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Comment II
Last Updated: 12/04/2009
What Have They Done with My President?
Mary Liston Liepold

Dr Liepold of peacexpeace responds to the Obama administration's escalation of the war in Afghanistan, arguing that true security in the country will come from development and community empowerment, not from troop surges and weaponry.


Like many others, I am deeply disappointed at President Obama’s decision to send 30,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan and the US Congress’ apparent acquiescence in that decision.

My disappointment is especially keen because just a few weeks ago we hosted two prominent Afghan women, Fatima Gailani and Suraya Pakzad, who both told us that development is the way forward for the Afghan people. In point of fact, the President’s West Point speech had curiously little to say about the Afghan people and what they need or want. And though peacebuilding women like Louise Diamond, our old allies in Canada, England, and the Netherlands, and even our vaunted new allies in Pakistan are all talking about the 3-D approach to conflict (diplomacy, development, and then deterrence or defense), this administration seems almost as determined to lead with defense as the one before it.

I’m sad, as well as disappointed. I have spent many years of my professional life working for peace, so I know that security is created and sustained by development. As Fatima told us just a short time ago, thriving communities will defend themselves against the Taliban and other extremist bands. A community that has succumbed to despair is ripe for the picking. These women and others who work to meet human needs say that the presence of troops makes it harder for them to do their jobs.

Think what the billions of dollars this troop surge is going to cost could do for the Afghan people―especially if it were administered by and for the people themselves! Suraya, Fatima, and the other Afghan women have the ideas and the connections to make sure it is … if only someone is prepared to listen.

Listen to us, Mr. President! This approach would be fated to fail even if our resources were infinite. Though you mentioned Yemen and Somalia as well as Pakistan, you and your advisors seem to have forgotten, first, that Islamic fundamentalism is a global movement, and second, that it is an ideology. Has anyone ever assassinated an idea, or killed one with a bomb? Can any number of troops and weapons drive an idea out of existence? As long as the extremists can cast us as the occupier and invader, there will be no shortage of desperate recruits. We are sowing the dragon’s teeth. If the extremists oppose their notion of our Western values to what they consider the true Islamic ones, wouldn’t it be strategic to act out of the values we have in common, like restraint and generosity?

O, what have they done with my President? Where is the man who gave the whole world a fresh charge of optimism, less than a year ago, by talking about positive relationships as the path to peace? Where is the Change he campaigned and won on? I worry that his daily briefings on the state of the world as the old guard sees it have infected him with their fear, just when we most need a politics of hope.

Did you hear your own words on December 1, President Obama?

“Because every nation must understand that true security will never come from an endless race for ever-more destructive weapons – true security will come for those who reject them.”

Aren’t you the man whose best friends call him Ears? Listen to those words, and listen to the women. Your war speech came midway through the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence. No matter how often men use defending women as a pretext for war, it is women who bear the brunt in every violent situation.

Mary Liston Liepold is is the Communications Manager at Peace X Peace. You can find more of her articles (and many other excellent things) at www.peacexpeace.org. To reach Dr. Liepold, email maryl@peacexpeace.org.


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