Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Obama & Afghanistan: Good News & Bad News

I’ve just finished reading Obama’s new plan on Afghanistan.  It’s not all bad, but there are definitely things that peace activists must oppose and protest.  I’ll start with the good news because peace folk are likely to miss them.


  • It refrains from the Bush fantasy that Western-style democracy can be imposed at the point of a gun.  I believe in democracy.  I even believe in democracy. I also believe, as Glen Stassen and others have pointed out, that spreading democracy is a peacemaking practice. But it cannot be done at the point of a gun, nor imposed from outside a nation.  It must be grown from within–and a culture has to be prepared for it.  Obama gives up the idea that America can impose a Western democracy on Afghanistan (or Iraq, etc.).  Fantasyland is abandoned.
  • Obama knows that a purely military solution is impossible.  He has a realistic, even classicly conservative, grasp of the limits of military power.
  • The plan focuses on making the Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists irrelevant in Afghanistan and Pakistan by creating an economy and civil society that does not depend on them.  The focus will be to build infrastructure, schools, hospitals, and train civil servants and create small (non-drug) businesses throughout the countryside.
  • The plan involves the region, using carrots to get Pakistan involved. It will also take constructive  involvement by Iran. 
  • The plan recognizes that “Taliban” is a broad term and seeks to negotiate with the elements which can be won over, reserving combat for the hardcore that protect al-Qaeda terrorists. Military action is limited to fighting the terrorists rather than trying to do everything.

The BAD:

  • The troop escalation is still a military escalation which is likely to be an escalation into a quagmire.  It looks far too reminiscent of the initial escalation by JFK into Vietnam or, more recently, the Soviet entrance into Afghanistan.
  • I don’t see enough involvement by NATO, the EU, or the United Nations.  I especially would want to put UN peacekeepers in blue helmuts for the mission of protecting civilians.
  • The plan, even if everything goes perfectly, will take YEARS and WAY TOO MUCH MONEY and TOO MANY LIVES.  Obama thinks the alternative is to leave America too vulnerable to terrorist attack, again, but there is neither the money nor the political will for this longterm strategy.  IF we had not invaded Iraq and IF we had taken this approach to Afghanistan back in ’02, we may now be approaching an exit these 7+ years later.  But we don’t have 7 more years and all the counterinsurgency experts say that it would take at least that long for the counterinsurgency to work.
  • Afghan Pres. Karzai likes this plan and that’s a good sign. It may also have popular support, initially, though I doubt anyone’s doing surveys of the Afghan people.  But for how long?  I think the Afghan people’s tolerance for our presence in their country, especially our MILITARY presence, will not last more than 2 more years, tops.  If we stay when they want us to leave, we will TRULY be in an unwinnable quagmire, much like Vietnam.

I urge peace folk to push for Obama to double or triple the civilian components of the plan and to internationalize (via NATO and the UN) the military presence–and to give us a timeline and an exit strategy. Congress should demand the same before releasing any funds for this plan.  We stand at a crossroads:  This can either be the beginning of an end to the Afghan war or the beginning of a deeper swamp of war.

Let me clear: We are going to need bodies in the streets protesting the military aspects of this.  Get out your “Troops Home Now!” signs.  This struggle will be difficult.  Wage PEACE!

P.S.  It’s not helpful to attack other peace folk. That’s an “epic fail” way to lose.  We need to be hard on the problem, not each other.  I also see no need AT THIS POINT in spewing anger at Obama.  That’s not a way to get him to listen.  I wrote polite (but firm) open letters to Bush against invading Iraq and proposed alternatives.  I never liked him, but tried not to personalize my opposition.  I only grew personally angry after he dismissed 1  million people (myself included) in the street in opposition to the invasion as “a focus group.” (Also, Bush lied to the people. Obama has not. He may be completely wrong, but he has not misled us.  He ALWAYS told us he would add troops to Afghanistan.)

March 27, 2009 - Posted by | Afghanistan, just peacemaking


  1. Nice try, but from a peace and justice perspective there is no difference between Obama and Bush. Both are warmongers and you should be ashamed of muting your prophetic voice on this.
    We’ve all been had!

    Comment by Kathy | March 27, 2009

  2. How, precisely, is my warning that this could be another Vietnam and asking for people to protest this “muting my prophetic voice.” As for “we’ve all been had,” speak for yourself. Obama never campaigned as a peace candidate and I never mistook him for Dennis Kucinich. I supported him as less hawkish than Hillary and as a MUCH better alternative to McCain (who would have already started a war with Iran and be threatening one with Russia). But I ALWAYS knew I would have to oppose Obama on Afghanistan–because he was quite open all during his campaignn about the fact that he would add troops there. Were you not paying attention?? Were you hoping he was lying?

