CodePink founder Jodie Evans challenges Obama on his Afghanistan policy
Says women should be among the deciders

Armed with the signatures of thousands of Afghan women asking him not to send more troops, Evans told Obama that women must have a seat at the negotiating table

By Don Hazen

The Afghan MP Dr Roshanak Wardak. (Photograph: Jason Burke.)
The Afghan MP Dr Roshanak Wardak. (Photograph: Jason Burke.)

Everyone in the universe by now knows that the progressive anti-war group CodePink has plenty of chutzpah. But co-founder Jodie Evans really doesn't mess around. She went straight to the top and challenged Barack Obama face-to-face on his visit to San Francisco on Thursday night at a high-priced fund raiser at the Westin St. Francis hotel.

Armed with the signatures of thousands of Afghan women who don't want Obama to send more troops, and for the U.S. occupation to come to an end after a reconciliation process, Evans had an intimate on-on-one with the president, where she told him explicitly that women need to be at the table in any negotiations to alter or end the war. She was wearing a pink shirt with "End The Afghan Quagmire" written on it, and showed her sartorial splendor to Obama.

Evans told me later that the evening at the Rain Forest Action Network fundraiser at the Bentley Reserve that Obama was friendly and listened carefully — you can see in the video that he has his arm around her — but that he didn't quite get her message at first. According to Evans, when she raised the issue of women and war, he said, "Well we have Hillary and the Ambassador. And I said no, the Afghan women. And he said oh."

How did Evans manage to have this little chat with the President? Well, the old fashioned way. She paid for it. Realizing that they had an opportunity to get through to the Commander-in-Chief unfiltered, a supporter forked over $30,400 for two tickets to attend the super-intimate gathering, where only the crème de la crème of big money donors were hanging with the president.

Earlier in the month, Evans recently visited Afghanistan over a ten-day period along with a group of CodePink activists, and she was clear in a recent AlterNet article about what she saw — a humanitarian crisis: "The United States has spent a quarter of a trillion dollars in eight years of military action: what have we achieved? Most of the country is in worse condition, the bordering countries are less stable and death fills the air. According to the United Nations, Afghanistan is ranked 181 out of 182 countries for human development indices. Life expectancy has fallen to 43 years since the U.S. invasion. Forty percent of the population is unemployed, and 42 percent live on less than $1 a day."

There is a schism among American feminist groups, where some — particularly Ms. Magazine and its parent group The Feminist Majority Foundation — support escalation in Afghanistan as a strategy for protecting women's rights. But many other women — particularly activists like the women of CodePink, who have a long anti-war history — think that is a huge mistake and insist that most of the women in Afghanistan do not want more military, more war. It makes their lives even worse, if that is possible, while the discredited President Karzai, whose re-election seems fatally tainted by fraud and corruption and the warlords who control chunks of the countryside, shows little interest in supporting women's rights — a recent law "explicitly legalizes marital rape as well as forcing women to dress and make themselves up (while in the home, of course) according to their husband’s demands, outlawing the ability to leave the home without a husband or a good reason to do so, and automatically granting custody of children to the male relatives (fathers or grandfathers)," according to an article posted on the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.

In a recent CodePink video interview, Afghan Parliament member Roshanak Wardak makes the position clear: "Most of the women do not want more troops — they need support to sustain their lives." The CodePink delegation spoke with journalists, doctors, activists, NGOs, members of government and average Afghan women. The main message they heard is they "want the U.S. investment to reflect what is needed to bring peace. They need investment in the people of Afghanistan."

"In truth, 90 percent of U.S. funding to Afghanistan is used for military; only approximately 10 percent has been used for any kind of development."

Meanwhile, President Obama continues to deliberate over whether to send tens of thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, while Vice President Biden seems to be in an influential position to help resist military pressure for escalation. Biden has been the leading skeptic in the administration toward Gen. Stanley McChrystal's call for escalating the war with 40,000 more troops. Biden's argument appears to be that the strategy should focus more on taking out top Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan with drones and Special Forces and shifting security responsibility to the Afghans. Time will tell which of the arguments wins the day.

October 17, 2009 — Return to cover.