U.S. troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan (photo: startledrabbit_III via Flickr)

Over the weekend, Tom Hayden had a great opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times where he pretty much destroys the whole idea of a “Long War” against global terrorism. Check this out:

Consider the audacity of such an idea. An 80-year undeclared war would entangle 20 future presidential terms stretching far into the future of voters not yet born. The American death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan now approaches 5,000, with the number of wounded a multiple many times greater. Including the American dead from 9/11, that’s 8,000 dead so far in the first decade of the Long War. And if the American armed forces are stretched thin today, try to conceive of seven more decades of combat.

The costs are unimaginable too. According to economists Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, Iraq alone will be a $3-trillion war. Those costs, and the other deficit spending of recent years, yield “virtually no room for new domestic initiatives for Mr. Obama or his successors,” according to a New York Times budget analysis in February. Continued deficit financing for the Long War will rob today’s younger generation of resources for their future.

No doubt after that: The Long War is all kinds of crazy and absurd. Nobody wants a forever war with “unimaginable” costs, a collapse of the domestic political agenda, and untold thousands of dead. It’s definitely disturbing that some in the Pentagon and their “fellow travelers” subscribe to such a loony doctrine, but not altogether surprising. After all, Neoconservatives dominated the Washington elite for 8 years of the Bush administration, it shouldn’t shock anyone that they’re still out there somewhere peddling their nonsense.

But Hayden isn’t only out to show us how stupid the Long War is. He’s got a plan:

It’s time the Long War strategy was put under a microscope and made the focus of congressional hearings and media scrutiny.

Whoa! The strategy is so ridiculous and so awful…that we should legitimize it by making it the subject of serious congressional debate? Do we really want the ignorant news actors on cable television giving the old “fair and balanced” treatment to the idea of planetary forever war against nobody in particular? How much credibility to we want to give this insignificant group of warmongers? It’s not like the Long War is really an option now. Hayden wrote:

President Obama has implied his own disagreement with the Long War doctrine without openly repudiating the term. He has pledged to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by 2012, differing with those like Ricks who predict continuing combat, resulting in a Korean-style occupation. Obama also pledges to “begin” American troop withdrawals from Afghanistan by summer 2011, in contrast to those who demand we remain until an undefined victory. Obama told West Point cadets that “our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended, because the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.”

OK, great. The President is obviously not interested in any kind of endless war against the world. So, why do we put this on the table, even if it is our intention to defeat it? Hayden already knows this is a bad idea. He wrote about a similar situation a few weeks back, under the ominous headline “Congress Votes for Afghan War:”

A plain reading of yesterday’s vote on the Kucinich war powers resolution is that an overwhelming majority of the House has authorized the Afghanistan war, including a majority of Democrats. The war now has greater legitimacy. The vote was 356-65-9.

(If Rep. John Conyers had been present, the dissenting bloc would have been 66, including just five Republicans. Few members took the option of abstaining.)

Strong Kucinich supporters will feel vindicated that their hero took a lonely stand and forced the House to a moment of choice. Critics will note that a dubious war has been legitimized, and that it will be more complicated for those who voted “aye” to reverse course in the months ahead.

The outcome will make the anti-war forces appear weaker for now than they are, and appearances do matter.

As I said then, “exactly.” Even though the anti-war folks forced the public debate, they lost, and the President’s escalation plan was essentially vetted by the House. And as for the press, you’ll remember the awesome “media scrutiny” we got from CNN’s Senior Political Correspondent, who boiled it down to Democrats trying to make a sex scandal go away:

Now we want to know what she has to say about the Long War? No thanks.

But there are plenty of things we could be pushing in the media. Instead of obscure, discredited ideas like the Long War, we could ask for congressional hearings on, say, NATO trying to silence a journalist over the murder of innocent civilians:

Over the past few months, Starkey exposed two incidents where NATO initially claimed to have engaged and killed insurgents, when they’d in fact killed civilians, including school children and pregnant women. In both cases, when confronted with eye-witness accounts obtained by Starkey that clearly rebutted NATO’s initial claims, NATO resisted publicly recanting.

In the first case, NATO officials told him they no longer believed that the raid would have been justified if they’d known what they now know, but no official would consent to direct attribution for this admission.

In the second case, NATO’s initially made sensational claims that they’d discovered during the raid the bodies of pregnant women that had been bound, gagged and executed. Starkey’s reporting forcefully rebutted this claim. Instead of simply retracting their story, NATO went so far as to attempt to damage Starkey’s credibility by telling other Kabul-based journalists that they had proof he’d misquoted ISAF spokesman Rear Adm. Greg Smith. When Starkey demanded a copy of the recording, NATO initially ignored him and eventually admitted that no recording existed. NATO only admitted their story was false in a retraction buried several paragraphs deep in a press release that led with an attack on Starkey’s credibility.

Where is the media scrutiny on that? Or the fact that American troop casualties in Afghanistan are skyrocketing:

KABUL — The number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan has roughly doubled in the first three months of 2010 compared to the same period last year as Washington has added tens of thousands of additional soldiers to reverse the Taliban’s momentum.

Those deaths have been accompanied by a dramatic spike in the number of wounded, with injuries more than tripling in the first two months of the year and trending in the same direction based on the latest available data for March.

U.S. officials have warned that casualties are likely to rise even further as the Pentagon completes its deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and sets its sights on the Taliban’s home base of Kandahar province, where a major operation is expected in the coming months.

I’d like to hear what congress has to say about that. Or our military commander possibly admitting to war crimes in the New York Times:

“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.

Even McChrystal is amazed at the amount of people we’ve massacred for no reason at all, that’s something that could use a whole lot more media scrutiny.

Hayden is right in his piece, it is time that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia) get media scrutiny and serious congressional hearings. But we should be very explicit in what we’re asking for. We don’t need to resurrect old neoconservative mythology to beat up on, there are real events happening in Afghanistan right now to talk about.

And achieving a focused, relevant anti-war debate is made even more urgent when we look at what kind of propaganda the warmakers themselves are working with. We can see it in this leaked CIA memo [PDF]:

Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanizing the ISAF role in combating the Taliban because of women’s ability to speak personally and credibly about their experiences under the Taliban, their aspirations for the future, and their fears of a Taliban victory. Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive skepticism among women in Western Europe toward the ISAF mission.

They’re talking about using vulnerable, downtrodden Afghan women in order to sell us the war. To sell us killing an “amazing” number of innocent people, to sell us covering up the murder of pregnant women, to sell us the soaring number of dead American troops. And that’s just one of the deviant propaganda campaigns suggested in that document, there are plenty more.

If that’s the kind of sick stuff the proponents of war are up to, we’ve got to be meet them in the public arena with cold, hard facts. Real events, verifiable data. We don’t need to waste time legitimizing crazy ideas like the Long War doctrine, we need to have congressional hearings and media scrutiny on the actual events on the ground.

And we can do that. Contact your representative, put pressure on them however you like to get hearings on Afghanistan. Then head over to Rethink Afghanistan and join the thousands of other people working to end the war, Long or otherwise.

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.

Oxdown Diaries

Oxdown Diaries