Veterans and others opposed to the U.S. military escalation in Afghanistan announced on Capitol Hill today that they have collected 100,000 signatures on a petition calling for an end to the war.
Rep. Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat, joined members of Veterans for Rethinking Afghanistan at a news conference in the Rayburn House Office Building, where they pointed to the "record speed" in which the 100,000 signatures were gathered following the president's Dec. 1 announcement of the troop escalation.
The petition notes that the decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan will cost more than $100 billion a year. "America cannot afford a war that does not make us safer, and Congress has the power to stop the escalation," it tells lawmakers. "Vote NO on any spending bill that would send more troops to Afghanistan."
Veterans for Rethinking Afghanistan members had traveled to Washington this spring to oppose additional war funding and urge Congress to turn to non-military solutions for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In a series of harrowing videos posted online, the veterans describe their war experiences and the lessons they learned.
"Troops on the ground is 100 percent for sure going to cause more and more strife," said Marine Cpl. Jake Dilliberto, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Grayson was one of 32 Democrats who voted against supplemental war funding in June. He is also one of 27 co-sponsors of HR 3699, a bill introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., that would prohibit an increase in the number of troops serving in Afghanistan. Grayson, who represents the Orlando area, drew Republican ire earlier this year when he said the Republicans' health plan is for people to "die quickly" if they get sick.
At the news conference today, Grayson said continuing the war in Afghanistan is "a terrible mistake."
"We do not need to have troops 8,000 miles from our shore to keep us safe," he said. "I hope the president will reconsider this decision."
The petition is available on the web sites of Rethink Afghanistan, a project of the Brave New Foundation, and True Majority, a project of USAction. It is also sponsored by Credo Action, affiliated with Working Assets.
Meanwhile, Jim Cason, at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Quaker peace lobbying group, says it will take sustained organizing to build support in Congress for ending the war in Afghanistan. Over the coming months, the FCNL says, "we believe we can build enough opposition to a long-term, large-scale military presence in Afghanistan to set the United States on a course of de-escalation and withdrawal."
The FCNL has identified "Four Steps for Peace." The United States, the group says, should halt new offensive operations against Taliban strongholds and end the war fighting; engage Afghanistan's neighbors - including Russia, China and Iran - in the stabilization process; start the withdrawal of U.S. troops and articulate a policy leading to withdrawing all U.S. troops; and expand development and diplomatic efforts.
"The U.S. public is ready for these steps," FCNL foreign policy lobbyist Jim Fine says, "but Congress still needs to catch up."
In a Dec. 2 letter to Obama, Joe Volk, executive secretary of the Friends Committee, warned that the U.S. escalation would further alienate the Muslim world. He pointed to the administration's failure to make progress on Middle East peace, "the litmus test of the U.S. commitment to justice and peace in much of the Muslim world," and on improving relations with Iran.
"Forging a new beginning between America and the Muslim world is, indeed, a key to stabilizing Afghanistan and to countering violent extremism worldwide," Volk wrote.
Volk called on Obama to "reengage" on the Israel-Palestine conflict, step up efforts toward a new relationship with Iran based on mutual interests and respect, de-escalate the fighting in Afghanistan and work for a ceasefire, and make internal reconciliation and regional diplomacy the "lead elements" of his strategy.
"At West Point you told the future generals of the United States that the United States is best when it is preventing wars, rather than fighting them," Volk wrote the president. "Prevention of war starts with the leadership at the top. We regret that in Afghanistan you have signaled to the world that you will lead in the direction of war fighting, rather than war prevention.
"We favor your leadership for preventing wars and for healing broken communities. You have a historic opportunity to lead the world toward the rule of law and away from rule by military muscle. There is a time to every purpose under heaven. President Obama, the time is now to give peace a chance in Afghanistan and the wider region."