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Rethink Afghanistan: Broken Government's Body Count

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One of my biggest pet peeves about war coverage is the constant flow of quasi-racist stereotypes about Afghans. You know, Afghanistan is the "Graveyard of Empires," they're all xenophobic murderers, they're "tribal" and backwards and illiterate and can't handle modernity and on and on it goes. These slurs can work for either side. It's the Graveyard of Empires, so we should pull out. Or they're tribal, so we need to kill the bad ones and arm the good ones (great idea!). Obviously, the stereotypes are not true. After all, why is Afghanistan the Graveyard of Empires and not, y'know, the United States? Lots of great imperial powers have gotten their butts kicked there by kooky, backward white people and their slave-holding, witch-burning tribal law. They even have a violent global jihad against anyone who doesn't willfully submit to their 18th century system of governance. But that's a hateful and insulting perspective, perverted to the point of dangerous inaccuracy, so we reserve it exclusively for the Afghans (even Iraqis held on to the "Cradle of Civilization"). Here's a piece, though, that I think might help cut through that, and show us just how much we have in common with Afghans.

However, more personal matters also contributed to [Hezb-e Islami MP Ataullah Ludin's] decision to step down from parliament. "People do not fully realize what our responsibilities as members of parliament are. They are actually three: the legislative function, the monitoring and opposition to government decrees that we do not accept, and the representation of our electorate, so that people's desires and opinions can be assessed in parliament. [emphasis added]

Sound familiar? You've heard it before:

Bayh cited the lack of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill as his main reason for leaving, adding to skepticism that the fractiousness in Washington can be repaired and undermining President Obama's efforts to build bridges.

"There is too much partisanship and not enough progress -- too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving," Bayh said in a statement. "Even at a time of enormous challenge, the people's business is not being done." [emphasis added]

The government is broken, in Afghanistan and the United States, and the body count from this break down continues to skyrocket. Ending the war will require not only rethinking the way we look at Afghans, but also the way we look at ourselves. Both Afghans and Americans die for our failures. If we don't use government the way it's supposed to function, if we continue to play media games with our politics, the death toll will only get worse.

Our latest video from Rethink Afghanistan came out Tuesday, the same day Americans in several states were going to vote in party primaries. On the very day the "angry grassroots" were throwing out the bums in Washington for all their corruption and outrages, the issue of 1,000 dead Americans wasn't even on the table for discussion. Spencer Ackerman fill us in:

It wasn't that voters actively decided that Sestak's position on the war resonated. It was that the war was decidedly an afterthought in the race. "It has not been an issue, even though they differ on it," said Terry Madonna, the director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Pennsylvania's Franklin & Mary College.

The sheer absence of Afghanistan from the race is surprising for a number of reasons. First, skepticism about the merits of a war in its ninth year has surged among liberals, despite Obama's full-throated recommitment of money and troops to Afghanistan. In Pennsylvania, the last poll taken measuring Democrats' sentiments came shortly after Obama's well-received announcement of the escalation, a time when his numbers bumped up nationwide, but the Quinnipiac survey from December 18 still found a third of Democrats disapproving.

Second, Specter appeared eager around that time to capitalize on his constituents' small but noticeable unease with the war. In a November conference call with bloggers, he announced his opposition to Obama's planned 30,000-troop increase, and pointed out that Sestak favored it.

Got that? Specter is concerned about sending off 30,000 more kids to die, but he worked with President Bush (what an asshole!) and so must be destroyed. Sestak, on the other hand, supports the Commander-in-Chief's plan to escalate the violent occupation and yet still gets to go on national television calling himself a Washington outsider. Yes, an outsider. We were so focused on Specter's political associations that we completely forgot Sestak the Washington outsider was a member of the US House of Representatives. That's part of Congress, it's in Washington, DC last time I checked. But you don't see Sestak the insurgent moving to block the President blowing a trillion of your dollars. Why? He's an outsider, that's why! Because killing another 1,000 American soldiers is progressive. Or something like that. From the Ackerman piece:

Those victories are "a symbol that the base is not willing to back Dems anymore who don't fight for progressive values and principles," Hogue said.

Sestak is fighting for progressive values. And he's pro-war. War is progressive? How else are we supposed to read that? Well, maybe that's a little unfair, the piece has more:

MoveOn's endorsement was the result of the groups' Pennsylvania membership strongly preferring the more-progressive Sestak, said Ilyse Hogue, the group's director of political advocacy and communications. "We acknowledge that we had different positions on the Afghanistan surge, but MoveOn members are typically pragmatic progressives. There's no purity test," Hogue said in an instant message. "Our members felt that the Congressman would represent them better and would be more willing to shake up the establishment culture."

Pennsylvania voters think supporting the President's military adventurism is "pragmatic" and shaking up the establishment culture. Got it. But that's not really what the voters think, is it? It's what they were told by the media, democratic activists, and the campaigns themselves. They got the voters wrapped up in their game of who's more progressive and who's more anti-establishment (hint: none of them!) so that real issues like a trillion dollar war didn't even come up. That's how you get the left to claim they're accomplishing a grassroots revolution by continuing the status quo. It's dizzying to watch.

