From Maryland Peace Action Members
Afghanistan Shows Folly of Militarizing Foreign Policy
8/21/21 in the Baltimore Sun
Thank you for the editorial, (“The fall of Afghanistan: A sudden collapse years in the making” Aug. 17). In 2010, I traveled to Afghanistan to find out for myself what was really going on, a “fact-finding” mission on behalf of Peace Action. I interviewed as many people as I could from all walks of life. What I found there was quite different from the narrative that we were being fed in the U.S.
The people I talked to often named their three enemies: the Taliban, the Afghan government, and the United States. No one I met liked the Taliban, which they viewed as ruthless and primitive. They hated the Afghan government, which consisted of war criminals with violent pasts at least as horrible as the Taliban. As for the U.S., no one viewed the country favorably. Our bombing campaign was killing civilians in huge numbers and Kabul was overrun with internally displaced refugees living in the most horrible conditions. No one believed that the U.S. was in Afghanistan for benign reasons. They believed, with good evidence, that the U.S. presence was due to its desire for new bases that could threaten Iran, Pakistan, and China, all of which has common borders with Afghanistan. Or, they believed that it was to protect a new pipeline being built across Afghanistan, one that would benefit the West, but not Afghanistan.
It is only those of us in the U.S. who seemed to believe that we were there to help the Afghan people — they certainly didn’t see it. All the pundits and U.S. government leaders are explaining the American defeat by saying that Afghan soldiers didn’t fight for their country. Well, some 70,000 Afghan soldiers and police have already died in the fighting (more than the number of Americans who died in the Vietnam War), and really, why should those still alive be willing to die for a corrupt and venal government that was put in place by the U.S. — and that the U.S. had already said it was no longer supporting?
There were some clear winners of the American war in Afghanistan: the U.S. weapons manufacturers and contractors who made a fortune off it. The editorial mentions the number of Americans killed there (2,372), and the amount of money that was spent on the war (over $1 trillion, most of which went to the contractors and weapons manufacturers), and that is a terrible price that was paid. But too often the American media neglect to mention what the people of Afghanistan suffered: at least 47,000 civilians killed (thousands more indirectly), hundreds of thousands displaced, the country in ruins. This war was first of all waged for revenge (on people who were not to blame for 9/11), and for the very geopolitical reasons that the people of Afghanistan believed from the start. Women’s rights? Please.
Like the people of Afghanistan, we should be very angry about this war, and it is time that we as a people stopped allowing the weapons manufacturers and contractors who donate so heavily to members of Congress — our own form of deep corruption — to continue the militarization of foreign policy that has cost us so much and that have destabilized so much of the world. Can we not summon the political will to stop this murderous cycle?
Jean Athey, Baltimore
Endless Wars Have Meant Endless Waste and Failure
7/23/21 in the Capitol Gazette
New York Times columnist David Brooks bemoans the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan (The Capital, July 19). But, as he admits, Americans across the political spectrum are sick and tired of the country playing cop on the global stage at the cost of thousands of lives and countless resources.
The public is right. Let’s start with the fiasco in Afghanistan. America’s original mission was narrow: get Osama Bin Laden and punish the Taliban for providing sanctuary to terrorists. Yet months after the Taliban fell from power, the goal posts moved. The United States sought to engage in “nation building” and develop Afghan security forces that could establish internal security.
We failed on both counts, in part because we never understood or appreciated the culture of the country we were trying to help and in part because the American people were never engaged. One of the characterizations of U.S. foreign policy is an inability to acknowledge a mistake and reverse course; in this case, it took 20 years and a new president who had always recognized the futility of our involvement.
Afghanistan is a poster child for the endless wars that have dominated U.S. international affairs since the end of World War II. Thirteen American presidents have been in office during wartime, and seven of them served since 1945: Harry Truman (Korea), Lyndon Johnson (Vietnam), Richard Nixon (Vietnam), George H.W. Bush (Gulf War), George W. Bush (Iraq and Afghanistan), Barack Obama (Afghanistan) and Donald Trump (Afghanistan). Presidents of both political parties have engaged our military in all sorts of ways in at least 85 countries in the name of defeating “communism” or “terrorism.” And that does not count the staggering number of U.S. military bases around the world and the massive arms sales to foreign governments. Congress has abdicated much of its constitutional powers to the president.
The outcome of our commitments to these hot and faux wars has been unsatisfactory. The Korean War ended in a stalemate. We lost the Vietnam War. The Persian Gulf War lit a fuse that exploded on 9/11. We failed to win the peace after the Iraq intervention in 2003. The Global War on Terrorism was a flop. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone resulted in the deaths of 800,000 and have cost the United States $6.4 trillion.
The United States has become addicted to perpetual war. This condition has created a system of violence that has come to define the United States as a nation. These wars are a cancer on our democracy. We cannot accept a near-permanent military presence in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. We must disengage from these self-defeating military missions and pursue a new course based on diplomacy.
