The way forward - Page 2

Antiwar activists say Obama still needs to be pressured on Afghanistan

President Barack Obama is slowly pulling troops back from the war in Afghanistan that he escalated.

"But faster than what?" Solomon said, noting that "10,000 troops are only 10 percent of our force. This is a pattern we saw in Iraq, where the withdrawal was too slow and the numbers remaining doubled when you factored in all the private contractors."

Solomon said that when Nixon pulled 500,000 troops from Vietnam in the late 1960s, the conflict actually increased in terms of the tonnage of weaponry used. "And the U.S. is now engaged in wars in Libya, Yemen, and a Pakistan air war."

But longtime antiwar activist and former Democratic state legislator Tom Hayden saw a number of clues in Obama's speech for how to push for a faster, bigger, more significant draw-down.

"Obama said 33,000 troops will be withdrawn by next summer, followed by a steady pace of withdrawal. So that gets you to 50,000 troops by the election, and all combat troops out by 2014," Hayden told us. "If he could be pushed by the peace movement, that would break the back of the warmongers' planning."

In his speech, Obama noted that the U.S. will host a summit with our NATO allies and partners to shape the next phase of this transition next May in Chicago, where Obama's former chief of staff is mayor.

"Get ready, Rahm Emanuel, for big demonstrations," warned Hayden, who was a member of the Chicago Seven group tried for inciting riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. "But do you imagine Obama would do that if he were going to escalate the war? No — he's wrapping a ribbon of unity to transfer control to Afghanistan on a timetable."

He also noted that Obama's allies aren't exactly pushing him to stay. "They may not have an exit strategy, but they are heading for the exits," Hayden said. "So if you organize demonstrations with international support, that gives you an organizational opportunity in multiple governments to press Obama to leave."

Hayden predicts that Obama is moving toward a diplomatic settlement, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that is pro withdrawal and pro women.

"But Obama's got a genuine problem of his own making. He escalated the damn war," Hayden said. "He doesn't want the military to be attacking his plan. But if he wants to be in the center, he's going to offend the generals.

Hayden noted that in his speech Obama said, "America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home." It was a statement that sounded in line with a recent U.S. Conference of Mayors resolution calling on Congress "to bring these war dollars home to meet vital human needs, promote job creation, rebuild our infrastructure, aid municipal and state governments."

But Richard Becker, western regional coordinator of the antiwar ANSWER Coalition, described Obama's draw-down as "a minimal pledge."

"Given the growing discontent with the war, it's hard to see how you can claim that this is a step forward," he told us.

Becker said it has been difficult to mobilize the antiwar movement under a Democratic administration. He also stressed the importance of people coming out in San Francisco for a "protest, march, and die-in" on Oct. 7, the 10th anniversary of the war, and for a major action in Washington. D.C., on Oct. 6. "What's going to get the U.S. out is a combination of what's going on in Afghanistan — and what kind of antiwar movement we have here."