The End of Combat Operations in Iraq? How a “Peace President” Packages the Continuation of an Occupation to Make Us Feel Better About It

August 31, 2010
My overall impression is there is little question the president is spinning this “end of combat operations” in Iraq because the Afghanistan war is going badly. A few other thoughts and reactions to the president’s speech:
The president rightly paid tribute to the troops that have served in Iraq, and announced a large increase in veterans’ benefits. Will this be sustained? I don’t think anyone has a realistic estimate of the cost of providing decades and decades of physical and psychological medical care to the veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
President Obama praised the resilience of the Iraqi people, but similarly, will the U.S. really support them and make good on our debt to them, which dates back to the end of the first Iraq war in 1991 (or some would argue all the way back to the Iran-Iraq war in 1979)? Continued support, probably for the long-term, for Iraqi-led (not foreign oil company-enriching) economic development and refugee resettlement will be needed, likely in the tens of billions of dollars, in a time of a global economic crisis and tight budgets.
Iraq is still a mess. Deadly acts of violence are still a daily reality, as are a lack of reliable electricity, working sewers and clean water supplies. A working government hasn’t been formed five months after the election, and the president’s encouragement for the formation of a government sounded plaintive and powerless.
On the issue of our ongoing military presence, the 50,000 US troops remaining in Iraq are still “combat” forces able to train Iraqi forces but also to intervene with lethal force on “counter-terrorist operations” or other combat missions when called upon.  And of course thousands of mercenary contractors remain, and State Department Security contractors are expected to double from 3,500 to 7,000.
And of course the real deadline that matters is the end of next year, when all US troops, contractors and bases are to be withdrawn.  Peace activists, Members of Congress and the media – as well as the Iraqi people – will need to be vigilant to ensure that is a firm deadline, as there have already been military brass and diplomats agitating for an enduring occupation based on “security concerns.” There undoubtedly will be ongoing security concerns in Iraq (as the president admitted), even if political stability and strengthened police and military forces are achieved. The real issue is reinstituting Iraqi sovereignty, which is of course impossible while the US occupation, even if it is under a different name, continues.
This is all adds up to what appears to be a cynical “re-packaging” of a smaller but still significant occupation of Iraq for an Administration that is scrambling with low approval ratings and uncertain political prospects in the mid-term elections and beyond.
Naturally, the president pivoted to “the fight against al Qaeda” in the “Afghanistan-Pakistan border region” and emphasized his planned transition in Afghanistan, beginning with a partial withdrawal of US military forces next July (remember the president escalated the occupation by sending over 50,000 more troops to Afghanistan since he took office).  This was clearly a tacit admission that support for the president’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan is losing public, media and Congressional support.
The president stated that open-ended war serves neither our interests nor that of Afghans – right! – so when are we getting out? Beginning withdrawal (of an unspecified number of troops) next summer is not good enough. The president needs to announce, by the end of the year at the latest,  a plan and timeline for a complete end to the US occupation and war in Afghanistan.
According to the president, a new push for Middle East peace begins tomorrow with talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders at the White House. Continued one-sided, blank check support for Israel does not inspire confidence in the U.S. as an “honest broker” for peace, however personally committed the president may be.
As the president noted, spending over a trillion dollars for war over the last decade has resulted in rising deficits that have undermined our long-term economic competitiveness. He went on to say our most urgent tasks are to restore our economy, create jobs, improve education and lessen dependence on foreign oil.
Agreed on all of that, but the president has increased military spending since he took office and appears to have no political courage to really re-order our country’s spending priorities away from war and militarism and toward human and environmental needs.  Despite the hopes many peace activists had for this president, the military-industrial complex has little to fear from him or his administration.
Prosperity at home was a big focus for Obama, and it is for us too! The  October  2 One Nation Working Together mobilization in Washington, DC will link war and peace issues to the need to reinvest in human needs and economic justice here at home.  Also actions on the 9th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan around October 7 (the period of October 7 – 10 has been called as Global Days of Action to End the War in Afghanistan, with decentralized, local actions planned around the country).
The mid-term elections are also an important opportunity to hold House and Senate candidates’ feet to the fire on peace issues – fully withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan while supporting the rebuilding of those societies, brokering a just peace in the Middle East, and dramatically cutting military spending in order to invest in human needs.
My dominant impression in listening to President Obama tonight is that he is honest about some (certainly not all) of the problems we as a country face, but he lacks either the imagination or the political will to name the real solutions. So that’s up to us. As the old adage days, “when the people lead, the leaders will follow” and we the people will have ample opportunities to lead in the months ahead.

Summer reading – two terrific books on our movement’s and organization’s history!

