As the administration continues crucial discussions of next steps in Afghanistan, a broad coalition of peace organizations last week launched a new campaign, NoEscalation.org, to intensify pressure on Congress to speak out and vote against escalating the war.
The coalition, including Peace Action, Just Foreign Policy, United for Peace and Justice, Progressive Democrats of America and others, is urging calls to members of the House of Representatives to support HR 3699 by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., which would bar a troop increase, and HR 2404 by Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., calling for a military exit strategy. McGovern's measure, introduced earlier this year, now has 100 co-sponsors; Lee's bill, introduced earlier this month, now has 23. The coalition's web site features a spreadsheet showing House members' stance on the bills.
NoEscalation calls for pressing senators to speak out publicly against a troop increase and to introduce legislation favoring an exit strategy and timetable for military withdrawal.
"The groups organizing this project want to end the war," the coalition says. "But the first step to ending the war is not to deepen it."
In a telephone interview, Robert Naiman, policy director at Just Foreign Policy, took up that theme. "It's pretty easy to predict what the consequences of military escalation will be," he said. "Even if the president, the Congress, or we don't know what is the right thing to do, we know what the wrong thing is, and the first step is not to do the wrong thing."
Next, he said, is moving toward a political settlement. "It's going to be complicated and take time, there are many actors, the insurgency is not monolithic, so things will need to happen at the national, regional and local levels," he said. But taking that path will not only have a "dramatic impact" on the violence, it will also make humanitarian aid and economic development much more possible.
Civilian aid also needs to be sustainable, the decision-making must be led by local people, and projects must employ local people, Naiman said. "Local people may not have all the technical knowledge that foreigners have, but they know how to do things that they can sustain." International involvement in aid projects is essential, including by the United Nations, he said, because even civilians working for the U.S. in Afghanistan are linked to the military effort.
Adele Welty, whose organization, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, last year published a detailed proposal for ending U.S. military involvement and helping Afghanistan to rebuild, emphasized the "terrible damage" from the war's civilian casualties. Despite concerns about what will happen when U.S. and NATO troops leave, she said, "we don't know of any more positive strategy than trying to help with humanitarian aid and education, which is a way to win hearts and minds ... I don't think guns and bombs are any way to reach peace, or to rebuild the future and to forge an alliance with the Afghan people." September 11th Families' proposal, "Afghanistan: Ending a Failed Military Strategy," can be found at www.peacefultomorrows.org.
Others are also weighing the next steps. Blogging on Huffington Post, Sojourners founder Jim Wallis called for "a whole new approach." The U.S. "should let the non-military lead with development now," only providing security necessary to protect the urgently needed rebuilding of the country, and make that security as international as possible, he wrote.
And in an Oct. 29 New York Times op-ed, Nicholas Kristof pointed out that it is possible to build 20 schools in Afghanistan for the cost of maintaining one U.S. soldier there for a year. To those who say education can't succeed in a war-torn society, he responded that hundreds of schools have been built by the aid organization CARE, the Afghan Institute of Learning and others - including schools educating girls - and none have been destroyed by insurgents.
Underscoring the seriousness of the administration's debate, President Obama Oct. 29 journeyed for the first time to be present when the caskets of 18 Americans - 15 Army soldiers and three Drug Enforcement Administration agents killed there this week - were returned to Delaware's Dover Air Force Base. The administration was reportedly seeking a province-by-province analysis of the country's security needs. And on Oct. 28, the president signed legislation formally recognizing the U.S. obligation to completely withdraw its military from Iraq by the end of 2011.