July 15, 2014

Your opposition to the Iraq War forced the Bush administration to lie and dupe the American public to allow the invasion.  Our opposition ended that war earlier than the Bush administration wanted though at the cost of many American and Iraqi lives as well as trillions of tax payer dollars.  Don’t let the Obama Administration make the same mistake.

Tell your Member of Congress:  No New Iraq War!

The current situation in Iraq has grabbed the nation’s attention, and President Obama has already deployed around 750 American troops to Iraq in response to the crisis. While some of these troops were understandably sent to protect our embassy, hundreds were sent as ‘advisers’ to the Iraqi security forces. The American public has been clear: the Iraq War was a mistake and we don’t want to send our troops back into the middle of a civil war. As more and more Americans are sent into harm’s way in Iraq, Congress needs to hear from you.

Help stop the march to war: email your Representative today!

Thankfully, Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Walter Jones (R-NC), and Barbara Lee (D-CA) have introduced legislation to force a debate and vote on this buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq. Last week, these champions for peace introduced H Con Res 105, which would invoke the War Powers Resolution, and, if passed, would bring home the American advisers and prevent any further military intervention in Iraq. While the resolution would allow for the U.S. to continue protecting its embassy and diplomatic personnel, it would be a crucial step in preventing America from sliding back to a war in Iraq.

Please take two minutes to ask your Representative to cosponsor the bipartisan resolution!

Washington is once again full of hawks calling for war. Dick Cheney penned an op-ed defending the Iraq War and calling for new airstrikes and boots on the ground. You would think that after costing nearly 4,500 Americans their lives, wasting trillions of taxpayer dollars, and having been exposed for selling the Iraq War on lies, no one would bother listening to Cheney anymore. But sadly, many Members of Congress are ready to do just that. That is why your voice is so important. We weren’t quite able to stop Cheney in 2003, but, if we speak up now, we can stop him before we repeat the same mistakes again!

Make your voice heard: Urge your Representative to cosponsor the Iraq War Powers Resolution!

The situation in Iraq is difficult as the nation continues to be roiled in a complex sectarian crisis. But the solution is not American bombs or troops. Help make clear that America will not go back to war in Iraq by asking your Representative to cosponsor this important resolution.

Humbly for Peace,

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S. – We helped end the Iraq War and we don’t want the U.S. embroiled in another war there again.  Write your Member of Congress now! 


Interview on Iraq on Radio New Zealand

June 30, 2014

Our executive director Kevin Martin was interviewed about the situation in Iraq by Radio New Zealand on Saturday, give it a listen, it’s the second link on this page. Kevin’s interview follows an excellent commentary by Wayne Brittenden at about 4:50 minutes in.

 

 


Breaking News and Perspectives on Iraq

June 19, 2014

no good war banner pic

 

President Obama just spoke on Iraq, here are some points from Win Without War, a coalition Peace Action helped found to oppose the Iraq war in 2002:

Moments ago, the President finished a brief press conference in which he discussed the situation in Iraq. He announced that the US would be sending up to 300 special operations forces as advisors to Iraq (they will reportedly be broken into teams of 10-20 and forward deployed with Iraqi units). He also stressed that the US is now ready to make ‘limited, targeted’ air strikes if the situation the ground dictated it. While the President also made several positive statements stressing his opposition to ‘ground troops’ and that this remains an Iraqi problem that will require an Iraqi solution, we are troubled by some of these developments.

Here are our top line message responses.

  • This is a dangerous escalation of US military involvement in a problem the President himself has said has no military solution. It is also a dangerous retreat from the conditions that the President set for US engagement
  • What in needed in Iraq is a political solution, and any US support must only be made after changes to the policies of Prime Minister Maliki that are fueling sectarian tensions and growing this conflict.
  • History has shown that advisors can become ground troops, despite the best intentions.
  • President is still threatening airstrikes which would be counterproductive and firmly make America part of what is a growing Iraqi civil war.
  • President Obama needs to listen to the American people who do not want to restart the Iraq war.

Longtime Peace Action board of directors member Lauri Kallio of Albuquerque wrote this summary yesterday, which prompted a thoughtful reply by Bj, an activist with our Sacramento chapter:

President Barack Obama’s initial statement on the insurgency in Iraq was that all options are open. All options would include boots on the ground and bombing, with nuclear bombs not being ruled out. Later, Obama specifically excluded sending U.S. troops in, but reports were that the White House was mulling over the bombing option. Bombing attacks would would almost certainly produce noncombatant casualties and would likely provoke Sunni anger over the U.S. siding with the increasingly Shiite-dominated government. On June 16, media reports were that 100 Special Forces troops would be sent in to train Iraqi security forces.

 

President Obama also said that U.S. military aid would be premised on Iraqi government assurances to make political accommodations to relieve Sunni and Kurdish grievances about being largely excluded from power sharing. The U.S. troop surge well into the war was primarily designed to achieve some 18 socioeconomic and political goals — some hard to measure. I wrote a piece in my almost daily logbook on the war in Iraq, sometime after the surge took place, in which I demonstrated that there had been little or no progress on the goals, particularly on the two key goals of resolving Kurdish territorial land claims and an equitable sharing of oil revenues. The failure to resolve land claims alienated the Kurds and the failure to craft a plan to share oil revenues disadvantaged the Sunnis the most.

 

Staying with the theme of the futility of relying on the Iraqi government to become more inclusive,shortly before the troop surge took place, the U.S. began paying stipends for Sunni tribal groups to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq  Later, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was to strike a major blow against the Sunnis by cutting off the stipends.

 

When Nuri al-Maliki achieved his latest grip on power, his faction actually received fewer parliamentary seats than a competing faction led by a former foreign minister of Iraq; however, by more adroit political maneuvering, al-Maliki made deals with other small political factions to be elected prime minister.

 

After al-Maliki consolidated political power, he began a campaign to discredit the Sunni vice president, culminating in a murder charge for running a death squad, causing the vice president to flee the country.

 

Reports coming out of Baghdad form a pretty consistent picture of Prime Minister al-Maliki building an increasingly Shiite-dominated regime; thereby making it a naive move on the part of Obama to trust any promise of a more politically inclusive regime in Iraq.

 

If the argument is made that we must come to the aid of a democratically elected government in Iraq, given the extreme weakness of the Iraqi parliament and the ability of al-Maliki to rule largely by decree, the aid-to-a-democracy argument becomes very suspect.

 

If the argument is made that the U.S. should supply more arms to help the Iraqi security forces fight the insurgents. the last major clash should give one pause. Reports are that 30,000 Iraqi troops fled when confronted with 800 armed insurgents. Many of the fleeing Iraqi troops discarded their uniforms in the apparent hope that having no uniforms would save their lives if they fell into the hands of the insurgents. The insurgents found themselves with a yet-to-be-determined cache of U.S.-supplied weapons.

