Friday, May 9, 2008

A Time for Honest Debate

By Wim Laven
(559 Words)

This Commentary is Unpublished.

Balancing majority rule against minority rights may be the single most important feature of the American democratic process. In order to find, and keep a just balance we encourage lively debate, thoughtful compromise, and tolerance. For this it seems understanding one another would be fundamental. Yet, how many times have you been given the advice, “whatever you do – don’t talk about politics?” My guess: too many times to count. It’s the kind of advice that reflects the way people think, and what they value. This thinking suggests voters do not want to debate the issues, and our politicians have taken this message to heart.

I want to know when people are going to seriously talk about working toward lasting peace. It is easy to point fingers at the U.S. occupation of Iraq, and it seems people are quick to pick a reason, “we shouldn’t have been there to begin with” or “it was a bunch of lies… we were after the oil” but when it comes to the difficult part – “what’s next;” people tend to quiet down...

...It seems people sitting on couches need to be able to do more than just “agree to disagree," because there are real consequences and we should be thinking about them...

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Wim Laven is a mediator and masters candidate in conflict resolution at Portland State University. He worked on Conflict Sensitive Reconstruction with the Sarvodaya movement in Sri Lanka after the tsunami.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Afghanistan Falls Apart

By Jesse Laird
(1,061 words)

The Bush Administration keeps telling Americans the war in Afghanistan is a success. But while the world was focused on Iraq, the conflict in Afghanistan entered a new phase of violence and decay. As we put more Americans troops into Afghanistan, let us pause to get our facts straight.

Americans Killed, Wounded
Despite the assurances of the Bush Administration, the fact is that more and more Americans are dying in Afghanistan. The military reports more than 495 US troops have been killed in Operation Enduring Freedom, and more than 1,200 have been seriously wounded. Then there are dead American contractors (number unknown), and irreparable damage to our soldiers who do make it home.

A combination of factors has made mental illness the new signature wound. Navy Surgeon General Donald Arthur reported to Congress nearly 1 in 3 US soldiers are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with severe mental health problems, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and symptoms related to traumatic head injury. Arthur is Chair of the Defense Department Task Force on Mental Health, and in 2007 he issued a grim assessment, saying, “The system of care for psychological health …is not sufficient to meet the needs of today’s forces and their beneficiaries, and will not be sufficient to meet the needs in the future.” Arthur estimates 300,000 soldiers suffer from these disorders.

Troops and Violence Rise, Afghans Suffer
Despite the fatalities, injuries and mental health crisis, US troop levels are on the rise: The Pentagon has announced they plan to increase combat forces in Afghanistan by as many as 7,500 above the current level –already 31,000, a record high. In fact, every year that the US puts more troops into Afghanistan the conflict gets worse.

Violence in Afghanistan is now at the highest level since the 2001 US invasion. The Guardian Newspaper (March, 2008) reported that shootings ambushes, kidnappings, suicide attacks and roadside bombings are more common than ever. In 2006, there were 123 such attacks and, in 2007, that number rose more than 25 percent, to 160 attacks. Security for Afghans gets worse every year the US is there: in 2005, there were an estimated 1,000 casualties and, in 2006, that number surged to 4,000. The United Nations has reported that 2007 is the worst on record: civilian casualties in Afghanistan soared above 8,000, with at least 1,500 innocent men, women and children killed in acts of violence....

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Jesse Laird is a research analyst on US-Afghan Conflict for the American Friends Service Committee, and a Masters candidate in Conflict Resolution at Portland State University. Contact him at