Feints and baby steps in the direction of eventually ending a massive crime are not enough. Hoping to meet a distant deadline for ending a war that cannot be justified for a single day is not enough. A new misunderstanding should not be piled on top of other fictional accomplishments (the closing of Guantanamo, the complete withdrawal from Iraq, universal health coverage, etc.). But if we don’t understand that we are beginning to move things in the right direction many among us will lose heart and others will miscalculate.
This is what the Associated Press had to say on Thursday morning as we prepared to march on the White House and the Treasury to demand a serious effort from Obama in France to bring the G20 (and the Congress) to back a financial transaction tax, and as planning continued to protest the ever-less-popular Obama’s expected authorization of a disastrous tar sands pipeline:
“A senior U.S. official says the Obama administration is considering shifting the U.S. military role in Afghanistan from primarily combat to mainly advisory and training duties as early as next year. If this approach is adopted it would mean a reduction in American combat duties in Afghanistan sooner than the administration had planned. But it would not mean an early end to the war. The U.S. and its NATO partners agreed a year ago that coalition forces would complete their combat mission by the end of 2014. Advising and training Afghan forces would gradually become a more dominant part of the mission, particularly after the U.S. completes the withdrawal of 33,000 ‘surge’ troops by September 2012. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because no decisions have been made.”
The Wall Street Journal ran into some similar criminal but respectable leakers of “national security” information, who will no doubt be joining Bradley Manning this afternoon:
“The Obama administration is exploring a shift in the military’s mission in Afghanistan to an advisory role as soon as next year, senior officials told The Wall Street Journal, a move that would scale back U.S. combat duties well ahead of their scheduled conclusion at the end of 2014. Such a move would have broad implications for the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. It could begin a phase-out of the current troop-intensive approach, which focuses on protecting the Afghan population, in favor of a greater focus on targeted counterterrorism operations, as well as training the Afghan military. A transition to a training mission could also allow for a faster drawdown of U.S. forces in the country, though officials said discussions about troop levels have yet to move forward. The revised approach has been discussed in recent high-level meetings involving top defense and administration officials, according to people involved in the deliberations. No decisions have been made, officials said, and policy makers could consider other options that would adjust the mission in other ways, officials said. Officials said agreement on a formal shift to an advisory role could come as early as a North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting in May—in the heat of the U.S. presidential election campaign. Some officials have drawn comparisons to President Barack Obama’s 2009 decision to switch to an ‘advise and assist’ role in Iraq and to declare a formal end to U.S. combat operations there. In Iraq, after mid-2009, troops were largely confined to their bases. Security conditions in Afghanistan are different, however, and will likely require U.S. troops, particularly Special Operations forces, to continue to accompany their Afghan counterparts into battle after the U.S. takes an advisory role. Defense officials said the U.S. still would be directly involved in many combat operations, though increasingly with Afghan forces in the lead.”
On the radio Thursday morning I heard another (or one of the same) “officials” explain that in “places like Kabul and Helmand Province” the U.S. military had been unable to identify anyone who should be a “target.”
That’s never stopped them from kicking in doors before.
The first point to understand here is that, however real this change turns out to be, the explanations for it are sheer hogwash. This war has been a disaster on its own terms for over a decade now. There’s been talk of shifting to a “training” role for most of the past decade. It was possible to discover last month or last year or several years ago that some provinces were more violent than others, that the occupation was fueling the violence and proving counter-productive, and that pay-offs to the Taliban meant U.S. dollars were funding both sides of a continuing catastrophe. U.S. troops could have all been locked up in their bases until flown home at any point in the past decade. Why leak this proposal now?
It’s not because Afghans are fighting back. That’s not new. It’s not because the financial cost is stratospheric. That’s not new, and it funds important presidential campaign “contributors.” It’s not because the Pentagon and NATO no longer want a permanent presence and weapons bases in Afghanistan, not to mention a pipeline. All of that, as far as we know, hasn’t changed or been abandoned. What has changed is that people in the United States, and in Europe as well, are in the streets, the squares, and the parks. On a daily basis marches through DC streets are shouting “How do you fix the deficit? End the wars, tax the rich!” The media coverage has changed. If the polling on support for the Afghanistan war continues its current downward trend, before long this war will be as unpopular as Congress. But it is the passion and the action that has changed in this moment, not the polling.
Congress is also coming face-to-face with the possibility of being forced into some minor cuts to the world’s largest military budget. Weapons makers are extremely serious about imposing any such cuts on troops rather than on our brave weapons. This brings us to the danger of de-escalations. If large U.S. troop deployments to hot occupations are scaled back, but U.S. bases continue to be built around the world, mercenaries continue to be hired, missile “defense” stations continue to be deployed, drones continue to slaughter without “risk to [U.S.] human life,” our success will be far from complete. Transforming war is not the same as ending it. Robotic warfare will not reduce the risk of long-term blowback, will not eliminate punishing economic costs and environmental damage, will not lessen the pressure on our civil liberties at home, and will not mean an end to the direct immoral and illegal killing of members of the non-U.S. 95% of humanity.
The proper course at this moment is not to declare an end to our activism, and certainly not to utterly destroy our activism by pledging our allegiance to a politician or a political party. What we must do now is renew our public pressure, organizing, educating, and occupying, invigorated by the fact that the White House itself is unable to hide the fact that we are becoming a force able to push back against the war machine. This is a time, just as November 2008 should have been, to redouble our investment in mobilizing nonviolent pressure for peace and justice.
The Declaration of the Occupation of New York City has just been amended to include a powerful denunciation of wars and military spending. We must continue to connect foreign and domestic issues, continue to build awareness that there is only one pot of money being misspent on militarism instead of on human needs, and continue to put our bodies in the way.