 

The word that the  U.S. may send in 100 Special Forces to train Iraqi security forces hinges on the absurd. Not only have Iraqi security forces failed to stand up to numerically inferior insurgent forces, but they have not been able to stop the ongoing mass violence against Iraqi citizens since the U.S. forces left.

 

U.S. training of foreign military forces has been a history of failure over the past half-century. After years of the U.S. training the South Vietnamese military, it quickly crumbled before the invasion of North Vietnamese armed forces. Part of the mission of the U.S. Marines sent into Lebanon by President Ronald Reagan was to train forces deemed favorable to U.S. interests. That training was washed away in the chaotic and very destructive civil war that raged in Lebanon. Central and South American military personnel schooled at the School of the Americas — since renamed — went back home and many committed atrocities against the very citizens they were committed to protect. We haven’t seen the final result of the long period of U.S. training of Afghan recruits; however, what we know of it shouldn’t inspire much confidence. Ann Jones, who taught school in Afghanistan for six years and was still there in 2009 to witness U.S. training methods, said of the 2009 incursion into Helmand Province that it consisted of 4,000 U.S. and allied troops and only 600 Afghan security forces, some of them police forces. Jones said she didn’t know of a single Afghan who had seen a 90,000 man Afghan army, as claimed by the U.S. in 2009. She even suggested tongue-in-cheek that it probably consisted of one man enlisting for training 90,000 times. Ann Jones personally knew of a number of men who went through the training, went home and went through again under another name. She was also convinced that Taliban men would go through the training course to learn of U.S. military tactics and also get a paycheck.

 

Overall, it would seem that all U.S. military options in Iraq are fraught with disaster. Diplomacy and a political settlement have also been suggested; however, I don’t see the U.S. as having the leverage to achieve a settlement. Realistically, we in the United States must come to the realization that there are situations in nation states that the intervention of the mighty U.S. military machine will only worsen the situation, and we shouldn’t set ourselves up for the burning we will get by setting the fires.

 

Unfortunately, the U.S. cannot serve as a role model for the world, given that we have attacked at least one nation that hasn’t attacked us in every decade since World War II. Youngsters just entering their teen years have never known a time when we were not at war and many have lived through two major wars.

 

Although I am generally opposed to dividing the world into smaller political enclaves of people based on religious or ethnic identification, perhaps the best solution would be for the U.S. to propose and work for splitting Iraq into Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political divisions. The Sunnis and the Shiites are at one another’s throats. The Kurds are largely autonomous in their own territory, even making their own oil concession deals, despite incurring the wrath of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

###

The US/Iran situation since the ouster of the Shah in 1979 has been ridiculous and I am very much in favor of a rational and pragmatic relationship between the US and Iran. That said, with regard to Iraq, things may not be so simple.

 

Also with regard to dividing Iraq among the sectors (Shi’a, Sunni and Kurd — who are mostly Sunni by the way) things are also not that simple. Between 1991 and 2003, those divisions were encouraged and promoted by the US through the Northern (Kurdish area) and Southern (Shi’a area) No Fly Zones during the 13 years of intense sanctions. Saddam Hussein was essentially restricted to the central, Sunni-Shi’a mixed, part of the country. And during the 2003-11 invasion and occupation, those divisions were also encouraged and promoted, it seems.

 

Were the Kurdish region of Iraq to get full nation status, a bloody chain reaction would likely follow as the Kurdish military attempted to expand into those parts of Syria, Turkey, and Iran which have significant Kurdish populations — widening and deepening an already very destructive situation in the region. It may happen, but it is not something that we should encourage.

 

I highly recommend watching today’s Democracy Now. The after-headlines-segment is with UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. It is long, but his insights are so valuable to understanding the situation.  Below is an excerpt (my bolds). Bj

 

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ambassador Brahimi, on the question of sectarianism, there have been several reports that suggest that in the initial days of the Iraq invasion in 2003, there were some neoconservative members of the Bush administration that actively fostered sectarianism between Sunnis, Shias and Kurds as a way of—as a policy of kind of divide and rule. Could you comment on that?

LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: … President Bush had given full, total responsibility to the Pentagon over Iraq. What was discussed there and what they did there, I don’t know. But as somebody from the region just looking at what was actually taking place, it was extremely hard not to believe that sectarianism was being promoted and that the people that were being put in charge were—I mean, of course the Kurdish region was given to Kurds 100 percent, and no—the rest of the Iraqis had no part in it. But in the rest of Iraq, the impression one had was that the people that were preferred by the occupying powers were the most sectarian Shia and the most pro-Iranian Shia, so, you know, that Iran—that Iraq is now very, very close to Iran. Again, from the point of view of somebody who looks at things from outside, I have absolutely no knowledge of what went on in the high spheres of power in Washington. The impression we had is that these people were put in charge either out of total ignorance—and that is extremely difficult to accept—or intentionally. But the fact is, you know, that the system that was established was very sectarian.

 


Urgent – Tell Congress: Cut Pentagon Pork, End War, Don’t Start a New One!

June 18, 2014

Today, the House is taking up its version of the National Department of Defense Appropriations Act.  This is one of the few chances that Congress votes on issues we care about.  Votes may start as early as this afternoon and continue through Friday afternoon.

Please call (202) 224-3121 and ask for your Representative (or give the operator your zip code to be directed) and say:

“My name is _______ and I am a constituent.  I am calling to request that Rep. _______ support amendments to Defense Appropriations that cut Pentagon spending and that end the Afghanistan war as soon as possible.  Thank you.”

This bill gives nearly half a trillion dollars to the Pentagon.  And that doesn’t include monies for the Afghanistan war and funding from an $80 billion slush fund called the Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) account.  Nor does it include most of the budget for nuclear weapons.  Again, all combined, the U.S. spends almost as much as all other countries in the world combined on military-related programs.  Does that represent your values?

Take a moment now to call your Representative.

We expect amendments that will:

*End the Afghanistan War at the end of this year — it’s time to bring all troops and contractors home and not leave any behind after this year.
*Bar sending combat troops into Iraq — we’ve been down that horrible road.
*Cut the F-35 — the most expensive plane and Pentagon project in history.
*Cut the Littoral Combat Ship — experts say it will cost over three times the original estimate.
*Cut fighter jet research — the U.S. has already wasted enough tax payer money on over-priced planes that don’t work.

Again please take time NOW to CALL your Representative to cut the Pentagon budget so we can afford other priorities like job creation, education and infrastructure.  Use the phone number and script above.

Humbly for Peace,

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S. Please call your Representative now at (202) 224-3121 and follow the above script to reduce Pentagon spending and end the Afghanistan War.  The sooner your call the better, but you can call up to Friday afternoon.


Call the White House – No Military Intervention in Iraq!

June 17, 2014

Last week, we generated thousands of email messages to President Obama, telling him no to U.S. military intervention in Iraq.  My thanks to all of you who took action!