    His plan on Afghanistan is actually BETTER than what he said on the campaign trail–which doesn’t make it good and certainly doesn’t make it a peace plan.

    And I don’t buy at all the “no different from Bush” crap. Bush STARTED two wars. So far, Obama has not startedy ANY and opposed one of the two wars we’re in from the beginning. (He’s getting us out of that one WAY too slowly, but he is getting us out.) Is that a BIG ENOUGH difference? No, it’s not. We need a sharper break than that.

    It is true that Obama is failing on this: He claimed to want to not only end the Iraq war, but to end the mindset that got us into the war. He now seems to be trapped in that mindset–at least partly, and partly is too much.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 27, 2009

  3. Oh, yeah, like he is going to listen to peace and justice folk? You have to be kidding. He got our votes. He talks a good game but he continues to imprison people and supports detention without trial. He continues wiretapping. he is not going to get out of Iraq. He is increasing troops in Afghanistan. His military is threatening the Koreans. HE IS A WARMONGER. Admit it.

    Quit making excuses for this guy. What can it possibly mean to say that he is “less of a hawk” than Clinton, or Bush. Oh, yeah, less a warmonger than them but still a warmonger. I admit that Obama is better than Bush on stem cells, on freedom of choice for women, but he is no better on being a warmonger. In fact, he is worse because people will say, “look, even a liberal like Obama” supports the war in Afghanistan.” Already the right wing extremist neocons are supporting him. It is more insidious for that reason and much worse for the peace and justice movement because this will allow liberals to marginalize us. We have been betrayed! This is a disastor. We must not be silent. we MUST speak the truth to power and the truth is that Obama is a warmonger.

    Comment by Kathy | March 27, 2009

  4. I support President Obama’s wise decision to sending more military troops into Iraq. I agree that that there are limits to military power and as a big supporter of Bush and the surge in Iraq, I know that President Bush and the military leadership knew that as well. But while military support is not SUFFICIENT it is NECESSSARY. the military is necessary to establish security in Afghanistan, just as a change in tactics and increase in numbers was necessary in Iraq. The military will have to kill a lot more Taliban and Al Qaeda before security is established and that will take several years. Both Bush and Obama, unlike the naive peace and justice people on this website, have enough common sense to understand that. So yes,Kathy, both Obama and Bush warmongers. So am I. Let’s give war, and President Obama, a chance.

    Comment by Dan Hollander | March 27, 2009

  5. If he’s sending more troops to Iraq that makes him a liar doesn’t it? All I’ve heard has been bad – more money, more troops – so thank you for highlighting the good which were not clear to me from previous reports. However “Military action is limited to fighting the terrorists rather than trying to do everything” is almost something Bush would have said as bombs were being dropped on wedding parties full of ‘terrorist suspects’. I don’t trust ‘military action’. I just wish you’d all go home, close the door and mind your own business….

    Good luck with the peace protests.

    (Fancy anyone admitting to being a warmonger – celebrating it. However much as I don’t like him very much, Obama is not a warmonger. He means well and looks to peace with plans for negotiation. But he’s too much in the middle)

    Our very own Helen Clark and just been appointed chief administrator to the UN – the third ranked position in the UN and highest held position of any NZer in an international organistation. She’s intelligent, compassionate, honest and has always worked for peace. I think they’ve chosen well. 🙂

    Comment by steph | March 28, 2009

  6. STEPH–maybe we should just say that while Bush was just a plain old warmonger, Obama is “warmonger lite” How about that, Michael?

    Comment by Kathy | March 28, 2009

  7. I think the UN has chosen well, too, Helen Steph. And I pray for New Zealand under its new rightwing regime.

    Obama isn’t sending more troops to Iraq, he’s (far too slowly) bringing them home. Obama is (wrongheadedly) sending more troops to Afghanistan. I believe the recession will put more pressure on the U.S. to “go home, shut the door, and mind our own business,” but we have to break the addictions of empire, first.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 28, 2009

  8. I’m steph, not the wonderful Helen …. luckily silly little Donkey (John Keys) is more centrist than right wing – probably on a par with Obama in fact… but I hope we change back to common sense in 3 years!

    Yes, too slowly is right. I’m glad about not sending more though – I was surprised I had missed it if it were true but your commenter sounded so authoritative. It would have clearly contradicted what he had promised – to bring the troops home very very slowly…

    Comment by steph | March 28, 2009

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