By Bill Boyarsky
The Afghanistan war, along with Iraq, has become a chronic illness that America has learned to ignore.
News of the sick economy, natural and human-made disasters and momentary sensations like the Tiger Woods sex scandal flashes across cable news screens and the Internet, leaving hardly any space for the war. Financially strapped news organizations employ few of the talented war correspondents who could bring the conflicts to the public’s attention, as an earlier generation of journalists did with Vietnam. At home, the anti-war movement is barely covered. In late March, neither Afghanistan nor Iraq made the top 10 stories on cable, network television or online news, and they finished in seventh place among newspapers.
As a result, peace candidates such as Southern California’s Marcy Winograd find it difficult to break through the news media clutter to reach the public. And the nation is denied a debate on an Afghanistan war that has lasted eight years.
Winograd is a Democratic anti-war insurgent challenging Rep. Jane Harman, who supports President Obama’s war policy and voted for the resolution authorizing the Iraq war. They are competing in a district that has long reflected middle-class views. It reaches from Los Angeles suburbs through beach cities and inland cities. Harman represented the district from 1993 to 1998, when she ran for governor and lost, and was elected to the seat again in 2000. Her personal wealth and campaign contributions make it a tough race for a challenger like Winograd.
Winograd ran against Harman in 2006 and lost by a big margin. She says she lost badly because she entered the race too late. This time, she started early. There’s much that separates them in politics, policies and personality. Most important, if Winograd were to upset Harmon or even come close, it would be a sure sign of Democratic discontent with the president’s stand on Afghanistan.
Winograd told me she would have voted for Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s resolution forcing Obama to withdraw troops within 30 days of passage of the Kucinich measure.
“We should start bringing our troops home and ending the air war,” she said. She added that she would have conditioned her vote on a provision that the nation also “invest resources in … bringing peace and prosperity” to Afghanistan. “We have a commitment to invest in the country and not to simply say we are done, period,” she said.
Harman, chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, voted against the resolution, although she had previously opposed Obama’s decision to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan. “Like Mr. Kucinich, I want the United States out of Afghanistan at the earliest reasonable date,” she said during the debate on his resolution. “But accelerating the Obama administration’s carefully calibrated timetable could take grievous risks with our national security.”
The Kucinich resolution provided a rare debate on the war. It was defeated 356 to 65 on March 11, as expected. But, as Julian E. Barnes observed in his story in The Los Angeles Times, “antiwar lawmakers welcomed the debate as a chance to express pent-up frustration with the continued buildup in Afghanistan, and to express their view that the original mission of U.S. forces, defeating Al Qaeda, had been lost.”
We Americans are ready for such a debate. And there is plenty of discontent around the country. A Quinnipiac University poll in April showed only 49 percent of those surveyed approved of Obama’s handling of the war, while 39 percent disapproved. A CNN/Opinion Research survey found that 48 percent favored the war and 49 percent opposed it.
“Our country is deeply polarized,” Winograd said in an interview with the Tehran Times. “I wish our president had immediately used his victory, his political capital, to fight for transformative change, a transition from a permanent war economy to a new green economy,” she told the Iranian newspaper. “In the end, one man can’t make change all by himself; there needs to be a movement on the streets.”
Winograd also disagrees with the administration and the Jewish establishment on Israel. She told the Tehran Times, “I am a non-Zionist Jew who believes in equality and dignity for all in the Middle East. I hope my candidacy and convictions will give courage and strength to others who dare to question.”
In my interview with her, she said, “I’m not a Zionist. I am a realist, though. I support two states, [or] one state, whatever incarnation will put an end to the misery and suffering on both sides.”
We need a public debate on these issues, and Winograd is forcing one, at least in her corner of California. Scattered peace candidates are doing the same in other parts of the country.
Search them out. Give them a hand—or a few dollars. Bug the news media for attention. Guilt-trip the media bosses. Nag the reporters. It has worked for the tea party. Why not try it for a good cause? Otherwise, the United States will continue to be mired in this fruitless war.
Flickr / U.S. Army
Sgt. 1st Class Phillip Wire stands atop Ghar Mountain at Kabul Military Training Center in Afghanistan in February 2008.