Alternatives to the War in Afghanistan: Don't Escalate the War -- Pull Troops Out
Joseph Gerson is a Director of Programs at the American Friends Service Committee in New England. He gave the following speech, excerpted here, to the International Afghanistan Congress in Hanover, Germany in June 2008.
In November 2007, the US National Security Council concluded that US goals for the Afghanistan War were not being met, and that despite battlefield victories, the overall situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating. That report highlighted the "Taliban's unchallenged expansion into new territory," the increasing cultivation of opium poppies, and President Karzai's weakness. More recently, Director of National Intelligence John Michael McConnell described the situation as "deteriorating," and he warned "Taliban forces expanded their operations into previously peaceful areas of the west and around Kabul."
Three thousand more US Marines have recently been deployed to southern Afghanistan. [Editors' note: According to the Congressional Research Service, in the last year, US troops in Afghanistan have increased from 26,000 to about 50,000. According to NATO, there are over 25,000 other NATO troops in Afghanistan as well.]
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer warned that Afghanistan is a test of NATO's resolve, saying that "It is Europe's Iraq." I don't think any of you want to be fighting a European Iraq War.
It turns out that the prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where US forces have tortured prisoners, is no longer large enough to accommodate the growing number of Afghan prisoners. Sixty million dollars have been allocated to build an additional US military prison in Pakistan.
Throughout the US Presidential campaign season, Obama, Clinton, and McCain all committed themselves to increasing the size of the US military. McCain said that US troops could remain in Iraq for one hundred years, and -- not much better -- both Obama and Clinton refused to pledge that they would withdraw all US forces from Iraq before the end of what would be their first term in office in 2013.
In Afghanistan, we are witnessing the latest installment of the 19th century's Great Game -- this time related to oil. On May 21 Obama repeated what had been a central theme of his campaign, hitting Bush and McCain from the right: He repeated that Iraq is not the war that the US should be fighting, and he stressed "Afghanistan is the war we must win." Earlier, he had said, "When I am president, we will wage the war that has to be won, with a comprehensive strategyÉ getting out of Iraq and onto the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan."
Oil and Bases
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the vast oil reserves of the Caspian Sea/Central Asia region came up for grabs, and the US elite and oil companies were anxious to grab as much as they could. Oil is a strategic military resource, as well as being essential to modern industrial civilization.
As you may know, the United States maintains a global network of some 735 military bases and installations around the world. The war in Afghanistan provided an opportunity to create US military bases in Central Asia -- much as the US has done in the Middle East -- to secure privileged access to the region's resources. Thus, in its war for "Enduring Freedom," it created a military base in Uzbekistan, a dictatorship where people are quite literally boiled alive. Agreements to access military bases were concluded with Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and of course, Afghanistan.
There have been, of course, alternatives to the war in Afghanistan from the beginning. The consensus position which quickly developed in the US peace movement had four elements:
- The September 11, 2001 attacks were outrageous, indiscriminate crimes whose perpetrators must be brought to justice. As a poster that we distributed across New England in September and October 2001 said, we called for "Justice Not War."
- War is not the answer.
- We must defend our constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties, especially those of the immigrant communities that we knew would come under attack.
- We must address the root causes of the attacks, which included the presence of US military bases near the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina, the rights of the Palestinians, and the long history of military interventions and subversion to maintain US hegemony over Middle East oil.
The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan urged that the "Taliban be overthrown by the uprising of the Afghan nation," and not by "a vast aggression on our country" that "will shed the blood of numerous women, men, children, young and old of our country."
US Peace Movement
and the Future
The truth is that once the Taliban government was overthrown in 2001, it became clear that the Bush Administration had a larger ambition: the invasion of Iraq. Like the US people as a whole, the US peace movement turned its attention away from Central Asia and toward the Middle East. But, with Obama having reiterated that Afghanistan is the "war we must win," the US peace movement will soon be forced to turn attention, resources, and campaigning back to Afghanistan and the need to develop non-military alternatives to addressing non-state terrorism.
As we urged in the fall of 2001, we will need to remember that the Taliban is not Al Qaeda, and that we should be relying on law (domestic and international), intelligence, diplomacy, and wisdom to resist and contain terrorism. As we learned during the Cold War, when US presidents talked with Khrushchev and Mao, or when Tony Blair opened negotiations with the IRA, peace is negotiated between enemies, not friends. This axiom must apply also to the Taliban which is in any case only marginally different from the warlords the US has been supporting, and which is just as unlikely to disappear.
I want to remind you how important European peace movements have been for those of us in the United States. You have inspired and sometimes embarrassed us into doing what needed to be done. During the Vietnam War and then again during the reckless nuclear arms race of the late 1970s and 80s, your moral vision and actions helped to empower us to challenge and transform deadly US actions and policies. You can do this again. With the European 60 Years of NATO is Enough actions next spring, and other initiatives, you can help us to finally bring US -- as well as European -- troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Let me close with a few words from Gandhi.
In the last days of the British Raj in India, Lord Mountbatten
warned Gandhi that if the British left, chaos would follow. Gandhi's
reply was, "Yes, but it will be our chaos." History
tells us that we cannot export democracy with bombs and bullets,
that nations and cultures must exercise their own self-determination,
and that the colonial era ended with Vietnam if not earlier.
Let's pull all troops out of Afghanistan.
Together, let's give peace a chance.