by Kevin Martin, Executive Director
Updated from a previous blog post
When I first heard a report of President Obama’s decision to remove only 5,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan this year (which turned out to be only half what he announced June 22, with another 23,000 troops to leave by September, 2012), my first thought was “did he forget a zero?” The decision was disappointing but not surprising. Remember, candidate Obama promised to escalate the Afghanistan war (which he did, twice), and as president, he has committed himself to “winning” it (whatever that means, I’m reminded of the pacifist Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin’s quote, “You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake”).
Moreover, the military has consistently and effectively influenced the president’s decisions on the war, with former Secretary of War Robert Gates, Generals David Petraeus, Stanley McChrystal and others constantly speaking in public and to the media “setting policy,” which the president has enabled (Truman or Eisenhower would doubtless have fired them for that).
The President’s decision to prolong the war despite escalating public and congressional pressure surely reflects the malign influence of the Military-Industrial Complex (though I don’t mean to give the president a pass here, he is accountable for his decisions). The MIC won’t be taken down quickly or easily, perhaps not in our lifetimes.
But it will be taken down. The U.S. Empire is on the decline. Let’s replace it with a flowering U.S. Republic (in the phrase of the philosopher Johan Galtung). Protesting the wars and scourges of the Empire is only half our job. Empowering people to envision and decide what comes after, or along with, that decline is even more important. Even some in the military realize the U.S. needs a new foreign policy, one based less on belligerence and military might and more on peaceful diplomacy and international cooperation, as the recent “Mr. Y” article showed (see http://www.wilsoncenter.org/events/docs/A%20National%20Strategic%20Narrative.pdf).
At a recent reception near the United Nations at which I was humbled to be honored by non-governmental organizations that work at the UN, I asked attendees to close their eyes and envision that more peaceful, just world we will help build as the Empire declines. I asked folks to shout out what they envisioned. “A peaceful future for our children,” “meaningful jobs for all,” “an environment restored, with green energy technology and good public transit,” “health care for everyone” and “the end of nuclear power” were just some of the inspiring visions shared that night. It was beautiful!
So this is not a time to despair. Yes, we at Peace Action are sick of all wars, whether a Republican or Democrat is in the White House. But signs of our successes at shaping that new world abound:
- Public opinion is now solidly against the Afghanistan war – that’s our doing!
- The House and Senate finally sent strong messages to Obama of their opposition to the war, mostly because of our hard work.
- Congress is pushing the administration on the illegality of the Libya war.
- (Now former) Secretary of War Gates on the defensive in his last Senate hearing, reduced to declaring about Afghanistan “it’s not a war without end.”
- The recent U.S. Conference of Mayors resolutions calling for redirecting war spending to human needs and advocating the global elimination of nuclear weapons.
- The military budget is still gargantuan, but the organizing and political climate for working on this issue is the best we’ve seen in decades – our Move the Money campaign is growing every day!
- Next year’s Peace Voter 2012 campaign could be one of our most important yet, as citizen-activists take control of the debate over wars, military spending and nuclear weapons and force House, Senate and Presidential candidates to address our issues on our terms!
- The Peace Action affiliate and chapter network is growing, very impressively, into new states and regions (please see the “Affiliates in Action” article and photo of our new affiliate, Nebraskans for Peace in this issue!)
Peace and justice work is hard, there’s no question about it. That’s why we call it “the struggle,” not “the picnic.” But we have momentum, and the power of the people, on our side, let’s never forget that, and most importantly, let’s organize that power!