Last week, the liberal think-tank the Center for American Progress released a new report on the war in Afghanistan. Unlike the major anti-war groups and a growing coalition of bloggers who are organizing opposition to Obama’s Afghanistan policy, the Center for American Progress’ report came out in support of Obama’s policy and U.S. empire generally. Any disagreements with the administration were largely on the tactical level and did not challenge the overall policy.
Report Reflects Democratic Co-Opting of Anti-War Movement
At first, it’s surprising that the report–from an ostensibly “progressive” organization–goes further than the Obama administration in supporting the U.S. war in Afghanistan. It calls for a long-term U.S. presence that could last as long as ten years, mentioning withdrawal only as a long-term possibility. The report does say that the Obama administration’s strategic review should consider the “time frame” of U.S. involvement, but it doesn’t demand that withdrawal be on the table. In fact, the report argues for increasing U.S. military forces in Afghanistan by 15,000 more than what Obama has committed. Other “key recommendations” are well within the realm of what the Obama administration is considering.
Unfortunately, this is to be expected as the Center for American Progress is closely tied to the Obama administration and generally supportive of the Democratic Party’s goals. Its founder, John Podesta, served as Chair of Obama’s transition team. He was also a former Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton.
In a blog post titled “How Obama Took Over the Peace Movement,” John Stauber of PR Watch writes:
“CAP and the five million member liberal lobby group MoveOn were behind Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (AAEI), a coalition that spent tens of millions of dollars using Iraq as a political bludgeon against Republican politicians, while refusing to pressure the Democratic Congress to actually cut off funding for the war.”
That group worked to channel opposition to the Iraq War towards Republicans, effectively absolving Democrats of responsibility for the war.
It seems that the Center for American Progress is engaging in a similar strategy here. It is giving “progressive” approval to a long-term U.S. presence at a time when there is growing grassroots opposition to the war. With their financial resources, the group may be able to effectively stop opposition to the escalation in Afghanistan, just as they did with Iraq. Groups such as MoveOn.org and Americans Against Escalation in Iraq were critical in removing Iraq from the presidential campaign and making it so that Obama’s Iraq policy would be able to pass as “ending the war” when it most certainly does not.
Report Comes Amid Rising Opposition to the War
The report is quite aware of a growing opposition to the war, writing:
“Given declining American and European support for the war in Afghanistan, the strategy must be not only effective but convincing, too. In a U.S. poll taken in mid-March, 42 percent of the respondents said the United States made a mistake in sending military forces to Afghanistan, up from 30 percent just a month before and from 6 percent in January 2002.2 Europeans are even more skeptical, with majorities in Germany, Britain, France, and Italy opposing increased troop commitments to the conflict.”
Later, Afghani opposition to the war is given some space, but it is largely viewed as an afterthought or an aside. What ultimately matters to the report’s authors are the all important “U.S. interests.”
The report takes a dramatically different approach than other progressives–from bloggers to anti-war groups–who are calling for an end to the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Other progressive policy organizations have not been calling for an increase in the U.S. troop presence. They have more frequently called for an increase in aid. To be fair, the report does call for increases in diplomacy and economic aid, but it stands out for its tepid–at best–criticism of Obama and its call for further escalation.
The Institute for Policy Studies recently came out strongly against military escalation:
“When the Soviets retreated from Afghanistan, many Afghans expected that Western powers would come to their aid and assist with reconstruction, reconstituting democratic structures, and implementing a rule of law. Mostly this didn’t happen. Today, these vital steps for helping Afghanistan escape the violence it is trapped in are once again missing — and it is unlikely any of these obligations to the people of Afghanistan can be met as long as the military occupation continues and even escalates.
The pressure is on from the U.S. public and the growing international community for a quick fix. However, the “surge” approach further undermines the democratic principles needed for Afghanistan to stand up over time. Increasing troop numbers and escalating a military occupation are not going to help Afghanistan rebuild its shattered society, and won’t keep Americans safer by undermining the Taliban; its real impact, unfortunately, is likely to be exactly the opposite.”
“President Obama announced his new Afghanistan strategy on Friday – the traditional Washington day for burying things. But there weren’t any big surprises. The administration had been dribbling details out through the news media: more troops, more civilians, narrower goals. As for “narrowing the goals” in his speech, Obama had it both ways: He asserted, “we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future” and “we are not in Afghanistan to control that country or to dictate its future,” while striking out against an assumed threat of a “return to Taliban rule,” and insisting that al-Qaeda terrorists “would accompany the core Taliban leadership,” which arguably implies that the set of US goals may not have narrowed very much, and that the US is indeed still trying to control Afghanistan and dictate its future.”