Pushing Obama’s Arc Toward Peace
Foreign policy played a minor role in a presidential election that focused on jobs, jobs, jobs. But like it or not, the United States is part of a global community in turmoil, and U.S. policies often help fuel that turmoil. The peace movement, decimated during the first Obama term because so many people were unwilling to be critical of President Obama, has a challenge today to re-activate itself, and to increase its effectiveness by forming coalitions with other sectors of the progressive movement. Over the next four years, this movement must grapple with key issues such as the Afghan war, killer drone attacks, maintaining peace with Iran, U.S. policy vis-a-vis Israel and Palestine, and the bloated Pentagon budget.
Despite President Obama’s talk about getting out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the U.S. military still has some 68,000 troops and almost 100,000 private contractors there, at a cost of $2 billion a week. And Obama is talking about a presence of U.S. troops, training missions, special forces operations, and bases for another decade. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of Americans think this war is not worth fighting, a sentiment echoed in a recent New York Times editorial “Time to Pack Up.” It is, indeed, time to pack up. The peace movement must push for withdrawal starting now — and definitely no long-term presence! Veteran’s Day should be a time to take a hard look at the impact of war on soldiers, particularly the epidemic of soldier suicide. We must also look at the devastating impact of war on Afghan women and children, particularly as winter sets in. Despite the billions of dollars our government has poured into development projects, Afghan children are literally freezing to death.
American drone attacks are out of control, killing thousands in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, many of them civilians. Drones are sowing widespread anti-American sentiment and setting a dangerous precedent that will come back to haunt us. Anti-drones protests have sprung up all over the United States at air forces bases where the drones are piloted, at the headquarters of drone manufacturers, at the CIA and in Congressional offices. Our job now is to coordinate those efforts, to launch a massive public education campaign to reverse pro-drone public opinion, pass city resolutions against drone use, and to call on our elected officials to start respecting the rule of law. If we strengthen our ties with people in the nations most affected, as we have begun to do on our recent CODEPINK delegation to Pakistan, and join in with those at the UN bodies who are horrified by drone proliferation, we can make progress in setting some global standards for the use of lethal drones.
Also looming ominously is a possible Israeli attack on Iran that would draw the U.S. into a devastating regional war. Almost 60 percent of Americans oppose joining Israel in a war with Iran. We must make sure Obama and Congress hear that voice above the din of AIPAC lobbyists gunning for war, and steer clear of dragging the U.S. into yet another Middle Eastern conflict. Public opinion campaigns such as the “Iranians We Love You” posters on busses in Tel Aviv, and cross-cultural exchanges in Iran and the U.S. bring humanity to a tenuous political situation. We also must renew efforts to oppose the crippling sanctions that are impacting everyday citizens in Iran, and rippling out to spike food prices elsewhere, including Afghanistan.
Perhaps hardest of all will be to get some traction on changing U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine. The grassroots movement to stop unconditional financial and political support for Israel is booming, with groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation building networks across the country. Campaigns to boycott and divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation continue to win victories and attract global support. We’re unlikely to see the Obama administration and Congress condemning settlements, human rights abuses, or the ongoing siege of Gaza, much less cutting off the $3 billion a year that helps underwrite these abuses. But we can continue to shift public opinion and gain more allies in Congress, with an openness to reaching out to libertarians and fiscal conservatives calling for cuts in foreign aid. In the aftermath of the election, Jewish Voice for Peace and interfaith allies have pledged to continue efforts to call for U.S. aid to Israel to be conditioned on compliance with international law.
And then there’s the bloated Pentagon budget. At a time when the nation is looking at how best to allocate scarce resources, all eyes should be on the billions of dollars wasted on Pentagon policies and weapons that don’t make us safer. From the more than 800 bases overseas to outdated Cold War weapons to monies given to repressive regimes, we need a rational look at the Pentagon budget that could free up billions for critical social and environmental programs.
Key to building a vibrant peace movement in the next four years is coalition-building, reaching out to a broad array of social justice groups to make the connections between their work and the billions drained from our economy for war. Environmentalists, women’s rights advocates, labor unions, civil rights — there are so many connections that have to be rekindled from the Bush years or started anew.
Finally, we have to provide alternatives to the worn narrative that the military interventions around the world are making us more secure. It’s time to demand alternatives like negotiations, creative diplomacy and a foreign policy gearing toward solving global problems, not perpetuating endless war. The UN declared November 10 “Malala Day” in honor of Pakistan’s 15-year-old Malala Yousefzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban for supporting education for girls. This tragedy awoke international commitments to ensuring girls can get to school, a relatively inexpensive goal with major returns for the advancement of women’s rights, health, prosperity, and security. Wouldn’t it be nice to see our government prioritizing funds for school over drone warfare and endless weapons stockpiling?
“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” Martin Luther King said. If we can connect these foreign policy issues with domestic needs and climate change, if we can follow the powerful examples of mass direct action movements from Chile to Egypt, and if enough people practice democracy daily rather than waiting until the next presidential election, then maybe-just maybe — we’ll be able to push the arc of Obama’s second term in the direction of peace and justice.
Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of CODEPINK (www.codepink.org) and Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org), and is author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.