Michael Keller, a resident of Annapolis, is co-chair of the Board of Directors of Peace Action Education Fund, a nonprofit with offices in Silver Spring, MD and in Oakland, CA.
Costs of 20 Years in Afghanistan
Thank you for the articles this past week on Afghanistan, including the one on July 7 about the U.S. exit from Bagram Air Base (“Some Afghans Denounce How U.S. Departed Airfield”). This whole 20-year debacle should make all of us feel ashamed as Americans and determined never to allow something like this to occur again. Let’s review what happened.
The war itself was about revenge for 9/11, not “protecting the homeland”—in fact, the people of Afghanistan had nothing to do with that crime. True, the Taliban government had provided a locale for al-Qaeda to train, although most all the trainees were Saudis. The Afghan government was preparing to kick al-Qaeda out when Bush decided to bomb anyway and start a war. The real goal of the U.S. government was to create more foreign military bases and assert U.S. military power, while exacting retribution[CC1] . The war had nothing to do with defending the U.S.
What did this war of vengeance cost us and what did it cost the Afghan people–many of whom did not even know about the crime of 9/11? U.S. deaths (military and contractors) were 6,384 and injured many times more. Afghan civilian deaths are estimated at 71,334, and no one has any idea of the number of injured Afghans. If you count all the deaths attributed to the war, the total is estimated to be about 240,000.[i]
The dollar cost of the war to the U.S. is some $2.3 trillion.[ii] This is an inconceivable amount of money. Our children and grandchildren will continue to pay for it for decades, as most of the costs were put on the U.S. credit card. There will be a long-lasting drag on our economy—and on our pocketbooks.
Afghanistan was essentially destroyed; it is now among the ten poorest nations on earth.
The attack on the twin towers was actually blow-back from the foreign base-building project of the Pentagon. The U.S. has over 800 military bases on foreign soil, far more than any other country. How would you like a foreign military base next door? We almost had a nuclear war in 1962 over the USSR’s attempt to put a foreign military base in Cuba. We do not want foreign military bases on our doorstep, and neither do people in other lands. In fact, Osama bin Ladin’s hatred of the U.S. stemmed from his opposition to a U.S. military base in Saudi Arabia. Thus, 9/11 and the wars that followed are directly attributable to U.S. base-building abroad, what the Pentagon calls “projecting power” and “full spectrum dominance.”
Given the U.S. history in Afghanistan, it is no wonder we sneaked out of the country in the middle of the night.
Jean Athey, Baltimore
Eyes on China?
7/2/21 in the Baltimore Sun
I very much appreciated the perspective taken by the very respected Professor Robert Reich (Baltimore Sun, June 25) which reminds us of how we have demonized the USSR and Japan in the past and now seem to be doing the same with respect to China.Our education system is very lacking in funds and perhaps direction and scores show us far below other industrialized nations. We have so many other things to worry about–“the beam in your own eye before the mote in your brother’s.”
Also, as Secretary Reich points out, our corporations love the price of labor in China and a shopper finds it very hard to buy clothing or shoes–or household items–not imported, largely from China. When will we invest in our own industry? When will profits for CEO’s and stockholders not be the major concern in choosing where to locate? Perhaps infrastructure will now improve before more bridges collapse, yet Congress fights about it, tries to hold down spending, and doesn’t comment often on reversing Trump-initiated tax benefits to the rich.
Let’s buckle down and improve our health, prevent further global cooking (note: current conditions in the West), and take care of our “own house.”
Marilyn Carlisle, Baltimore
Israel’s apartheid treatment of Palestinians must end
5/20/21 in the Baltimore Sun
I was part of a human rights delegation to the occupied territories of Palestine in 1987 and became familiar with the use of rubber bullets, which are very capable of killing. This trip was during the first intifada, and I visited many homes where the Israeli Defense Force killed a child for alleged stone-throwing.
During the subsequent years, there has been an escalation in state and settler violence against the Palestinians (”Biden calls for ‘significant de-escalation’ from Israel as Gaza conflict continues,” May 19). The armed assault on the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the airstrikes in Gaza, including the destruction of a building which housed media groups, are some recent examples. Unfortunately, my government supports this horrific violence by word and $3.8 billion in U.S. tax dollars.
I find it very timely, though, that as the settler colonialism and the Jim Crow citizenship laws are getting more oppressive, on April 27 Human Rights Watch released “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution.” This is remarkable and very fitting considering that Israel lacks a government, and its ultra-right prime minister is looking at years in prison. So what better way to turn attention away from his judicial problems than to bomb back to the Stone Age one of the poorest plots of land in the world?
As a pacifist and believer in nonviolence, I urge Hamas to reconsider its violent response to on obdurate Israeli government. Of course, it is easy for me to say turn the other cheek, as I am not suffering under an oppressive occupation. However, I have to believe that some day there will be a U.S. government unbiased against the Palestinians which will work tirelessly to end this apartheid occupation.
Max Obuszewski, Baltimore
Biden’s budget overspends on military
4/29/21 in the Baltimore Sun
I always look forward to finding an op-ed by Robert Reich in The Baltimore Sun, and I relished reading his latest, “Biden’s industrial policy is the key to his economic restructuring” (April 22).
