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How Many Days Can We Shorten This War?


(Aug. 20) — Recently I watched the 2007 Lebanese film "Under the Bombs." The movie tells the story of the U.S.-supported Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 2006, wrapping the historical events inside a fictional narrative. Watching the movie reminded me of Just Foreign Policy’s efforts with Jewish Voice for Peace and others to stop that war.

At the time, it seemed clear that the war could not go on indefinitely; the international community would not allow it. But how long would it be allowed to go on? If we could shorten it by one day, innocent civilians would live and not die. The 34-day conflict resulted in 1,191 deaths, the UN Human Rights Council reported. Using this figure, on average, each day of the war killed 35 more people; each day we shortened it saved 35 lives.

Today Afghanistan is holding the first round of its presidential election. Regardless of the outcome, one thing is clear from the campaign: the majority of Afghans are sick and tired of war. "There is broad agreement the war must end," reports Carlotta Gall in the New York Times. There is broad support in Afghanistan for negotiations with insurgents to end the war. The debate inside Afghanistan is on what process negotiations should follow, and whether the Afghan government is really following through on its stated commitment to negotiations.

Americans, too, have apparently had enough. Fifty-four percent – including three-quarters of Democrats – say they oppose the war in Afghanistan, CNN reported this month. A Washington Post-ABC News poll now says a majority of Americans see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country. Majorities of liberals and Democrats solidly oppose the war and are calling for a reduction in troops. Two-thirds of liberals and six in 10 Democrats are against a troop increase. A majority of women say troop levels should be decreased.

But our leaders in Washington, apparently, are not yet sick and tired of war in Afghanistan. For almost a year, Western officials have been conceding that the war will not end without a political solution that involves negotiations with insurgents. But, these officials say, the West isn’t ready yet to make a deal. "Reconciliation is important, but not now," one Western diplomat told the New York Times. "It’s not going to happen until the insurgency is weaker and the government is stronger."

So, there’s going to be a deal with insurgents; that’s a foregone conclusion. The question that remains is how many more people will die before that happens – and whether, from the point of view of the interests of the majority of Afghans and the majority of Americans, the deal we can get 5 or 10 years from now is likely to be so much better than the deal we could get in the next year as to justify the deaths that will be the guaranteed result of postponing meaningful negotiations.

An amendment in June requiring the Pentagon to tell Congress what its strategy was for ending the war failed in the House, 138-278. But in an important milepost for future efforts, it was supported by a majority of House Democrats.

In the Senate, we’re much further back: a bill calling for an exit strategy from Afghanistan has not even been introduced. But a path to eventually getting out of Afghanistan has to eventually also go through the Senate.

In our ally Britain, which has far fewer troops there, the question of how long their troops will be in Afghanistan is openly discussed. The head of the British Army said Britain will have to keep thousands on troops on the front line in Afghanistan for up to five more years, theTelegraph reported  this week. But this question – how long will our troops be there? – is not even being asked in the U.S. Senate.

The Senate is now in recess; but the recess is a time for Senators to hear from their constituents. Now is the time to urge your Senators to demand an exit strategy from Afghanistan.

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