If Leslie Gelb is right, and he usually is, if President Obama is set to announce that only 30,000 of the current 109,391 U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be withdrawing over two-plus years, I would recommend that the peace movement take some credit for being a factor in the decision but not endorse the number leaving because it is still too low.
A withdrawal of 30,000 will end the U.S. surge, which was a 2009 compromise between hawks and doves in the national security world, and will likely open perhaps a final phase of the Afghanistan war involving two more years of combat combined with peace talks on power-sharing while the U.S. military role winds down. This is a defeat for the Pentagon and the counterinsurgency advocates who want combat continued until the Taliban have been destroyed.
But it is not yet a victory for peace. Unless further clarified, the Obama proposal means we’ll be pushing to decrease the near 80,000 Americans remaining in combat until the end of 2014, three-and-a-half years from now. The savings will be something in the $30 billion range through 2012, not the major peace dividend, which he could have achieved. Our military will be sending special forces and drones after insurgents who are not a security threat to America, inflicting massive damage on a country that is already wrecked.
We should call for Obama to withdraw all our troops from Iraq this year and commence diplomatic talks with the Taliban and regional powers, two steps which would save $50 billion and make diplomacy irreversible.
My friend and political consultant, Bob Mulholland, warns that Obama is “in danger of being outflanked by the Reps” now that Mitt Romney has called for a rapid withdrawal. Romney’s rhetoric – and that’s all it is so far – does put helpful pressure on Obama. However, most in the military and conservative ranks will claim that he is virtually surrendering and weakening our security, making Obama’s moderate position more palatable to the center and left. The ranks of the anti-war movement could decline, however, as people move on, and a media consensus grows that the war is ending.
A large part of the problem is that the spectrum of Beltway thinking is much narrower than the country as a whole. For months many Beltway peace advocates have been predicting that the number would be far lower than 30,000, so they will feel this is a big win. According to most polls, a majority of Americans would be okay with accepting a much bigger reduction with the savings going into the domestic economy.
I congratulate those who fought the fight, who provided pressure and climate so that this reduction could happen, and look forward to a renewed battle to fundamentally change our priorities. See you in the trenches.
The Peace Exchange
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