Just Peacemaking: More than Just “No War.”
I’ve been involved in actions for peace since I became a pacifist and conscientious objector in 1983. In that time, I have discovered many different approaches to peace. Some, like the Amish, ignore the world outside. They seek to create a culture of peace and simplicity that interacts as little as possible (fair trade of simple, but beautiful, handcrafted goods) with others. If they influence others, it is only by example.
Of those, like myself, however, who believe in helping to create a more peaceful world, some believe that one should only denounce politicians who aren’t as pure in their commitment to peacemaking as they are. Anyone who is not a committed pacifist is a “warmonger.” This type is represented by my regular critic “Kathy” and by Cindy Sheehan yelling “to hell with Obama.” I believe this is NOT HELPFUL. It is like the Republicans showing up with an alternative “Budget to Nowhere” that had no numbers. Absurd.
Instead, I am contacting the heads of as many peace organizations in the U.S. (especially faith-based ones, since I know them best) and seeking to create a practical alternative. Obama was opposed to the war in Iraq from the beginning, but not because, like me, he believes that all war is wrong. I heard him (just as state senator from IL then), speak to an anti-war crowd in Chicago in 2004 (on the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq). Seeing the many “War is Not the Answer” signs in the crowd, Obama respectfully told the crowd that he disagreed. Citing WWII, he said that sometimes war IS the answer. Obama declared that he was not against all war, just a DUMB war–which he believed Iraq was. I disagreed, but I understood the position. It falls within the dominant Just War tradition of the West, mixed with American pragmatism.
The Obama I first heard on that cold March morning in ’04, is the same one who later became U.S. Senator and then President. He has been remarkably consistent, especially on his approach to foreign policy: War is a last resort, but not to be ruled out altogether. He is ending the Iraq war as slowly as he is, because he believes that has the best chance of keeping Iraq from falling apart when we are gone. He worries about the stability of the region–Bush’s invasion has destabilized the entire Middle East. Obama is fighting al Qaeda in Afghanistan because he believes he has no choice. The alternative, he believes, is to allow al Qaeda a safe haven from whence they will continue to attack others around the world, including the U.S. He doesn’t like it, but believes it necessary.
To get Obama to adopt a different policy regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan, peace folk have to do more than show the problems of the way he is choosing, he sees those problems. We also have to show a better alternative. My overarching paradigm is a strategy which does not seek to DESTROY al-Qaeda or the Taliban by force, but to make them IRRELEVANT and unnatractive to would-be recruits, to drain their power and their support.
To this end, I am proposing a comprehensive strategy for the U.S. peace movement:
- We hold a series of conferences with just peacemaking experts on alternative strategies for fighting terrorism and for Afghan and Pakistan stability. If possible, we get representatives from Congress, the State Department, the United Nations, and the White House to attend at least some of these conferences–trying to get them beyond the “Washington bubble” where “Pentagon thinking” rules supreme, regardless of person or party.
- We get these ideas into the media, so as to change the terms of the debate. Because of the many other problems at home, the media is asking more questions about the war in Afghanistan than at any time since 2002. The giant “yes machine” and “echo chamber” is less airtight than at any time since 9/11. If we can get alternatives into the media, we can change public opinion.
- We build power in the streets. This will take time, but the latest Gallup Poll shows that 42% of Americans now believe even entering Afghanistan in response to 9/11 was a mistake. The poll did not ask if they believed we should now leave. It was a flawed poll in wording. But it gives us a place to start. We work to build public pressure against continued troop escalations in Afghanistan (or spreading to Pakistan) and for a concrete exit strategy and timeline for withdrawal. I think that by the time of the Midterm elections in 2010, we will have built enough public power to be a powerful political force.
- We seek allies in Congress. We began to shift the debate on Iraq in 2004 with the formation of the “Out of Iraq Caucus” in Congress, led Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Rep. Lynne Woolsey (D-CA), and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). It now has 73 members, one of the largest of Congressional caucuses. We need to try to form a “Just Peacemaking in Afghanistan & Pakistan” Caucus. I suggest we try to recruit Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), and the three women from CA above. In the Senate, I suggest we try to recruit Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the only self-described Democratic Socialist in the U.S. Congress, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), Sen. Barbara Walters (D-CA) and maybe others. They will know whom to recruit in Congress. The New York Times also indicates that Vice President Biden has been the voice of caution against escalation into quagmire during the WH internal debates. So, we seek to enlist VP Biden, and to strengthen his voice over the hawkish advice of Defense Secretary Gates (and the even more hawkish advice of the Generals on the ground). Biden and Clinton are responsible for the development and anti-corruption parts of the plan and Biden for limiting the troop escalation and for narrowing the U.S. goals. Obama apparently split the difference between his civilian and military advisers. So, we have possible allies even within the administration. Our strategy must include ways to strengthen them and weaken the influence of the hawks and “counterinsurgency experts.”
- We seek a major role for the United Nations and we hope to pressure the U.S. for a course change using diplomatic pressure from our allies.
- We take independent initiatives for peace ourselves that do not wait on government figures of any party, including nonviolent, unarmed “guards” accompanying villagers in Afghanistan. I have been a part of such efforts in Nicaragua in the 1980s. They are risky, but they can change the hearts and minds of ordinary people. These efforts MUST include the participation of Muslim Peace Activists so that they do not simply seem like a Western or Christian model imposed on Afghanistan and Pakistan, but an alternative to Islamist terrorism that faithful Muslims can embrace. (The participation of the Muslim Peace Fellowship will be essential.) These initiatives should be as international as possible.
There is no guarantee that such an approach will meet with success–either in bringing a just peace to Afghanistan and Pakistan or in getting the U.S. to change course. It will take the brains and organizational skills of many people much brighter than myself (and I am already contacting as many as I can this weekend). But I believe this is better than simply saying “NO” to war (as important as that is). It is much better than calling the president names. (By the way, why is it that U.S. peace activists can push for treating dictators and mass murderers with enough respect to enter into negotiations, but find that they cannot take the same approach with our own politicians? Maybe you consider Obama to be your enemy, but, if so, then my religion tells me that you must pray for him.) It is more useful than Cindy Sheehan yelling, “To hell with Obama!” on national TV.
This is the path I am choosing, whether or not it seems “prophetic” enough for some or not.
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