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When Will Anti-War Protests Return To Balboa Park?

A look at the past week

— The phone at the other end of the line rang and rang as I waited for someone to answer. But no one did. No answering-machine either. I was calling Kenneth Necochea of Poway, the father of Kenneth Necochea Jr. who was killed Sunday in a car-bomb attack in Afghanistan along with five other American soldiers. I was grateful Kenny’s dad never picked up.

I wondered what he would have said if he’d answered and agreed to talk with me about his son. Would he have said he was proud of him? Of course. Would he have said his son died for a good cause? That’s a harder question. And deciding whether U.S. presence in Afghanistan is justified won’t just be up to the families who have lost their sons. It’ll be up to all American voters.

Three years ago, anti-war protests were common in San Diego. Opposition to the war in Iraq drew thousands of people to Balboa Park and to the front of the federal building downtown. Protesters would read the names of the dead. Parents of fallen soldiers would show up to lend their support.

But today, the U.S. has a different president from a different party, and the war has shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan. As that has happened, the peace movement has faded.

UCSD Political Science professor Sam Popkin says there are reasons for this. For one thing, there’s no attractive alternative to Barack Obama and his approach to the war. Popkin, who’s fond of Vietnam-era analogies, says so far there’s been no “Eugene McCarthy” on Afghanistan to shake things up.

“This becomes a big political issue when there are candidates offering very different strategies in an election,” he said.

Marjorie Cohn is a law professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and a San Diego peace activist. She says the war in Afghanistan was virtually absent as an issue during this year’s mid-term elections, due to the strong focus on the economy. She says that’s too bad, since the high cost of the war is having a great impact on the economy and the federal budget.

Cohn adds that it’s hard to compare today’s anti-war movement to that of the 60s.

“And I think the main reason is we don’t have the draft. That’s one thing that (politicians) did learn from Vietnam,” she said. “But we do have an anti-war movement. It’s not as visible and I think the media tends to underreport what’s happening.”

If the number of American dead mounts in Afghanistan, and corruption and instability continue to be the rule in that country, political opposition to the war in the U.S. is bound to increase. But Popkin says that opposition may not come in the form of a “peace movement.”

“There’s the possibility of a peace movement,” he said, “or there’s the possibility of an isolationist movement. You know…. ‘It’s not worth it. It’s not working. The Afghanis and the Taliban deserve each other. So let them rot.’”

Popkin quotes another political commentator when he says Americans on the political left think the rest of the world is too good for America, while those on the right think America is too good for the rest of the world. That, he says, sums up the difference between a peace-movement approach to ending the Afghan war and an isolationist approach.

One day after army specialist Kenneth Necochea was killed by a car bomb, another man died. That was Richard Holbrooke, a legendary diplomat who was Barack Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan. Holbrooke seemed like the one person who had the knowledge and skill to bring about some solution to the thorny problem of Afghanistan.

The deaths of Holbrooke and Necochea may not be the events that bring the Afghan war to the front of the U.S. political agenda. But there must come a time when the Obama administration will either declare victory, reach “peace with honor,” or simply pull out our troops and let the Afghans come up with their own solutions.

PS This is a conversation. Leave a comment and let me know what you think the U.S. should do about Afghanistan.

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Avatar for user 'kevingriffey'

kevingriffey | December 17, 2010 at 9:37 a.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

I believe there are bits of truth in the last comment. I attended a few protests in San Diego and one in Washington DC, and there is no doubt in my mind that many people in the "anti-war" movement simply wanted GW and his crew out of office. I think that is common sense and I don't see any difference of that to a right-wing movement like the Tea Party fading once they get their crew in office. A large part of any political movement is about gaining control of the agenda; I don't think that is a revolutionary concept (no pun intended). Keep in mind - liberal voices do pop up once issues like Gitmo, spying, drone attacks, private contractors, etc. surface in the mainstream attention; so they are obviously not dead - just silent ... for now.

As for what the US should do in Afghanistan ... leave. I have yet to see the value of having military bases spread throughout the world and bogging down in long term battles within foreign countries that are not threatening our sovereignty. I understand that the argument for involvement is that al-Qaeda/Taliban DO threaten our national sovereignty, but I would argue that: 1) military involvement in a 3rd world country in order to quell terrorist organizations is a never-ending battle that, in my opinion, is not efficient/sustainable/effective at ridding the world of that threat. 2) controlling nuke proliferation, building our international spying networks, building counter terrorism, and updating our laws to protect our democratic values while adapting to this threat are much more effective/cheaper/and sustainable solutions.

Obama ran on Afghanistan being the good war and that distanced many people on the left then and even more now, but the other option was John McCain. I think Obama was an easy choice in 2008 for the left, and still will be in 2012 because what is the alternative ... (insert paranoid ultra-nationalist nativist white male for president 2012). I think the left will go Obama all the way AND HIS CREW KNOWS THIS.

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Avatar for user 'Tom Fudge'

Tom Fudge, KPBS Staff | December 17, 2010 at 3:57 p.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

Good to hear from y'all. I assume, AAA, that by BHO you mean Barack Hussein Obama, who has truly gotten stuck with a nasty problem in the shape of the Afghan war. I'm inclined to agree with Kevingriffey when he says we should just get out of there. Though I wonder what would happen if we follow the advice of Chalmers Johnson and entirely dismember the American empire. When power vacuums are created they quickly get filled. If we don't play the superpower, who will? I expect American involvement in Afghanistan will end when we get tired of it and find some good excuse to make our exit. Unfortunately, we won't be solving anyone's problem by doing it... nobody's problem except maybe our own.

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