A decision on how the U.S. will respond to the developing crisis in Iraq is now imminent.  Please take action: Call the White House comment line at 202.456.1111 between 9am and 5pm and tell President Obama to invest in diplomacy and international cooperation instead of U.S. military action.

Help me flood the White House comment line with our call for diplomacy, not war.  The people of Iraq and the region need peace, reconciliation and development, not more war and definitely not U.S. bombs or troops.

Humbly for Peace,

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S. Please call the president at 202.456.1111 and tell him more war is not the answer. To learn more about the situation in Iraq, here are a few recent articles you might find interesting.

Our former Executive Director, David Cortright, has a sensible, concise post on this issue you might find illuminating.

New York Times article on the current situation and consideration of U.S. military intervention

The Guardian on the collapse of the U.S.-trained Iraqi Army as ISIS advanced on Mosul

The Guardian again on the spread of ISIS in Iraq and Syria


Might Doesn’t Make Right (or even get a country what it wants)

May 12, 2014

With his essay “What you need to tell people when they say we should use the military,” Peace Action Board Member Larry Wittner makes a very succinct and persuasive case on History News Network that military might, especially as wielded by the United States, achieves little in international relations.

tags: Military Power

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Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization and rebellion, “What’s Going On at UAardvark?

SIPRI Fact Sheet:  TRENDS IN WORLD MILITARY EXPENDITURE, 2013

Is overwhelming national military power a reliable source of influence in world affairs?

If so, the United States should certainly have plenty of influence today. For decades, it has been the world’s Number 1 military spender. And it continues in this role. According to a recent report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States spent $640 billion on the military in 2013, thus accounting for 37 percent of world military expenditures. The two closest competitors, China and Russia, accounted for 11 percent and 5 percent respectively. Thus, last year, the United States spent more than three times as much as China and more than seven times as much as Russia on the military.

In this context, the U.S. government’s inability to get its way in world affairs is striking. In the current Ukraine crisis, the Russian government does not seem at all impressed by the U.S. government’s strong opposition to its behavior. Also, the Chinese government, ignoring Washington’s protests, has laid out ambitious territorial claims in the East and South China Seas. Even much smaller, weaker nations have been snubbing the advice of U.S. officials. Israel has torpedoed U.S. attempts to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, the embattled Syrian government has been unwilling to negotiate a transfer of power, and North Korea remains as obdurate as ever when it comes to scuttling its nuclear weapons program.

Of course, hawkish critics of the Obama administration say that it lacks influence in these cases because it is unwilling to use the U.S. government’s vast military power in war.

But is this true? The Obama administration channeled very high levels of military manpower and financial resources into lengthy U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and ended up with precious little to show for this investment. Furthermore, in previous decades, the U.S. government used its overwhelming military power in a number of wars without securing its goals. The bloody Korean War, for example, left things much as they were before the conflict began, with the Korean peninsula divided and a ruthless dictatorship in place in the north. The lengthy and costly Vietnam War led to a humiliating defeat for the United States — not because the U.S. government lacked enormous military advantages, but because, ultimately, the determination of the Vietnamese to gain control of their own country proved more powerful than U.S. weaponry.

Even CIA ventures drawing upon U.S. military power have produced a very mixed result. Yes, the CIA, bolstered by U.S. military equipment, managed to overthrow the Guatemalan government in 1954. But, seven years later, the CIA-directed, -funded, and -equipped invasion at Cuba’s Bay of Pigs failed to topple the Castro government when the Cuban public failed to rally behind the U.S.-instigated effort. Although the U.S. government retains an immense military advantage over its Cuban counterpart, with which it retains a hostile relationship, this has not secured the United States any observable influence over Cuban policy.

The Cold War confrontation between the U.S. and Soviet governments is particularly instructive. For decades, the two governments engaged in an arms race, with the United States clearly in the lead. But the U.S. military advantage did not stop the Soviet government from occupying Eastern Europe, crushing uprisings against Soviet domination in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, or dispatching Soviet troops to take control of Afghanistan. Along the way, U.S. hawks sometimes called for war with the Soviet Union. But, in fact, U.S. and Soviet military forces never clashed. What finally produced a love fest between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev and ended the Cold War was a strong desire by both sides to replace confrontation with cooperation, as indicated by the signing of substantial nuclear disarmament agreements.

Similarly, the Iranian and U.S. governments, which have been on the worst of terms for decades, appear to be en route to resolving their tense standoff — most notably over the possible development of Iranian nuclear weapons — through diplomacy. It remains unclear if this momentum toward a peaceful settlement results from economic sanctions or from the advent of a reformist leadership in Tehran. But there is no evidence that U.S. military power, which has always been far greater than Iran’s, has played a role in fostering it.

Given this record, perhaps military enthusiasts in the United States and other nations should consider whether military power is a reliable source of influence in world affairs. After all, just because you possess a hammer doesn’t mean that every problem you face is a nail.

- See more at: http://hnn.us/article/155550#sthash.YqVs3dTk.dpuf


Field Director Judith Le Blanc in the NYT on Pentagon spending

March 10, 2014

Peace Action’s Field Director Judith Le Blanc had a letter to the editor on Pentagon spending published in yesterday’s New York Times. It was part of a “Sunday Dialogue” on the issue, including our colleagues Bill Hartung and Bob Naiman as well. Kudos to all three!

Photo

CreditAndrew Holder
 

Readers discuss what kind of armed forces we need to face the threats of the 21st century.

To the Editor:

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s plan to reduce the size of the Army is a step in the right direction. It underscores the fact that waging a large-scale ground war in Iraq and a major counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan were tragic mistakes that should not be repeated.

Critics of the proposal will argue that it will hobble our ability to wage two ground wars at once, without acknowledging that it was not in our interest to do so in the early 2000s and will not be in our interest to do so in the foreseeable future, if ever. This is particularly true with respect to the current situation in Ukraine, where it makes no sense for the United States to take military action regardless of the size of our armed forces.

I hope that Mr. Hagel’s move will set off a larger debate: What kind of armed forces do we need to face the most likely threats of the 21st century?

Given that the most urgent threats we face, from climate change to cyberattacks, cannot be solved with military force, we should substantially downsize our armed forces across the board and invest some of the resulting savings in diplomacy, targeted economic assistance and other nonmilitary foreign policy tools.

WILLIAM D. HARTUNG
New York, March 4, 2014

The writer is director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.

Readers React

Mr. Hartung poses an important question — what sort of armed forces do we need to deal with 21st-century threats to the United States? — and leaps to unwarranted conclusions in trying to provide an answer.

His assertion that it will not be in our interest to wage simultaneous large ground wars “in the foreseeable future, if ever” is particularly brazen. Can he state with confidence that the complex and evolving geopolitics of this century will not produce a situation in which the United States must take on two large adversaries at once? I might on the contrary suggest that the relative decline of America, along with the rise of China and other assertive new powers, makes such a situation increasingly plausible.

