Bring the War Dollars Home! Terrific Op-ed by NC Peace Action Director Betsy Crites in the Durham Herald-Sun

December 27, 2011
Bring the war dollars home

By Betsy Crites

Herald-Sun guest columnist

The withdrawal from Iraq is to be celebrated like a migraine that finally subsides. It is what the majority of Americans have long asked for through pollsters and by their election of a president who promised to get us out.

It is what peace advocates have marched and lobbied for since before the invasion began. So, yes, it’s wonderful to have those troops come home.

The sacrifices of our military personnel are to be applauded; they gave their all when asked to serve. Yet, out of respect for them and future vets, we must be honest with ourselves. This was not a “good war.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicolas Burns, who initially supported the invasion of Iraq, writes that “any good from it was far outweighed by the sacrifices of our soldiers and the significant damage to our international credibility.”

We lost 4,484 young American men and women and an estimated 100,000 were wounded. Human rights groups estimate 114,000 Iraqis were killed and several million displaced.

The economic toll, according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, was close to $6 trillion not counting the “opportunity costs.”

“If not for the war in Iraq”, he asks, “would oil prices have risen so rapidly? Would the federal debt be so high? Would the economic crisis have been so severe?” His answer is “probably not.”

But at least the war is over now, right? Probably not.

There remain 16,000 “contractors and embassy personnel,” and reinforcements are just across the border in Kuwait. As if to be reassuring, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared: “We still have a robust continuing presence throughout the region.”

Apparently the war has not ended. We’ve just ended a phase, the Iraq war … sort of.

We remain at war in Afghanistan, of course, which also tends to dampen the celebration, especially when one hears officials talk of extending that to 2024.

The war drums are now beating for Iran. And beyond the Middle East, the U.S. is expanding its military presence in the Pacific and Africa.

We are enmeshed in a state of permanent war. Theaters of war open and close, but are not won or lost. They are wars to maintain geopolitical domination and project power. We may not be used to thinking of America in this way, but these are the characteristics of an “empire.”

We all pay for this permanent war, euphemistically called “security.” The complex of “security related programs” consumes 60 percent of the federal discretionary budget. The cost since 2001 to North Carolina taxpayers of the wars alone has been $31.7 billion. Durham City taxpayers share of the wars amount to $794.4 million.

When Congress cuts payments to doctors serving Medicaid and Medicare patients, or raises the age of Social Security, or cuts community block grants, or refuses to fund job generating projects, or declines to invest in clean energy, but protects “security spending,” we are paying for permanent war and, it must be added, tax cuts to the wealthy.

When financially strapped state governments subsequently cut education services, libraries, environmental protection, universities and health services, we are paying the tab for war.

But our nation is not broke; it’s making bad choices. Such decisions to fund wars-without-end cost us our true security, i.e. a sustainable economy, a well-educated citizenry, and energy independence.

In President Eisenhower’s farewell address he issued a warning for us all: “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Fortunately, we have some alert local leaders who are clearly stating that decisions about war spending have local consequences.

The Durham City Council recently passed a resolution calling upon the president and Congress “to bring these war dollars home to meet vital human needs, promote job creation, rebuild our infrastructure, aid municipal and state governments, and develop a new economy based upon renewable, sustainable energy and reduce the federal debt.”

Similar resolutions were passed this fall by the Durham County Board of Commissioners and the Durham Board of Education.

Twenty General Assembly officials likewise asked Congress to “redirect tens of billions of dollars from excess military spending and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq toward meeting urgent domestic needs.”

It will take this kind of leadership, plus many citizens challenging the assumptions of empire, if we want to reset our priorities. Bringing the troops home from Iraq gives me hope that in the coming year we may also bring at least some of the war dollars home and restore our communities.

Betsy Crites is director of NC Peace Action.

Read more: The Herald-Sun – Bring the war dollars home

Peace Movement’s Persistence Helped End the Iraq War

December 19, 2011

(An abridged version of this piece by Coalition for Peace Action’s Executive Director Bob Moore was published today, with a nice photo, in the Trenton Times, the second letter).

While most Americans celebrate the imminent completion of US troop withdrawal from Iraq, most press coverage and analysis to date suggests that it was President Obama who single handedly accomplished this. At least Time Magazine made “the Protester” its person of the year.

It was actually the persistent activism of millions of concerned citizens that pressured Congress and even a Republican President to commit to the plan for bringing US troops home from Iraq by the end of 2011. I’ve seen that up close as Executive Director of the largest peace group in the region, the Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA), throughout the nearly nine year war.

CFPA worked very hard, even before the War was launched on March 19, 2003, to prevent the War from being initiated.  In the fall of 2001, CFPA lobbied intensively against the “blank check authorization” by Congress that allowed the President to unilaterally launch the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. Of the fifteen members of Congress from NJ, five voted against that authorization.

