–Kevin Martin, Executive DirectorMy cousin David has a cool used record and bookstore in downtown Lancaster, PA (my hometown) called BohoZone, check it out if you visit Lancaster. Bought my son Max a paperback copy of Fahrenheit 451 for Xmas, which he of course forgot and left in the car. So I read it, for the first time since high school (and will now give it back to Max for him to read). Really dug it, forgot that Ray Bradbury knew how to write for popular audiences. Want to see the movie again too (directed by one of the all-time greats, Francois Truffaut, starring Oskar Werner and the inimitable Julie Christie). Gotta admit I dig the future dystopia genre, especially the ones where there is some hope or at least fightback by the people (I also like the “we’re screwed and destined to succumb to the fascist police state and there’s no hope” ones too as I hope they’ll serve as a cautionary tale and wake people up.)I especially like the one where the supposedly liberal or even “socialist” president decides who he can kill with impunity, using robots to deliver bombs, even if he doesn’t even know the person’s name, in countries with whom we are not at war, with no congressional or judicial oversight, justified by lawyers accountable only to him, with hundreds (at least) of civilians being killed.Oh wait that’s not some future dystopia, that’s called the Obama Administration.While many peace activists and human rights researchers have been protesting and educating and agitating about drone strikes and the president’s “kill list” for quite some time, this week seems to have brought something of a breakthrough, at least in media coverage and perhaps in Congressional scrutiny of these morally and legally dubious (and that’s being kind, many folks would just say “illegal”) practices by our Nobel Peace Laureate president. CIA Director-designate John Brennan took much of the heat on this in the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Wednesday (with some justification, as he has been the president’s counterterrorism chief and was in the CIA under Bush/Cheney), but the president is the one accountable for these policies, and the one who could, and should, end them.Brevity prevents a full listing of all the problematic aspects of drone strikes (our colleague and former Peace Action staffer and board member Duane Shank of Sojourners had a nice rundown on his Drone Watch blog post the other day, with links to many articles), but the civilian death toll and paper-thin legal “justification” for drone strikes being authorized by the Congressional resolution right after 9/11 are enough to call this whole shebang to a halt. (Certainly Constitutional Law Professor Barack Obama would have understood this.)Those two concerns are the main reasons cited for the announcement late last month that the UN will open an investigation into drone strikes and targeted killings. Unites States’ UN Ambassador Susan Rice said the administration “has not ruled out full cooperation” with the investigation, as if we can pick and choose, as a UN member state. when to cooperate.Momentum against drones (and I haven’t even gone into the frightening spectre of the proliferation of domestic surveillance drones just on the horizon that even Bradbury couldn’t have imagined) is building fast. Nationally coordinated grassroots actions on drones are planned for April. I had a suggestion the other day that we ought to start a call-in campaign to the White House every Tuesday. Why? That is supposedly the day the president looks at the kill list and approves targets for murder.I know many liberals and progressives are loathe to criticize the president, and/or feel it’s their job to protect him from the right-wing. But it’s our Constitution that needs protecting, from this or any president who would declare himself judge, jury and executioner. Do him a favor and demand he end this madness.
Be a Patriot, Uphold the Constitution: Save Obama From His Tortured Justifications For Drone Strikes, Kill Lists and Targeted AssassinationsFebruary 8, 2013
Once again, our tax dollars are at work as Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza escalates, including a potential ground invasion. The violence on both sides must end, including the rocket launches from Gaza aimed at Israeli civilians. We mourn the dead on both sides (MSNBC reports this morning 95 dead in Gaza, including 24 children, with three Israelis also dead.)
As U.S. taxpayers, we must speak out against the asymmetrical attack by Israel enabled by the annual $4 billion in U.S. military aid. As is the norm in these situations, U.S. weaponry is almost surely being used illegally by Israel (in violation of the Arms Export Control Act as well as international humanitarian law) against civilians living under a de facto blockade in Gaza.
Please take action:
Call the White House at 202-456-1111 and the State Department at 202-647-6575.
· Demand that the U.S. exert immediate pressure on Israel to end its violent aggression;
· Demand that Israel immediately lift its illegal blockade and siege of Gaza
· Demand the U.S. exert diplomatic pressure on Israel for an immediate cease-fire and initiate an investigation into Israel’s misuse of U.S. weapons to commit human rights abuses of Palestinians.
If you voted for President Obama, I don’t think it would hurt to note that in your call.
