truth no matter whom it hurt; and going to war in what they believed a just cause after nothing else seemed possible.  Today we are lying, stealing and killing.  We call all this by finer names: Advertising, Free Enterprise, and National Defense.  But names in the end deceive no one; today we use science to help us deceive our fellows; we take wealth that we never earned and we are devoting all our energies to kill, maim and drive insane men, women, and children who dare refuse to do what we want done.  No nation threatens us.  We threaten the world.” (italics added)

These words could have been written today, but they weren’t.  They appeared forty one years ago in the Autobiography of the Afro-Aerican activist and historian, W.E.B. Du Bois.  Plus ça change… plus c’est la même chose.   I despair to say it, but our nation’s first Afro-American president is turning out to be a traitor to his heritage.

Question: is there any difference at all between the foreign policy of President Obama and his predecessor?  Only if you believe that the part’s of Obama’s speech on Afghanistan/Pakistan that spoke of investment in non-military programs constitute more than window-dressing.  I don’t.  I believe that with respect to the militaristic policies of peace candidate Barack Obama, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

 

 

Call for National Action for Peace in Afghanistan March 28, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Peace Action Fund, March 28, 2009

Today, President Barack Obama announced his plans to send another 21,000 troops to Afghanistan. This poorly conceived strategy continues failed Middle East policies where military engagement serves as the primary tool. The war weary American publics increasingly thinks that the Afghanistan war was a mistake.

While he also made some good statements on increasing diplomacy and economic aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the emphasis is clearly on military operations. Predictably, the Pakistan and Afghan factions of the Taliban are already uniting to oppose our escalation of troops. As the spring fighting season approaches, only one thing is certain – more death, destruction, and misery in a desperately poor country that has had little respite from war for decades.

Here in the U.S., Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan and the continuing occupation of Iraq threaten our nation’s urgent economic and domestic agenda. Now is the time for more diplomacy, not more war!

Peace Action calls for immediate action for peace in Afghanistan. Here are four things you can do:

1) Call the White House today – 202-456-1414 – to show your immediate opposition to President Obama’s plan.

Make sure President Obama knows that you disagree with his plan to send more troops to Afghanistan. Call the White House comment line at 202-456-1414 between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM ET.

2) Call again on TUESDAY, March 31st.

Nationally, dozens of other organizations will make coordinated calls to the White House. This planned day of action will show the strength of our movement and reflect the national discontent with unending wars.

3) March with Peace Action and United for Peace and Justice in New York on April 4! Join us at the corner of White and Lafayette streets in Manhattan at 11AM.

Building on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we are marching on the anniversary of his historic speech against the war in Vietnam and the anniversary of his assassination. On Saturday, April 4, we are taking our message to Wall Street in NYC: addressing this country’s economic crisis must include drastic cuts in military spending and that means ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The last thing our country needs is a new quagmire in Afghanistan – it is time to bring the troops home, not send more.

4) Help organize local actions April 6 – 9

Congress will be in recess so this is a perfect time to meet with your representatives while they are home. Actions can also be community or media-focused – vigils, rallies, public education forums with local speakers, film showings or other events to educate and mobilize support in your community. Here are some resources to get you started. This is an important time to educate people about Afghanistan and the urgent need to change U.S. policy. Find a Peace Action affiliate near you, here.

Peace Action Supports:

  • A halt to the planned escalation of 21,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
  • A strong commitment to diplomacy as the only solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. The U.S. must support negotiations already underway among various actors in Afghanistan, and must also engage all countries in the region with a stake in a peaceful Afghanistan. The announcement that Iran will join negotiations over Afghanistan is a positive development. The U.S. should foster this development by openly engaging Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.
  • An end to predator drone strikes, air attacks, and night raids that traumatize, injure, and kill innocent civilians.
  • A dramatic shift from military spending by the U.S. to funding for Afghan-led humanitarian community development and reconstruction projects to enable Afghan communities to improve daily life for their own people. Our goal is to put an end to U.S. war funding.

Kevin M. Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

 

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