Mr. Hartung claims that the most significant threats of the present and future, “from climate change to cyberattacks, cannot be solved with military force.” It is true that larger numbers of soldiers will not solve these problems. But dealing with cyberattacks, for example, requires not a diminution of military forces but a repurposing of those forces to take on new foes in new ways.

Climate change is not in itself a military problem, but science tells us that it will likely lead to a world of overstretched resources, increased natural disasters and displaced populations — a world, that is, in which wars and conflicts are ever more likely to break out. This is not a convincing argument for a reduction in the armed forces.

It is common sense to think about the future security challenges we face, and how best to adapt to them; but it is nonsense to assume that, in the 21st century, we no longer have to worry about land wars and threats of a more traditional nature.

DAVID A. McM. WILSON
Brookline, Mass., March 5, 2014

Continue reading the main story

The true issue that should be addressed is not whether we can fight one small war or two but rather, under our nation’s current financial constraints, whether we can continue to afford our existing military establishment. If we opt for the quick solution of fewer “boots on the ground,” it will simply further reduce our capability to respond militarily in settings varying from local weather disasters to major geopolitical conflicts.

What is really required is an attack by the Defense Department on the gross overlapping of military responsibilities, and the concomitant bureaucratic conflicts, delays and simple waste of scarce financial and human resources.

Numerous obvious opportunities exist. Does the Army treat wounds differently from the Navy? Does a chaplain say Mass differently in the Air Force? Are the rules for procurement different? If not, why are these functions not consolidated?

Indeed, does there remain any logic, other than simple hubris, for separate services?

FRANKLIN L. GREENE
Loudon, Tenn., March 5, 2014

The writer is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force.

I agree that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s plan to draw down the Army is a step in the right direction. As Mr. Hartung says, the simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were catastrophic mistakes that should not be repeated, so there is no reason to keep the Army at its current size.

But even if we did repeat those mistakes in the future — sadly, not a wholly implausible prospect, given that less than 30 years separated the fall of Saigon from our invasion of Afghanistan — that possibility would still not be an argument for keeping the Army at its present size. Historically, we’ve drawn down our forces after wars, without thinking that we weren’t going to have similar wars in the future. When we decided to go to war again, we increased the size of the Army again.

ROBERT NAIMAN
Policy Director, Just Foreign Policy
Urbana, Ill., March 5, 2014

The proposed reduction in troop levels could be the beginning of a new direction of American foreign policy by reducing our capacity for ground wars and occupations. If the reductions were enacted, it would restrict future presidents from pursuing land wars, which would be welcomed by a war-weary public.

Unfortunately, the debate over reducing troop levels is usually derailed by fear mongering on national security. Never has the argument supporting troop reductions been stronger.

The Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon’s strategy document, issued this month, outlines an approach that relies on multilateral military actions, with allies as partners in addressing security issues or natural disasters.

National security and most pressing global issues, such as the climate crisis or cyberattacks or civil conflicts, cannot be solved through military action, or through the action of one country alone. Multilateral action and cooperation are crucial. The situation in Ukraine is yet another example of that reality.

JUDITH LE BLANC
New York, March 5, 2014

The writer is the field director for Peace Action.

Mr. Hartung asks, “What kind of armed forces do we need to face the most likely threats of the 21st century?”

If this had been asked a hundred years ago, in March 1914, what would the answer have been? No one knew that World War I would soon break out, nor could anyone have anticipated World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan or any other military actions that we have been involved in.

Besides, unanticipated world events that changed our military needs have arisen without warning, or our ability to control them — the Communist revolutions in Russia and China, the violent tensions in the Middle East. Is there any reason to think that war game policy planners can find the answer to Mr. Hartung’s question today?

Do we still wish to be a world power, and, if so, what defines that role today and tomorrow? This is what we need to ask before we determine the new size of our armed forces.

HOWARD SCHNEIDERMAN

Easton, Pa., March 5, 2014

The writer is a professor of sociology at Lafayette College.

The Writer Responds

The responses strike a good balance in asking not just how large our armed forces should be, but also how we should prepare for an uncertain future and what role the United States should play in the world.

Mr. Wilson asserts that it is “increasingly plausible” that the United States might have to fight two large adversaries at once. But he does not say who those adversaries might be. No American leader would be reckless enough to engage in a land war against Russia or China, and there are no other large adversaries on the horizon.

Mr. Schneiderman points out that it is extremely hard to predict the next war. But the most damaging and costly American wars of the past half century — Vietnam and Iraq — should have never been fought. Opponents of these conflicts rightly predicted that they would have disastrous consequences. And as Mr. Naiman indicates, the United States has increased the size of our forces at times of war rather than keeping the Army on a permanent war footing between conflicts. Uncertainty is not a valid reason for giving the Pentagon nearly half a trillion dollars a year.

American foreign policy needs to move beyond a narrow focus on military solutions and invest more in civilian institutions and programs that can help address pressing problems like extreme poverty, climate change and the spread of nuclear weapons. The United States can’t be the world’s policeman, but it can be a leader in addressing the most urgent threats to America and the world.

WILLIAM D. HARTUNG
New York, March 6, 2014


When Will They Ever Learn?

January 9, 2014
Peace Action board member, professor, activist and author Larry Wittner’s article published yesterday on CounterPunch 
JANUARY 08, 2014
When Will They Ever Learn?
The American People and Support for War
by LAWRENCE WITTNER

When it comes to war, the American public is remarkably fickle.

The responses of Americans to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars provide telling examples.  In 2003, according to opinion polls, 72 percent of Americans thought going to war in Iraq was the right decision.  By early 2013, support for that decision had declined to 41 percent.  Similarly, in October 2001, when U.S. military action began in Afghanistan, it was backed by 90 percent of the American public.  By December 2013, public approval of the Afghanistan war had dropped to only 17 percent.

In fact, this collapse of public support for once-popular wars is a long-term phenomenon.  Although World War I preceded public opinion polling, observers reported considerable enthusiasm for U.S. entry into that conflict in April 1917.  But, after the war, the enthusiasm melted away.  In 1937, when pollsters asked Americans whether the United States should participate in another war like the World War, 95 percent of the respondents said “No.”

And so it went.  When President Truman dispatched U.S. troops to Korea in June 1950, 78 percent of Americans polled expressed their approval.  By February 1952, according to polls, 50 percent of Americans believed that U.S. entry into the Korean War had been a mistake.  The same phenomenon occurred in connection with the Vietnam War.  In August 1965, when Americans were asked if the U.S. government had made “a mistake in sending troops to fight in Vietnam,” 61 percent of them said “No.”  But by August 1968, support for the war had fallen to 35 percent, and by May 1971 it had dropped to 28 percent.

Of all America’s wars over the past century, only World War II has retained mass public approval.  And this was a very unusual war – one involving a devastating military attack upon American soil, fiendish foes determined to conquer and enslave the world, and a clear-cut, total victory.

