After eight years of U.S. war in Afghanistan, ferment is growing in the country and the Congress about Washington’s next steps. President Obama, conferring with national security advisors in the wake of the call by the U.S. commanding general there for more troops, pledged a thoughtful decision. Congressional Republicans demanded the speedy dispatch of additional troops while many Democrats urged caution and polls showed public backing for the war slipping to 40 percent.
As the anniversary approached, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. – the only member of Congress to speak out and vote against the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001 – introduced a one-paragraph bill, H.R. 3699, to bar any funding to increase the number of U.S. soldiers serving there. Among 21 co-sponsors was Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., whose H.R. 2404 calling for an exit strategy from Afghanistan, introduced earlier this year, gained 98 additional co-sponsors. In the Senate, Russ Feingold, D-Wisc. and Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., are urging thought about ways to bring troops home.
Last month over 50 Congressional representatives joined in a letter to President Obama urging him not to send more troops to that country. “We support your administration’s declared goals of defeating Al Qaeda and reducing the global terrorist threat,” the letter said. “But, we believe that adding even more U.S. troops to the military escalation that your administration ordered in March would be counterproductive.”
Interviewed Oct. 7 on Democracy Now! Lee said her resolution has “created a space here in the House for a real debate on should we increase troop levels. If not, what should we do? What should our strategy be? And what is the mission in Afghanistan?”
Calling Obama’s “deliberative process” about next moves there “absolutely correct,” she urged consideration of a “more comprehensive strategy” involving more public diplomacy as well as economic strategies to aid ordinary Afghans, including helping farmers develop alternative crops to replace the opium poppies now propelling an influx of heroin into the U.S.
As she emphasized that national security “is a first priority for all of us,” Lee predicted that “the more military-first strategies that are employed with regard to Afghanistan, the worse it’s going to be,” with foreign troops perceived as occupiers and violence increasing. “We’re digging ourselves deeper in a hole. There’s no military solution in Afghanistan,” she said.
Asked in a telephone interview what he would tell President Obama if he were one of his advisers, Paul Kawika Martin, Peace Action’s political director, said he would tell the president, “First, implement some of the things you’ve already said – that it’s not a military solution, it’s only a political solution.” Martin, who has just returned from Afghanistan, said that in the last budget process, funding for Afghanistan was “90 percent military and 10 percent other. It needs to be the other way around.”
Martin emphasized helping Afghans improve their physical and economic security. “Unemployment and poverty drive people to join the Taliban and other violent extremist forces,” he said. “There are many programs we could do, especially if we focused on Afghan led non-governmental organizations” and worked to have resources stay in the country instead of going to foreign contractors and purchases.
Martin urged an end to air and drone strikes, which he said “just tend to terrify, kill and injure civilians,” as well as arbitrary arrests, “which tend to create hatred for the West and recruit violent extremists.”
The Afghan government needs know there is a general timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops, and that it must build its own peace process, he added.
Mark Harrison of the Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society picked up on a similar theme, saying his organization is calling for an international conference to work toward an exit strategy and alternatives to sending more and more troops. Pointing out that the invasion’s initial mission of fighting Al Qaeda has morphed into a fight against the Taliban, Harrison added, “I think it’s up to the Afghan people to work out among themselves some type of alternative to a war strategy.”
Meanwhile, protesters gathered on Minneapolis’ Lake Street Marshall Avenue bridge and in dozens of other locations around the country, voicing their demand for a peaceful solution in Afghanistan.