Come Home, America: Escalation is not Withdrawal

By Kevin Zeese

If I ever get cancer, I want Barack Obama to tell me I’m dying. He could probably convince someone like me who does not believe in the supernatural that death is life. 

He certainly did his best on Tuesday night to convince the American public that war means peace, and escalation means withdrawal.

President Obama is not President Bush. He is a much more effective and eloquent advocate for American militarism who makes his case in ways that will challenge people who oppose war. He does not seek to merely energize his base, as President Bush did, but more to nullify and confuse it, something he is not only doing on war but on health care, banking, climate change …seemingly every issue he touches. 

In his new Afghanistan war plan he tried to give everyone something. He gave General McChrystal and the war hawks what they want – tens of thousands of more troops. He gave the majority of Americans who oppose the war what they want – a promise, however vague, to begin withdrawal in 18 months. He told Pakistan that the U.S. will be there for them and escalated the war in Pakistan without clearly saying so. He gave the corrupt President Karzai the protection he needs to stay in office. Everybody’s happy, right?

Well, not exactly. In fact, promising all things to all people seems likely to make no one happy. But, it may confuse people enough so that Obama gets the war funding he needs to escalate the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

From the perspective of a peace voter, I can say, I’m not happy. It makes no sense to send more troops to Afghanistan. U.S. intelligence estimates that there are 100 al Qaeda left in Afghanistan. Do we need 100,000 troops to defeat them? Obama is concerned about the momentum of the Taliban. Aren’t more air strikes, killings of civilians and a larger presence of U.S. forces going to be a recruiting tool for the Taliban? And, with more than 10% unemployment, nearly 20% underemployment, record foreclosures, rising bankruptcies and record debt – how does it make economic sense to borrow more money to pay the $1 million per troop cost of escalation? Wouldn’t it be better to come home, America? 

As to the promise to begin withdrawing troops in 18 months, this was the only thing different from what President Bush would have done in Afghanistan. It is consistent with Obama’s style of trying to give all sides something and he coupled it with the escalation:

“And, as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”

No doubt the unpopularity of the Afghanistan War and people persistently pushing Congress to end the war made Obama include the withdrawal plan. But, he did not provide any details and only discussed beginning the withdrawal not completing the withdrawal. And, he made it clear that things could change depending on the situation saying “we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.” Does that mean if the escalation is failing that the troops will stay?  Or, does that mean if the escalation is succeeding the troops will stay?

Obama has raised a challenge to the peace movement to continue to push to have the war end and troops return home. The peace movement is showing signs of stepping up after being confused by a media that labeled Obama the peace candidate. Cindy Sheehan is leading an effort in Washington, DC, Peace of the Action (see, that promises “an historic escalation of Peace Activism like we have not seen in the United States for a very long time.” Another new coalition, End US Wars ( is bringing together anti-war activists for an emergency rally against the escalation on December 12th. Plans are being made for mass anti-war rallies in Washington, DC on the anniversary of the Iraq invasion on Saturday, March 20th.

People who oppose the war need to remember that under the Constitution it is the Congress that declares war and funds war. So, Obama is not the last word. And, in Congress it is our job to make sure they hear our voices.

Peace advocates need to support efforts in Congress for an exit strategy from Afghanistan (Rep. Jim McGovern’s resolution favoring an exit strategy H.R. 2402 which is 100 co-sponsors deserves support) and efforts to stop funding of the escalation (Rep. Barbara Lee’s bill to prevent funding, HR 3699, has 23 co-sponsors). Rep. Obey, the Chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, is talking about a war tax to pay for the war, but the White House and Democratic leadership does not seem interested. The peace community needs to point out the U.S. cannot afford more war. Anti-war advocates are counting heads in Congress, see and — join the effort. 

We cannot let Obama’s vague 18 month withdrawal confuse us. War does not equal peace and escalation does not equal withdrawal. Americans no better than to believe that. The anti-war movement needs to unify and speak against the wars so that the majority of Americans who oppose them recognize they can make a difference. 

-Kevin Zeese is executive executive director of Voters for Peace (www.VotersForPeace.US). He contributed this article to

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