I made notes on President Obama’s “war lite” speech the other night, intending to rebut many of his points, but it’s too easy, and also not really what I want to convey. However, here are a few points:
-The mainstream media frame that Obama is withdrawing more troops than the military wanted, so this will help his anti-war base, if way, well, off-base. While the 10,000 troops coming home this year and additional 23,000 by next September is too small, it’s larger than it would have been without our tireless grassroots and congressional organizing. So we recognize our power, and will re-double our efforts; we are not in the least appeased by the president’s half-measures, and neither is Congress. A bi-partisan letter to Obama is already in circulation calling for a bigger, faster troop withdrawal.
-The president said violence is declining, but that’s not at all true. This year has been the deadliest both for Afghan civilians and for our troops (and violence is on the rise in Baghdad, too, now one of our “other wars”).
-The president talked about devoting resources to rebuilding our country, but he has just committed us to another $300-400 billion of war over the next four years in Afghanistan. The U.S. Conference of Mayors didn’t buy it; last weekend in Baltimore, they passed a strong anti-war resolution (their first since 1971 during the Vietnam War).
-Nobody in the Administration will admit this, but these (too small) withdrawals do indeed change the strategy, at least looking past a year. As my colleague Bill Goodfellow from the Center for International Policy points out, 68,000 troops is too small a force to continue a counterinsurgency strategy, so our pressure has forced a strategic shift.
Peace Action got some good media hits after the president’s speech, here are a few of them:
John Nichols on The Nation, NPR and CBS websites (quotes our tireless Organizing and Policy Director Paul Kawika Martin)
Augusta Free Press
Long Island Newsday
Peace Action also got a “tip of the hat” in Tom Hayden’s article in The Nation
For some terrific analysis of the president’s speech and the way forward, try these:
Rebecca Griffin of Peace Action West
Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies on AlterNet
Former Peace Action Executive Director (back in the day when we were Sane and Sane/Freeze) David Cortight on CNN.com
And finally, my article which draws a bit of a broader frame, and will be in our next Action Report newsletter:
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.
At 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 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 Nebraskans for Peace, our new affiliate, 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!