In almost all cases, though, Americans turned against wars they once supported.  How should one explain this pattern of disillusionment?

The major reason appears to be the immense cost of war — in lives and resources.  During the Korean and Vietnam wars, as the body bags and crippled veterans began coming back to the United States in large numbers, public support for the wars dwindled considerably.  Although the Afghanistan and Iraq wars produced fewer American casualties, the economic costs have been immense.  Two recent scholarly studies have estimated that these two wars will ultimately cost American taxpayers from $4 trillion to $6 trillion.  As a result, most of the U.S. government’s spending no longer goes for education, health care, parks, and infrastructure, but to cover the costs of war.  It is hardly surprising that many Americans have turned sour on these conflicts.

But if the heavy burden of wars has disillusioned many Americans, why are they so easily suckered into supporting new ones?

A key reason seems to be that that powerful, opinion-molding institutions – the mass communications media, government, political parties, and even education – are controlled, more or less, by what President Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex.”  And, at the outset of a conflict, these institutions are usually capable of getting flags waving, bands playing, and crowds cheering for war.

But it is also true that much of the American public is very gullible and, at least initially, quite ready to rally ‘round the flag.  Certainly, many Americans are very nationalistic and resonate to super-patriotic appeals.  A mainstay of U.S. political rhetoric is the sacrosanct claim that America is “the greatest nation in the world” – a very useful motivator of U.S. military action against other countries.  And this heady brew is topped off with considerable reverence for guns and U.S. soldiers.  (“Let’s hear the applause for Our Heroes!”)

Of course, there is also an important American peace constituency, which has formed long-term peace organizations, including Peace Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and other antiwar groups.  This peace constituency, often driven by moral and political ideals, provides the key force behind the opposition to U.S. wars in their early stages.  But it is counterbalanced by staunch military enthusiasts, ready to applaud wars to the last surviving American.  The shifting force in U.S. public opinion is the large number of people who rally ‘round the flag at the beginning of a war and, then, gradually, become fed up with the conflict.

And so a cyclical process ensues.  Benjamin Franklin recognized it as early as the eighteenth century, when he penned a short poem for  A Pocket Almanack For the Year 1744:

War begets Poverty,

Poverty Peace;

Peace makes Riches flow,

(Fate ne’er doth cease.)

Riches produce Pride,

Pride is War’s Ground;

War begets Poverty &c.

The World goes round.

There would certainly be less disillusionment, as well as a great savings in lives and resources, if more Americans recognized the terrible costs of war before they rushed to embrace it.  But a clearer understanding of war and its consequences will probably be necessary to convince Americans to break out of the cycle in which they seem trapped.

Lawrence Wittner (http://lawrenceswittner.com), syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is “What’s Going On at UAardvark?” (Solidarity Press), a satirical novel about campus life.


September 26, 2013

Tuesday, Oct. 8th
National Teach-In on Syria & US Policy in the Region
6:30 to 7:30 pm EST

Live Streaming at http://www.busboysandpoets.com/videos/live-streaming

With developments unfolding rapidly, it is still uncertain how things will play out in Syria.

A few weeks ago our nation was on the brink of yet another deadly military mistake. At the last moment, a threat of a U.S. missile attack against Syria was averted as the justifiable concern about chemical weapons moved away from a military incursion into a diplomatic process. The raging civil war has not yet stopped, but the massive outpouring of anti-war sentiment from people in every corner of the country and around the world prevented this new attack, and is helping to slow the flow of arms into Syria.

Our victory was clear, but our work is far from over.
Will there be a negotiated resolution to the armed conflict inside Syria, or will the fighting escalate into an even broader regional war?
How did the peace movement in the U.S. and world-wide stop Washington from proceeding with military action in Syria, and how can we build on our success to change U.S. policy in the region?
What’s happening now, on the ground in Syria and on the diplomatic front? What is the U.S. interest in Syria and how does this connect to U.S. policy in the Middle East more generally?
These are some of the important issues that a dynamic panel of people will address in the National Teach-In on Syria. You are invited to watch the teach-in on line as we dig deeper into the issues and learn the lessons.

We are happy to join with other national groups to sponsor this live streamed panel on Tuesday, October 8th:


Phyllis Bennis – Director, New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies
Stephen Miles – Coordinator, Win Without War
Nick Berning – Communications Director, MoveOn.org
Rep. Barbara Lee (invited) – 13th Cong. District, CA
moderated by Judith LeBlanc – Field Director, Peace Action

Watch this important discussion with others! This is a moment to bring people together, to take our organizing to a new level.
– Invite people to your home to watch the teach-in together.
– If you are at a school or college get a room and organize a screening.
– Ask your local library or religious institution to set up a public viewing.
– Ask you local community cable station to run the program live or taped.
– Use this teach-in as an opportunity to talk with others about how to strengthen the work of the anti-war movement.

We realize the time of this event might make it hard for some folks on the West Coast to see the broadcast, but we’ll be sending out information about how you can access this event after October 8th.

This teach-in is organized and sponsored by the following groups that have been working together on Syria:
Peace Action
Win Without War
Institute for Policy Studies
CodePink
Just Foreign Policy
Progressive Democrats of America
American Friends Service Committee
Peace and Justice Resource Center
U.S. Labor Against the War
United for Peace and Justice
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Women’s Action for New Directions


President Obama: United Nations General Assembly Speech

September 24, 2013

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http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/09/24/remarks-president-obama-address-united-nations-general-assembly 

United Nations
New York, New York

10:10 A.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen:  Each year we come together to reaffirm the founding vision of this institution.  For most of recorded history, individual aspirations were subject to the whims of tyrants and empires.  Divisions of race and religion and tribe were settled through the sword and the clash of armies.  The idea that nations and peoples could come together in peace to solve their disputes and advance a common prosperity seemed unimaginable.

It took the awful carnage of two world wars to shift our thinking.  The leaders who built the United Nations were not naïve; they did not think this body could eradicate all wars.  But in the wake of millions dead and continents in rubble, and with the development of nuclear weapons that could annihilate a planet, they understood that humanity could not survive the course it was on.  And so they gave us this institution, believing that it could allow us to resolve conflicts, enforce rules of behavior, and build habits of cooperation that would grow stronger over time.

For decades, the United Nations has in fact made a difference — from helping to eradicate disease, to educating children, to brokering peace.  But like every generation of leaders, we face new and profound challenges, and this body continues to be tested.  The question is whether we possess the wisdom and the courage, as nation-states and members of an international community, to squarely meet those challenges; whether the United Nations can meet the tests of our time.

For much of my tenure as President, some of our most urgent challenges have revolved around an increasingly integrated global economy, and our efforts to recover from the worst economic crisis of our lifetime.  Now, five years after the global economy collapsed, and thanks to coordinated efforts by the countries here today, jobs are being created, global financial systems have stabilized, and people are once again being lifted out of poverty.  But this progress is fragile and unequal, and we still have work to do together to assure that our citizens can access the opportunities that they need to thrive in the 21st century.