Sen. John McCain has called for former President Bill Clinton to be appointed as a peace envoy to help end this conflict, which is not a bad idea in terms of bringing someone with prestige into the picture (former President Jimmy Carter might even be better but we won’t quibble).
This is surely a terrible humanitarian crisis, but also perhaps an opportunity to seek not just a cease fire, but an end to the blockade of Gaza and a way forward toward a just and lasting peace for both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.
Other resources from colleagues of Peace Action:
Statement by American Friends Service Committee (Quakers)http://afsc.org/story/afsc-calls-immediate-end-violence-gaza-and-israel
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Commiteehttp://www.adc.org/media/press-releases/2012/november-2012/take-action-help-gaza/
U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupationhttp://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=2948
Jewish Voice for Peacehttp://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/campaigns/take-action-for-gaza
Humbly for Peace,
Last week, we shared (on the Peace Action FaceBook page, not here on the Peace Blog) the devastating Living Under Drones report on U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, written by researchers from Stanford and New York University. If you didn’t read it or watch the accompanying video by Brave New Foundation (available at the same link as above and also on our FB page), you ought to. It is a clear indictment of a policy that is earning our government (deserved, I believe) enmity in Pakistan and around the world for the wanton use of armed drones to kill from afar.
CIVIC and the Columbia Law School also have a report posing hard questions for Congress and the Obama Administration titled The Civilian Impact of Drones: Unexamined Costs, Unanswered Questions. The recommendations to policymakers are worth a read.
Colleagues from many U.S. peace groups are in Pakistan right now on a nonviolent solidarity mission to call attention to and demand an end to U.S. drone strikes, which are killing many civilians in the Waziristan region. Follow the delegation at http://droneswatch.org/
Bob Naiman of Just Foreign Policy is on the delegation, and he explains why, as well as analyzes U.S. drone policy, with an article on Huffington Post.
Last but far from least, our good friend Phyllis Bennis was on Democracy Now! yesterday talking about Afghanistan, our country’s longest war (October 7th will mark eleven years since the start of our war there).
I’m guessing this new aspect of U.S. war-making (drone strikes) will not come up in the Presidential debate tonight, especially as the focus will be on domestic issues, but we will need to raise our concerns about U.S. drone policy in every conceivable way going forward.
Stephen Colbert Skewers President Obama Over Drone Strikes and Kill List (and he richly deserves it); Do Not Kill List Urged on White House Website!June 1, 2012
Whatever one thinks of President Obama, his foreign and military policy, and how much worse a Romney presidency might be, the president is in very bad territory with his actions regarding “signature” drone strikes and kill lists. If there aren’t laws against presidents being judge, jury and executioner, there ought to be (I’m no constitutional law professor, like, oh, the president, but I’m pretty sure there are such laws). Congress needs to step in here and do its job. Thanks to Erik Sperling for this.
The Colbert Report did two consecutive segments focusing on the Obama administration’s drone policy last night (a frequent topic for him).
They are definitely worth watching and sharing. The links are below, along with a few quotes. -Erik
Thursday May 31, 2012
Barack Obama’s Righteous Drone Strikes
The government takes out Al Qaeda’s “number two,” and Barack Obama finds an alternative to shutting down Guantanamo Bay.
The Word – Two Birds With One Drone
The Obama administration reasons that anyone in a strike zone is likely Al Qaeda, so no one has to feel guilty about civilian casualties. (03:32) http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/414704/may-31-2012/the-word—two-birds-with-one-drone
“Obama has carried out more than five times as many covert drone strike as George Bush. So what’s behind the president’s righteous kill spree? Could it be that he’s just gunning for another Nobel Peace Prize?”
“Rather than sending prisoners to Gitmo, he is taking the high road by sending them to their maker. As the New York Times put it, Mr. Obama has avoided the complications of detention by deciding to take no prisoners alive. It’s brilliant — he doesn’t have to worry about habeas corpus because after a drone strike, sometimes you can’t even find the corpus.”
“The administration has developed a brilliant system of ensuring that those building engulfing explosions don’t kill non-combatants: they just count all military age males in a strike zone as combatants.”
“This isn’t just the president executing innocent people around the world by fiat, there is an appeals process. The men are considered terrorists unless ‘there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent,’ in which case, I assume, there is a legal process that un-kills them.”
Meanwhile, progressive talk show host David Sirota has created a “Do Not Kill List” petition drive on the White House website! Also brilliant! Hopefully Colbert will help publicize it too!
