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The Drawdown That Wasn’t

Posted on Jul 2, 2011
Flickr / loop_oh

Tom Engelhardt, a fellow at The Nation Institute and creator and editor of, takes a close accounting of President Obama’s Afghanistan speech delivered in late June, in which Americans were told that this year the U.S. would begin winding down its war in that country.

Engelhardt isn’t buying it. In the searing, sarcastic tone that has become his trademark, he shows that the troop drawdown Obama proposed is, at best, a return to Bush-era troop levels. “Tens of thousands of U.S. forces would still be in Afghanistan” with huge numbers of them relabeled to suit the administration’s rhetoric of progress, and the $1.2-trillion-per-year defense bill may get only slightly smaller. —ARK


If what we know of U.S. plans in Afghanistan plays out, however, December 31, 2014, will be the date for the departure of the last of the full Obama surge of 64,000 troops. In other words, almost five years after Obama entered office, more than 13 years after the Bush administration launched its invasion, we could find ourselves back to or just below something close to Bush-era troop levels. Tens of thousands of U.S. forces would still be in Afghanistan, some of them “combat troops” officially relabeled (as in Iraq) for less warlike activity. All would be part of an American “support” mission that would include huge numbers of “trainers” for the Afghan security forces and also U.S. special forces operatives and CIA types engaged in “counterterror” activities in the country and region.

The U.S. general in charge of training the Afghan military recently suggested that his mission wouldn’t be done until 2017 (and no one who knows anything about the country believes that an effective Afghan Army will be in place then either). In addition, although the president didn’t directly mention this in his speech, the Obama administration has been involved in quiet talks with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to nail down a “strategic partnership” agreement that would allow American troops, spies, and air power to hunker down as “tenants” on some of the giant bases we’ve built. There they would evidently remain for years, if not decades (as some reports have it).

In other words, on December 31, 2014, if all goes as planned, the U.S. will be girding for years more of wildly expensive war, even if in a slimmed down form.  This is the reality, as American planners imagine it, behind the president’s speech.

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By John Poole, July 24, 2011 at 5:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Don’t expect progressive action from a president who says he has accepted Jesus
as his savior.
Had Obama been born in the 18th dynasty of ancient Egypt he’d be championing
Isis and Osiris but still he holds to a preposterous medieval concept of sin,
redemption and salvation which perhaps is one very toxic meme in my opinion.

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By jr., July 5, 2011 at 9:23 am Link to this comment

I didn’t leave a comment relating to the afghanistan was because everybody is talk, talk, talk, and no action; bitch and argue, argue and bitch; and all the while this endless chattering, the illegal american invasions continue.

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mackTN's avatar

By mackTN, July 2, 2011 at 6:41 pm Link to this comment

@ louiss123

“There will come a point when folks on the left-yes even Robert Sheer-will
have to
consider Ron Paul.”

Gosh, there are many issues with which I disagree with RP, but I tend to think he
would would actually do better than the Republocrats.  I’ll have to listen to him
more carefully. 

If Ralph Nader were running (and younger), I believe this time the left would
flock to him.

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By the worm, July 2, 2011 at 3:11 pm Link to this comment

So, Obama is misleading us on Afghanistan? How about on “Change You Can
Believe In”?

1. The Debt and Fair Taxes: Washington Post-ABC poll Washington Post-ABC
poll, Spring 2011: 72 percent supported raising taxes on the rich including 68
percent of Independents and 54 percent of Republicans. Obama twice
‘bargained’ to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Obama never stepped
forward to lead on this issue - even with 72% of Americans supporting it. In
fact, he ‘negotiated’ the continuation of Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, not
once, but twice – first with McConnell and then again with Boenher.

2. TARP & Financial Bailout: Over 70% of us opposed the bailout. Obama
accelerated it with Geithner and Bernanke - both Bush carryovers embraced by
Obama.  Geithner is soon to receive his ‘bailout’ from the financial sector (as he
soon ‘retires’ from the Obama administration). Obama will have to wait until
he’s defeated in 2012, either in the Democratic primary or in the general

3. Health Care: 72% of us supported “a government­administered insurance plan
- something like Medicare for those under 65—that would compete for
customers with private insurers.” Supporting Max Baucus, Obama blocked
hearings on single payer and chocked off true health care reform. Instead he
supported a private-sector, for-profit health insurance ‘reform’ that provided
insurance companies fabulous guaranteed profits (that’s why you heard no
opposition from them) – profits in the form of hundreds of millions of new
‘mandated customers’ (fined, if they don’t ‘buy in’). For those who cant afford
the exorbitant private sector for-profit rates, taxpayer money will pay the
difference directly to the insurance companies. The private for-profit insurance
companies? Oh, they are guaranteed by law an ‘overhead’ of 20%. This Obama
did with Democratic majorities in both Houses majority, Senate majority and as
a nominally Democratic President, effectively flushing away six-plus decades of
Democratic public policy.

4. Afghanistan: 64% of us opposed expanding the war in Afghanistan and
wanted to disentangle from Bush-era ‘War on Terror’ and ‘preventive war’
policies. Today, still over 60% of Americans oppose the war. Obama continues
it. More troops will be in Afghanistan when Obama leaves office than when he
‘began the draw down’. For the War Department, more money will be squirreled
away in Defense than when he took office – just this year, a six percent increase
was injected to ‘absorb’ the 3% ‘cut’ they may get (to ‘fight the deficit’).
All of this was done with a nominal majority of pretend Democrats in both the
House and the Senate. Absurd to keep voting for the Democrats, only to
become complicit ourselves in our own demise.

Obama has rejected the majority of American voters on the major issues over
and over and over again.

