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2008-08-27

In Wake of Deadly US Air Strike, Jeremy Scahill Questions Lawmakers About Obama’s Afghanistan Policy

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A UN probe in Afghanistan has backed claims of a massive civilian death toll from a US air strike last Thursday. The UN mission in Kabul says investigators found some ninety civilians, including sixty children, were killed in the attack. Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill goes inside the Democratic National Convention to ask lawmakers about Barack Obama’s foreign policy plan to deploy an additional 7,000-9,000 more troops to Afghanistan. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

    SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Before we can keep going, we’ve got to get going, by electing Barack Obama the next president of the United States.

JEREMY SCAHILL:

The mood inside the Pepsi Center on night two of the Democratic National Convention was jubilant. Hillary Clinton brought people to thunderous applause as she called for a unified party to defeat John McCain.

But while the Democrats celebrated, a half a world away grief and sorrow continue to plague a village in western Afghanistan that was victim to a stunningly lethal air strike by US forces last Thursday. This week, a United Nations team released the findings of its on-the-ground investigation. And what they found was horrifying.

Some ninety Afghan civilians were killed. Among the dead, as many as sixty children between the ages of three months and sixteen years. It’s believed to be the single deadliest US strike against Afghan civilians since the US first attacked the country in 2001.

Here in Denver, the horror of this story could not be further from the hallway discussions of those inside the Pepsi Center.

    CONVENTION ATTENDEE: I haven’t heard about it. I have not heard about it.

JEREMY SCAHILL:

But Afghanistan will play a major role in the general election, where Barack Obama will make his plan to increase the US military deployment in Afghanistan by several thousand troops a centerpiece of his foreign policy vision. The Obama campaign is painting Afghanistan as the good war. It’s part of a strategy to show that Obama will be, quote, “tough on terror.” As part of this message, Obama has said he will reserve the right, if elected president, to take unilateral military action when US interests are at stake.

Several lawmakers we spoke with inside the convention were unaware of last week’s deadly Afghan missile strike. We discussed the bombing and Obama’s Afghanistan policy with the Oregon Congressman David Wu, a strong Obama supporter.

    REP. DAVID WU:

    Just as Senator Obama does, I have always made a deep distinction between the Iraq war, which never should have been started, and the struggle in Afghanistan, which is where al-Qaeda really is. And clearly, we want to protect innocent life, but we really need to pursue terrorism to a conclusive end on the Afghan-Pakistan border. And I’m just — I think it’s deeply tragic whenever any innocent lives are lost.

    JEREMY SCAHILL:

    So you support Senator Obama’s call to escalate the war in Afghanistan through the use of these 7,000 to 9,000 more troops?

    REP. DAVID WU:

    Well before Senator Obama was running for president, I felt that we needed to finish the job in Afghanistan before doing anything else, especially something I view as unnecessary as Iraq. And I’ve always felt that we should get our troops responsibly out of Iraq as soon as possible, bring most of them home, redeploy many of them to more accepting countries in the region, but also send some to Afghanistan. And that’s been my consistent position for years.

    JEREMY SCAHILL:

    Are you uncomfortable, though, with the rhetoric that has come from the Obama campaign about reserving the right to use unilateral force?

    REP. DAVID WU:

    You know what? War is never a good thing, and it’s just — I mean, it’s always — it’s never a good thing.

    JEREMY SCAHILL:

    But on that issue of unilateral force, saying that the United States should —

    REP. DAVID WU:

    No, I’ve always believed in multilateralism, and we have a multilateral force, a real multilateral force, in Afghanistan.

JEREMY SCAHILL:

While many Democrats are toeing the Obama line on Afghanistan, others are not so quick to embrace this policy of escalation. We caught up with Ohio Representative Marcy Kaptur, the longest-serving woman in the House of Representatives.

    JEREMY SCAHILL:

    We hear a lot of Democrats saying that Iraq is the wrong war, but Afghanistan is the right war. What’s your position on that?

    REP. MARCY KAPTUR:

    Ask Russia. Ask the former Soviet Union what they think about Afghanistan. And I think that Afghanistan is a nation or a series of tribal states that some have claimed is almost ungovernable. But I think if we try to squish everything together there and make it work, it won’t, because tribal loyalties are first. And I think we need to take a strong look at what happened to the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan and how we literally had friendships in Afghanistan because of our involvement with weaponry and training and so forth.

    And now, we’ve let it deteriorate to a point where we’re almost becoming like the Russian operation, which proved to be a failure in that region. We’re being looked at as supplanting local forces, rather than augmenting them and supporting them in terms of their own development. The drug trade has come back in Afghanistan. It’s out of control. It’s largely ungovernable outside the capital. The president can’t travel freely. And I think that’s one of the reasons that the Russian Republic chose to go into Georgia at this point. They saw us weakened in Afghanistan and heavily drawn into Iraq. So, it’s really confusing our foreign policy in that region of the world. I did not vote for the Iraqi authorization. I did vote for Afghanistan, to go after Osama bin Laden, but not to turn the whole country upside down.

    JEREMY SCAHILL:

    So do you not, then, share in those calls coming from some Democrats to increase the number of US forces in Afghanistan by 7,000 to 9,000?

    REP. MARCY KAPTUR:

    Many of the soldiers from the state of Ohio will be going, and they are already there. I was just meeting with units in my region, prior to coming here, where we know soldiers who were to have been in Iraq are being shifted into Afghanistan.

    So, our people are being deployed, but to what end? This can be a bottomless pit. I think we need to have a foreign policy parameter put around where we intend to go, as opposed to putting the military there first. It seems like the Bush administration always puts the military first, and then they think about what they’re doing. No, we need to have the foreign policy objective first, before we commit our military. Our own commanding generals, like General Petraeus, say victory means one-third military, two-thirds diplomacy and good governance. We lack the two-thirds, and then the whole burden is put on our military. I think that’s upside down.

    JEREMY SCAHILL:

    Do you think it’s — do you think, then, given everything you’ve just said, that Senator Obama is calling for a very fast increase of the number of US forces on the ground in Afghanistan — in fact, he says that Senator McCain followed him in that call.

    REP. MARCY KAPTUR:

    Well, I think both of them — I think Senator McCain didn’t know the difference between where the border with Pakistan was, confusing it with Afghanistan and Iraq. Senator Obama did not travel to that part of the world until he was a candidate. So I would say, perhaps they would benefit by surrounding themselves by those steeped in the knowledge of that region and maybe not be so quick to jump to conclusions as to what might be right.

    JEREMY SCAHILL:

    Do you feel comfortable with the Democratic platform here on the issue of Afghanistan?

    REP. MARCY KAPTUR:

    It seems to be changing. And I am not comfortable with rhetorically getting through the election — I guess you have to do that — but rather, to have a clear direction in that part of the world. It’s going to take the new president awhile to talk to the leaders in that region and to put his foreign policy team in place. I think it’s very, very dangerous to be kicking up troop levels without really seeing an endgame. It’s very dangerous.

JEREMY SCAHILL:

For Democracy Now!, this is Jeremy Scahill, with Jacquie Soohen, in Denver.

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