August 25, 2010

While it may not be some people’s idea of summer beach reading, Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement by our own Larry Wittner (Professor at SUNY-Albany and national Peace Action board member) is a brisk (225 pages), informative and inspirational read. I just finished it this morning, and it is quite a ride through 65 years of our struggle the Ban the Bomb. As someone involved in the movement for 25 years, I know a lot of the history of our work, but there’s a lot I didn’t know, or that I needed to be reminded of to help put our current work in proud, uplifting context. The book is available through the publisher, Stanford University press, at

And while you’re at it, if you don’t already own Peace Action: Past, Present and Future, our 50th anniversary book that came out in 2007, get that one, too! Edited by the same Larry Wittner (yes, he’s a busy man!) and the equally prolific Glen Stassen (Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and Peace Action Education Fund board member), it features essays on our history and our ongoing work by Peace Action leaders throughout the decades, including Sandy Gottlieb, Homer Jack, Monica Green, Andrea Ayvazian, Steven Brion-Meisels, Jon Rainwater and David Cortright, as well as Glen and Larry (and me!). Contact Development Director Peter Deccy ( at the national Peace Action office and we’ll make you a great deal on this proud history of our organization!

Mark your calendars for Peace and Justice Actions in October

August 24, 2010

Forty seven percent of the voters believe the Federal budget deficit is primarily due to the wars while joblessness continues to climb. The number one concern for a majority of people is the economy. It is the perfect storm for new organizing efforts to end the wars, cut military spending and rebuild our communities.

Peace Action is helping to organize a national march on Washington, October 2,One Nation Working Together. We are calling on the Obama administration and Congress to create jobs and “move the money” from wars and weapons to our communities.

Peace Action met with peace leaders from around the world to create International Days of Action to End the War in Afghanistan, October 7-10.  This will be an opportunity for local activities to mobilize growing opposition to the costs, human and economic, of the war. Using local newspaper ads, teach-ins, vigils, Congressional visits or phone- ins to call for a ceasefire, negotiations and a withdrawal of all troops will help focus the growing opposition on both the administration as well as candidates in the midterm elections.  Check with your local peace groups or stay tuned for information on organizing your own action.

In peace, 

Paul Kawika Martin
Organizing and Policy Director
Peace Action

P.S. Please join us here in Washington, DC on Saturday, October 2, for an historic march and plan to participate in an event in your local area during the International Days of Action to End the War in Afghanistan, October 7-10.

Teach-in on Iraq in DC this Sunday

August 23, 2010

Along with our colleagues Code Pink, the Institute for Policy Studies and other stalwart peace and justice groups, Peace Action is sponsoring a teach-in on Iraq this Sunday, August 29. Here is the “411” as they say, and a good article from Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin on Op-Ed News:

Iraq: The Legacy of the 7-Year U.S. Occupation

When: Sunday, August 29th 2010

Time: 5pm-9pm


Busboys and Poets

5th and K NW, Washington, DC


Is the U.S. military really leaving Iraq or just rebranding? What is the toll of seven years of occupation on Iraqis, U.S. soldiers and our economies? What is the status of Iraqi refugees around the world?  Is it still possible to hold accountable those who dragged us into the war or committed crimes such as torture? What role did Congress and the media play in facilitating the invasion/occupation? We’ll also look at the role of the peace movement–its strengths and weaknesses–and draw key lessons to make our work for peace, including in Afghanistan, more effective.

Speakers/fperformances include:

Kymone Tecumseh Freeman, playwright, performer, reading Letters from Iraq

Phyllis Bennis, Institute for Policy Studies

Raed Jarrar, Peace Action

BIll Fletcher, labor leader, scholar

Josh Stieber, Iraq Veterans Against the War

Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK and Global Exchange

Andy Shallal, Iraqi artist, owner Busboys and Poets

David Swanson, author

Cynthia Benjamin, Military Families Speak Out

Sponsored by: CODEPINK, Peace Action, Institute for Policy Studies, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Global Exchange, Just Foreign Policy, Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, ANSWER, World Can’t Wait, Voices for Creative Nonviolence and War is a Crime.

Iraq Combat Forces Withdrawal: Mission Accomplished?

August 19, 2010

My interview today with RT.

How Much is Enough? Peace Action Board Member Larry Wittner on Pentagon largesse

August 16, 2010

Larry Wittner, long-time activist, professor and author, has a terrific op-ed on History News Network on the gigantic U.S. military budget. Check it out and feel free to re-post and forward.

Organizing and Policy Director Paul Kawika Martin in Japan

August 10, 2010

Sonali Kolhatkar, the host of Uprising, interviewed Paul from Hiroshima last Friday. The show runs on over a dozen stations including: KPFA, KPFT, KRFP, WVJW, WXOJ-LP, FRSC, and The Journey Radio.

Paul is in Japan for the 65th anniversary commemorations of the U.S. nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and also to visit Okinawa to learn more about the controversy over US military bases there as a guest of our sister peace group GENSUIKIN, which brings a Peace Action activist to Japan every year. GENSUIKIN also sent a delegation to New York in May for our terrific events around the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.


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