The way forward

Antiwar activists say Obama still needs to be pressured on Afghanistan

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President Barack Obama is slowly pulling troops back from the war in Afghanistan that he escalated.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE WHITE HOUSE

sarah@sfbg.com

Two days before President Obama announced his plan to begin withdrawing 33,000 troops from Afghanistan over the next 15 months, Peace Action West's political director Rebecca Griffin delivered a box containing thousands of toy soldiers to Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office in downtown San Francisco.

Tied to each soldier were handwritten messages that gave reasons for demanding a large and swift withdrawal. Many of the petitions came from folks whose loved ones are in the military or are veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Unlike most Democratic Party leaders, Feinstein has not demanded a significant draw-down of combat troops, despite polls showing that Americans increasingly support leaving Afghanistan, particularly after the killing of Osama bin Laden. There's good reason for the public's growing restlessness. This 10-year war has already surpassed Vietnam as the longest conflict in U.S. history.

According to the online database icasualities.org, 1,637 U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan and 4,463 soldiers have died in Iraq. Another 11,722 service members have been wounded in Afghanistan, and 32,100 in Iraq, primarily by improvised explosive devices. And that's not counting the thousands who are suffering from depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and other ailments.

Griffin said her goal was to draw attention to the political organizing in support of ending the war. But even as she made her delivery, Feinstein was on MSNBC maintaining that draw-down decisions should be left to the military generals.

In the wake of President Obama's June 22 announcement, which went way farther than the generals wanted, many of Feinstein's colleagues such as Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the house minority leader, expressed disappointment that the pace of withdrawal isn't quicker.

"I am glad this war is ending, but it's ending at far too slow a pace," Boxer said.

"We will continue to press for a better outcome," Pelosi stated.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Concord), who visited the troops over Memorial Day weekend, told us that a different strategy is needed. "Our troops are incredible, dedicated, and skilled. But every minute of every day, they are in a very dangerous situation, and many of them are dying. There is no recognition that we are caught in the middle of a five-way civil war."

And Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) vowed to offer defense appropriations amendments to cut all funding for combat operations. "History shows there is no military solution in Afghanistan," she said. "We've got to engage with the Taliban and engage with those in the region to find some stability."

But where does Obama's plan leave the peace movement as the election nears?

Griffin said activists should take credit for getting Obama to withdraw 33,000 troops rather than the smaller number his generals wanted. She sees his plan as a sign that activists need to keep pushing for more, including a concrete timeline for when he will bring all the troops home.

Under Obama's plan, 68,000 troops will still be on the ground in September 2012, and 2014 is identified as the deadline for completing the transition to Afghan control and ending the U.S.'s combat mission.

"This means there'll be a significant military presence in Afghanistan for at least another three-and-a-half years," Griffin said. "By the end of Obama's first term, the war will be 11 years old and there will be nearly double the American troops on the ground as there were when [George W.] Bush left office."

Progressive activist and author Norman Solomon, who is running in the 2012 race to replace Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Marin County), noted that a recent New York Times' headline read "Obama Opts for Faster Afghan Pullout."