Together, we’ve also worked to end a decade of war.  Five years ago, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in harm’s way, and the war in Iraq was the dominant issue in our relationship with the rest of the world.  Today, all of our troops have left Iraq.  Next year, an international coalition will end its war in Afghanistan, having achieved its mission of dismantling the core of al Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11.

For the United States, these new circumstances have also meant shifting away from a perpetual war footing.  Beyond bringing our troops home, we have limited the use of drones so they target only those who pose a continuing, imminent threat to the United States where capture is not feasible, and there is a near certainty of no civilian casualties.  We’re transferring detainees to other countries and trying terrorists in courts of law, while working diligently to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  And just as we reviewed how we deploy our extraordinary military capabilities in a way that lives up to our ideals, we’ve begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share.

As a result of this work, and cooperation with allies and partners, the world is more stable than it was five years ago.  But even a glance at today’s headlines indicates that dangers remain.  In Kenya, we’ve seen terrorists target innocent civilians in a crowded shopping mall, and our hearts go out to the families of those who have been affected.  In Pakistan, nearly 100 people were recently killed by suicide bombers outside a church.  In Iraq, killings and car bombs continue to be a terrible part of life.  And meanwhile, al Qaeda has splintered into regional networks and militias, which doesn’t give them the capacity at this point to carry out attacks like 9/11, but does pose serious threats to governments and diplomats, businesses and civilians all across the globe.

Just as significantly, the convulsions in the Middle East and North Africa have laid bare deep divisions within societies, as an old order is upended and people grapple with what comes next.  Peaceful movements have too often been answered by violence — from those resisting change and from extremists trying to hijack change.  Sectarian conflict has reemerged.  And the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction continues to cast a shadow over the pursuit of peace.

Nowhere have we seen these trends converge more powerfully than in Syria.  There, peaceful protests against an authoritarian regime were met with repression and slaughter.  In the face of such carnage, many retreated to their sectarian identity — Alawite and Sunni; Christian and Kurd — and the situation spiraled into civil war.

The international community recognized the stakes early on, but our response has not matched the scale of the challenge.  Aid cannot keep pace with the suffering of the wounded and displaced.  A peace process is stillborn.  America and others have worked to bolster the moderate opposition, but extremist groups have still taken root to exploit the crisis.  Assad’s traditional allies have propped him up, citing principles of sovereignty to shield his regime.  And on August 21st, the regime used chemical weapons in an attack that killed more than 1,000 people, including hundreds of children.

Now, the crisis in Syria, and the destabilization of the region, goes to the heart of broader challenges that the international community must now confront.  How should we respond to conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa — conflicts between countries, but also conflicts within them?  How do we address the choice of standing callously by while children are subjected to nerve gas, or embroiling ourselves in someone else’s civil war?  What is the role of force in resolving disputes that threaten the stability of the region and undermine all basic standards of civilized conduct?  What is the role of the United Nations and international law in meeting cries for justice?

Today, I want to outline where the United States of America stands on these issues.  With respect to Syria, we believe that as a starting point, the international community must enforce the ban on chemical weapons.  When I stated my willingness to order a limited strike against the Assad regime in response to the brazen use of chemical weapons, I did not do so lightly.  I did so because I believe it is in the security interest of the United States and in the interest of the world to meaningfully enforce a prohibition whose origins are older than the United Nations itself.  The ban against the use of chemical weapons, even in war, has been agreed to by 98 percent of humanity.  It is strengthened by the searing memories of soldiers suffocating in the trenches; Jews slaughtered in gas chambers; Iranians poisoned in the many tens of thousands.

The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on August 21st.  U.N. inspectors gave a clear accounting that advanced rockets fired large quantities of sarin gas at civilians.  These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood, and landed in opposition neighborhoods.  It’s an insult to human reason — and to the legitimacy of this institution — to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.

Now, I know that in the immediate aftermath of the attack there were those who questioned the legitimacy of even a limited strike in the absence of a clear mandate from the Security Council.  But without a credible military threat, the Security Council had demonstrated no inclination to act at all.  However, as I’ve discussed with President Putin for over a year, most recently in St. Petersburg, my preference has always been a diplomatic resolution to this issue.  And in the past several weeks, the United States, Russia and our allies have reached an agreement to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, and then to destroy them.

The Syrian government took a first step by giving an accounting of its stockpiles.  Now there must be a strong Security Council resolution to verify that the Assad regime is keeping its commitments, and there must be consequences if they fail to do so.  If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the United Nations is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws.  On the other hand, if we succeed, it will send a powerful message that the use of chemical weapons has no place in the 21st century, and that this body means what it says.

Agreement on chemical weapons should energize a larger diplomatic effort to reach a political settlement within Syria.  I do not believe that military action — by those within Syria, or by external powers — can achieve a lasting peace.  Nor do I believe that America or any nation should determine who will lead Syria; that is for the Syrian people to decide.  Nevertheless, a leader who slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country.  The notion that Syria can somehow return to a pre-war status quo is a fantasy.

It’s time for Russia and Iran to realize that insisting on Assad’s rule will lead directly to the outcome that they fear:  an increasingly violent space for extremists to operate.  In turn, those of us who continue to support the moderate opposition must persuade them that the Syrian people cannot afford a collapse of state institutions, and that a political settlement cannot be reached without addressing the legitimate fears and concerns of Alawites and other minorities.

We are committed to working this political track.  And as we pursue a settlement, let’s remember this is not a zero-sum endeavor.  We’re no longer in a Cold War.  There’s no Great Game to be won, nor does America have any interest in Syria beyond the wellbeing of its people, the stability of its neighbors, the elimination of chemical weapons, and ensuring that it does not become a safe haven for terrorists.

I welcome the influence of all nations that can help bring about a peaceful resolution of Syria’s civil war.  And as we move the Geneva process forward, I urge all nations here to step up to meet humanitarian needs in Syria and surrounding countries.  America has committed over a billion dollars to this effort, and today I can announce that we will be providing an additional $340 million.  No aid can take the place of a political resolution that gives the Syrian people the chance to rebuild their country, but it can help desperate people to survive.

What broader conclusions can be drawn from America’s policy toward Syria?  I know there are those who have been frustrated by our unwillingness to use our military might to depose Assad, and believe that a failure to do so indicates a weakening of American resolve in the region.  Others have suggested that my willingness to direct even limited military strikes to deter the further use of chemical weapons shows we’ve learned nothing from Iraq, and that America continues to seek control over the Middle East for our own purposes.  In this way, the situation in Syria mirrors a contradiction that has persisted in the region for decades:  the United States is chastised for meddling in the region, accused of having a hand in all manner of conspiracy; at the same time, the United States is blamed for failing to do enough to solve the region’s problems and for showing indifference toward suffering Muslim populations.

