Obama’s first year, pt. 1: war

Patrick Miner

“America, it’s time to start bringing our troops home. It’s time to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement that lies at the heart of someone else’s civil war. That’s why I have a plan that will bring our combat troops home by March of 2008. Letting the Iraqis know that we will not be there forever is our last, best hope to pressure the Sunni and Shia to come to the table and find peace.”
So said Barack Obama Feb. 10, 2007, when he announced his candidacy for President of the United States. Now, as we near March of 2010, two years after his goal for bringing the troops home from Iraq, there is still no end in sight.
In early July, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview with The Washington Post that the Obama administration put no holds on troop levels in Afghanistan and that the US commander there was to request as many troops as he felt were needed. At the same time, the Marines launched their largest offensive since the Vietnam War, involving 4,000 Marines as well as many Afghan troops.
By December, Obama announced he would send 30,000 additional troops to fight in Afghanistan, bringing the total to nearly 100,000. Testifying before Congress last week, Mullen said, “By the middle of this year, Afghanistan will surpass Iraq, for the first time since 2003, as the location with the most deployed American forces.”
Meanwhile the U.S.-led occupation forces are preparing for their largest offensive of the eight-year war. 20,000 US, British, and Afghan forces are planned to invade Marja, a town of 80,000 in the southwest.
During his Dec. 1 speech announcing the troop-increase, Obama also said, “These additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We will continue to advise and assist Afghan security forces to ensure they can succeed over the long haul.”
The way in which the so-called “transition” in Iraq has been handled is anything but “responsible.” Troop levels there are not down significantly from years past; there are currently still 107,000. Obama plans to withdrawal “combat troops” in August, but even if he does follow through on that, there will still be 50,000 troops stationed there. He said in December that all US troops will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, but that is highly unlikely given his record of broken promises. Just as the surge-then-exit strategy failed in Iraq, so too will it fail in Afghanistan.
Indiscriminate killing has never brought peace to any region and occupation by an outside force is no way to encourage democracy. In Rethink Afghanistan, a 2009 documentary about the war in Afghanistan directed by Robert Greenwald (Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price), an Afghan civilian is quoted as saying, “The Americans came to keep peace for us. Is this called peace, to drop bombs on people’s homes? Is this called peace to kill their innocent children? Is this called peace to leave people weeping and morning?”
In his December speech, Obama also said, “Violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. America will have to show our strength in the way that we end wars and prevent conflict, not just how we wage wars. We’ll have to be nimble and precise in our use of military power. Where al-Qaeda and its allies attempt to establish a foothold, whether in Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere, they must be confronted by growing pressure and strong partnerships.”
This rhetoric hints at the current U.S. presence in Pakistan and Yemen. According to ABC News, President Obama directly ordered two cruise missile attacks in Yemen in December.
Under the Bush administration, air strikes on the Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border were commonplace. These attacks on alleged al-Qaeda targets inside Pakistan have increased dramatically in frequency and severity under Obama. According to Pakistani authorities, U.S. drone strikes killed 708 people in 44 predator attacks in 2009. Of the 44 attacks, only five hit their marks, al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders. The number of Pakistan civilians killed under Obama in one year is more than the total number killed during Bush’s presidency – 123 civilians were killed last month alone.
Back in July, Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said, “People think that the U.S. has troops in Pakistan. Well, we don’t.’ Then after a roadside bombing incident involving the death of three U.S. soldiers last week,Holbrooke said, “There’s nothing secret about their presence.”
More on Obama’s first year as president next week.