Dear President Obama,
Your recent decision to extend indefinitely the longest war in American history was made without the consent of the American people and against the will of millions of Afghans. For hope of stability and security, violence on all sides must cease. The occupation, arms sales, and missile and drone strikes must come to an immediate end. I join the millions of voices that cry “#Enough!” Afghanistan, indeed the whole world, is long overdue for peace.
Your announcement that nearly 10,000 troops will remain in Afghanistan until 2017, when they will be reduced by about half but still not fully withdrawn (should this timetable be honored) has come at a time when the horrors of war have been laid bare for the world to see. The recently leaked “Drone Papers,” published by The Intercept, document the deadly consequences of an intelligence process that is not only deeply flawed, but based on a dehumanizing premise which belies any concern for the Afghan people.
Principled journalists have long published atrocities regularly committed by our military. These atrocities are rightly called acts of terrorism and war crimes when committed by others. The practice of “signature strikes”, assigning death sentences from afar to people whose identities are unknown based on patterns of their behavior, assumes that life and death judgments can be made without knowing a name or having a conversation. It puts the lives of Afghan citizens into the hands of a military that has been trained to dehumanize them (as killing without knowing someone’s identity is the very epitome of dehumanization). But our military goes beyond killing those whose behavior may reasonably be deemed suspicious, and targets people caught in the act of helping their fellow human beings. We kill rescuers. We attack mourners at funerals. And in one of the most callous, dishonest policies imaginable, we have effectively demonized the entire male population of countries we purport to be helping by preemptively labeling all military-aged males killed in attacks “enemy combatants.”
So the drone papers did not particularly shock me, as they simply provide evidence to confirm what has already been publically asserted. But now I can cite specific examples to argue why our military presence in Afghanistan is counterproductive to the longterm security of the region, as well as why we are making more enemies with every missile fired. When programs such as “Operation Haymaker,” kill 155 individuals but only 19 targets, and civilians are renamed “Enemies Killed In Action” so as not to damper the military’s assessment of success, how can we maintain any pretense of moral differentiation between ourselves and those who wish us harm? When targeting cell phones, rather than people, often results in the wrong people being killed, the continued use of such reckless tactics is criminal. But most intolerable of all is the sanitizing and mythologizing of this new age of warfare as “targeted” and “precise,” obscuring the reality of civilian casualties, a terrorized populace, and a nation fractured and destabilized by generations of violence and vengeance with no end in sight.
Whereas charts and coded language reduce human beings to “objectives” and “jackpots,” there is a reality in Afghanistan of children orphaned, families internally displaced, overwhelming poverty, dwindling resources, and death raining down from the sky on a daily basis, further eroding the security and the hope of people who, like everyone else in the world, are in desperate need of compassion. Despite the fear, cruelty, and loss that turn some to violence, there are millions who simply long for peace, and in spite of everything hold on to the hope that love will triumph over violence. Among them are the Afghan Peace Volunteers like Zarghuna and Ali, young people with hopes and dreams and stories that you must hear, Mr. President. They are crying out for this war to end.
Their future cannot be ensured with guns and missiles, Mr. President. When we kill civilians with impunity by slapping the label of “enemy” upon them, we make a wary population ever more fearful and distrustful, and we cannot be surprised when new enemies arise. If after 14 years of war the security of Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, and all gains are “fragile” and “reversible,” then we must learn the painfully obvious truth: security cannot be coerced by force. It must be built upon trust that comes through peacemaking.
The first step is to consent to an independent investigation of the U.S. airstrike on the hospital in Kunduz. Hospitals like this, committed to neutrality, until recently had nothing to fear from their patients or the people of Afghanistan because they provided necessary, cost-free services people needed. These were the kinds of places that established trust and fostered good will among the people. When those missiles rained down upon them for an hour, terrorizing and maiming and killing, they destroyed more than walls and bodies and the only hospital in a region of 300,000 people. They destroyed hope, and sent a message that there is nowhere safe. Terror and cruelty create enemies, Mr. President, but courageous honesty could be the first building block of friendship.
From there we must safely and efficiently withdraw our troops, and provide them with the care they need upon return. An international coalition of peacemakers should relay the needs of the Afghan people to our government, so that we can hear from them how best to make reparations. We should cease all weapons dealing in the region. And we should commit ourselves to clean, renewable energy and cease our ambitions to use Afghanistan for an oil and gas pipeline to manipulate the resources of Central Asia. Along with profitability to the powerbrokers in the defense industry, the desire to use Afghanistan to acquire resources for the United States is the true reason we maintain our destabilizing and deadly presence. It is not in the interest of the Afghan people. And it creates terrorized, vengeance-seeking people, which is not in the interest of the safety of the United States. But it is in our mutual interest to cease all violence and give peace a chance.
I understand that turning around from waging war to building peace takes enormous political as well as moral courage. Along with the dehumanizing language that makes killing possible, the mythology glorifying war in our nation is relentless. The desire to serve and protect drives many soldiers, and that same desire drives many of them to tell the truth about the barbarity of war in organizations like Veterans for Peace. To take action not just to draw down a war, but to eliminate war from our policy altogether, is difficult in a nation that praises the sacrifice but remains willfully blind to the brutal counterproductivity of war. Fortunately, Mr. President, courageous whistleblowers are making it more politically expedient for you to draw down war by exposing it in all of its gruesome cruelty. And I will never cease to pray and work for the day when the hearts and minds and courage of those who truly wish to serve and protect find ways to do so through peacemaking and reconciliation rather than violence. I stand with millions crying out for peace. Please stand with us, Mr. President, and make it happen.
Editor In Chief of the Raven Foundation