I realize some of this is inevitable, given America’s role in the world.  But these contradictory attitudes have a practical impact on the American people’s support for our involvement in the region, and allow leaders in the region — as well as the international community sometimes — to avoid addressing difficult problems themselves.

So let me take this opportunity to outline what has been U.S. policy towards the Middle East and North Africa, and what will be my policy during the remainder of my presidency.

The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region.

We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War.

We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world.  Although America is steadily reducing our own dependence on imported oil, the world still depends on the region’s energy supply, and a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy.

We will dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people.  Wherever possible, we will build the capacity of our partners, respect the sovereignty of nations, and work to address the root causes of terror.  But when it’s necessary to defend the United States against terrorist attack, we will take direct action.

And finally, we will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction.  Just as we consider the use of chemical weapons in Syria to be a threat to our own national security, we reject the development of nuclear weapons that could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region, and undermine the global nonproliferation regime.

Now, to say that these are America’s core interests is not to say that they are our only interests.  We deeply believe it is in our interests to see a Middle East and North Africa that is peaceful and prosperous, and will continue to promote democracy and human rights and open markets, because we believe these practices achieve peace and prosperity.  But I also believe that we can rarely achieve these objectives through unilateral American action, particularly through military action.  Iraq shows us that democracy cannot simply be imposed by force.  Rather, these objectives are best achieved when we partner with the international community and with the countries and peoples of the region.

So what does this mean going forward?  In the near term, America’s diplomatic efforts will focus on two particular issues:  Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.  While these issues are not the cause of all the region’s problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace.

The United States and Iran have been isolated from one another since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.  This mistrust has deep roots.  Iranians have long complained of a history of U.S. interference in their affairs and of America’s role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the Cold War.  On the other hand, Americans see an Iranian government that has declared the United States an enemy and directly — or through proxies — taken American hostages, killed U.S. troops and civilians, and threatened our ally Israel with destruction.

I don’t believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight — the suspicions run too deep.  But I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road towards a different relationship, one based on mutual interests and mutual respect.

Since I took office, I’ve made it clear in letters to the Supreme Leader in Iran and more recently to President Rouhani that America prefers to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully, although we are determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.  We are not seeking regime change and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy.  Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon.

So these statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement.  We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful.  But to succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable.  After all, it’s the Iranian government’s choices that have led to the comprehensive sanctions that are currently in place.  And this is not simply an issue between the United States and Iran.  The world has seen Iran evade its responsibilities in the past and has an abiding interest in making sure that Iran meets its obligations in the future.

But I want to be clear we are encouraged that President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course.  And given President Rouhani’s stated commitment to reach an agreement, I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government in close cooperation with the European Union — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China.

The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested.  For while the status quo will only deepen Iran’s isolation, Iran’s genuine commitment to go down a different path will be good for the region and the world, and will help the Iranian people meet their extraordinary potential — in commerce and culture; in science and education.

We are also determined to resolve a conflict that goes back even further than our differences with Iran, and that is the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.  I’ve made it clear that the United States will never compromise our commitment to Israel’s security, nor our support for its existence as a Jewish state.  Earlier this year, in Jerusalem, I was inspired by young Israelis who stood up for the belief that peace was necessary, just, and possible.  And I believe there’s a growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state.  But the children of Israel have the right to live in a world where the nations assembled in this body fully recognize their country, and where we unequivocally reject those who fire rockets at their homes or incite others to hate them.

Likewise, the United States remains committed to the belief that the Palestinian people have a right to live with security and dignity in their own sovereign state.  On the same trip, I had the opportunity to meet with young Palestinians in Ramallah whose ambition and incredible potential are matched by the pain they feel in having no firm place in the community of nations.  They are understandably cynical that real progress will ever be made, and they’re frustrated by their families enduring the daily indignity of occupation.  But they too recognize that two states is the only real path to peace — because just as the Palestinian people must not be displaced, the state of Israel is here to stay.

So the time is now ripe for the entire international community to get behind the pursuit of peace.  Already, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have demonstrated a willingness to take significant political risks.  President Abbas has put aside efforts to short-cut the pursuit of peace and come to the negotiating table.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has released Palestinian prisoners and reaffirmed his commitment to a Palestinian state.  Current talks are focused on final status issues of borders and security, refugees and Jerusalem.

So now the rest of us must be willing to take risks as well.  Friends of Israel, including the United States, must recognize that Israel’s security as a Jewish and democratic state depends upon the realization of a Palestinian state, and we should say so clearly.  Arab states, and those who supported the Palestinians, must recognize that stability will only be served through a two-state solution and a secure Israel.

All of us must recognize that peace will be a powerful tool to defeat extremists throughout the region, and embolden those who are prepared to build a better future.  And moreover, ties of trade and commerce between Israelis and Arabs could be an engine of growth and opportunity at a time when too many young people in the region are languishing without work.  So let’s emerge from the familiar corners of blame and prejudice.  Let’s support Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are prepared to walk the difficult road to peace.

Real breakthroughs on these two issues — Iran’s nuclear program, and Israeli-Palestinian peace — would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa.  But the current convulsions arising out of the Arab Spring remind us that a just and lasting peace cannot be measured only by agreements between nations.  It must also be measured by our ability to resolve conflict and promote justice within nations.  And by that measure, it’s clear that all of us have a lot more work to do.

When peaceful transitions began in Tunisia and Egypt, the entire world was filled with hope.  And although the United States — like others — was struck by the speed of transition, and although we did not — and in fact could not — dictate events, we chose to support those who called for change.  And we did so based on the belief that while these transitions will be hard and take time, societies based upon democracy and openness and the dignity of the individual will ultimately be more stable, more prosperous, and more peaceful.

Over the last few years, particularly in Egypt, we’ve seen just how hard this transition will be.  Mohamed Morsi was democratically elected, but proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was fully inclusive.  The interim government that replaced him responded to the desires of millions of Egyptians who believed the revolution had taken a wrong turn, but it, too, has made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy — through an emergency law, and restrictions on the press and civil society and opposition parties.

Of course, America has been attacked by all sides of this internal conflict, simultaneously accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and engineering their removal of power.  In fact, the United States has purposely avoided choosing sides.  Our overriding interest throughout these past few years has been to encourage a government that legitimately reflects the will of the Egyptian people, and recognizes true democracy as requiring a respect for minority rights and the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, and a strong civil society.

That remains our interest today.  And so, going forward, the United States will maintain a constructive relationship with the interim government that promotes core interests like the Camp David Accords and counterterrorism.  We’ll continue support in areas like education that directly benefit the Egyptian people.  But we have not proceeded with the delivery of certain military systems, and our support will depend upon Egypt’s progress in pursuing a more democratic path.