Let's go back to our quotes from the retiring Ludin and Bayh. They both laid out the three basic roles they have as legislators; To create laws, to check the other branches of government, and to provide a voice for their constituents in government. Notice what's not in their job description. There's nothing about partisanship, ideology, who voted for who, anything like that. Here's the rest of Ludin's statement:

"People do not fully realize what our responsibilities as members of parliament are. They are actually three: the legislative function, the monitoring and opposition to government decrees that we do not accept, and the representation of our electorate, so that people's desires and opinions can be assessed in parliament. But our people do not understand that, they say: 'Build roads for us, build bridges, get us some jobs!' Otherwise they say we did nothing for them. Afghanistan has its rules, its traditions: for every government official committed to his duty there is another who is not, and people ultimately do not see the effort being made and say 'you did nothing'. Because of all those people who sit in the administration's offices - the district governor, sub-district chief, commander, deputy, attorney, judge - my work gets blocked. So I have grown tired, I am fed up, to the point that my blood pressure got high because of these obstacles. (...) I have seen the parliament's tenure in the past five years and I do not want to end up working there again, this time without even the people's trust."

This is exactly what we're doing with our candidates. We've declared tuesday's vote a victory for progressives, but we got nothing. We got an anti-establishment outsider, an insurgent, someone who represents "progressive" values, but did you get a legislator? He might be on your Democratic team, but will he still be representing the constituents who didn't vote for him? Is supporting the President's strategy really the best way to check the Executive branch? What about the third of those progressives who don't support the war, did they get a representative? Or does all of this just not count in our partisan game? Those 1,000 dead Americans, they don't count in our angry grassroots revolution? No, Sestak is a pragmatist, just like those do-nothing Afghan politicians are pragmatists when they take bribes, clinging to their power and failing to achieve actual change. Hey, at least they don't support the previous administration, right?

My point on Tuesday was that whether or not you claim Sestak is an "insurgent," these words still have real meaning. And the same goes for our grassroots revolutionary victory parade. Whether you say Sestak is a progressive or he says he's a Washington outsider, he's still a congressman who supports the bloody and expensive occupation of Afghanistan. 1,000 Americans are still dead. Sestak is still flushing a trillion of your dollars down the drain. We should know what we have to do by now. In 2004, America voted for national security and got the Katrina disaster. In 2006, we voted to end the Iraq War, and we got the Surge. In 2008, we voted for a progressive, anti-war candidate, and we got escalation in Afghanistan. What's it going to take for it to sink in that voting is not enough? We can't just win the media game and expect all of our problems to be voted away.

Just this week, in the den of evil Washington, DC no less, Congress formed the Out Of Afghanistan caucus. Is John Conyers a progressive insurgent? Did you vote for him? Maybe not, but you can still force your representative to join that caucus. Or did you vote for any of these anti-establishment outsiders?
  • Emanuel Cleaver
  • Mike Doyle
  • Eddie Bernice Johnson
  • John B. Larson
  • Ed Markey
  • George Miller
  • Richard Neal
  • Dave Obey
  • Charles Rangel
  • Linda Sanchez
  • Loretta Sanchez
  • Niki Tsongas
Those folks all voted for H.Con.Res 248, a complete and immediate withdrawal, yet they still won't sign on to HR 5015, a simple exit timetable. What are you supposed to do about blatant hypocrisy like that? Election day is a long way off for some of those folks, but the McGovern bill is coming up fast. Obey is retiring, so our political narratives are useless. Are you supposed to just wish upon a star that the voters in their district picked the right progressive insurgent, and everything will turn out OK? No, it takes pressure.

Our government is broken and it's User Error. We've gotten so wrapped up in our partisan political games that we've completely forgotten how to operate our government. And the longer it goes on, the more Americans, Afghans, and Pakistanis are going to die, and the more money we're going to waste. Fixing that problem is easier than you think. Take this video:

But don't stop where the video tells you. Post it on the White House page, but keep going and make sure your senators and representatives see it. Make sure they know what they're doing when they support the occupation, the supplemental, and an endless timeline. Call Congress at (202) 224-3121 and ask to speak to your representative. Tell them to co-sponsor HR 5015, the McGovern bill to require an exit strategy. Tell them not to support the President's new supplemental request. Tell them to join the Out of Afghanistan Caucus. Tell them all of that if you want. It doesn't matter if you voted for them, or if you plan to vote for them in the future. In fact, it's even easier than voting. Picking up a phone doesn't require waiting in line, mailing off registration, no hassle at all. And that's the point of politicians having all these things, conference calls, town hall meetings, websites, Facebook accounts, etc. They need to hear from you! It's the only way we're going to see the changes we want, progressive, anti-war, or otherwise.

Join us on Rethink Afghanistan's Facebook page and collaborate with the tens of thousands of others around the country working to bring this war to an end.

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.