The author is an Iraq war veteran and co-founder of March Forward!.
There was an elephant in the room during the presidential foreign policy debate. That elephant was a pile of bodies, blood and limbs, which grew as the candidates spoke.
The war in Afghanistan is in its 11th year—the longest war in U.S. history. It is not a war that is going smoothly. Over 2,000 U.S. troops have been buried—the vast majority under Obama’s presidency. The war’s “signature wound” is the loss of two legs and an arm. Some brigades in Afghanistan (about 4,000 soldiers) are averaging one amputation per day. “Collateral damage” takes the lives of Afghan children regularly.
In the months leading up to the debates, the U.S. strategy was exposed as a total failure. The dual objectives of the now-ended “surge”—battering the Afghan resistance and training Afghan puppet forces—completely blew up in the faces of the Pentagon generals.
The blood is flowing, and heavily. The politicians and generals do not know what to do. Service members and their families are tired of the endless tours. People are tired of $400 million a day being spent on it. Over 60 percent of Americans want the war to end immediately.
One would think that an 11-year, bloody and wildly unpopular military quagmire—in which tax-payers send billions of dollars a week and get in return only their loved ones in coffins and wheelchairs—would be a topic of discussion (and maybe even debate) at the foreign policy debate between the leading candidates for next commander in chief of the military.
Don’t those who have been losing limbs and loved ones for over a decade deserve at least that?
Only one question on Afghanistan
There was one question about the Afghanistan war. Mitt Romney spent about 30 seconds responding to it, before switching to talk about bombing Pakistan. President Barack Obama spent about 75 seconds responding to it before switching to talking about veterans’ employment. Both candidates agreed with each other on the war, and reassured each other that everything was going great.
And that was it. End of discussion. No disagreement or debate. No challenge from the moderator about all the mainstream media stories contradicting everything the candidates said about “progress.” Just a total of 105 seconds to repeat the Pentagon’s talking points: “Things are going great. Don’t worry about it. We’ll somehow leave in 2014 (we promise!).”
U.S. service members and their families got less than two minutes of the same scripted lies about the most major issue in their lives. That is all the candidates felt they deserved. The rest of the 88 minutes they heard about the next war (based on the same lies) that they will be sent to.
What they said
Romney only had three things to say about Afghanistan. He said we can have all troops out by the end of 2014 because:
1. There has been “progress” over the past several years;
2. The “surge was successful;”
3. Training of Afghan forces is “proceeding on pace.”
All of those assertions are lies, even by the Pentagon’s own admission. But no need to address or debate those facts. Just 30 seconds of rattling off baseless statements is enough attention to the war.
Obama generously used his 75 seconds to remind us why we were in Afghanistan—retribution for the 9/11 attacks.
Except, the White House admits we are not actually fighting al-Qaeda or even al-Qaeda’s allies in Afghanistan. The people we are actually at war against are people who played no role in the attacks and admittedly pose no threat to the United States. The Afghan people are not our enemies. Most of them—92 percent—have never even heard of the 9/11 attacks. The reason armed groups of Afghans all over the country are fighting the occupying forces is because they, like all people, do not want to live under foreign occupation.
Obama made reference to “withdrawing responsibly,” which in reality translates to “retreat while giving the illusion of victory.”
If U.S. forces are indeed withdrawn by the end of 2014, it will not be because the Pentagon accomplished its objectives. They admit that their original objectives of having permanent U.S. military bases, and a national client government puppeteered by Washington, are impossible. So the current “withdrawal” is really a retreat, only in slow motion, so the inevitable will be postponed for several years, while soldiers and Afghans die so these politicians can save face.
What they should have said
Voters in the 2012 election, the majority of whom want an immediate end to the war, cannot vote to change U.S. policy in Afghanistan (or anywhere for that matter). Both Obama and Romney assured the world that their strategies were identical—so much so that it was not even worth talking about.
But is the Obama-Romney Afghanistan strategy the only viable option? Far from it. In fact, the option supported by most people in the U.S. (including service members) is an immediate, rapid withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the country. The outcome of the war if there is an immediate withdrawal is the same as a slow withdrawal through 2014—the only difference being the number of lives and limbs senselessly lost along the way: only a few dozen more with an immediate withdrawal, or a few thousand more with a pointlessly drawn-out withdrawal.
Why they didn’t talk about it
Obama and Romney did not give any meaningful time to the issue that most affects service members and their families, because the debate was not for them. The debate was not even really for the U.S. people. Are the masses of unemployed, those facing foreclosure, those in student debt, those seeing their social services slashed—are they really clamoring for more drones and battleships? Are they really interested in a competition between who will starve Iranian children the most severely, or who will give Israel the most free reign to carry out war crimes? The candidates' only real argument was over who wanted to spend more on the military—with Obama bragging about the military budget going up every year he’s been in office—as if more military spending is a top concern of the people!
The presidential debate, in reality, was not for us. It was for the military-industrial complex, energy companies and investors. The candidates were competing for the support of those with billions of dollars to hand over to their campaigns. The candidates discussed the issues most important to the corporate and banking interests in militarism and war. That is who they were appealing to.
Neither Obama nor Romney felt they needed to give more than two minutes to the Afghanistan war, because they believe the current level of bloodshed—hundreds of U.S. and Afghan casualties per month—is not so high as to endanger their campaigns. Even though public sentiment is against the war, there is no mass movement against the war. Therefore, the politicians can keep sending us to die without much political backlash, while our lives are not even worth more than a mere mention in the one debate that was supposed to address this issue.
The people, not politicians, will end the war
This is one of the ultimate consequences of “lesser-evilism.” Those in the anti-war movement who have backed Obama because he is considered less of a warmonger (a myth completely dispelled by this debate) are in effect demobilizing the one sector that has the ability to influence the policy on the war.
By choosing to keep silent and off the streets to ensure that the “more evil” Republican Party does not win, they allow the Democratic Party to pursue the same policy without even having to even give lip service to the needs and will of the people.
The debates showed us that if we want any change whatsoever in U.S. foreign policy—a policy of endless, constant warfare in the interests of the super-rich—it will have to come from below; not from privileged politicians pandering to war-profiteers, who consider our lives worthless cannon fodder.