March 9th, 2010, by
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates (L.) greets Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai (R.) during a March 8 press conference.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Afghanistan Monday on an unannounced visit and warned of hard days ahead as the U.S. implements a surge of 30,000 troops through the summer.

The U.S. military has been in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion and there are no plans to leave anytime soon, even as the U.S. scales back in Iraq.

The driving force behind and justification for staying in the fight in Afghanistan is that the Afghanistan war, from the beginning, was a war of necessity.

The conventional wisdom goes like this: The United States was attacked by al Qaeda terrorists, led by mastermind Osama bin Laden, who received support from and a safe haven in Afghanistan. We had to go after Osama bin Laden. We had to topple the Taliban. We are doing the right thing to protect ourselves and to fight for justice by continuing our military campaign there.

Here is an excerpt from a September 2001 article in The New York Times:

President Bush demanded tonight that Afghanistan’s leaders immediately deliver Osama bin Laden and his network and close down every terrorist camp in the country or face military attack by the United States…”From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime,” Mr. Bush said in a blunt warning that could encompass countries that the United States has previously identified as giving safe haven to terrorists, among them Iraq, Iran and Syria. The demands included an insistence that Americans be able to inspect every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan to ensure that they have been dismantled. The president declared that every nation must choose sides in the coming conflict against a terrorist network that he said involved thousands of people in more than 60 countries. He warned the nation to expect a long campaign that will be fought with the visible weapons of war and secret operations.

Even President Obama, who inherited the war from President Bush, said in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, “The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense.”

Well, here’s food for thought.

In a recent conversation with Tavis, Phyllis Bennis — writer, analyst and fellow at Washington D.C.’s Institute for Policy Studies and director of its New Internationalism Program — challenges the notion that the war in Afghanistan was one of necessity:

I think it was a war of choice at the time of 9/11. The attacks of 9/11 are horrific – a horrific attack, a horrific crime, a crime against humanity, and there were options…What we heard from the beginning was, “We’re going to go after these people and we’re going to kill them.” The problem was “these people” were already dead. None of the people who committed those terrible crimes were Afghans. They were Egyptians, they were Saudis. None of them lived in Afghanistan, they lived in Hamburg. None of them trained in Afghanistan, they trained in Florida. None of them went to flight school in Afghanistan; they went to flight school in Minnesota. So we went to war against a country across the world from us because we could, because it was something that looked like justice, when it was really about vengeance, it wasn’t about justice, and it was designed, I think, to lay the political basis for the war that would come later – the war in Iraq. So it wasn’t a war of necessity then and it certainly isn’t a war of necessity now.

Bennis goes on to say that it was President Bush’s paradigm of an international war on terror that got the U.S. into a military campaign in Afghanistan. She says, “as soon as you use that war framework, the paradigm of war means that only the military is going to be engaged.”

Bennis adds, “What we’re seeing now is that for every person we kill – we are killing civilians…What happens to their families? What do they start to think about these Americans that are killing them without any accountability? So it’s not making us safer, it’s putting us at much greater risk.”

What do you think? Is Afghanistan really a war of necessity? Is Bennis right when she says that it was really about vengeance? Should the U.S. military still be there? Share your thoughts with us below.

March 8th, 2010, by

When you think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., you probably think of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. But what do you think about his “Beyond Vietnam” speech?

What’s that? You’ve never heard of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech?

Well, you’re not alone.

On Wednesday, March 31, the second installment of Tavis Smiley Reports explores the forgotten agenda of Dr. King by examining the “Beyond Vietnam” speech that he delivered at New York’s Riverside Church in 1967 and the subsequent loss of his popularity in the last year of his life.

The speech at Riverside not only joined the anti-war and civil rights movements, but it also included a searing indictment of U.S. foreign policy when Dr. King called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

Listen to the audio and read a transcript of the speech here. And be sure to tune in to “MLK: A Call to Conscience” on Wednesday, March 31. 

February 24th, 2010, by GABRIEL THOMPSON

The hardships that undocumented workers suffer, which I witnessed firsthand while reporting my book, has me thinking about a term that is frequently used in debates around immigration: “earned citizenship.”

The phrase is meant to highlight the fact that immigration reform wouldn’t just grant people amnesty, but force them to follow a path to citizenship that they must “earn” by paying fees, taking English classes, etc.

I understand the strategic purpose of highlighting this idea, but it still makes me want to punch the nearest wall.

The truth is that most undocumented immigrants have already demonstrated more chutzpah than people like me ever will, and have already sacrificed to the extent that the notion of making them “earn” anything is condescending.

When I was at the poultry plant, many of my coworkers were Guatemalan immigrants. In brief, my life story: I grew up in the suburbs, moved to New York City, and like to read and write.

Their life story: fled a civil war in which many of their friends and family were killed. Arrived in Florida to pick tomatoes for years in an area where slave labor still flourishes. Now they spend eight hours a day doing the highly repetitive work of poultry processing, sometimes suffering from carpal tunnel and other ailments. Half of my English-speaking orientation crew had left the job within weeks; many of the Guatemalans I worked alongside had stuck with the work for years.