CFPA mobilized for numerous demonstrations, vigils, and rallies; created and distributed thousands of fact sheets showing that the major reasons offered for going to war were invalid, and that there were viable alternatives to war; and organized lobbying to Washington D.C. as well as in-district.

In February 2003, CFPA sent a trainload of over 350 to New York for a huge final demonstration of one million, which prompted the New York Times to characterize the global anti-war movement as the “new superpower.” It was the largest anti-war mobilization in history before a war started. Tragically, it wasn’t enough to overcome the deceptions and pro-war determination of the Bush Administration.

Once the war broke out, CFPA continued and intensified its organizing to stop the war. It engaged in countless demonstrations, rallies, vigils, and marches; and organized petitions, lobby efforts, media work, and non-partisan efforts to impact elections, on behalf of the cause of peace.

In 2006, an anti-war majority was elected to Congress, and in 2008 President Bush signed a Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq to withdraw all US troops by the end of 2011. In the 2008 Elections, then Senator Obama emphasized his opposition to the Iraq War, and that was a significant factor in his victory.

I do applaud President Obama for following through on the plan to end the War. But the impetus for finally bringing all US troops home was the persistent pressure from the US and global peace movement.

Just as the Women’s Suffrage, Civil Rights, Anti-Vietnam War, and Nuclear Freeze movements brought major change after many years of persistent activism, so the anti-Iraq War movement played the major role in ending this war.

The Rev. Robert Moore

The writer recently celebrated his 30th anniversary as Executive Director of the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action, and is Pastor of East Brunswick Congregational Church.

Troops coming home from Iraq

December 15, 2011

By years’ end, the US war and occupation of Iraq will be over.

Opposing the war from the start, Peace Action participated in the February 2003 protest where tens of millions around the world voiced their opposition.  Peace Action continued its opposition even when political and public support for ending the war was almost non-existent, helping organize all the large demonstrations and playing an important role in building opposition in Congress.

The deadline for US troop withdrawal was established in 2008’s Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) forced on the Bush administration which had steadfastly stated its opposition to a ‘timetable’ for withdrawal.  The Pentagon wanted to maintain a military presence, but was unwilling to be held accountable for future civilian casualties, a condition Iraq would not accept.

So now, Iraq’s future is in the hands of the Iraqi people which is as it should be.  Whether they can settle their sectarian divisions or become victim to them remains to be seen, but as US military leaders observed repeatedly, a political settlement is the only way to end the bloodshed.

The US should provide all the diplomatic assistance and financial aid for reconstruction that was promised, and turn our attention to honoring our commitments to our veterans.  The total cost of the war, including interest of the debt incurred to pay for it, will likely exceed $3 trillion.

The same holds true for Afghanistan.  There is a startling disconnect between statements by military leaders that our economic crisis is the greatest threat to our security and their insistence we remain in Afghanistan indefinitely. Despite the announced withdrawal date of 2014, discussions with Afghanistan on a US military presence there are ongoing.

Over one million troops served in Iraq over the course of the war. It should be remembered the war was based on a string of falsehoods fed to the American people that an existential threat existed there.  The war continued long after the truth was known.

The same holds true for Afghanistan.  Osama bin Laden is dead.  Al-Qaeda is no longer a significant presence there.  It’s time to bring our troops home from Afghanistan as well.

2012: Looking Forward to History

December 15, 2011

by Peter Deccy, Peace Action Development Director

The occupy movement has strengthened the demand for corporate and government accountability. It is a rare moment in history where crisis and opportunity combine to create the potential for sweeping social and political change.

The outcome of the 2012 elections will likely determine whether organized money or people power will set the agenda for the next decade and beyond.  The 1% knows it and has decided its ‘all in’.  They’re betting the 99% won’t be able to match them vote for vote.

There are many activists, and others as well, who believe we can no longer make real progress toward our ultimate goal of peace and economic justice by working within the system.  But inaction will only help the 1% cement their stranglehold on our democracy.

Peace Action is uniquely positioned in 2012 because we deal with the problems of the systemic inequalities in the national spending priorities, engaged, as we are, in both policy and organizing the grassroots movement for peace and justice.

In the 2012 elections, we will bring the expertise that contributed to the Sustainable Defense Task Force,  a panel of experts organized by Representative Barney Frank to identify over $900 billion in cuts in military spending, to the debate on budget priorities. That report was referenced in every commission or report about the budget deficit. We must move the money from the Pentagon to the domestic needs.

Our grassroots network has played an important role in the debate, building unprecedented support for cutting military spending, deflating the myth that every penny being allocated for ‘defense’ is vital to our national security.

So, while Congress wrestles with the federal budget and campaigns for reelection, Peace Voter 2012, Peace Action’s grassroots, election year organizing drive is already bird-dogging candidates in key primary states, following them from event to event, asking tough questions and getting them on record.

