Advice On Afghanistan
By Ralph Nader
19 November, 2009
Dear President Obama,
You are nearing the day of decision as to whether you order the dispatch of more soldiers to Afghanistan.
Some of your advisors have urged up to 50,000 more soldiers, including several thousand called trainers of the Afghan army.
Other advisors have urged more caution, notably the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and former general, Karl W. Eikenberry, who opposes more soldiers so long as the Afghan government remains grossly dysfunctional.
Beside your own military and civilian advisors, you are receiving disparate counsel from an anemic Congress and your allies abroad.
But are you soliciting advise from stateside civic groups of experience and repute that represent many Americans? Or from genuine experts on that country such as Ashraf Ghani-a former American professor and later respected member of the Karzai government before his departure to other positions in that country?
George W. Bush, in the duplicitous run-up to the invasion of Iraq, insulated himself, closed his mind and refused to meet with civic associations in his own land. Like an autocrat bent on plunging a country into war and occupation, knowingly on false pretenses, he deliberately deprived himself of the information that might have restrained his disastrous, messianic militarism. Disastrous, not to him and Dick Cheney, but to our country, soldiers, and economy, and to the devastated Iraqi people and their ravaged nation.
In the months before the March 20, 2003, undeclared criminal war of aggression that violated our Constitution, statutes, and treaties, a dozen organizations each formally requested a meeting with him.
These organizations represented tens of millions of Americans. They came from the clergy, labor, environmentalists, businesses, students, peace groups, womens' groups, city councils, consumer, veteran, teachers groups, and international security experts. Many also came with first hand experience in Iraq and the Middle East.
They wanted to meet with their president. He never even answered their letters. The letters are available at nader.org.
Who would have thought last year that on assuming the presidency, that you would consider plunging deeper in to this quagmire without an exit strategy? The deeper you plunge, the greater your rejection of the history of occupations fueling insurgencies in that region. The more you insulate yourself from contrary judgments to those you have been receiving from your inner councils. Our country, its people and innocent Afghan people will pay the price.
A recent resignation by Matthew P. Hoh, a former marine combat captain in Iraq and highly regarded foreign service officer in Afghanistan, provides an independent analysis of the grievances afflicting the 42 million Pashtuns. In his words:
The Pashtun insurgency, which is composed of multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups, is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The U.S. and NATO presence and operations in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified. In both RC East and South, I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul.
The United States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic message of the Pashtun insurgency. In a like manner our backing of the Afghan government in its current form continues to distance the government from the people. The Afghan government's failings, particularly when weighed against the sacrifice of American lives and collars, appear legion and metastatic.
Mr. Hoh proceeds to list these persistent failings and adds his articulate doubts about the strategic purposes of your Administration's military presence in Afghanistan. He ask, "Why and to what end?" His letter of conscience and protest concludes by noting the limitless effects on our foreign and military policy, and on our country and its economy.
Your staff estimates each U.S. soldier is costing $1 million a year, in addition to the horrific toll on these soldiers and the Afghan people. You owe the American people an un-Bush-like explanation. Why are you not receiving these groups of American from varied backgrounds and experience at the White House on this pending Afghan decision?
They may wonder, by contrast, why you have so many White House meetings with major corporate CEOs from Wall Street, from the health insurance companies and the drug companies. Is not the White House the peoples' House? Along with many other citizens in our country, I look forward to your response.
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His most recent book - and first novel - is, Only The Super Wealthy Can Save Us. His most recent work of non-fiction is The Seventeen Traditions.