Last night I participated in a Chicago forum with a retired US general who directs a large “capacity building” program on many battlegrounds of The Long War. It was a great dialogue, but I was chilled by one point he made, because I hear it all the time within national security circles. He said that in the current Afghanistan debate there are only two competing perspectives: counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency. If you don’t engage in this debate between these two choices, you are irrelevant.
I said those are choices between dead-ends. Counter-terrorism, or the Joe Biden-George Will option, would avoid sending more troops [and causing more American casualties], by reliance on Predator strikes from the air, clandestine operations we’ll never hear of, and inciting local armed forces to fight the insurgents. It may disrupt insurgent forces, but it alienates public opinion and risks the loss of superiority on the ground. Counter-insurgency, or the McChrystal-Petreaus option, is based on separating the insurgents from the local people, requires a minimum of 40,000 more troops in the next two years, and at least a decade of “nation building” in Afghanistan.
If those are the two options, I said, it is most likely that President Obama will split the difference by continuing to launch the drone attacks and adding some combat troops and trainers, claiming he’s listened to all the experts. If he sends significantly fewer than 40,000 more troops, some may even feel he has sided with the peace forces.
There is a third alternative that we need to put on the table, as they say, and that is an American decision to engage in an exit strategy from a quagmire that has no military solution.
An exit strategy is meant to be a flexible term which is based on a decision that the costs of long term occupation are greater than any guaranteed benefits. It is flexible also because it shifts the paradigm to conflict resolution, which by its nature addresses the perspectives of others, including our enemies in battle, in the search for a political and diplomatic compromise.
So far the only vehicle for promoting an exit strategy is HR 2404 by Rep. Jim McGovern [D-Mass.] which has support from a slim majority of Democrats, not enough to pass even the House.
But the potential power behind an exit strategy is the 70 percent of Democrats, and a majority of all Americans, who oppose the coming escalation.
Therefore I urge you to keep studying, circulating and gathering signatures for the petition demanding an exit strategy from what the Pentagon calls its Long War in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond. To use this petition as an organizing tool, go to:
Believe me, I don’t believe in petitions any more than you do, but I believe in the power of people to force decision-makers to address alternatives to an escalating stalemate. Signing a petition is only a first step. Circulating the petition to neighbors, seeking endorsements from groups outside the peace movement, confronting your Congressional representatives and the media – all these steps can create a storm from the bottom up in the immediate future when the Obama administration decides whether to escalate and seek funding from Congress.
Stay the course!
Tom Hayden is director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center in Culver City.