Dec 4th 2009

Obama, Progressives and Afghanistan

by Robert Creamer

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on
Like many Progressives, I disagreed with President Obama's decision to increase the number of American troops deployed to Afghanistan. But Progressives must not lose sight of the fact, that though we may disagree with this particular decision, President Obama shares a progressive vision of American foreign policy - including Afghanistan -- that differs fundamentally from that of his Neo-Con predecessor.

At its core, President Obama's Tuesday night speech elaborated his plan to end the American military presence in Afghanistan. His chosen path may not end that presence as quickly as many Progressives would prefer, but he was very clear that America will not conduct an open-ended occupation of Afghanistan, and he set a firm deadline to begin American withdrawal.
Barack Obama understands that Western occupation of a Muslim country ultimately feeds extremism, rather than defeating it. And he understands - as he said in his speech - that our relationship with Afghanistan must ultimately be as a partner, not as a patron. Barack Obama opposes pre-emptive war and the unilateralism that earned George Bush the enmity of people everywhere.

Let us remember that if Barack Obama had been President eight years ago, he would have managed our engagement in Afghanistan completely differently from George Bush - and he would have never invaded Iraq.

While some Progressives may not fully appreciate the fundamental difference between Barack Obama's approach to the world and that of Bush and Cheney, there is no question that the Neo-Con crowd understands it clearly. Dick Cheney's attacks on the President are not simply partisan politics. His criticism of Obama's withdrawal deadline is emblematic of a fundamental disagreement in world view.

The President rejected the original McChrystal proposal for a gradual buildup of American forces over the next 18 months that was premised on a large American presence over a number of years. He also rejected a long-term nation-building mission in Afghanistan, focused heavily on the central government there. Instead he chose to bulk up American forces over the next six months, set an 18-month timeline to begin the disengagement of our military, and provide sharp incentives for the Afghan government to put its house in order - and develop their security forces - immediately.

I do not personally agree that increasing the American military footprint in Afghanistan will promote stability or help us contain al Qaeda. Like many Progressives, I am increasingly convinced that our military presence there fuels the conflict by generating nationalist opposition to Western presence -- and actually destabilizes the country.

But I consider the President's decision to increase short-term troop levels to be a tactical disagreement - not a disagreement concerning goals or strategic vision. The proof of the pudding will, of course, be in the eating. Personally, I believe that by the end of his first term, President Obama will have completely withdrawn American forces from Iraq and that most combat forces will be gone from Afghanistan as well.

And I can state with certainty that this President will not have launched some other military adventure or begun a new interventionist initiative because he does not believe that is the way to create a safe, prosperous and peaceful world.

We will have a very different world in 2012 with Barack Obama as President than we would have had under the leadership of George Bush or John McCain.

We must also remember that the Bush Administration's eight-year mismanagement of the struggle in Afghanistan - and diversion of resources to the War in Iraq -- left President Obama no truly good options there.
America had a brief window of opportunity after the fall of the Taliban to mobilize the world to provide the economic, political support that could make a real change in Afghanistan -and then to withdraw our military presence as soon as possible. Unfortunately that did not happen and now our nine-year military presence there has caused more and more ordinary Afghans to think of us as occupiers to be expelled, rather than as partners in building their country. This problem is particularly acute in rural Afghanistan, which has never really considered itself subject to central government control - and where the tradition of fighting foreign occupiers goes back millennia.

But let's not pretend that our military disengagement from Afghanistan will be simple. Quite apart from its impact on Pakistan, the tribal areas and al Qaeda, let's remember that the former Taliban government brutally suppressed much of the population - and in particular women. Today in Afghanistan one-fourth of the women still wear burqas with tiny screens that allow only a partial view of the world. If the Taliban were to return to power, all women would once again be required to wear the burqa - and none would receive education.

As we disengage militarily, we have an obligation to do the best we can to leave behind a government that can protect women from oppression, and provides hope for long-term economic development.

As an ardent opponent of the War in Iraq - and before that the Viet Nam War -- I certainly understand the passion of Progressives who oppose sending more troops to Afghanistan. But whatever the disappointment in the President's decision, it must not be allowed to overwhelm the enormous stake Progressives have in Barack Obama's success.

I read an article yesterday by a prominent Progressive that said it was now time for him to scrape off the Obama bumper sticker. Wrong.

The Obama presidency presents an unprecedented historic window for progressive change. Our ability to succeed rests heavily on Barack Obama's success as President. Just as importantly, his success and ours depend on the mobilization of Progressives across America to organize for change. If we don't organize to win, the other side will successfully organize to stop us.
No one said change would be easy. Health care reform, re-regulating the financial sector, immigration reform, creating a clean energy economy -- all require the political defeat of powerful, entrenched political and economic interests. For anyone who thought Barack Obama could snap his fingers and make change, think again. Progressives are engaged in a protracted, multi-year political and economic struggle. But the big difference is that with Barack Obama as President and a Democratic Congress, we are on the offensive and no longer in a defensive crouch.
We might not agree with every decision. We might fundamentally disagree with some. But we cannot lose sight that we are part of an historic progressive movement for change whose success requires that Barack Obama be successful as well.

Robert Creamer's recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "Global regulators will no doubt be concerned about a potential volatility spillover from digital asset prices into traditional capital markets. They may not permit what could quickly amount to effective proxy approval by the back door for companies holding large proportions of a volatile asset on their balance sheets."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: " Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."
Feb 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw."
Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "One sign of this change is that, unlike all recent Democratic administrations, Biden’s hasn’t paid obeisance to Wall Street by giving bankers top jobs. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, is a former Federal Reserve chair and academic who has made it clear that she understands the country’s pressing social needs. Moreover, Biden consulted Warren on her economic views, and has named a former Warren adviser as Yellen’s deputy. Yellen’s appointment demonstrates that Biden shares the insight that enabled Trump’s rise: that too many Americans feel that they cannot get a fair share. "
Jan 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "Barack Obama cautioned in his final speech as president that, “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” Yet isn’t that exactly what America has been doing? In a decade punctuated by the global financial crisis, the COVID-19 crisis, a racial-justice crisis, an inequality crisis, and now a political crisis, we have only paid lip service to lofty democratic ideals. ... Sadly, this complacency has come at a time of growing fragility for the American experiment. Internet-enabled connectivity is dangerously amplifying an increasingly polarized national discourse in an era of mounting social and political instability. The resulting vulnerability was brought into painfully sharp focus on January 6. The stewardship of democracy is at grave risk. "