While praising President Joe Biden’s perspective on economic restructuring, Mr. Reich was not shy in challenging him when his policy perspective went awry: “Mr. Biden’s whopping $715 billion defense budget — larger even than Trump’s last defense budget.” Of course, I agree with the former Bill Clinton cabinet secretary, but would use more derisive language when discussing the obscene military budget.
I am ecstatic to see such criticism in my newspaper, as the military budget is rarely discussed. Also I compliment Mr. Reich for this acidic comment: “The new [industrial policy] should focus on cutting-edge breakthroughs and not be frittered away on pointless projects like the F-35 fighter jet. And it should meet human needs rather than add to an overstuffed defense arsenal.”
Ouch! The Berkeley professor nailed his critique to the wall.
Max Obuszewski, Baltimore
U.S. return to Iran nuclear deal merits broad support
4/15/21 in the Baltimore Sun
To say I was pleased with the recent commentary, “Biden’s foreign policy challenge: reining in Iran’s nuclear program” (April 13), would be a vast understatement. As a member of Baltimore Peace Action, I and other concerned citizens recognize the importance of convincing President Joe Biden to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Like most everything President Donald Trump did, his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement was disastrous. Iran was in compliance with the agreement which meant it would not become the 10th nuclear weapons country.
Peace Action and so many other groups have been lobbying our senators and representatives to put pressure on President Biden to do the right thing. Then we discovered that several Maryland members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter with Republicans calling on the Biden administration not to re-enter the agreement. We then organized three demonstrations urging our reps to support re-entry. Later, we discovered that Sen. Ben Cardin signed a similar letter. So we held a demonstration outside his Baltimore office and requested a meeting. In response, we were granted a meeting with a foreign policy adviser.
In this meeting, we made three points. First, the nuclear agreement was working and was possibly President Barack Obama’s finest foreign policy achievement. Second, we urged the senator to support lifting President Donald Trump’s sanctions on Iran which are harming the people, not the elite. Sanctions on a country during a pandemic are deeply troubling. And third, we explained how we were baffled that the senator would sign a letter with Sen. Lindsey Graham and other Republicans who would not acknowledge that Mr. Biden won the presidential election. The aide was very accommodating, and indicated he would take our concerns to the senator.
Many of us lobbied very hard to convince Senator Cardin in 2015 to vote in favor of President Obama’s deal with Iran. Unfortunately, we failed to convince him. In 2021, we were not surprised that Senator Cardin was going against President Biden’s campaign promise to reenter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA. However, it shocked us that he would sign a letter with 29 Republican senators. This is not the GOP which once included liberal Republicans. This is Donald Trump’s Republican Party.
There was no need for one of my senators to sign this letter. Mr. Cardin could have simply told the president that he was unwilling to support him on this issue. Instead, he joined with senators from a party that unanimously voted against COVID-19 relief. Those of us in the peace and justice movement will continue to push the president to rejoin this agreement. It benefits everyone as its intent is to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons. I am confident that the Biden administration will see the light and will prevent Iran from going nuclear.
Max Obuszewski, Baltimore
U.S. should rejoin nuclear deal with Iran
3/30/21 in the Baltimore Sun
Thank you for the brilliant analysis by Melvin Goodman (”Biden administration’s approach to Russia and China unproductive,” March 26). Mr. Goodman outlines some of the errors made so far by President Joe Biden and his administration with regard to Russia and China, errors which make a dangerous and costly Cold War much more likely. As he points out, the only winners when tensions are ramped up like this between these countries and ours are the arms manufacturers beholden to the Pentagon.
A critical foreign policy issue that Mr. Goodman did not discuss, but that is also extremely problematic, is the nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration with Iran, then unilaterally canceled by President Donald Trump. This deal showed what is possible with respectful, concerted diplomacy. It was working to reduce the probability of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and its success increased the likelihood of further treaties between the two countries on other important issues. Intrusive inspections in Iran were a part of that deal, and these inspections proved that Iran had complied in all respects with its responsibilities under the deal, referred to as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.
Joe Biden campaigned on a pledge to immediately rejoin the JCPOA, but he has made no effort to do so, and due to internal politics in Iran, including upcoming elections, time is rapidly running out for the U.S. to return to the deal. President Biden has important domestic issues to deal with, but losing this opportunity to ramp down tensions in the Middle East would be a huge mistake and disastrous for U.S. foreign policy in that region. The Biden administration should immediately rejoin the JCPOA, without adding new, unrelated preconditions (being demanded by some in Congress who never liked the deal to begin with), and should also lift all the Trump-era sanctions on Iran which have devastated Iran’s economy, impeded its ability to fight the coronavirus pandemic, and deeply harmed the people of Iran.
There is no excuse for the Biden administration to ignore such an important foreign policy issue.
Jean Athey, Baltimore
The writer is executive director of Maryland Peace Action.