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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 4/21/10

Rep. Sestak, Want to Win?

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Dear Congressman Sestak, How would you like to win an election? Can I give you a bit of unsolicited advice? Thanks.

I opposed this war before it began, as did many people in Pennsylvania, and I hope to explain why. But, Congressman Sestak, you need not agree that it was always wrong in order to agree that it is wrong now. I support the immediate announcement of a swift withdrawal of all troops, mercenaries, and military contractors, and I hope to explain why. But you don't need to agree in order to oppose spending $33 billion to escalate the war with 30,000 more troops. To vote to fund that escalation, you have to believe that this war is such a good thing that it should not only be continued but also expanded. Or you have to believe that the way to end it is to expand it, AND that nothing more useful at home or abroad could be done with all that money, AND that distinguishing yourself from your electoral competitors wouldn't do you or Pennsylvania any good.

Refusing to fund an escalation does not compel a war to end. It only maintains the war at the current level. So nonsensical claims about "abandoning the troops" become even more nonsensical. Last December, Congressman, you and most of your colleagues voted for a massive budget for wars and the military, but many who voted yes said they would vote no on an escalation, an escalation that was opposed by a majority of Americans and Afghans and Pakistanis and the people of nations around the world. It was universally maintained in Washington that the vote on the escalation money would not come until the spring. So the fact that the escalation has predictably already begun cannot be treated as a fait accompli unless we're going to tell the American public that we were all played for a bunch of fools. Are there troops on their way or already arrived? Well, turn them around and bring them home!

Last summer, Congressman Sestak, you and a majority of the Democrats in the House voted for an amendment to create an exit strategy for Afghanistan. You've said at public events that the President should announce an exit plan. Here's something that I take to be a simple fact that has been obscured by propaganda: you do not exit a war by escalating it. The president sent 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan last year, plus 5,000 more mercenaries, and tens of thousands of contractors, all without so much as a by-your-leave to the first branch of our government, the United States Congress. We have at least 68,000 troops and 121,000 contractors or mercenaries now in place, and violence, deaths, and misery escalated following the troop escalation. In fact the president said that he sent those troops prior to developing a strategy for the war, almost as if sending the troops was an end in itself, a possibility that is almost too grotesque to contemplate, a possibility I would hate to have to explain to the parents of all the soldiers who will die in the hell that will be the coming attack on the province of Kandahar. The military has recorded 244 wounded and 41 dead from Pennsylvania prior to this onslaught.

Oh, but we escalated in Iraq in order to withdraw, didn't we? Did we? We have 198,000 troops, mercenaries, and contractors in Iraq. If you believe they're all coming home next year without Congress waking up from its slumber, I've got some yellowcake to sell you. Violence in Iraq is down, at least for the moment, for many reasons. One is simply the massive numbers of people killed, wounded, impoverished, and driven from their homes. Accomplishing that feat in Afghanistan would require several armies and what's left of our soul. Even pacifying Afghanistan according to plan, according to General Charles Krulak (retired), the 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps, would require several hundred thousand additional troops. This is not a war, but an occupation. When you attack in one place, people disperse. When you hand out cash it ends up being used to attack you. Several hundred thousand troops may be a conservative estimate. And what if that was only 20 percent of your force? General Petraeus's counterinsurgency manual says you should spend 80 percent on civilian operations. We currently spend 6 percent, and over half of what we've spent on reconstruction has gone to the U.S. military's training of Afghan military and police.

Violence is also down in Iraq because troops have in great measure withdrawn from urban areas. We saw this predictable cause and effect begin when violence in Basra dropped 90 percent because the British stopped patrolling Basra to control the violence. The British were quite surprised and amazed. And if you ask Iraqis, many will tell you that violence is down because a complete withdrawal has been promised and a date stated. Sending troops to Iraq has never done the United States or Iraq any good, and the same is true and will remain true for Afghanistan. National Security Adviser James Jones says there is no guarantee that sending troops to Afghanistan would accomplish anything useful, and that they could just be "swallowed up".

Howard Hart, a 25-year CIA veteran who ran operations in Afghanistan for three-and-a-half years during the Cold War, like countless other experts, favors withdrawal. Hart says that the original goal was supposedly to destroy al Qaeda, which has long since left, and that creating a legitimate government (something that most people and history and the law tell us a foreign occupation can NEVER do) would require hundreds of thousands of troops, cost "umpteen billion" dollars, and still be next to impossible. It is almost universally accepted in the United States that our own government is broken, and yet we are trying to impose a central government on people in a country we don't know, people who don't want it. The elections in Afghanistan and Pakistan are practically down to our own standards, and the puppet governments are not viewed as legitimate. In Afghanistan we are propping up and using a government of corrupt war lords and drug dealers, and our chief puppet has threatened to join the resistance against us, the Taliban. That's not because he's crazy or drugged, but because he hopes to win the support of the people of Afghanistan. Replacing him with a different puppet wouldn't solve this problem. But I suspect Americans are catching on to the outrage and hopelessness of pouring blood and treasure into an effort to fight the Taliban on behalf of a government that wants to join the Taliban.


