Saturday, May 30, 2009

What's the peace movement waiting for?

My friend Dajenya, who has written here before, left a comment on my previous post that needs to come up on the front of the blog.

Now that I have finished celebrating the election of Obama, I must say that I am very concerned that his election has led to a fair amount of complacency in the anti-war movement. Sure, Obama plans to get us out of Iraq (after a year or two...), and meanwhile he plans to escalate the war in Afghanistan. Even if you are not a pacifist, even if you believe some wars are either justified or necessary, or might do more good than harm, this war falls into none of those 3 categories.

Even articles in Time magazine (hardly a progressive media) state that war in Afghanistan is un-win-able (as it was for every invader from Alexander the Great to the USSR). Afghanistan is more a collection of tribes than a united nation, and the land/topography as well as the cultural conditions are such that "victory" is not possible. So what will be accomplished? Many thousands of deaths of US soldiers and Afghani citizens, and a continuation of the huge waste of money that is so sorely needed here at home. Just so Obama can prove that he is neither "weak" nor a leftist?

I offer my prior article as my pro-Obama credentials. However, regarding his stance on Afghanistan, it is past-due time for the US anti-war movement to organize and resist the escalation of this newest "Vietnam." Rather than tip-toe on eggshells to avoid conflict with our beloved Obama, I hope that all those who, like myself, supported Obama's campaign with words, money and action, will now feel responsible to send a message to our friend Obama that war is not the answer; certainly not this war!

Obama may be the closest thing to Roosevelt in our lifetime. But there is no president then, now, or ever, who does not need to hear the loud and clear voice(s) of concerned citizens when he takes our money, our children, our conscience, our international reputation to war. Unlike the slow quiet involvement in Vietnam, the escalation of this war is public and publicized. What are we waiting for?

The two women I heard speak today at a meeting of
the coalition of Democratic clubs, Resolution Peace addressed the same urgent question.

Phyllis Bennis of Institute for Policy Studies reminded us of Obama's declaration during the primary:

"I don't want to just end the war, I want to end the mind-set that got us into war in the first place."

She had a number of quite specific suggestions for the peace movement.
  • Educating our own citizens is essential; peace activism has already moved most discussion away from "the good war" frame. This is not a time for calling street demonstrations; it is a time for digging in and raising understanding.
  • We must demand an end to the military's temptation (unfortunately all too likely to come from General McChrystal given his background in "special operations") to use more and more fire power to overcome frustration. More air strikes, more drone killings, more civilian deaths will only make a bad situation worse.
  • The U.S. and NATO occupation must end; foreign presence in Afghanistan should pass to the United Nations. In any case, the right balance is 80 percent civilian development aid; 20 percent security assistance. At present, Afghanistan is getting more like 97 percent war making and 3 percent development.
  • We have to make Afghanistan feel real to people in the United States through such efforts as sister city projects and local peace resolutions.
  • Above all, we need to remind people what war is costing in a time when the tanking economy is causing huge cuts in necessary local services.
Humaira Ghilzai, a Bay Area Afghan-American, works to improve conditions, especially for women and girls, through the Afghan Friends Network. She offered a history of the gradually improving conditions for women under previous governments (not the Taliban!) and reminded us that "change has to come from within and not from outside."

Ghilzai was particularly critical of the role of U.S. and other aid agencies in the war torn country. Over and over, there have been big promises, foreign money gets allocated and then is mostly sucked up by foreign consultants and contractors, agencies neglect to consult or employ the intended Afghan recipients of projects, and far too often projects are then simply left uncompleted.

After 30 years of war, Ghilzai reports that the great Afghan fear is that, as when the USSR was forced out, the rest of the international community will once again abandon them. They don't want more air strikes and dead villagers, but they do want the powers that have fought over them to take some responsibility for helping them recover from the damage left by that long military conflict.

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