The Hollow Politics of Escalation


An underlying conceit of the new spin about benchmarks and timetables for Afghanistan is the notion that pivotal events there can be choreographed from Washington. So, a day ahead of the president’s Tuesday night speech, the New York Times quotes an unnamed top administration official saying: “He wants to give a clear sense of both the time frame for action and how the war will eventually wind down.”

But “eventually” is a long way off. In the meantime, the result of Washington’s hollow politics is more carnage.

The next days and weeks will bring an avalanche of hype about insisting on measurable progress and shifting burdens onto the Afghan army — while the U.S. military expands the war. In the groove, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jack Reed, told CNN viewers on Sunday: “The key element here is not just more troops. The key element is shifting the operations to the Afghanis [sic]. And if that can be done, then I would support the president.”

That’s the kind of talk that I. F. Stone disparaged at the height of the Vietnam War, in mid-1970, when he concluded: “Not enough Asians are going to fight Asians for us even if the price is right.”

Now, President Obama’s decision to massively escalate the Afghanistan war is confronting people and institutions in the United States with a challenge of historic dimensions.

Among those inclined to be antiwar, it doesn’t much matter whether they “support” the escalation. What matters is whether they openly oppose it — and, if so, how vocally and emphatically.

There’s a clear and well-trod pathway for ineffectual dissent from members of Congress who end up passively assisting the escalation by a fellow Democrat in the Oval Office. Avid support for the war effort is helpful but not necessary. Scarcity of determined opposition will suffice to keep the war politically viable in Washington.

At the core of the enabling politics is inner space that’s hollow enough to reliably cave under pressure. Typically, Democrats with antiwar inclinations weaken and collapse at push-comes-to-shove moments on Capitol Hill. The habitual pattern involves loyalty toward — and fear of — “the leadership.”

Early on, during President Johnson’s Vietnam War escalation, Senators Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening and then Frank Church were prophetic antiwar pariahs. As years went by, the war’s horrors and growing domestic opposition led some others in Congress to find a solid inner core that withstood pro-war pressures. Eventually.

We’re now in an early stage of such a progression. Due to careful silences in U.S. politics, many more lives will be shattered. Soon. And eventually.

The essence of a core becomes evident under pressure. It’s one thing to voice opposition to sending more troops into Afghanistan — it’s another to really try to prevent the escalation. Few in Congress have gotten serious enough about halting the war’s deadly spiral to sign onto Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s bill H.R. 3699, which would prohibit any increase in funding for additional troop deployment to Afghanistan.

Among Democrats in powerful positions, some misgivings about the war are evident — but willingness to withhold spending for the war is not.

The tragic limits of those misgivings were evident last week when ABC News interviewed Rep. David Obey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, who called for a war surtax.

“On the merits, I think it’s a mistake to deepen our involvement,” Obey said. “But if we are going to do that, then at least we ought to pay for it. Because if we don’t, if we don’t pay for it, then the cost of the Afghan war will wipe out every other initiative that we have to try to rebuild our own economy.”

Then came a direct question from the network correspondent: “The White House comes and asks you again to get through this Congress money for an increased commitment in Afghanistan — are you going to be there fighting to get that passed?”

The congressman replied: “I’m going to be there fighting to get whatever they do, paid for.”

But Congress can’t stop the war while paying for it.


Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, where he coordinates ExposeFacts. Solomon is a co-founder of RootsAction.org.

Weekend Edition
November 28-30, 2015
Majd Isreb
America’s Spirit, Syrian Connection
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxembourg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving