After almost 16 years in Afghanistan, what will it take for our Elected Officials to represent our interests, and ask: is there a military solution for peace in Afghanistan? And, what will it take to try a different approach?

Please, take a quick moment now and tell your members of Congress that you expect them to stand up and fulfill their responsibilities by repealing the 2001 AUMF, and debating whether to authorize continued, endless war in Afghanistan.

Here are six arguments you'll hear for the war in Afghanistan, and what you need to know to respond:


1. War is our only option in Afghanistan. If we pull out, there will be a security vacuum.

Military actions leave a vacuum and a legacy of violence that is exploited by terrorist groups to gain territory and new recruits. Stephen Walt, the American professor of International Affairs of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, is critical of the surge proposal, saying: "It won't destroy the Taliban, al Qaeda, the Islamic State, or other radicals, and more likely may aid their recruiting, just as U.S. interference has in the past." 

There is a security vacuum in Afghanistan because of our military actions in the region, and you can't fix something using the tool that broke it in the first place. After 16 years, we should be able to say that war is not a working option in Afghanistan.

But, war is the only option you will hear from this Administration because it is dismantling the State department, while putting Generals in advisor positions that traditionally go to civilians.

As reported by Democracy Now in an interview with Matthew Hoh, who resigned from the State Department in 2009 over the last surge in Afghanistan, General Mattis, General McMaster and General Kelly serve as our Defense Secretary, National Security Adviser, and the President's Chief of Staff, respectively. These roles are traditionally held by civilians. General Mattis actually had to get a waiver to be the Defense Secretary in a vote that passed 81-17 in the Senate, and 34-28 in the House.

There is no diplomat, no functional State department, no equipped UN mission even, to balance out their influence on this Administration, or to put a military action in a context of a political strategy or goal.

There are currently 40 open leadership positions in the U.S. State Department, and the hiring freeze is still in effectThis means that, as troops surge in Afghanistan, cyber security is investigated and escalations rise with North Korea, these positions and others are indefinitely vacant: a Cyber Issues coordinator, Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Director of Overseas Building Operations, Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs, Senior Advisor for Security Negotiations and Agreements, Coordinator of Threat Reduction Programs, Coordinator of Civil Societies and Emerging Democracies, and at least 5 positions relevant to current tensions with North Korea, including Special Envoy for Six-Party Talks, Special Representative of the President on Nuclear Nonproliferation, Coordinator on Sanctions Policy, Special Envoy on North Korean Human Rights Issues, Special Advisor on Nonproliferation and Arms Control.

Unsurprisingly, positions relating to climate change, women's rights, the closure of Guantanamo, disability rights, labor rights, anti-Semitism, Muslim communities, religious freedom, and LGBTQIA+ rights, are also vacant. 

The State Department has, of course, not stopped U.S. military action in the past. But, without anyone with a background in diplomacy advising this Administration, why would we expect anything besides military actions? Secretary Kerry helped broker the Iran Nuclear Agreement. In 2013, diplomacy with the Taliban to end the Afghan war was on the table.

We could be pursuing a nuclear agreement with North Korea or retracing steps of an Afghanistan peace agreement now, but we have an Administration that is actively dismantling any institutional knowledge to pursue diplomatic and non-military options.

Non-military options do exist. Take a look at Vietnam, for example. U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam in 1975. It took time, but today, Vietnam is safe, and it is because of local actors in Vietnam, and an exit of U.S. military forces.  Another strategy is called DDR, which stands for: disarmament, demobilization and re-integration (DDR). Have you ever heard that phrase on your local news? 

Disarmament is the comprehensive collection, documentation and disposal of small arms, ammunition, explosives and light and heavy weapons of ex-combattants and the civilian population. It is usually the exchange of cash, other goods, or amnesty for weapons of war, and has been used all over the world.

Demobilization is the formal and controlled discharge of active combatants from armed groups. In Colombia, the government hired a communications agency to demobilize FARC rebels – and their efforts were successful. Their first action involved hanging Christmas lights along jungle paths used by FARC rebels, during Christmas, the season in which demobilization was statistically higher. The lights spelled out a message: "If Christmas can come to the jungle, you can come home. Demobilize at Christmas. Anything is possible." As a result of this campaign, 5% of the remaining guerrilla forces demobilized. In the campaigns that followed, 18,000 FARC fighters demobilized.

Re-integration means re-entering society. Countries must provide education, job, and community programs necessary to ensure that violence is not pursued again by demobilized non-state actors. This is where economic development, human rights, infrastructure, education and other programs are essential in making sure that violence is not the only path to survival.

This is the only path forward that doesn't leave a security vacuum in Afghanistan.


2. We should give President Trump a chance as a military leader. 

As President-elect, Trump regularly turned down intelligence briefings. In the two weeks immediately after the election, and knowing that he would be the Commander in Chief of the largest military in the world, Donald Trump (having no military or diplomatic experience) received only two classified intelligence briefings. That number is lower than his predecessors, and despite having analysts ready to give the President-elect daily intelligence briefings. 

The president-elect said, about turning down these briefings, "You know, I'm, like, a smart person. I don't have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years."

But, maybe these intelligence briefings would have clarified that the Prime Minister position in the Afghanistan government, which he referenced while announcing the surge, is a defunct post. The current head of state is President Ashraf Ghani. Maybe this could have been clarified in consultations with the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan – if that post wasn't vacant. 


3. The Surge is a New Strategy. We Should Give It a Chance to Work.

False. In 2009, President Obama authorized a surge of 33,000 troops into Afghanistan. The reasoning given then is the same reasoning given now: that the surge was necessary to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Even then, this rationale was questionable, because al-Qaeda had, according to Harvard Professor Stephen Walt, "better havens elsewhere and denying them access to Afghan territory would not reduce their capabilities very much if at all."

That strategy was questionable then, and today, we have the benefit of hindsight: we know that strategy did not work.

According data released by NATO command in Afghanistan in 2012, the surge did not stop the momentum of terrorist organizations in Afghanistan in the long-run. According to the Pentagon's Defense Casualty Analysis System and iCasualties, the U.S. military suffered 14,627 casualties during the surge period, but today, the Taliban controls as much territory as it did in 2001, before the U.S. had any troop presence in Afghanistan.

Leaders from both parties, knowing this history and being war-weary, are opposing the proposed surge:

"Everybody who voted for Donald Trump hoping that he would reduce the US miltary's involvement in foreign wars has been made a fool of. I'm sorry, but there it is."

- American Conservative columnist Rod Dreher

"The Democrats should be clear and bold: We are for withdrawal… After 16 years of that kind of muddled thinking, people expect their leaders to take a firm stand… Either you're for increasing troops, keeping the status quo indefinitely, or for getting out. We should be for getting out."

- Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA17)

"I know he wants to end this war. We've all heard him say it. But talk won't get it done. Although I've been informed that the president rejected larger expansions of troops than the one announced this week, that's not good enough. He should have rejected this one and stuck to his principles. He knows this war is over, and he – unlike the last two presidents – should have the guts to end it."

- Senator Rand Paul (R-KY)

"The war party got to him."

- AntiWar.com writer Eric Garris
(Antiwar.com is a hub for anti-imperialist Libertarians)

"Trump was elected to end America's involvement in Middle East wars. If he has been persuaded that he simply cannot liquidate these wars – Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan – he will likely end up sacrificing his presidency."

- Pat Buchanan, three-time candidate of President of the United States as an America First nationalist

"America cannot afford to make an open-ended commitment of further lives and treasure to the improbable proposition of building a cohesive nation in Afghanistan."

- Governor John Kasich (R-OH)


4. We support our troops, and so does House Speaker Paul Ryan. Supporting our troops means supporting them in Afghanistan.

Supporting our troops cannot mean sending them to die in our wars, in a strategy that has failed before, while blocking debate on what victory in these wars would even mean, and if withdrawal is a better strategy. Congress won't even debate these wars, but will send our friends and family off to die in them. 

Earlier this summer, Paul Ryan blocked an amendment that would re-open debate on U.S. wars abroad, even though it received bi-partisan & nearly unanimous support in the House Appropriations committee. 

Paul Ryan said he blocked the amendment because it didn't belong in an appropriations bill, but he's not supporting or seeking more robust debate on our wars abroad, either. So, what does it mean when he blocks the only measure that is demanding a debate on our wars?

U.S. involvement in Afghanistan was authorized in 2001 and has been the status quo for 16 years. Since the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force was passed, it has been used more than 37 times in 14 countries to justify military force – without additional Congressional debate. In Afghanistan, upwards of 20 different generals have commanded the U.S. or International Security Assistance Force troops. None have succeeded, so our strategy must be revisited.

Congress has the Constitutional responsibility – and obligation under our separation of powers – to debate and authorize any U.S. wars - but the majority of the current members of the House of Representatives and Senate have not debated our wars. 

As reported by Senator Flake (R-AZ), 300 of the total 435 members in the House today were not in the House to debate or vote on the 2001 AUMF, and only 23 current Senators voted on the 2001 AUMF. 

If Congress cannot muster the courage to debate these wars, it should not sacrifice the lives of U.S. troops. That cannot be how we define supporting our troops. Instead, we have to admit this strategy isn't working, and bring them home. 


5. We should give every resource to defend our country. Whatever the Generals ask for, we have to provide.

The total costs of these wars will be a staggering $12.7 trillion dollars, counting costs to date and cumulative interest on loans we had to take out to pay for these wars, because we also passed and extended the Bush-era tax cuts. We're going to be paying off these wars until 2054, according to the Costs of War Institute at Brown University.

That number is only going to grow the longer we are in these wars. It costs $1 million dollars to station one member of the U.S. military in Afghanistan for a year. If we expect a surge of 4,000 troops, that's an addition $4 billion in costs to taxpayers per year – without an end in sight, or debate on an exit strategy.

$12.7 trillion is an impossible number to understand on its own, so here are the trade-offs to keep in mind: $12.7 trillion could cancel all student debt in the United States ten times, or it could cancel all student debt in the United States ($1.3T), fix all crumbling infrastructure in the United States ($3.1T), give every student entering college in the United States this fall a four-year full-ride scholarship ($680.9B), provide the salary of every elementary school teacher in the country for 15 years ($3.76T),  give the 200,000 U.S. troops stationed abroad jobs in the clean energy sector and pay their salaries for the next 90 years ($1.3 trillion), give every single unemployed person in the U.S. a job in the infrastructure industry for the next 5 years ($2.12T), and create 2 million jobs in high-poverty communities ($200B). And, we'd still have $200 billion left over for defense, which is almost 3-times as much as Russia's entire defense budget.

What do you think is a better investment in our country?

Also, it's not always the Generals asking for this money. Often, it's politicians spending on the military despite what Generals ask for. In 2012, General Odierno testified beore the Senate Armed Services Committee that the army did not need more tanks. It was allocated $183 million for more tanks anyways. In 2015, the same thing happened, but the army was allocated $120 million – which would cover the costs of fixing the still poisonous water pipes in Flint. Funding the military is supporting the careers of politicians, but not the military.


6. We can win in Afghanistan.

Do we even know what winning looks like? Do our military leaders? Does our President? After 16 years of the same strategy, with no apparent exit strategy, all we can know for sure is that we need more accountability when it comes to Afghanistan, to make sure that we aren't throwing endless U.S. lives and resources into actions with no long-term progress for peace or regional stability.

We need accountability. That will be a victory. Saving lives will be a victory. Investing in our communities will be a victory.

Let's win that. Together. 

Please, take a quick moment now and tell your members of Congress that you expect them to stand up and fulfill their responsibilities by repealing the 2001 AUMF, and debating whether to authorize continued, endless war in Afghanistan.

Sincerely,

Kate Alexander
Director of Policy and Outreach

Emily Rubino
Grassroots Campaigns Coordinator