Interview with David Swanson, co-founder of AfterDowningStreet.org, conducted by Scott Harris
When President Obama announced his decision to deploy 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan in December 2009, he also pledged to begin a withdrawal of those troops beginning in July 2011. The promise to wind down the war in Afghanistan was politically necessary, with a growing number of U.S. citizens no longer supportive of a war that will be entering its 11th year this October. But with July’s withdrawal date fast approaching, the White House is hinting that the withdrawal of U.S. troops may be larger than the anticipated token drawdown of 3,000 to 5,000 troops. How many American soldiers will come home in July is now being debated by the administration and the Pentagon.
The competing arguments in play appear to be the symbolic impact of the U.S. raid which killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and the military’s concern that a substantial withdrawal of American forces now would risk gains made against the Taliban insurgency by last year’s troop surge. However, the mood among members of Congress has shifted, with many anti-war Democrats and anti-Obama Republicans casting nearly enough votes in May to pass a bill to accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Since the 2008 presidential election, the U.S. peace movement has waned, with fewer anti-war protests and less participation in vigils, teach-ins and lobbying of Congress. But now, a new protest is being organized for Oct. 6 with the goal of placing new attention on the war in Afghanistan, and demanding an end to the conflict, as the U.S. military combat role there enters its second decade. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with David Swanson, co-founder of the group AfterDowningStreet.org, who discusses the Obama administration’s plans for withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan and the organizing now underway for a sustained and militant protest in Washington D.C. on Oct. 6.
DAVID SWANSON: This is a president and a vice president and others in the administration who’ve been promising, swearing a significant, substantial withdrawal in July for a year and a half. And now, in recent weeks you’ve heard it might be 5,000 troops. And then you find out it might be troops and contractors adding up to 5,000. And that’s not out of a total of 100,000, that’s out of a total of 200,000 or so troops and contractors in Afghanistan. So that’s about two-and-a-half percent. Now, you start seeing numbers ranging from 3,000 to 5,000. So you’ve got a range of one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half being pulled out in July. And the New York Times, without suggesting any numbers, says “And it might be even more than that.” Well, you know it could be either extreme in this big range that they’re now debating between 3,000 and 5,000 men and women. In either case, it doesn’t begin to amount to what’s been promised here. Right? I mean, this is a president who did keep his promises on Afghanistan from the campaign. He said, “I’m going to escalate it; I’m going to escalate the good war.” But later, as president, he promised a serious withdrawal this July and now, appears to be backing off from that. And you know, we didn’t elect him on that promise, and we can’t vote him out on this backing off. We have to have some sort of way to pressure these people to listen to us in between elections.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Obama, when he talked about withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan this summer was vague certainly on the numbers, although substantial troops doesn’t sound like just a few thousand support soldiers and contractors. What do you think would meet that pledge of Obama to withdraw a significant number of troops?
DAVID SWANSON: This is a president who has escalated this war by 60,000 or 70,000 troops, plus a similar number of contractors. And those have both been described as surges. One was in 2009, happened with almost no public debate or discussion. The next one happened at the end of 2009 and in 2010, and there was a lot of discussion about it, and it was a big surge and that’s where the promise was made that the withdrawal would start in July with a big withdrawal and proceeding from there. So as long as those are considered surges, I think they have to end. I think you have to pull out those 70,000 troops plus contractors and get back to the level you were before and then continue, because the Afghan people don’t want them there. The American people overwhelmingly don’t want them there. The rule of law is against it. Our budget is against it. The natural environment, our civil liberties, our own representative government are against. There’s not an argument for staying.
BETWEEN THE LINES: David, you wrote a very interesting article recently titled, “Our Tahrir Square, D.C’s Freedom Plaza on October 6th.” You’re proposing organizing a sustained protest movement ala Egypt, Tunisia — what’s going on in Spain — that would not just be a nice Saturday afternoon out, as you said in the article, “patting ourselves on the back for being good protesters”, but actually a sustained movement that will have more impact here in the United States. Tell us about that proposal.
DAVID SWANSON: As I’ve talked to people around the country, and I ask them, do you want to come to Washington for another rally or speeches or march or make home movies and go back home? There’s not much interest. But do you want to come for the one big event that you could tell your grandkids you were part of, where we go and shut things down and hurt the war machine and the Wall Street funding, misrepresenting government until it begins to listen to the people. Then they say, “Yeah, I’m there; I’ll quit my job; I’ll risk relationships with my loved ones. I’ll do what it takes, I’ll be there.”
And so, it’s not just me proposing this. A number of people and groups had this idea around the same time some weeks back and have now put together an initial coalition that’s announced an invitation for more groups and organizations and individuals to join in, and you can actually go to October2011.org and sign up that you’ll be there. You can even sign up, “I’ll be there only if at least 50,000 people will be there with me.” And then we’ll fill you in how many people are going to be there. I expect it will be well over that number. And the intention is very much to nonviolently occupy Freedom Plaza, which has a nice resonance with Tahrir Square, and to get in the way, and to shut things down until our government begins to listen to us.
David Swanson is author of the book, “War is a Lie.” Learn more about plans for the Oct. 6 protest in Washington, D.C. by visiting October2011.org.
- Full-length Counterpoint interview with David Swanson, conducted by Scott Harris, June 6, 2011 (20:01)