“Nobody wants to give up the gains that have been won at such hard cost. And nobody wants to give our allies an excuse to run for the exits.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates
The image of our NATO allies breaking for the exit at the first sign the US begins withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan pretty much says it all. A bottomless quagmire, an unpopular, unwinnable war our allies can’t wait to be free of.
In the coming weeks, President Obama will announce his plan for fulfilling his promise that the 30,000 ‘surge’ troops he sent to Afghanistan would begin coming home this July. Americans no longer view the war as worth the cost. Opposition in Congress is growing, and members of his own administration, including Vice President Biden have expressed doubts about the efficacy of an all-in military campaign.
On the other side of the debate, Gates and the Pentagon Brass aren’t leading with the ‘allies running for the exit’ argument, but rather are pressing for a continuation of a strategy they say is protecting “gains that have been won at such a hard cost.” This is an argument that resonates with those predisposed to the military option.
Having toppled the Taliban, driven al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan and killed bin Laden, the US has achieved what it set out to do, albeit “at such a hard cost.” What’s left – preventing the return of the Taliban to power and al-Qaeda to its Afghanistan havens and the corresponding requirement of building a functional government to prevent that outcome, is purely a case of Gates and the Brass gambling with house money.
Let’s start with the foundation needed to achieve these objectives – building a functional government in Afghanistan that can prevent the return of the Taliban to power and al-Qaeda to its Afghanistan havens. Success hinges on the Karzai government, rigger of elections and overseer of the kleptocracy which controls only a small portion of the country. President Karzai is a harsh critic of US military strategy who even threatened to join the Taliban. A succession of US ambassadors and envoys have – at best – expressed serious misgivings as to his potential as a partner in US efforts to build a stable government.
Afghanistan’s economy is a shambles. Its two billion dollar budget will not be able to sustain the projected eight billion dollar annual cost for the security forces the US will spend some $30 billion to recruit and train.
The bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, created by Congress in 2008 to find waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement of contracts, has warned that tens of billions of dollars will be wasted on projects Afghanistan cannot sustain while tens of billions of dollars more will be eaten by old-fashion waste and fraud. The Commission concluded in its June 3 report:
“In Afghanistan, the United States has contracted for: schools and clinics that lack adequate personnel, supplies, and security; a large power plant that the host country cannot maintain or operate unassisted; roads that will need substantial and continuing maintenance; and security-force training and support whose costs exceed Afghan funding capabilities.”
While the Obama administration executes its warplan in Afghanistan at a cost of $2 billion a week, al-Qaeda’s presence in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere is growing. In Pakistan, where Taliban elements find safe haven along a porous border, the US war, drone strikes and the killing of bin Laden fuels public anger and resentment at our government and Pakistan’s as well. This not only threatens the vital supply line to landlocked Afghanistan, but the stability of our nuclear armed and increasingly disenchanted ally.
So, with our own economy at risk as well, what are the alternatives to continuing the administration’s Afghanistan gamble?
• Draw down our force levels. The President promised to begin withdrawing surge forces in July and he must stick to his commitment. The argument that the Taliban will simply ‘wait us out” fails to recognize the war has gone on for 10 years now, and the Taliban will “wait us out” another 10 years if it has to, adapting its tactics, recruiting new fighters and inflicting maximum damage as long as foreign troops occupy Afghanistan.
• End offensive military actions. Stop the night raids and drone strikes that are causing civilian casualties. Challenge the insurgency to work for a political settlement.
• Accelerate negotiations. Seek a cease fire and set the stage for fair elections in 2014 that will allow the people of Afghanistan to determine their own future.
• Reach a political settlement. Our own military leaders acknowledge this is the only way the war will end. But trying to beat the Taliban into submission so they will be more compliant to our conditions for a settlement gambles our blood and treasure with no guarantee of a successful outcome.
Peace Action and twenty of our colleague organizations launched a week of action in May to build support in the House of Representatives for an amendment to the Pentagon spending bill calling on the President to provide an exit plan that would bring our troops home well ahead of the 2014 date favored by the administration. While the amendment failed 204-214, the vote was much closer than expected and represents growing congressional opposition to the war in Afghanistan. Last year, the same bill was defeated 162-260. Our work is paying off.
We have it on good authority that the President has heard the message from the House loud and clear. Our next step is to organize a bipartisan letter from the Senate to President Obama urging a substantial and responsible redeployment of our forces this summer.
Call the Senate switchboard – (202) 224-3121 and strongly urge your Senators to sign the Merkley-Lee-Udall letter to President Obama urging a “sizeable and sustained” reduction in forces from Afghanistan beginning in July.
