Hollande, Zardari, and U.S. Veterans Fan Anti-War Flames at Chicago NATO Protests

The NATO Summit in Chicago, which concluded on Monday, was engulfed by anti-war sentiment coming from all directions. The meetings resulted in plans for a phased withdrawal from Afghanistan of the remaining 130,000 international troops still on the ground. The summit planned for the withdrawal to occur throughout the next two and a half years and NATO pledged to aid the Afghan army well beyond the 2014 withdrawal. These plans faced criticism from all over the political spectrum.

Recently elected French president Francois Hollande continued to affirm his pledge to remove all French troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012 in defiance of NATO’s plans. Hollande stood in opposition to German Chancellor Angela Merkel who urged solidarity with the United States, stating “We went into Afghanistan together, we want to leave Afghanistan together”. Hollande’s decision to remove French troops ahead of the NATO deadline threatens to put a greater burden on the remaining NATO forces in Afghanistan. The United States already pays over 25% of NATO’s military expenditures. Hollande stated that “In 2013, only trainers for police and officers of the Afghan army will remain and this will be done within the framework of ISAF."

The Taliban seized this opportunity to throw itself into the debate by calling on other NATO countries to follow France’s example and depart from Afghanistan immediately. In a three-page statement released on Sunday, the Taliban stated “We call upon all the other NATO member countries to avoid working for the political interests of American officials and answer the call of your own people by immediately removing all your troops from Afghanistan." 

NATO and U.S. policy also faced opposition from fading ally Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari who was denied an opportunity to meet with President Obama in Chicago. In his meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Zardari did not offer to re-open crucial Pakistani supply routes, which were closed to U.S. and NATO troops in November after a U.S. aircraft killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border. Instead, Zardari demanded a “permanent solution” to the U.S. drone attacks as a condition for re-opening the supply routee, as well as a public apology from the United States in honor of the Pakistani citizens that were killed by U.S. forces. 

Perhaps the most passionate calls to end the war came from U.S. protesters in the streets of Chicago. The protests attracted thousands of people and resulted in 93 arrests. Over 50 anti-war veterans cast their medals into the streets in protest of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Veteran opposition to U.S. foreign policy has grown in recent years. Anti-war presidential candidate Ron Paul has received more campaign donations from U.S. troops than any other candidate for the upcoming election. This is in tune with general public sentiment. A poll taken in April by Pew Research Center showed that 60% of Americans favor immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

This symbolic protest was perhaps inspired by the April 1971 protest by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War that came to be known as Dewey Canyon III. Over 800 Vietnam veterans threw their medals and ribbons one by one onto the steps of the capitol building in protest of the Vietnam War. Back then, Nixon was over two years into his first term and had failed in his promise to bring about an “honorable end” to the unpopular U.S. occupation that he had accelerated after coming to office. Let's see if history repeats itself. 

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