February 23, 2009

Siun over at FDL keeps a very close eye on coverage of the wars in the Middle East. There is quickly forming a schism within the progressive community on what to do about Afghanistan.

At the heart are the questions, What is our objective? How do we define success? There are no easy answers and the vagueness from the brass may be the reason that Obama only ordered a fraction of the expected number of troops to Afghanistan. Siun looks at the continuing conversation on what to do about Afghanistan:

Last week, the National Security Network – which describes itself as "the progressive national security community" – released a statement on Afghanistan. Our friend Spencer Ackerman reported on it’s release in the Washington Independent.

According to Spencer’s article, Heather Hurlburt of NSN described the goals of the statement as an attempt to come up with a progressive consensus. After two weeks of consultations, the statement was released – apparently to the press and then to those of us in the "advocacy community."

Hurlburt said that she wanted to work out a sense from the “expert community” of what was achievable and realistic for Afghanistan before taking the document to “progressive advocacy” organizations like Get Afghanistan Right to secure buy in. She conceded that there would be disagreements that probably can’t be fully resolved.

This timing certainly raises a whole bunch of questions about the NSN’s interest in engaging in a genuine discussion. It also makes me wonder why those of us who oppose escalation are considered “advocates” and “activists” yet those who advocate sending more troops – as NSN itself does – are instead “experts.”

As far as I can tell – and I would be very happy to hear otherwise from NSN -- no Afghans were invited to participate in this process. I guess they are not “experts” either.

Along with the bumpiness of NSN’s process, the statement itself is quite far from what I would consider a “progressive” approach. Both Alex Thurston in his “Response to NSN on Afghanistan” at the Seminal and in Meteor Blade’s recent post at DailyKos raise a number of issues and are very worth reading.

As I read the NSN statement, one section in particular was very disturbing. Under “Principles: The ‘How’ and ‘For What?’” they recommend that the Obama administration:

Adopt a counter-insurgency strategy that reinforces, rather than works against, the principles above. Military decisions should be made with an eye to meeting Afghan security concerns; developing an Afghan security force capable of controlling territory and offering protection; and, as many Afghans and some military observers have advocated, phasing out tactics that have increased civilian casualties with questionable payoffs. (emph. added)

Phase out? Questionable payoffs?

In their introduction, the NSN says their goal is a statement that forms:

a baseline of what must be achieved for our national interests and our moral obligations – to our military, our citizens and the people of Afghanistan. (emph. added)

Yet instead of raising the need for US compliance with the Geneva Conventions requirement that civilians be protected – and in fact, despite the fact that even our commanders in Afghanistan have consistently identified – and promised to change those “tactics” because they lead to civilian casualties – the progressive “experts” simply recommend “phasing [them] out.”

This after US ground forces killed 53 civilians in January alone. And this weekend we learn that we’ve killed another 13 Afghan civilians – including 6 women and 3 children in a “precision air strike.”

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