Labor's Voice for Change (32) May 5, 2009

Should Our Unions Have Anything to Say or Propose
About the State of the War in Iraq and Afghanistan?

By Harry Kelber

Since George Bush made his famous “Mission Accomplished” victory speech six years ago about the war in Iraq, it has been an undeclared policy for labor leaders to stick to domestic issues and leave statements about the progress of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan to the military. This is exactly how we got into the war — by trusting President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Pentagon’s Donald Rumsfeld.

There are a growing number of men and women in the labor movement, who are now convinced it was wrong to give President Bush a blank check to pursue a failed war in Iraq, that never should have been started. Older activists remember that it was the anti-war movement, not Henry Kissinger, that brought the long Vietnam War to an end. And they are not going to be badgered into silence by smooth-talking politicians.

The American people are paying a heavy price in lives and treasure for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We certainly have a right to ask what value are we getting for our money? We want to be kept informed, not misled. We want to hear from the troops as well as from the generals We want to be listened to with respect when we express our opinions about the wars.

What about President Obama’ Strategy in Afghanistan?

President Obama is a highly popular leader and has taken some admirable initiatives in health care, energy and education. But that doesn’t mean that his decisions are beyond questioning. He says a main reason for the war in Afghanistan is to defeat al-Qaeda. He has sent 24,000 troops to join NATO in fighting the Taliban.

Defeating al-Qaeda in Afghanistan may take many years, say experts, and victory is by no means assured. The British failed to conquer the country, and the Russians, too, gave up. Moreover, there are difficult obstacles that must be overcome in Afghanistan, in addition to defeating a well-trained Taliban: the mountainous terrain, an unfamiliar language and culture, widespread corruption and the drug income from the poppy crop.

Al-Qaeda is a worldwide Islamic movement, with active supporters in many countries. If, after years id fighting, we should defeat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, do we wage war against its followers in Somalia, Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries where they live and conspire against us?

Before we commit American lives and resources more deeply into Afghanistan, we have to know a lot more about President Obama’s “battle plan.” Will the war in Afghanistan be fought largely by American troops, as the war in Iraq was? How long does he think the war will last? Is there an exit strategy? What about Pakistan? When and why will President Obama be able to proclaim “Mission Accomplished” in Afghanistan?

Unless we are vigilant and speak our minds about the war in Afghanistan, we may find ourselves struggling in a similar quagmire that brought us into Iraq.

Article 33 of “Labor’s Voice for Change” will be posted on May 7, 2009.