Your website, Congressman Sestak, says: "We diverted our attention from Afghanistan, the home base for the al-Qaeda that attacked us on September 11, 2001, and now we are still struggling to defeat the Taliban and bring stability to that region." Unstated here is the fact that al Qaeda isn't in Afghanistan. Stated here is an assertion that the goal is "stability" and "defeating the Taliban". You go on to say: "President Obama has taken the correct approach to our most pressing national security issue: the 'safe haven' that al-Qaeda has found on the porous border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the threat the Taliban and al-Qaeda pose to Pakistan's stability. Our military is not able to operate there without inflaming passions to a breaking point. We must, therefore, get Pakistan to stop viewing India as its number one threat, rather than the Taliban/al-Qaeda insurgency it has. . . . This is ultimately, as we blunt the insurgency, a battle for 'hearts and minds.' Meanwhile, we cannot permit Afghanistan to slip any further because it cannot become a base again for the one third of the Taliban that have become 'al-Qaeda-ized.' It is not our principle focus; Pakistan is. But it could become our principle focus again if we don't secure it."

It sounds like we're fighting a war for revenge and for humanitarian purposes, and for revenge against people who have mysteriously come to resemble in some way the people we want the revenge against. But revenge is not a legal ground for war, or a morally acceptable motivation for anything. And does revenge even make sense here on its own terms? The 9-11 hijackers were not from Afghanistan. Most of the planning of 9-11 was done in hotels and apartments in Germany and Spain, and flight schools in the United States, and would be again even if al Qaeda was permitted to build camps in Afghanistan. Paul Pillar, former CIA deputy chief for counter-terrorism, says that an al Qaeda base in Afghanistan would not significantly increase threats to the United States. Richard Holbrooke, President Obama's representative in Afghanistan, says that if the Taliban had control it would likely not allow al Qaeda in anyway. And many observers treat with great skepticism the idea that a U.S. withdrawal would necessarily put the Taliban in control of all of Afghanistan. The Taliban is fueled by the occupation and would lose strength with its withdrawal. The fundamentalist Taliban, as opposed to those poor people just fighting for the pay and in defense of their homes, is not popular in Afghanistan. Neither are the war lords and the current government, and there is no easy solution. But the idea that building a quagmire in Afghanistan will protect the United States from a small terrorist organization whose mastermind we now claim must be murdered in Yemen gets things backwards. Occupying and bombing Afghanistan is actually making us less safe. It is enraging people against the United States, and building the Taliban and other resistance forces.

Well, if we're not there for revenge against al Qaeda which is not there at all, and we're not there to keep al Qaeda out of that one particular country, what are we there for? For the benefit of the Afghan people? To fight the Taliban? The past 35 years should make us very suspicious of the notion that the United States government gives a damn about the Afghan people. Our government looked pretty favorably on the Taliban in the mid 90s when the Taliban favored building oil and gas pipelines. And, by the way, the Taliban offered to put bin Laden on trial, but our government chose instead to try to capture him by bombing the Afghan people.

OK. So let's let bygones be bygones. Let's ignore the many homes of suffering around the world that we do not feel compelled to bomb. Might it not be true that Afghanistan would be even worse off without the U.S. military? There's often a condescending colonialist perspective behind this sort of thinking, and I see it as missing some basic facts. One is that no matter how awful Afghanistan will be when the United States military leaves, it will never have a chance at becoming a decent place to live during a foreign occupation, because foreign occupations produce resistance. And the growing devastation will make the post-occupation struggle harder the longer the occupation goes on. Malalai Joya, a former member of the Afghan parliament, expelled for her opposition, puts it this way: "Some say that if foreign troops leave Afghanistan will descend into civil war. But what about the civil war and catastrophe of today? The longer this occupation continues, the worse the civil war will be."

Another fact is that, for much less money than the occupation requires, the United States could provide assistance to Afghans restoring their environment and agriculture, which is precisely what the current U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan advised the president to do. Our troops, who have plenty of bravery, could bravely clean the cluster bombs out of the fields rather than dropping more. A third fact is that illegal invasions and occupations damage the rule of law internationally as well as antagonizing sympathetic populations, which is why terrorism has increased around the world during the so-called global war on terror. And, most importantly, even when it has an American face on it, there is simply nothing worse than war with which war can be replaced.

When a local resident in the United States is kidnapped or raped or murdered and the media latches onto it, we talk about the horror of it with friends and strangers. But these stories exist by the thousands and hundreds of thousands for the victims of our wars. They are all real people with loved-ones, and a single one of their stories properly communicated by our corporate media cartel would end all of our wars forever. I'm sure many of us saw the recently released video of civilians being killed from a helicopter in Iraq. If you haven't you should also watch the interview of the family members of the dead. Wikileaks said it plans to release another video of 97 people being bombed in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan and Pakistan we have dramatically increased the use of drones, which are known to regularly kill what we call collateral damage. There is simply no way to kill the people whom you think, as prosecutor, judge, and executioner you have to kill without enraging more people against you than you started with. And sometimes those people come and blow themselves up to kill the CIA agents controlling the drones. And in this futile stupidity we are immorally killing human beings.

But General McChrystal has developed a new tool in Afghanistan that kills even more civilians than drone strikes. It's called night raids. We kick in doors at night and murder people, including family members who get in the way, including neighbors who come running to help, and -- in the worst sorts of incident -- including children with their hands cuffed behind their backs. We haven't given Afghan women civil rights, but at least we dig the bullets out of them with knives after we kill them in order to pretend someone else did it. And our media parrot the military's lies until the moment it's forced to recant them.

Again, this is not a war but an occupation. No U.S. soldier knows who the enemy is and who the people are he or she is supposedly protecting. They look the same. This means the innocent will die. If you think such incidents are aberrations, watch the confessions of our troops in the Winter Soldier testimony. Or listen to General McChrystal on the topic of another form of murder, road blocks. McChrystal said:

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)
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