And our approach to Egypt reflects a larger point:  The United States will at times work with governments that do not meet, at least in our view, the highest international expectations, but who work with us on our core interests.  Nevertheless, we will not stop asserting principles that are consistent with our ideals, whether that means opposing the use of violence as a means of suppressing dissent, or supporting the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We will reject the notion that these principles are simply Western exports, incompatible with Islam or the Arab World.  We believe they are the birthright of every person.  And while we recognize that our influence will at times be limited, although we will be wary of efforts to impose democracy through military force, and although we will at times be accused of hypocrisy and inconsistency, we will be engaged in the region for the long haul.  For the hard work of forging freedom and democracy is the task of a generation.

And this includes efforts to resolve sectarian tensions that continue to surface in places like Iraq, Bahrain and Syria.  We understand such longstanding issues cannot be solved by outsiders; they must be addressed by Muslim communities themselves.  But we’ve seen grinding conflicts come to an end before — most recently in Northern Ireland, where Catholics and Protestants finally recognized that an endless cycle of conflict was causing both communities to fall behind a fast-moving world.  And so we believe those same sectarian conflicts can be overcome in the Middle East and North Africa.

To summarize, the United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries.  The notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn’t borne out by America’s current policy or by public opinion.  Indeed, as recent debates within the United States over Syria clearly show, the danger for the world is not an America that is too eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries or to take on every problem in the region as its own.  The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war — rightly concerned about issues back home, aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world — may disengage, creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.

I believe such disengagement would be a mistake.  I believe America must remain engaged for our own security.  But I also believe the world is better for it.  Some may disagree, but I believe America is exceptional — in part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interests, but for the interests of all.

I must be honest, though.  We’re far more likely to invest our energy in those countries that want to work with us, that invest in their people instead of a corrupt few; that embrace a vision of society where everyone can contribute — men and women, Shia or Sunni, Muslim, Christian or Jew.  Because from Europe to Asia, from Africa to the Americas, nations that have persevered on a democratic path have emerged more prosperous, more peaceful, and more invested in upholding our common security and our common humanity.  And I believe that the same will hold true for the Arab world.

This leads me to a final point.  There will be times when the breakdown of societies is so great, the violence against civilians so substantial that the international community will be called upon to act.  This will require new thinking and some very tough choices.  While the United Nations was designed to prevent wars between states, increasingly we face the challenge of preventing slaughter within states.  And these challenges will grow more pronounced as we are confronted with states that are fragile or failing — places where horrendous violence can put innocent men, women and children at risk, with no hope of protection from their national institutions.

I have made it clear that even when America’s core interests are not directly threatened, we stand ready to do our part to prevent mass atrocities and protect basic human rights.  But we cannot and should not bear that burden alone.  In Mali, we supported both the French intervention that successfully pushed back al Qaeda, and the African forces who are keeping the peace.  In Eastern Africa, we are working with partners to bring the Lord’s Resistance Army to an end.  And in Libya, when the Security Council provided a mandate to protect civilians, America joined a coalition that took action.  Because of what we did there, countless lives were saved, and a tyrant could not kill his way back to power.

I know that some now criticize the action in Libya as an object lesson.  They point to the problems that the country now confronts — a democratically elected government struggling to provide security; armed groups, in some places extremists, ruling parts of a fractured land.  And so these critics argue that any intervention to protect civilians is doomed to fail — look at Libya.  No one is more mindful of these problems than I am, for they resulted in the death of four outstanding U.S. citizens who were committed to the Libyan people, including Ambassador Chris Stevens — a man whose courageous efforts helped save the city of Benghazi.  But does anyone truly believe that the situation in Libya would be better if Qaddafi had been allowed to kill, imprison, or brutalize his people into submission?  It’s far more likely that without international action, Libya would now be engulfed in civil war and bloodshed.

We live in a world of imperfect choices.  Different nations will not agree on the need for action in every instance, and the principle of sovereignty is at the center of our international order.  But sovereignty cannot be a shield for tyrants to commit wanton murder, or an excuse for the international community to turn a blind eye.  While we need to be modest in our belief that we can remedy every evil, while we need to be mindful that the world is full of unintended consequences, should we really accept the notion that the world is powerless in the face of a Rwanda or Srebrenica?  If that’s the world that people want to live in, they should say so and reckon with the cold logic of mass graves.

But I believe we can embrace a different future.  And if we don’t want to choose between inaction and war, we must get better — all of us — at the policies that prevent the breakdown of basic order.  Through respect for the responsibilities of nations and the rights of individuals.  Through meaningful sanctions for those who break the rules.  Through dogged diplomacy that resolves the root causes of conflict, not merely its aftermath.  Through development assistance that brings hope to the marginalized.  And yes, sometimes — although this will not be enough — there are going to be moments where the international community will need to acknowledge that the multilateral use of military force may be required to prevent the very worst from occurring.

Ultimately, this is the international community that America seeks — one where nations do not covet the land or resources of other nations, but one in which we carry out the founding purpose of this institution and where we all take responsibility.  A world in which the rules established out of the horrors of war can help us resolve conflicts peacefully, and prevent the kinds of wars that our forefathers fought.  A world where human beings can live with dignity and meet their basic needs, whether they live in New York or Nairobi; in Peshawar or Damascus.

These are extraordinary times, with extraordinary opportunities.  Thanks to human progress, a child born anywhere on Earth today can do things today that 60 years ago would have been out of reach for the mass of humanity.  I saw this in Africa, where nations moving beyond conflict are now poised to take off.  And America is with them, partnering to feed the hungry and care for the sick, and to bring power to places off the grid.

I see it across the Pacific region, where hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty in a single generation.  I see it in the faces of young people everywhere who can access the entire world with the click of a button, and who are eager to join the cause of eradicating extreme poverty, and combating climate change, starting businesses, expanding freedom, and leaving behind the old ideological battles of the past.  That’s what’s happening in Asia and Africa.  It’s happening in Europe and across the Americas.  That’s the future that the people of the Middle East and North Africa deserve as well — one where they can focus on opportunity, instead of whether they’ll be killed or repressed because of who they are or what they believe.

Time and again, nations and people have shown our capacity to change — to live up to humanity’s highest ideals, to choose our better history.  Last month, I stood where 50 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. told America about his dream, at a time when many people of my race could not even vote for President.  Earlier this year, I stood in the small cell where Nelson Mandela endured decades cut off from his own people and the world.  Who are we to believe that today’s challenges cannot be overcome, when we have seen what changes the human spirit can bring?  Who in this hall can argue that the future belongs to those who seek to repress that spirit, rather than those who seek to liberate it?

I know what side of history I want to the United States of America to be on.  We’re ready to meet tomorrow’s challenges with you — firm in the belief that all men and women are in fact created equal, each individual possessed with a dignity and inalienable rights that cannot be denied.  That is why we look to the future not with fear, but with hope.  And that’s why we remain convinced that this community of nations can deliver a more peaceful, prosperous and just world to the next generation.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)


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