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Difficult Days (Years) Ahead

Presidential Understatement on Afghanistan

by JUDITH LeBLANC

On May 1, in a televised address from Afghanistan, President Obama said, “There will be difficult days ahead. The enormous sacrifices of our men and women are not over.”

That’s an understatement.

In fact the current US policy in the region demands of the Afghan people a massive sacrifice as well.

Without a new strategy — not the slow downsizing of the Afghanistan war over the next decade — there will indeed be difficult days ahead.

Instead of helping, the continued US presence jeopardizes the Afghan people’s future, as it does our future here at home.

The future of the Afghan economy and its people’s aspirations is stalled by the unwillingness to leave sooner rather than later. Corruption and graft are bred by US funding and the occupation.

Furthermore, the US has no clear strategy for a negotiated peace or a framework for sustainable economic development in Afghanistan.

Today, two-thirds of the US people across the political spectrum want the war to end now. In poll after poll they readily connect the government’s ability to deal with the economic crisis in our communities to ending the war.

The longer the troops stay in Afghanistan, the more desperately needed resources will be withheld from our cities, schools, libraries and hospitals.

The projected 2013 price-tag for the war will be $88 billion dollars, while unemployment hovers at 10 percent and triple that among young people of color. The current Pentagon budget is $800 billion a year without a real cut in sight.

As long as the troops stay in Afghanistan, and the US pursues a militarized foreign policy, the possibility of US sustainable economic development and a stronger democracy is as impossible here as it is in Afghanistan.

The White House fact sheet issued along with Obama’s speech emphasized that the Strategic Partnership Agreement itself “does not commit the United States to any specific troop levels or levels of funding in the future, as those are decisions will be made in consultation with the U.S. Congress.” And funding from Congress will be requested on an annual basis to support the training, equipping, advising and sustaining of Afghan National Security Forces.”

The agreement just signed leaves us with the yearly Congressional fight over funding the war. A full-throated, massive pressure campaign is needed.

That’s where we have to draw the line and make the fight in the next few weeks to cut the Pentagon budget and for a negotiated peace, not a prolonged downsized war.

The Congressional elections will be the battleground for exerting the popular opinion of ending a war that is not only unwinnable but in fact is a roadblock to both the US and Afghan people from achieving a decent life, schools, healthcare and jobs.

President Obama said in his speech to the nation, “Others will ask why we don’t leave immediately. The answer is also clear: we must give Afghanistan the opportunity to stabilize.”

But the underlying problems in Afghanistan are little served by foreign armies and military “solutions.” The reality is that until the US and NATO forces leave Afghanistan both the Afghan and US peoples will have more than a few difficult days ahead. We’ll have difficult years ahead.

Judith Le Blanc is the Field Director for Peace Action, the largest peace group in the US.  She can be reached at: jleblanc@peace-action.org.