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May 26, 2010

Progressives and Afghanistan
Posted by Michael Cohen

Here's John Brennan's today at CSIS talking about how al Qaeda can only win by getting us to betray our values:

Even more than the attacks that al-Qaeda and its violent affiliates unleash or the blood they spill, they seek to strike at the very essence of who we are as Americans. By replacing our hard-won confidence with fear and by replacing our tolerance with suspicion. By turning our great diversity from a source of strength into a source of division. By causing us to undermine the laws and values that have been a source of our strength and our influence throughout the world. By turning a nation whose global leadership has meant greater security and prosperity for people in every corner of the globe into a nation that retreats from the world stage and abandons allies and partners.

Spencer asks the legitimate follow-up question:

I had to ask him if the Obama administration wasn’t already compromising American values, with all the attendant strategic implications Brennan articulated, by upholding indefinite detention without charge for a cohort of terrorism detainees.

I really couldn't agree more - and Brennan's response (which you can read here) is unconvincing. But here's the part I don't understand (and I really hope this won't produce an aggrieved response from Spencer since I'm not directing this at him, but the entire progressive national security community. What's more, my goal here is not to point fingers, but start a conversation).

If progressives are rightfully up in arms over these civil liberties issues . .  why is none of the same sort of venom being directed at escalation in Afghanistan, which in many ways is predicated on the same toxic "war on terrorism" narrative that led to these, continuing, rule of law and human rights abuses. These  violations are the logical outgrowth of a 9-year obsessive focus on terrorism as the most serious challenge facing the country - and escalation in Afghanistan, at the cost of $100 billion and 100,000 ground troops, as the central front in the war on terror only continues the process. For all of the pretty words in Obama's recent West Point speech about expanding and promoting democracy and building a better world the lion's share of our foreign aid increases and foreign policy attention is still going to three countries - Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

What's more, for all of the many positive aspects of Obama's effort to transform US foreign policy, escalation in Afghanistan continues so many of its worst features; it's over-reliance on the military at the expense of diplomacy, it's dangerously broad definition of national interests, its obsessive focus on terrorism and "national security," it's inability to recognize limitations and make tough, strategic choices etc.

Like Jim Fallows, I too enjoyed this sentence from Obama's West Point speech, "We understand that neither America nor any nation can dictate every outcome beyond its borders," but yet I see it being contradicted daily by our mission in Afghanistan.

I write this not to be hectoring, but more to understand the divergent responses. I must, at some point, recognize that these sentiments all might just be a by-product of my particular obsession with Afghanistan. But I really do think progressives are ignoring the larger, detrimental aspects of the war in Afghanistan. Am I wrong? And if so, why?

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John Brennan: ". . .the laws and values that have been a source of our strength and our influence throughout the world."

Is Brennan speaking of the illegal and destructive US invasions of other countries and the kidnapping, imprisonment and torture of their inhabitants? Probably not.

US influence throughout the world?
U.S. Favorability Rating
Pew Research Center
March 4, 2010

Britain 69
France 75
Germany 64
Spain 58
Poland 67
Russia 44
Turkey 14
Egypt 27 (recipient of billions of US aid dollars)
Jordan 25
Lebanon 5
Palest Terr 15
Israel 71
China 47
India 76
Indonesia 63
Japan 59
Pakistan 16 (recipient of billions of US aid dollars)
S. Korea 78
Argentina 38
Brazil 61
Mexico 69

Brennan needs to get out more.

The President should request, from General McChrystal a plan to get our troops out of Afganistan, due in two weeks. I am increasingly convinced that our military presence there fuels the conflict by generating nationalist opposition to Western presence and actually destabilizes the country. Progressives want us to throw in the towel, talk and hope for the best.

"Progressives want us to throw in the towel, talk and hope for the best."

Actually, progressives want Obama to do what he said he'd do, in his speech on the New Afghanistan Strategy, March 27, 2009:
". . .together with the United Nations, we will forge a new Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan that brings together all who should have a stake in the security of the region -- our NATO allies and other partners, but also the Central Asian states, the Gulf nations and Iran; Russia, India and China."

Diplomatic action by the Obama administration on Afghanistan? None. All the eggs are in the military basket, a recipe for disaster.

The President should request, from General McChrystal a plan to get our troops out of Afganistan, due in two weeks. I am increasingly convinced that our military presence there fuels the conflict by generating nationalist opposition to Western presence and actually destabilizes the country.

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I really couldn't agree more - and Brennan's response (which you can read here) is unconvincing.

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