Even if we had a ‘good economy’, Obama would not get the support he needs
for re-election. Youth, hispanics, independents have been shoved in the face.
Obama has lost the confidence that he would bring ‘Change You Can Believe In’.
Obama has simply been a zero. A non-leader for the middle class or a shill for
the wealthy and Wall Street.

Enough said. Obama is not a Democrat and should not be the Democratic
nominee in 2012.

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By louiss123, July 2, 2011 at 1:37 pm Link to this comment

yeah..and you know what would put an end to all this bullshit? For people on the
left to vote for a pro-peace candidate. However he may not be democrat,,and he
may not be in line with you on social programs(which we can’t afford anymore
There will come a point when folks on the left-yes even Robert Sheer-will have to
consider Ron Paul. Like RP says,,as far as social changes they cannot happen over
night. He does have power as commander in chief though.
No one would impress peace lovers as a Ron Paul presidency.

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By Sofianitz, July 2, 2011 at 1:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Tom Engelhardt is a very well-reasoned, moderate and cautious commentator on political affairs.  I am not. 

We have to get rid of this disaster known as Barack Obama in 2012.
The man’s performance in leading the country is, in a word, pitiful.  Those of us who are progressives, and supported him (believing his “lies”) must do everything we can to defeat Obama in 2012.  For those of you not much concerned with politics, I send my appeal: THIS IS CRUCIAL
No one knows what this feckless idiot will do next. He has destroyed the domestic economy, and is wasting the work and lives of 20%% (at least) of Americans who cannot get a job - can you imagine?  A job is often a pretty unpleasant thing - you have to work in order to provide for yourself and for your family - YOU CAN’T HAVE ONE! - appalling!  Everyone should, by law, have a choice of at least three jobs.

But the foreign policy implications of letting this poor man, who has never even had a clue of what it means to direct the future of our nation in an uncertain and dangerous world, are even more perilous.  He is totally helpless, alone, isolated, enthralled by the War Hawks - Clinton and Petreaus, etc, who also don’t even have a clue, and are looking forward to the soft-shell crabs for lunch.  They are captives of the military-industrial complex. They are zombies.  They are not aware that they are zombies..

So this man Obama is weak, weak, weak.  Not a chance that he can successfully continue to lead the country.  We made a great mistake in electing him to office in 2008.  Let us not repeat this mistake in 2012, for the future of our country is at stake. Forget about ideology.  We have to put this poor incompetent guy out of his misery.  I supported what this poor man, Barack Obama (apparently, if we can believe anything) tried to do.  But we have to get him out of the Office of President of the United States. Defeat Obama in 2012, if you love our country and have hope for a progressive future, as I do.  Defeat Obama in 2012.

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By mackTN, July 2, 2011 at 12:37 pm Link to this comment

Wow. Defense contractors will make beaucoup money.  And isnt that what it’s all

Most people caught the rhetorical masks in Obama’s speech…as well as the lack of
explicit information.  His base voted for him because he presented himself as
opposed to military solutions by trumpeting his opposition to Iraq War.  Now we
are in more wars than when Bush was in office, many of them covert and

Of course we can afford this if we agree to give up medicare and social security.
I’m not happy at all.

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By Gulam, July 2, 2011 at 11:40 am Link to this comment

No military leaders who really intended to solve problems
politically in a conservative Muslim nation would not start
building whore houses and bars in the middle of the
capital city as soon as they arrived. They would not be
forcing the first legislature to have a higher percentage
of women than most legislatures in the West. They would not invade private
homes in the middle of the night as standard operating procedure. However,
winning has never been any concern whatever. The contracts get paid on and on
only when the war drags on and on. These people were chosen because they alone
still had the will to resist American domination openly.

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By TDoff, July 2, 2011 at 10:26 am Link to this comment

Continuing in the spirit of ending the Afghanistan War, our government plans to declare a victory, rename our little contretemps the ‘Afghanistan Peace’, and reclassify our troops as ‘Peacemakers’, in 2014. After a few years, the US will rename Afghanistan ‘The Peaceful Nation’, and keep only enough Peacemakers there to justify spending the $1B/day allocated in the US Foreign Aid budget, as administered by Chelsea Clinton, for The Peaceful Nation. And, of course, keeping our rainbow-colored Pretty Birds (renamed Predators) equipped with Heavenly Sparklers (renamed Hellfire Missiles) flying 24/7/365 will require some supplemental allocations, but those costs can probably be hidden in the budgets that support the 10K or so Ambassadors and ‘Secret’ Agents assigned to the new biggest US Embassy in the world, located just outside Nirvana, the new capitol of The Peaceful Nation, on the site of the obliterated Kabul.

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By jr., July 2, 2011 at 10:22 am Link to this comment

Oops!  Should be:

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By jr., July 2, 2011 at 10:15 am Link to this comment

Onething more to think on:

who knew?

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By jr., July 2, 2011 at 10:04 am Link to this comment

I’d like to take this time to thank those that gave their lives on 9/11;  without their participation most americans would still be in the dark about their governments involvement with terrorism.

And thanks be to the unfortunate rise of such companies as blackwater usa, xe, haliburton, and those others whose names have been deemed classified to protect their covers, this wonderful american government, now, no longer is having to hire-out it’s terrorist actions to outsiders. Isn’t life special?? I’ve heard all the excuses made, even, that nonsense notion of it’s being a “cold war” effort; but as far as little-ole-me is concerned, their actions were illegal, not valid reasons, and therefore was cloaked in secrecy for so many decades.  Huh!!! 

Thank you osama bin laden for revealing america’s dark side.  Everybody knew he was a terrorist;  that was how america came to enlist/hire his services in the first place.  But about america’s invovlement, who knew besides, of course, those involved?

And on this 4th of july, remember, that freedom to the american government means freedom to do as they damn well please; as long as it can be explained away as within the interest of national security, blah, blah, blah.

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