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March 25, 2009

These Colors Cannot Run… Afghanistan


by Norman Solomon

Is your representative speaking out against escalation of the Afghanistan war?

Last week, some members of Congress sent President Obama a letter that urged him to "reconsider" his order deploying 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

Everyone in the House of Representatives had ample opportunity to sign onto the letter. Beginning in late February, it circulated on Capitol Hill for more than two weeks. The letter was the most organized congressional move so far to challenge escalation of the war in Afghanistan.

But the list of signers was awfully short.

  • California: Bob Filner, Michael Honda
  • Hawaii: Neil Abercrombie
  • Kentucky: Ed Whitfield
  • Maryland: Roscoe Bartlett
  • Massachusetts: Jim McGovern
  • Michigan: John Conyers
  • North Carolina: Howard Coble, Walter Jones
  • Ohio: Marcy Kaptur, Dennis Kucinich
  • Tennessee: John Duncan
  • Texas: Ron Paul
  • Wisconsin: Steve Kagen

We desperately need a substantive national debate on U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan. While the Obama administration says that the problems of the region cannot be solved by military means, the basic approach is reliance on heightened military means.

One of several journalists in Afghanistan on a tour "organized by the staff of commanding Gen. David D. McKiernan," the Washington Post's Jackson Diehl, wrote a March 23 op-ed in support of an invigorated "counterinsurgency strategy." With journalistic resolve, he explained: "Everyone expects a surge of violence and American casualties this year; no one expects a decisive improvement in the situation for at least several years beyond that."

The commanding general, Diehl added, does not anticipate that the Afghan army "can defend the country on its own" until 2016. In effect, the message is to stay the course for another seven years: "The thousands of American soldiers and civilians pouring into the country deserve that strategic patience; without it, the sacrifices we will soon hear of will be wasted."

And so, with chillingly familiar echoes, goes the perverse logic of escalating the war in Afghanistan. "Strategic patience" – more and more war – will be necessary so that those who must die will not have died in vain.

In contrast, the letter from the 14 members of the House (eight Democrats, six Republicans) lays down a clear line of opposition to the rationales for stepping up the warfare.

"If the intent is to leave behind a stable Afghanistan capable of governing itself, this military escalation may well be counterproductive," the letter says. And it warns that "any perceived military success in Afghanistan might create pressure to increase military activity in Pakistan. This could very well lead to dangerous destabilization in the region and would increase hostility toward the United States."

More than 400 members of the House declined to sign the letter. In effect, they failed to join in a historic challenge to a prevailing assumption – that the U.S. government must use massive violence for many more years to try to work Washington's will on Afghanistan.

An old red-white-and-blue bumper sticker says: "These colors don't run."

A newer one says: "These colors don't run… the world."

Now, it's time for another twist: "These colors won't run… Afghanistan."

But denial and evasion are in the political air.


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