Pushing Obama's Arc Toward Peace
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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.