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Antiwar activists split over Obama's Afghanistan policy

Lawmakers and others who were against the Iraq war generally support the president. But they worry about another 'quagmire.'

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 4, 2009


The anti-war movement that helped elect Candidate Obama is in the early throes of a debate over whether to ramp up again – this time, over President Obama's plans to step up US engagement in Afghanistan.

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For many activists – on and off Capitol Hill – it's a tough call. It's early in a new administration, they say. Even opponents of the troop buildup in Afghanistan say that they like and still trust this president. They want to give him time.

They also like much of what they're hearing from the Obama White House.

Instead of the go-it-alone, "cowboy diplomacy" of the Bush years, Obama pushes concepts like "shared responsibility" and "civilian effort," they say.

But Obama's decision to send another 21,000 troops to Afghanistan to help stabilize "the most dangerous place in the world," as he calls it, is shifting some anti-war activists into (reluctant) opposition. It's also forcing some members of Congress to explain to voters why they opposed a troop buildup in Iraq but now support one in Afghanistan.

"This could be a one-way ticket to a quagmire," says former US Rep. Tom Andrews (D) of Maine, national director of the Win Without War coalition.

"Sometimes less is more. In the case of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the deployment of US troops can be a source of instability, not stability," he says. "These are very real concerns that we have, and we want to articulate them in a respectful way."

Since President Obama's announcement of a new strategy in Afghanistan last month, Win Without War and other groups have been trying to revive a dialogue on the war. They're especially urging members of Congress and the news media to get back to the business of vigorous criticism and oversight.

The anti-war movement shifted into low gear after Obama's election. Funding and staffing for most groups dropped, in some cases precipitously. Code Pink activists – a highly visible presence at war hearings and protests in the Bush years – have shifted their target from war to Wall Street.

Some elements of the anti-Iraq War coalition think that the buildup in Afghanistan is warranted, even essential.

"Americans have more business in Afghanistan than they ever did in Iraq, Bosnia, Lebanon, Somalia, Panama, or Grenada," says Jon Soltz, chairman and cofounder of, which rallied veterans against the war in Iraq in the Bush years.