Our goal is to create a public relations crisis for office holders and candidates who might otherwise try to avoid uncomfortable questions about the corrupting influence of organized money in politics or the cost of an unending war in Afghanistan.

Planning and activist training are central to this goal.  Peace Voter 2012 utilizes the tools of a reinvigorated democracy: volunteer recruitment and training, voter registration and education, candidate briefings and forums and the all important get-out-the-vote come Election Day.

2012: More Than an Election Year

While Peace Voter 2012 is an important component of our Move the Money Campaign, it’s not the only event of significance on our organizing calendar.

In May, NATO and the G8 will hold their summits jointly in Chicago.  It’s the first time the summits have been held in the same city since 1977.  They did us a favor really, helping make the connection between the military and the monetary for us.

Chicago Area Peace Action (CAPA) is working with a host of allies, including the Chicago branch of the occupy movement to organize a conference and a mass demonstration to draw attention to the role militarism plays in the bankrupting of national economies all over the globe.  Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has stated that his department is already preparing for “mass arrests.

With opposition to the US/NATO war in Afghanistan and the movement for economic justice growing with each passing day, we couldn’t have planned a better organizing opportunity.  We’ll be reporting details and developments to you in the months ahead.

In August, the next major troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is scheduled.  This is when the remaining troops sent to Afghanistan as part of the President’s ‘surge’ strategy are slated to come home.  This is an opportunity to demand a larger drawdown and an end to US and NATO military operations.

Thus far military operations have not ended the insurgency and managed in the process of failing to do so to poison relations with our already reluctant ally, Pakistan.  Destabilizing Pakistan only make matters in the region worse.

The August drawdown date is an opportunity to accelerate an exit strategy and end US involvement in this terrible war.  Our President and elected representatives will feel the heat.

A Decisive Year

The success of the occupy movement has fundamentally changed the political landscape. Now the political framework in which we are organizing is confronting the systemic inequalities between the 1% and the 99%. Addressing these inequities is the only path out of the economic and political crisis in the US.

At Peace Action, we believe grassroots organizing is a cornerstone of our democracy and the only way to rest the power over our lives the 1% have so shamelessly abused for their own profit.

An effort to preserve the wealth, power and control of the 1% anticipates endless war and conflict.  But it’s not the future the rest of us want.

As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said when the nation was in the grip of the Great Depression; “We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we can’t have both.”

It’s time to inform the 1% of our choice.

Restore the American Dream for the 99%

December 13, 2011

For the past year, Peace Action has collaborated with civil rights, labor and community groups to fight for The Dream that Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement fought for.

The Dream is plain and simple, the right to a decent life in a more peaceful and just world.

This week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) introduced the Restore the American Dream for the 99% Act which creates more than 5 million jobs in the next two years and saves more than $2 trillion over 10 years.

The bill would cut wasteful weapons spending, ends the wars overseas, strengthens Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and implements emergency job creation measures and establishes fair taxation rates,

The Restore the American Dream for the 99% Act is inspired by The Contract for the American Dream — a 10 point plan created over the summer by more than 130,000 people in house meetings around the country and endorsed by 300,000.

With the collapse of the Congressional Super Committee and the continuing doomsday commentary by the highly paid military-industrial-complex lobbyists, our allies on Capitol Hill have to stand strong for The Dream of justice and peace.

Join us to fight for The Dream!

The goal now is to help get more than 100 Congressional co-sponsors, and prove that there’s a better way to solve the economic crisis than laying-off first responders and cutting health care.

Time is now for the rich to pay their fair share and to cut the Pentagon budget and end the wars.

It is the right time to join with community and labor to fight for The Dream.

Click here to endorse the Restore the American Dream for the 99% Act.

Pass it on!

Congressional Victory for a Quicker End to the Afghanistan War

December 2, 2011

The Senate voted by voice vote this week in favor of Senator Jeff Merkley’s (D-OR) bipartisan amendment  on behalf of 21 Senators to the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2012 asking the President to  to submit a plan for “expediting the drawdown of United States combat troops in Afghanistan.”

Peace Action is proud that we endorsed and helped elect Sen. Merkley and we have been working closely with his staff over the last year to end the Afghanistan war sooner.

In 2010, only 18 Senators supported former Sen. Feingold’s (D-WI) amendment to require a plan for the safe, orderly, and expeditious redeployment of forces from Afghanistan.

Last June, Peace Action helped get 27 Senators to sign a letter circulated by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Tom Udall (D-NM) urging President Obama to order a “sizable and sustained” withdrawal of troops.

While the President then announced the withdrawal of 33,000 troops from Afghanistan, it’s still clear that troops will be there beyond the end of 2014.

It’s been the work of Peace Action and others that have shifted public opinion that CNN recently reported that 63% of Americans opposed to the war in Afghanistan.  We have taken that opposition to pressure Congress and the Obama Administration.  We will continue to do so until all our troops are home.


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