When I’ve gotten to know the individual stories of undocumented immigrants, the last thing on my mind is that they need to “earn” something more in order to prove they are willing to make sacrifices to live in this country. Instead, I think about how lucky I am to have had such an easy life, which was only made possible because some very determined Finns and Norwegians took a big risk a hundred years ago and got on a boat.

Of course, back then we didn’t make my ancestors “earn” anything — if they were white and had the gumption to make the dangerous trek, they were granted legal status — so some things have certainly changed.

Gabriel Thompson is an award-winning investigative journalist, who, in 2005, traveled to Mexico to complete his book, There’s No José Here. His latest book, Working in the Shadows, chronicles his year-long experiment working undercover in the immigrant workforce. Check out his new book and become a Facebook fan.

February 10th, 2010, by

There has been discussion recently among black leaders and scholars about how President Obama, this nation’s first African American president, is handling race.

What do you think? Has President Obama done “enough” for African Americans? And what is “enough?” Has the president been too tepid on race?

Please share your thoughts and opinions below, and they may be included in an upcoming video blog.

February 10th, 2010, by DANIEL PINK

In the early 1990s, I had the good fortune to work for Robert B. Reich, then the U.S. Secretary of Labor. He taught me a simple (and free) tool for diagnosing the health of an organization.

When he visited companies and talked with employees, Reich listened carefully for the pronouns people used. Did employees refer to their companies as “they” or as “we”?

“They” suggested at least some amount of disengagement, and perhaps even alienation. “We” suggested the opposite — that employees felt that they were part of something significant and meaningful.

(VIDEO: Two questions to help you find your inner motivation.)

If you’re a boss — of a handful of people, an entire organization, or even your local church group — spend a few days listening to the people around you, not only in formal settings like meetings, but also in the hallways and at lunch. Then apply Reich’s pronoun test.

Are you a “we” organization or a “they” organization? The difference matters.

All of us seek intrinsic motivation. The thing is, “we” can get it — but “they” can’t.

Daniel Pink is the author of several bestselling books that analyze business and workplace trends, and his articles appear in The New York Times and Wired, where he’s a contributing editor. His latest book is Drive: The Suprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

February 3rd, 2010, by
Coretta Scott King leads a march in Memphis, TN five days after her husband, Martin Luther King Jr., was killed.

Now that we are a few days into Black History Month, there has been some discussion (see here and here) about the relevance or irrelevance of the month-long celebration.

What do you think?

Is it still necessary to designate an entire month to celebrate Black History? Does the election of Barack Obama as president somehow mean that Americans have learned the lessons about African American contributions to this country?

And is Black History Month still relevant? Why or why not?

Please share your thoughts and opinions below, and they may be included in
an upcoming video blog.

January 26th, 2010, by

Ahead of Wednesday’s State of the Union Address at 9 p.m. EST, we want to hear from you.

What is the one issue that you hope President Obama addresses Wednesday night?

Share your thoughts with us here, and come back after the speech to let us know what you thought of the address.

And if you still have more to say, YouTube has come up with a way to submit follow-up questions to the president at

January 26th, 2010, by MASON JAMAL

This post was first published at

unfortunately, is no different from the others. Tragedy strikes and the media
arrives in full occupying force. It’s the story of the moment. Everyone cares.
The information and images take up temporary residence in our collective
conscience. Our hearts go out. But, invariably, so do the lights. The bulbs
stop flashing. The cameras stop rolling. Heads stop talking. Then what?
Do we look the other way, as usual, and forget about the people of
Port-au-Prince and its surrounding provinces? Sadly enough, most of us will.

Prompted by the media, our attention and focus will turn
elsewhere; this way folks – on to the next story. Meanwhile, the death
toll will continue to soar and, for the survivors, so will the pain and
suffering. Haiti is haunted by the reality that it will be a country of
amputees for the foreseeable future, many of whom are orphaned children.

Relatively speaking, it wasn’t nearly as horrific, but the aftermath of
Hurricane Katrina provides a similar case study in media attention deficit
disorder. Nearly 2,000 people died, and countless more were permanently
relocated by the natural forces of the hurricane coupled with the economic
forces of government neglect. For the poor, it’s a one-two punch in the gut.
And even though media coverage bubbled over at first, it eventually fizzled out.
And with it so did public interest. If this is how American citizens were
treated and nearly forgotten, can we really expect anything different in Haiti?

Pardon my cynicism, but human tragedy is big business for the news industry.
It’s not that members of the media don’t have hearts. It’s rather difficult not
to, even for the most hardened journalist in a situation as catastrophic as
this. But while this story has legs for now, they too will be amputated soon
enough. And will the American public care as much then when the cameras stop
rolling? Most won’t. Just as we saw with the coverage of New Orleans and
all the talk about how America will never be the same, this too shall be out of
sight and out of mind. Then what?

Mason Jamal blogs for AOL Black Voices, as well as his own
You can also find him on Twitter @masonsays.

January 18th, 2010, by JOHNATHAN REESE

This post is from Reese’s travels to Somalia. The East African nation has been devastated by factional fighting that has lasted for two decades and has been without a functioning central government since 1991. About 1.5 million of Somalia’s people are internally displaced.

