A Quaker Lobby in the Public Interest
FCNL Letter to Obama to Oppose Afghanistan EscalationFCNL sent the following letter to President Obama denouncing his plan to add 30,000 U.S. combat troops to the war in Afghanistan and providing the administration with additional foreign policy recommendations from FCNL.
December 2, 2009
President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama:
War is not the answer in Afghanistan. Escalation will almost certainly make the situation there worse.
Since we have written to you previously urging you to carry out an initial withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, systematically de-escalate military operations, and work for a ceasefire and national reconciliation, you will know that we at FCNL oppose your decision to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
We do not believe that the momentum of the Afghan insurgency can be stopped by the aggressive war-fighting strategy that you announced last night. We believe, instead, that deploying additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan to expand offensive military operations is more likely to strengthen the Afghan insurgency than weaken it.
Your escalation of the military contest in Afghanistan, moreover, risks undermining the stability of Pakistan by inspiring more recruits to the ranks of the Pakistani Taliban. The Afghanistan escalation will increase the plausibility of the arguments of violent extremists everywhere that the U.S. has not changed, that it relies mainly on the language of force when addressing the Muslim world, and that it seeks to subordinate and impose its will on Muslim peoples.
The likelihood that the U.S. escalation in Afghanistan will have the opposite effect from what you intend is very much increased by what we found to be the most disturbing element in your speech last night: your misperception that the U.S. has now forged a new relationship with the Muslim world.
You said that "we have forged a new beginning between America and the Muslim world." We wish that this were so, and we have applauded your statements indicating that you seek such a new beginning, but it is painfully clear that none has so far been forged. Instead, skepticism is growing in the Muslim world, in the U.S., and elsewhere, that you will implement any real change in the U.S. approach on the key issues of special concern to Muslims.
The Iraq Study Group declared in December 2006 that "The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability." This is as true for U.S. goals in Afghanistan and Pakistan as it is for Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.
Nearly a year after the Gaza war, for example, your administration continues to acquiesce in the maintenance of a stringent blockade of the Gaza Strip that keeps most civilian goods in short supply and prevents the rebuilding of schools, clinics, homes, and the public health infrastructure of water, sewage, and electricity facilities. Your efforts to persuade Israel to freeze illegal settlement activity and restart Middle East peace negotiations have failed, and you have fallen silent on this issue that forms the litmus test of the U.S. commitment to justice and peace in much of the Muslim world.
U.S. relations with Iran have not progressed, despite your previous constructive public statements on the need for diplomatic engagement. We recognize that Iran is in the midst of unprecedented internal turmoil and may not respond positively now to the promising proposal to exchange its low-enriched uranium for nuclear fuel packets. U.S. support for the recent International Atomic Energy Agency resolution censuring Iran for its second enrichment site, however, infuriated diverse factions in Iran and gave opponents of the uranium exchange agreement a strong argument against any conciliation with the U.S. and the international community. At best, the IAEA resolution was ill-timed, if the U.S. objective is to persuade Iran to accept the uranium exchange agreement as a first step toward resolution of the serious issues raised by its nuclear program.
You also missed a potentially game-changing opportunity last night to remind the U.S. and Iranian publics of the critical assistance that Iran rendered to the United States in the wake of 9/11, when it helped the U.S. and NATO replace the Taliban with the Karzai government. Reciting the history of the period following 9/11 without mentioning Iran's help left out an important part of the truth and missed a chance to reengage.
General David McChrystal noted in a speech October 1 that Iran has "a lot of very positive influence inside Afghanistan…" and "if Iran takes a very mature look at a stable Afghanistan and support the government of Afghanistan, then we'll be - we'll be in good shape."
Similarly, Bruce Reidel, who conducted your previous review of Afghanistan policy, has warned that "If we see a situation in which the relationship between Iran and the United States is steadily deteriorating, and the Iranians - either correctly, or because of their own politics - come to the conclusion that the United States is trying to overthrow their regime, or subvert their regime, or prevent it from doing what it wants, one of the easiest ways for the Iranians to fight back is in Afghanistan."
We agree that forging a new beginning between America and the Muslim world is, indeed, a key to stabilizing Afghanistan and to countering violent extremism worldwide.
The experience of one member of Congress who recently visited Pakistan offers a good illustration of the common perceptions in the Muslim world that must be changed by a change in U.S. policies. The member encountered a 15 or 16 year old boy in Pakistan's Swat valley. The boy politely welcomed the visitor and said he was glad that he had come, but, he wanted the congressman to know, "American is our enemy, because you favor India over Pakistan, and you favor Israel over Palestine. As long as you do, you will be our enemy."
To forge the new beginning that is essential to achieving a safer world for all, in the U.S., in Muslim countries, and everywhere, we urge you to:
- Reengage on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Addressing the humanitarian issues in Gaza alone would begin to convince public opinion in the Muslim world and elsewhere that change was possible. If Israel and Egypt prove unwilling to allow reconstruction to proceed, then the U.S. is capable of providing the needed aid to Gaza itself.
- Redouble efforts to persuade Iran that the U.S. seeks a new relationship based on mutual interest and mutual respect. Your administration's patience in awaiting an Iranian response on the uranium exchange agreement appeared admirable until passage of the IAEA resolution. The resolution has soured the diplomatic atmosphere and reduced the chance of agreement. Act to change the atmosphere.
- Reconsider the preponderant reliance on the aggressive use of military force in the Afghanistan strategy that you outlined last night. Work to de-escalate the fighting and achieve a ceasefire. Make internal reconciliation efforts and regional diplomacy to support Afghan stability the lead elements of your strategy.
At West Point you told the future generals of the United States that the United States is best when it is preventing wars, rather than fighting them. Prevention of war starts with the leadership at the top. We regret that in Afghanistan you have signaled to the world that you will lead in the direction of war fighting, rather than war prevention.
We favor your leadership for preventing wars and for healing broken communities. You have a historic opportunity to lead the world toward the rule of law and away from rule by military muscle. There is a time to every purpose under heaven. President Obama, the time is now to give peace a chance in Afghanistan and the wider region.