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.


More articles by:

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

March 22, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Italy, Germany and the EU’s Future
David Rosen
The Further Adventures of the President and the Porn Star
Gary Leupp
Trump, the Crown Prince and the Whole Ugly Big Picture
The Hudson Report
Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons and Debt in Antiquity
Steve Martinot
The Properties of Property
Binoy Kampmark
Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Surveillance Capitalism
Jeff Berg
Russian to Judgment
Gregory Barrett
POSSESSED! Europe’s American Demon Must Be Exorcised
Robby Sherwin
What Do We Do About Facebook?
Trump Spokesperson Commemorates Invading Iraq by Claiming U.S. Doesn’t Dictate to Other Countries; State Dept. Defends Invasion
Rob Okun
Students: Time is Ripe to Add Gender to Gun Debate
Michael Barker
Tory Profiteering in Russia and Putin’s Debt of Gratitude
March 21, 2018
Paul Street
Time is Running Out: Who Will Protect Our Wrecked Democracy from the American Oligarchy?
Mel Goodman
The Great Myth of the So-Called “Adults in the Room”
Chris Floyd
Stumbling Blocks: Tim Kaine and the Bipartisan Abettors of Atrocity
Eric Draitser
The Political Repression of the Radical Left in Crimea
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Threatens Wider War Against the Kurds
John Steppling
It is Us
Thomas Knapp
Death Penalty for Drug Dealers? Be Careful What You Wish for, President Trump
Manuel García, Jr.
Why I Am a Leftist (Vietnam War)
Isaac Christiansen
A Left Critique of Russiagate
Howard Gregory
The Unemployment Rate is an Inadequate Reporter of U.S. Economic Health
Ramzy Baroud
Who Wants to Kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?
Roy Morrison
Trouble Ahead: The Trump Administration at Home and Abroad
Roger Hayden
Too Many Dead Grizzlies
George Wuerthner
The Lessons of the Battle to Save the Ancient Forests of French Pete
Binoy Kampmark
Fictional Free Trade and Permanent Protectionism: Donald Trump’s Economic Orthodoxy
Rivera Sun
Think Outside the Protest Box
March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
John Pilger
Skripal Case: a Carefully-Constructed Drama?
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us