Afghanistan — War of Necessity? Just War? Or Opportunity for Peace, Reconciliation and Development?

November 20, 2009

-by Kevin Martin

President Obama has repeatedly called the US occupation of Afghanistan a “war of necessity”, in contrast to the war of choice his predecessor waged (and of course is still ongoing) in Iraq.

While I am no mind-reader, I’m not sure the president really still believes that, or he may want to come up with a different way to describe the situation in Afghanistan and the region. Certainly there are grave problems in Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan that deserve attention and resources from the US, other countries in the region and the global community.

But, as my colleague Michael Beer of Nonviolence International said to me recently, if it really is a “war of necessity,” why is the president taking so long to decide whether to send more troops? Shouldn’t it be a no-brainer? Why is the Administration apparently preparing to try to persuade a war-weary public that more troops, maybe tens of thousands, need to deploy to Afghanistan?

My sense is the president’s deliberation (for which I think he deserves some credit) and his Administration’s desire to explore a broader range of issues (governance, aid, development, education, women’s rights, local policing and judicial systems as well as others) than just troop levels indicates there is serious doubt about how “necessary” continuing and escalating the war really is. At least it is a confirmation of the many statements from military and diplomatic leaders, both within the Administration and outside it, that there is no military solution in Afghanistan.

Clearly the US public doesn’t think Afghanistan is a war of necessity, as a majority of Americans now oppose the war or at least its escalation.

Another way to think of this is the “Just War” test, not the official Catholic doctrine, but the real definition of a Just War – one you’d send your kids to fight in.

Clearly this war fails that test for the overwhelming majority of Americans, and many veterans of Afghanistan and military families are now speaking out for an end to the eight years and counting US occupation, just as so many of them have regarding the Iraq war and occupation.

My children, at ages 12 and 15 a little older than President Obama’s daughters, think the US is always at war, and why wouldn’t they? The US has been involved in wars almost their whole lives. Of course the children of Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Palestine, Sudan, Congo and too many other countries know the horror of constant war much more personally. We, their parents, are failing them, aren’t we? They deserve peace, and we all need to demand it for them.

Instead of a military escalation, we need a transition to non-military solutions in Afghanistan, and a plan to withdraw US and NATO forces as soon as possible. Support for comprehensive peace negotiations between the various parties to the conflict in Afghanistan, including some Taliban leaders, and a surge in economic development and humanitarian aid to grassroots programs led by Afghans are the key steps to the new direction we need for Afghanistan, and for the U.S.

Many national and local organizations are organizing Call-In days to the White House next week to oppose the escalation of troops and call for an end to the war. Please call the White House between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time next week at 202/456-1111, and urge your friends, family and colleagues to do the same. Afterward, please call your Member of Congress with the same message, and go to

 

http://noescalation.org/ to find out more about our congressional pressure campaign, and you can report on what you learn from your representative on that webpage.


Is Obama Back-Tracking on a Nuclear Weapons-Free World?

November 14, 2009

By Kevin Martin, Executive Director

On his first trip to Japan as president, Barack Obama appears to be backing off his previously and oft-stated commitment to seeking a world free of nuclear weapons. How this will play in a country where Obama is wildly popular (I know from first-hand experience, having been to Japan in August) but where the Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) and others are very serious about eliminating the scourge of nuclear weapons should be very interesting.

President Obama is undoubtedly the most engaged and committed president on nuclear disarmament we’ve had in the nuclear age. He garnered deserved praise for his rousing speech in Prague last April calling for a world free of nuclear weapons, yet the speech contained a disturbing caveat, that the elimination of nuclear weapons would “…perhaps not be achieved…” in his lifetime. The president is a relatively young man, does he really think this can’t be done in the next 40 years or so? Or, more to the point, that we can live in a wildly unpredictable world with the danger of thousands of nuclear weapons more or less indefinitely?

Yesterday in Japan, the president, in a joint press conference with new Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, called the abolition of nuclear weapons a “distant goal” that “…will not be reached probably even in our own lifetimes…”. So he has gone from nuclear abolition “perhaps” not being achievable in his lifetime to “probably” not in just a few months.

Not surprisingly, though disappointingly, the president dodged a reporter’s question about whether the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 was the right decision. He did say he would be honored and that it would be “meaningful” for him to visit the two cities sometime during his presidency (yes it would, I’ve been to Nagasaki and Hiroshima three times and it is always a moving experience, and the mayors and citizens of those two cities wish fervently for him to visit).

The president may not know this, but his apparent back-tracking on his rhetoric regarding eliminating nuclear weapons will likely be an extreme disappointment to the Hibakusha, many of them enduring radiation-caused illnesses and all of them elderly at this point, as they seek to abolish nuclear weapons in their lifetimes so that no one else ever experiences the unspeakable horror of a nuclear attack.

Obama’s statements created a bit of a buzz among peace movement leaders from around the world, including Japan, gathered last night at an opening reception for this weekend’s International Peace Bureau conference here in Washington, DC. I will seek comments from our Japanese peace movement allies on Obama’s statements and post them here soon.

Much more important than my analysis of Obama’s remarks is what we do to push him and other world leaders to banish the scourge of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth. To that end, Peace Action and dozens of local, national and international organizations are organizing to demand the beginning of negotiations for a nuclear weapons ban in conjunction with next May’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference at the UN in New York City.

Over the next few days here in Washington we will be furthering our planning for this campaign, but you can take action today by signing our petition to Obama and encouraging your friends to do so as well. Please go to our on-line petition, and you can also download a paper petition to circulate the old-fashioned way, on a clipboard in your neighborhood, at your school or place of worship at http://www.peace-action.org/nukes/campaigns/nptpetition.htm


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