In President Obama's speech Wednesday night, he charted a course to end the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan over the next three years, beginning next month. He said that starting in July, 10,000 troops will be brought home this year, and another 23,000 by next summer, ending the "surge" that he ordered in 2009. That will leave about 70,000 U.S. troops who, he said, will "continue coming home at a steady pace," with a handover of security responsibilities to the Afghan people "complete by 2014."
The president reportedly was pressed by some within the administration and among the military brass for a smaller, slower troop pullout. The fact that he rejected that pressure is an important step in the right direction.
But the somewhat quicker pace he has announced, in line with his earlier pledges, is cautious indeed, and there will be ongoing pressures to stop or slow even this withdrawal plan. Moreover, he left vague what role the U.S. military will play in Afghanistan once the "security handover" ends in 2014. This reminds us of the situation in Iraq right now. In both cases, public pressure will be essential to ensure that all the troops are brought home, including special forces and the like, and that the mammoth U.S. military bases in those countries are shut down and handed over to the people of those countries.
Meanwhile, with their eyes on 2012, Republicans - the military industrial complex's best friends - are trying to position themselves as peaceniks.
But these Republican wolves in doves' clothing are silent about a key point President Obama addressed in his speech: "Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America's greatest resource - our people."
He spoke of the need to "unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industries" and to "rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy."
American taxpayers are spending $120 billion on the Afghanistan war just for this year. With the beginning of the end of that war, how will the billions be used?
On Monday, the nation's mayors called on the president and Congress to "redirect military spending to domestic priorities."
The mayors called for bringing the Afghanistan and Iraq war dollars "home to meet vital human needs, promote job creation, rebuild our infrastructure, aid municipal and state governments, and develop a new economy based upon renewable, sustainable energy and reduce the federal debt."
Will the Republican sudden converts to peace sign on to that?
Most Americans will, if we get the word out. Share this article with others, talk to your neighbor, your co-worker, friends and family, contact your senators and representative, join a group, get involved, build the movement.
Photo: Jayel Aheram CC 2.0