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Guest Column: Obama still lost in the Afghan desert

June 29, 2011

By Dan Kenney

It is a dark night across the land. No moon tonight, and still no daylight at the end of this endless tunnel of war. It appears, after President Barack Obama’s June 22 address to the nation, he is still lost in the desert of Afghanistan without a light, and he is taking the country with him deeper into darkness.

For anyone who had hope Obama would listen to the public outcry for the madness to end, his speech, one day after the shortest night of the year, must surely have left them feeling hopeless. “Yes, we can” has most certainly turned into “No, we won’t.”

The U.S. has more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan (up 70,000 from the time Obama entered office and received the Nobel Peace Prize) and more than 100,000 private military security contractors. And this accounts for the contractors employed by the Pentagon, not to mention the secret private spies of the CIA and the private security forces operating under a U.S. State Department contract. There are also about 50,000 NATO troops on the ground, bringing the U.S.-led forces to a total of more than 250,000. Withdrawing 10,000 troops is not even a crumb to those so very hungry for an end to this war and peace; instead, it is more of a slap in the face. It is less than 5 percent of the total troops and contractors operating for the U.S. in Afghanistan. (Anti-war sentiment is even higher in Europe, and we can expect the number of NATO troops to fall more than the number of U.S. troops; you can expect 15,000 NATO troops to be withdrawn within the year.)

Obama did not mention the number of private military and security contractors that would be withdrawn, if any. What has happened in the past, such as in Iraq, is when there has been a withdrawal of troops, there has been a surge of private military and security corporate warriors.

President Obama also failed, once again, to rise to his pre-election ability to seize the moment and set the course for the country. He seems to be less of a leader than he seemed in 2008. His “drawdown” plan is a poor trick of illusion. It fools no one. Many more Americans than ever before are against this war. Since the killing of Osama bin Laden, more and more Americans see the war as a pointless waste of money and lives. Polls show the opposition the highest among Democrats. Also, the majority of independents and half of the Republicans oppose the war.

Even more painful is the fact that the Obama plan will not reduce the cost of the war. The president made no mention of reducing the $118 billion for the war that is presently in pending legislation. To date, the cost of the war is in excess of $426 billion. The $3 trillion war could become the $4 trillion war, if one includes both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sadly, the killing will continue—the killing of U.S. soldiers and the killing of innocent citizens of Afghanistan. The bombs and missiles will still continue to fall from their night skies. The president said there would be no let-up in the level of military attacks against Pakistan targets. Drone missile attacks have escalated under Obama, more than 118 last year. Many hundreds of innocent Pakistanis have been killed. The attacks have contributed to destabilizing Pakistan and increasing an anti-American feeling.

Our president had an opportunity in his address to set our country on a firm path to a future of peace and a future more secure. He could have laid out concrete steps to end the wars and to bring the troops home, thus ending the drain these wars are having on our lives and our economy. He could have talked about investing the $700 million per day on building a sound future for our country; putting the returning soldiers and private contractors to work in America with a massive infrastructure stimulus of $350 million per day; a stimulus package for building alternative energy options, rebuilding roads, building high-speed rail systems to rival the interstate highway building that was completed in the 1950s. Then, he could have offered a plan to pay down the deficit with the other $350 million per day.

Instead, he left the nation deep in disappointment, deep as the desert sand. And he also left our country in a precarious and shifting position that provides no one with security.

In the morning, we will once again start the work of creating the world we want with the means at hand. It is time to turn our backs on a government that has turned its back on us. We do not live in a representative democracy; we live in a corporate state. Our future is in our hands, so we must seize the moment to create sustainable communities to withstand the coming end of this empire.

Dan Kenney of DeKalb, Ill., is a fourth-grade union teacher and co-coordinator of both the DeKalb Interfaith Network and No Private Armies.

From the June 29-July 5, 2011 issue

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