When President Obama announced on June 22 that U.S. troops would begin to withdraw from Afghanistan this year, the nation’s antiwar organizations and activists were almost universally united in their disappointment over the meager plan’s limited scope.
Ten thousand troops are set to be home by the end of the year, and another 23,000 by fall 2012, yet President Obama’s plan still leaves more than twice as many troops in Afghanistan at the beginning of 2013 – about 70,000 – than when he took office in January 2009. Antiwar groups are pleased a drawdown is beginning, but they’re not celebrating Obama’s final withdrawal date of 2014. They want a more rapid end to the longest war in American history – a war costing taxpayers $10 billion per month.
“The peace movement’s position is to bring the troops and contractors home ASAP, not in another year and a half,” says David Swanson, co-founder of Warisacrime.org (previously Afterdowningstreet.org). “Arguably the only coherent positions are that and massive escalation. Anything in between looks like a political calculation.”
“The Responsible End to the War in Afghanistan Act,” introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D‑Calif.) in February, would do just what Swanson and antiwar groups like CODEPINK, Veterans for Peace and U.S. Labor Against the War advocate. If enacted, it would end all funding for military operations except that which provides for the “safe and orderly withdrawal” of all U.S. troops, personnel and Pentagon contractors.
When members of Congress have pushed for a full withdrawal from Iraq during the last half decade, political opponents often retorted that it would be unwise and unsafe to “defund the troops.” Lee’s legislation was crafted to quell this criticism. “This is a very wisely written piece of legislation that basically funds a withdrawal,” says Paul Kawika-Martin, political and policy director of the national organization Peace Action.
Rep. Lee’s bill has been endorsed by a variety of groups and has 61 co-sponsors in the House. Passage of the bill still looks farfetched, but antiwar activists believe that the shifting political climate – driven in large part by the country’s fiscal crisis – gives the antiwar movement an opportunity to continue to pressure lawmakers and the White House for an accelerated withdrawal.
Polls have shown that, for the first time ever, a majority of Americans favor a withdrawal from Afghanistan “as soon as possible.” With increased focus on federal spending as an election year approaches, there is likely to be growing bipartisan pressure to stick to the planned withdrawal – or even bring troops home from Afghanistan more quickly. Indeed, in a July 5 New York Times editorial, Sens. Jeff Merkley (D‑Ore.), Rand Paul (R‑Ky.) and Tom Udall (D‑N.M.) called on the president to bring home all combat troops by the end of 2012.
“When historians end up looking at what happened around this inflection point, public opinion will definitely be one of the issues, and political pressure from NGOs and members of Congress,” Kawika-Martin says.
Swanson plans to attend a national antiwar action in Washington, D.C., on October 6, the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan, the goal of which is to “stop the war machine.”
The action – which by early July had been endorsed by a long list of groups including Progressive Democrats of America, the United National Antiwar Committee and the Green Party – calls for a sustained nonviolent occupation of Freedom Plaza (adjacent to the National Mall) until “resources are invested in human needs and environmental protection instead of war and exploitation.”
“The plan for October is not to make phone calls, but to take inspiration from Egypt, Tunisia, Madison and elsewhere, where people are actually physically getting in the way,” Swanson says.