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Taking a Moral Stand Outside Obama's White House

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates may be the consummate insider bureaucrat and a nice man, but his calling our war in the Pashtun homeland "the meat in the sandwich" begins to get at the real problem of the Afghanistan/Pakistan War.

Besides being a preposterously flippant and insensitive metaphor presumably uttered for the consumption of the more clueless elements of middle America, his sandwich image is as misleading as all the war-selling PR coming out of the Pentagon and the Obama White House.

Here's how he described his sandwich: "The Pakistanis come in behind the insurgents from the Pakistani side and, coordinating with us and the Afghans, we're on the other side." Of course, he's referring to what is informally dubbed Pashtunistan , down the middle of which Sir Mortimer Durand drew the Afghanistan/Pakistan border in 1893 to divide and conquer the Pashtun people. The border is a Western illusion. And, of course, the Taliban are largely Pashtun.

What's misleading is the assumption any part of this war is anything but a US manufactured disaster. WikiLeaks and other revelations have made it clear the Pakistanis are highly reluctant to make military assaults into the Pashtun tribal areas. Last week the Pakistanis even outed the CIA chief running the US drone war there; the man was forced to flee due to threats on his life.

So the Obama administration is increasing its lethal drone attacks and deadly night special operations raids into Pakistan, both of which are highly controversial and contribute to the hatred Pakistanis have for the US.

This increase of US military intervention into Pakistan was announced at a White House press conference  last Thursday that focused on the release of a much-anticipated assessment from General David Petraeus on the Afghanistan/Pakistan War.

President Obama spoke about the "significant progress" achieved in "disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and preventing its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future."

The truth is the war is going badly. To compound that fact, last week Obama's special ambassador for the war, Richard Holbrook, suddenly died, likely from the stress of his impossible task. Also, two major US intelligence reports -- one on Afghanistan and one on Pakistan -- flat-out contradicted the assessment's rosy PR picture.

But then stay calm; there's the assurance from Vice President Joe Biden: "Come Hell or high water we'll be out of there by 2014."

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Meanwhile out in the cold

As the press conference was going on in a warm and toasty White House, outside, in a 22-degree snow storm, 500 angry American citizens led by military veterans were crying foul and calling for an end to the war and the killing.


Veterans take a moral stand at the White House fence by (John Grant photo)

The demonstration was organized by Veterans For Peace, a 25-year-old group committed to alternatives to war. As I walked around in the falling snow chatting with my fellow VFP friends it was so cold my feet began to hurt.

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For refusing to budge from the black iron fence around the White House, 135 men and women were arrested. One Vietnam veteran, Elliot Adams, went so far as to place a heavy U-shaped steel bicycle lock around his neck, attaching himself precariously to a fence spire. They had to saw it off to arrest him.

Daniel Ellsberg was among those arrested. He spoke about leaking Vietnam War secrets in 1971 in the Pentagon Papers. Naturally, thoughts turned to WikiLeaks, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, who reports now suggest is being subjected to the latest no-touch, slow, sensory-deprivation "torture" in a prison at Quantico, Virginia.

Medea Benjamin, founder of Global Exchange and Code Pink, emphasized what may be the most critical issue about the Afghan war, the squandering of US resources toward the destruction of two cultures, one in Afghanistan and Pakistan and one here at home.

Former war correspondent Chris Hedges delivered a powerful secular sermon on the need to morally stand up to state power out of touch with its population even if the numbers were small and the press coverage nonexistent. It was not about Democrats or Republicans -- it was about demanding a sane, human society when the one we have seems headed toward a cliff.

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I am a 65-year-old American who served in Vietnam as a naive 19-year-old kid. From that moment on, I've been studying and re-thinking what US counter-insurgency war means. I live outside of Philadelphia, where I'm a writer, photographer and a video (more...)
 

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