We will soon see if it’s enough to make July a turning point in this terrible war. Come what may, we will not let up until the last of our troops come home.
President Barack “Three Wars” Obama (Nixon, Reagan and even G.W. Bush could only dream of conducting three wars at once!) was unconvincing in making his case for war in Libya last night in his speech to the country. Of course, he side-stepped the constitutional war powers question – consulting with bipartisan Congressional leadership doesn’t cut the mustard, as even he knew before becoming president, as Bob Naiman of Just Foreign Policy recounted on Huffington Post.
And, as his predecessor loved to do, he mightily slew his own Straw Man, setting up and then knocking down the argument that because the U.S. can’t intervene militarily everywhere in the world where people are being brutally suppressed, we can’t intervene anywhere. I haven’t seen opponents or skeptics of the Libya intervention making that argument.
What I have seen is the hypocrisy and inconsistency of U.S. Middle East policy being challenged, most succinctly by The Daily Show’s devastating “America’s Freedom Packages” sketch last week. Without going into a huge laundry list of inconsistencies, how about this one – protesters are being killed in Bahrain and Yemen by U.S.-allied regimes, and I’ve heard of no calls for no-fly zones or even cutting off weapons to those regimes.
Some Libya war opponents claim the humanitarian justification for the intervention are bogus, that oil or some other U.S./Western imperial interest must really be behind this. That may well be true, but I don’t know that for certain. Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies thinks access to or domination of Libya’s oil is not the main reason for U.S./NATO intervention, as we have been buying oil from the Gaddafi government since 2003.
The problem is, because of a long history of imperial wars and military and foreign policies, the U.S., even under a president thought to be more peaceful and less unilateral than his predecessor, has little credibility left when it comes to waging war, especially when it selectively preaches nonviolence to some who seek democracy while arming others.
The awe-inspiring, mostly nonviolent, secular and entirely indigenous revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, which captivated the world and inspired protest in other countries, were slow to receive support from President Three Wars and his Cabinet. As they embarrassingly fumbled for days (Vice-President Biden saying Egyptian President for Life Hosni Mubarak was not a dictator, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opining that Mubarak really did have the interests of his people at heart) to get on the side of the people and the right side of history, I almost felt sorry for them (almost but not quite!).
What could they have said? The truth, that our foreign policy in the Middle East has been morally bankrupt and cynical for decades, and that we would gladly have kept supporting and arming Mubarak (as we had for thirty years) and his son (his chosen successor) ad infinitum had it not been for the heroic Tahrir Square protesters standing up and saying, “Enough!”? I’d love to have seen that speech!
At least the Administration is consistent, though in a bad way, in being slow to support nonviolent movements. It could have supported the initial nonviolent resistance campaign in Libya, as University of San Francisco Professor (and former Peace Action Education Fund board member) Stephen Zunes noted on truthout. It didn’t, choosing instead to support the armed rebels, perhaps missing a chance to intervene non-militarily before the armed conflict escalated.
But of course U.S. foreign policy is best summed up by Mark Twain’s adage, “When your only tools are hammers, all problems look like nails.”
In a rapidly changing world, one of whose dominant features is the decline of U.S. Empire, we need new tools. Offering rhetorical and material support to nonviolent democratic forces seeking emancipation from despots (especially ones the U.S. has supported) would be a great start. A serious commitment to emphasizing diplomacy and just economic development over military strategies, in Libya, Afghanistan, Palestine and Israel and many other countries, would do wonders to lessen armed conflict.
Shutting down the U.S. arms bazaar (we are the world’s number one weapons pusher, and weapons are the country’s number one manufactured export to the world) would do wonders for global peace and stability. While we’re at it, let’s take a look at our $1.2 trillion annual “national security” budget and 900 foreign military bases and consider how that is crippling our domestic economy by hoarding resources needed for human and environmental needs programs and job creation. Creating a standing United Nations peacekeeping force, under the aegis of the Secretary-General and not subject to the Security Council veto, is long overdue, and would have much more credibility than U.S./NATO or other “great power” militaries claiming to intervene for humanitarian purposes.
As long as the U.S. thwarts those and other needed changes in policy, we appear to be doomed to more wars, many to be justified as “humanitarian” in nature. My children, ages 17 and 13, think the U.S. is always at war, and of course they would, that has been true since they were old enough to be aware of such things, and it’s been true the overwhelming majority of the time since 1776. Isn’t it well past time for new tools?