The sun burned my skin through my t-shirt and the ocean wind was relentless. The beautiful white sands were thrown with each gust to batter me inside the bombed-out building that we called home.

I was worn after only two days in the world’s most dangerous city – Mogadishu. Small arms and anti-aircraft fire were the sounds of nature. I’d never been in combat and had only recently fired a weapon, but these blasts quickly became background noise.

Just two days before, I had jumped off the ramp of an IL-76 Russian cargo plane at Mogadishu International Airport. A tall Somali greeted me, loaded my bags into a pick-up truck and carted me off to an abandoned building, sluggishly refurbished.

“It’s not much, but we once lived in tents.” he apologized.

I learned that he had once lived in Canada and the United States and was part of the Somali diaspora, (seemingly more far-reaching than the entire African diaspora). It was comforting that I’d already found someone that had at least known the world from which I came. Now I needed to learn his reality.

“Do you know the AK-47?” he asked as he handed me a rusty Beretta.


“It works the same,” he said, referring to the Beretta. “This is for protection. If the insurgents penetrate the perimeter, take this and hide until real help comes.”

Learning about Death and Tanks

In the morning the boss asked me to return the weapon. I handed it over. He explained that the camp was surrounded by 1,700 African Union troops, and there was no need to worry unless the tanks started up; that had never happened. The tall Somali’s name was Abdulqaadir. I told him that the boss took my gun.

“He’s a retired Marine. Maybe he knows something we don’t.”

“How do you deal with the fact that you can die at any time?” I asked.

“It’s not up to me. Allah decides when you go, and you can only accept.”

I wondered how one could accept death with such indifference.


A week passed and every night our team of eight sat down to watch “24” on DVD. The Somalis sipped tea, browsed the internet, and chewed khat. We watched at least two episodes a night.

Fighting was unusually heavy in the city one night. Some blasts were too close for comfort. I watched for a reaction from the team, but no one seemed to care. I continued to watch Jack Bauer when the next blast sent pieces of the ceiling crashing to the floor of the structure.

The mechanic was sent to switch off the generator.

We sat in complete darkness with only the glow of laptops to fill the void of the night. Each one slowly packed his laptop and tea cup and retired to his room. Suddenly the void was filled by the deep growl of a tank. I missed my Beretta. The tanks sped out of the compound destroying a concrete barrier. The boss had been asleep for an hour.

Since the tanks had first stormed out of the base there had been only twenty minutes of intense fighting, but it was now 3 a.m. and I hadn’t closed my eyes (too busy planning my escape). In reality I was pinched between a violent society and a shark-infested ocean.

“An idle man is a wasted man …”

I awoke in the morning. Life continued: we joked, we argued, we worked as if no one could have died the night before.

It was then that I opened the discussion with Abdulqaadir about why he returned to Somalia.

“Do you think you are here to help Somalia?” he asked.

“I know my personal effort won’t make an immediate impact, but in the long run I guess every bit counts, right?”

“Absolutely not. These warlords disturb lives to make money, and they make too much to stop now. As long as no one intervenes, Somalia will continue this way. They are all rich, but now it comes to power. They could go to Europe or America, anywhere, and be satisfied. But they continue … everyone has his time. It is you and only you that will become your demise.”

He continued, “I don’t want to die here. I am here because there is a job here. I risk my life for my family, but there is no risk really.”

“How is there no risk?”

“The risk would be not to come here. Although mortars pound our camp, insurgents are only a kilometer away, I am providing for my family. An idle man is a wasted man. Everyone, everyday must seek their daily bread, no matter where or how.”

Johnathan Reese is a contractor for a private company that focuses on nation-building, infrastructure and stability worldwide. He has been working in Somalia since 2008.

January 13th, 2010, by

If you have seen the images of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the city Tuesday, then you have probably been wondering what you can do to help.

Here is a brief round-up of ways you can assist.

1) The White House: If you would like to support the urgent humanitarian effort in
Haiti, visit, where you can learn more
about how to contribute. Americans trying to locate family members in Haiti are encouraged to contact the State Department at 1-888-407-4747.

2) American Red Cross: To help, you can make an unrestricted donation to the International Response
Fund at or by
calling 1-800-REDCROSS (1-800-733-2767). You can also help by
texting “Haiti” to 90999 to send a $10 donation to the Red Cross,
through an effort backed by the U.S. State Department. Funds will go to
support American Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti.

3) The Salvation Army: The Salvation Army is accepting monetary donations to assist in the effort via Online Credit Card Donations,
1-800-SAL-ARMY and postal mail at: The Salvation Army World Service
Office, International Disaster Relief Fund, PO Box 630728, Baltimore,
MD 21263-0728. Designate donations “Haiti Earthquake.” 

4) Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières: You can give to Doctors Without Borders’ Haiti Earthquake Response; for questions or assistance with your online donation, you can speak to
Doctors Without Borders Donor Services at 1-212-763-5779 Monday-Friday
from 9am – 5pm EST, or email them at

And if you want to get the skinny on any non-profit before you make a donation, check out Charity Navigator, an organization that evaluates charitable non-profits.

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