Afghanistan

Down to the wire: what will the July withdrawal look like?

A box of toy soldiers with personal messages ready to be mailed to Congress.

Within the next few weeks President Obama will have to make a decision about how significant the July withdrawal from Afghanistan will be. If he bends to the Pentagon’s will, he risks alienating millions of people who believed this would be a step toward ending the war, and could hurt his reelection prospects in 2012.

After hearing many discouraging leaks from Pentagon sources, there is finally some indication that the administration is considering a sizable withdrawal, though the details remain elusive:

President Obama’s national security team is contemplating troop reductions in Afghanistan that would be steeper than those discussed even a few weeks ago, with some officials arguing that such a change is justified by the rising cost of the war and the death of Osama bin Laden, which they called new “strategic considerations.”

These new considerations, along with a desire to find new ways to press the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, to get more of his forces to take the lead, are combining to create a counterweight to an approach favored by the departing secretary of defense, Robert M. Gates, and top military commanders in the field. They want gradual cuts that would keep American forces at a much higher combat strength well into next year, senior administration officials said.

Unfortunately, we know that those who are clinging to a failed military strategy are not going to go away quietly. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is dedicating his last month in the administration to a campaign advocating a slow withdrawal:

As his final act before leaving the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is working to build support for what he is calling a “modest” drawdown in Afghanistan, even though a war-weary Capitol Hill wants more.

Gates, who retires June 30, is hoping that his 12th and final trip to Afghanistan will help steer the Washington debate subtly away from the number of troops that will come home next month — a figure that is almost certain to disappoint the growing number of Washington critics of the war.

The hard work of Peace Action West supporters and other groups has had an impact. We have been hitting Congress hard with grassroots, media and lobbying pressure, and we saw the results in the strong House vote to require a plan to accelerate withdrawal from Afghanistan. The pressure was made even more significant by the fact that the Democratic leadership spoke out in favor of the amendment. Now we’re seeing even more unusual suspects speaking strongly for a quicker withdrawal, including defense-minded Appropriations Committee ranking member Norm Dicks.

These last few weeks will be crucial in keeping the pressure on. Please join us in our final push on Congress by sending a soldier to DC with your personal message about why you want to end the war in Afghanistan.