America, Afghanistan, and the Facebook revolutions
ASK THIS | February 22, 2011
As the rebellions that began in Tunisia and Egypt keep spreading and the vast power of mobilized public opinion becomes more and more apparent, it seems only a matter of time before anti-war dissenters (the majority of Americans) get in on the act and move to end U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan.
By Barry Sussman
So could there be a Facebook revolution in the U.S.? One aimed at bringing American troops home from Afghanistan? With what has happened elsewhere in recent weeks, that seems not only possible, but likely.
A CBS poll this month showed almost six in ten Americans opposed to the war in Afghanistan, taking the position that the U.S. shouldn’t be involved there, as opposed to the view that we are “doing the right thing by fighting the war in Afghanistan now.” The same poll and others show large majorities saying the war is going badly. And in a Gallup poll in January, three of every four people interviewed said Congress should “speed up the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan” this year. Those levels are so high that they have to cut across political party, ideology, gender, and region of the country to a large extent. In other words, antiwar sentiment is one of the very few unifying forces in America; aside from agreement on the need for jobs it’s hard to even think of any others.
The war is almost ten years old. The U.S. has been supporting corruption on a massive level at an unforgivable cost in life, limb, and money. President Obama has pledged to start a withdrawal in July. Military leaders say that schedule holds – but many feel it will be a pullout in name only, with Obama committed to maintaining American presence until 2014, and the generals looking at a longer stay. Bringing some troops home starting in July might not even slow the war down.
Winning seems out of the question. No political leader or general can even offer a glimpse at what winning would look like. For many Americans, the nearest thing to winning would be bringing the troops home sooner rather than later.
It was public opinion, press coverage, and the military draft that ended the Vietnam war. Anti-war sentiment is extremely high today, and the press, while not on an end-the-war crusade, nevertheless provides frequent painful reports that put the war and the Afghan leaders in a terrible light. What’s missing is the draft. Had there been conscription, this war would have ended years ago with the political leadership pushed against the wall. Protests this time have been smaller, and few and far between.
That could change as suddenly in America as it has in the Middle East. Warmups have started in Wisconsin and Ohio, with tens of thousands protesting union busting moves by newly elected Republican governors. It’s a bit of a leap from local or regional rallies over labor disputes to national campaigns against the war, but not much of one when compared to what has happened in the Arab world.
Only months ago who could have imagined enormous citizen rebellions in so many despot-ruled countries? They were made possible in part by unified public opinion, hope, and a younger generation’s use of Facebook and Twitter – American tools – to set up rallies and demonstrations. Plenty of Americans of all ages will take to the streets against the war in Afghanistan if they feel it could make a difference. It’s only a question of when that will happen. One would think the day is not far off, given the revolts that began in Tunisia and Egypt and that continue to spread, and the rehearsals at home in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere.
In the meantime, here are three questions the press should be asking American leaders:
Q. Suppose the U.S. had never sent troops to Afghanistan in the first place. With the situation as it is now, would you support sending 100,000 or more American troops to keep al Qaeda out of Afghanistan? If no, then why should we keep troops there now?
Q. Citizens in notoriously repressed Arab nations are rebelling against corrupt leaders. They are doing this on their own. With that in mind, why shouldn’t the U.S. get out of the way in Afghanistan and leave it to the people there to handle their own affairs?
Q. Al Qaeda is playing no role – none – that can be seen in the Muslim/Arab revolutions. Even in Yemen, with its al Qaeda presence, what protesters seek are democracy and representation. "If we change the system, if we have a real government, I am sure we won't have al-Qaeda or terrorism anymore," said a Yemeni opposition leader as quoted in the Washington Post. Is a new view of the al Qaeda threat in order?
Barry Sussman is the editor of the Nieman Watchdog Project. He is the author of The Great Cover-Up: Nixon and the Scandal of Watergate, now in its fourth edition.
02/23/2011, 01:02 PM
Q1: Yes, next question please.
Q2: Citizens in notoriously repressed Persian nation did very much the same some 30 years ago. How did that turn out? Last time it was left to the “people”, one of the most repressive and dangerous regimes came to power. As the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Tiananmen square uprising in 1989, or the 1992 Shi'ite uprising in Iraq showed us, when the state shows no restraint in their use of force the people become unable to effectively challenge their oppression.
Q3: The assurance of one Yemeni opposition leader cannot be taken as a guarantee of things to come. Expect the best but plan for the worst.
02/27/2011, 10:34 AM
The polls had little, if any, effect on the anti-war efforts relative to Vietnam. It was the draft that convinced us to stop that insanity. We all knew someone who was directly effected by the war. Who do we know similarly effected today?
The volunteer army is made up of people who want to do this job. The draft is not.
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