Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Too Soon the Laureate

One word leaps to mind in considering the Nobel Committee’s announcement yesterday that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize would be awarded to President Barack Obama:  premature.  Alfred Nobel’s will was very clear on who could nominate someone for the peace prize (members of national parliaments or congresses, political science or philosophy faculty in universities, and persons who have already won the prize) and who would determine (in secret) the recipient (a committee formed by the Norwegian Storting or Parliament but whose members cannot include sitting members of the Storting or the Norwegian government).  But Nobel’s will (largely because he wrote it without legal help, distrusting lawyers) is notoriously vague on the criteria for winning the Peace Prize.  This has led to a wide variety of Nobel Peace Laureates in the century plus of the award–from pacifists and peace activists, human rights activists, to politicians and diplomats from many countries, to organizations that work for peace in a wide variety of ways.  The award has been given for diplomatic efforts leading to the end of wars and to signing of peace treaties. It has been given for relief work in the midst of war (e.g., the International Red Cross and Crescent Societies, Doctors Without Borders, etc.), for aid to refugees. It has been given for efforts in arms reduction, or to nonviolent social movements, and for efforts to eliminate major causes of war and violence such as poverty, ethnic or religious conflict, or environmental threats.

But the vagueness of criteria for the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize has led to some very odd choices:  most notoriously when former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and North Vietnam’s chief negotiator Lu Duc Tho (neither a person of peace) were awarded the Prize jointly for negotiations toward ending the Vietnam War.  Lu Duc Tho became the only person in history to turn down the Nobel Peace Prize saying, rightly, that no peace had been achieved and that the talks were breaking down. Another time the Nobel Committee made an embarrassing choice designed to encourage a peace process was when they jointly awarded the prize to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat.  Both Rabin and Arafat had previous histories as terrorists and some argued that Arafat had not yet abandoned that role.  One member of the Nobel committee quit in protest.

The selection President Obama is not that bizarre.  In fact, if his ambitious foreign policy agenda is successful at any of his peacemaking goals:  a just two-state peace between Israel and Palestine, reversing the nuclear arms race, etc., then I fully expected that he might be a future Nobel Laureate.  But this seems, at best, premature  –even to Pres. Obama to judge from his reaction.  Yes, he has stopped U.S. torture, although failing so far to hold any of the torturers accountable and pushing for the continuation of the practices of indefinite detention without trial (for some al Qaeda members that the administration believes guilty of crimes but cannot prosecute because the evidence was obtained by torture under the Bush regime) and rendition.  But the prison at Guantanemo Bay is not yet closed and the “detainees” have not been either tried in regular courts or released.  Yes, he has begun the slow ending of the occupation of Iraq, but most of our troops are still there.  Yes, he wants to restart the Israel-Palestinian peace process, but has failed so far to get Israel to stop building new settlements or get Palestinian factions to reconcile with each other or stop stockpiling weapons for future attacks against Israel–nothing has yet happened.  Yes, we are scheduled to have nuclear arms reduction talks with Russia–but they haven’t yet taken place.  He has expanded the war in Afghanistan and started an undeclared one in Pakistan with predator drones.  He wants a new engagement with Iran that leads to their abandoning of their nuclear weapons ambitions and, eventually, to the first resumption of U.S.-Iranian diplomatic ties since 1979–but no progress has yet been made and recently he seemed to imply a willingness to bomb suspected Iranian nuclear plants.

The hawkish Obama has proceeded apace, but the Obama who dreams of peacemaking has yet to move from hope to actual change.  Thus, I call this award premature, and Obama himself calls it “a call to action.”  That, I suggest, is how peace activists from around the world should react–not by mocking or condemning this choice, but by using it as moral leverage in encouraging real peacemaking from this administration.  As filmmaker Michael Moore said yesterday, “Congratulations, Mr. President–now go out and earn it.”  That should be the unanimous note of peace activists–encouraging this president to live into the award that he does not (yet) deserve.

Later this weekend, I will email the White House with this message and a list of suggested actions that Pres. Obama can take between now and the formal presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize in December that will act as steps toward fulfilling that “call to action.”

  • Announce that the U.S. will “re-sign” the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty “unsigned” by former Pres. Bush.  Since the legality of “unsigning” a ratified treaty is murky (and unprecedented!) under both U.S. and international law, I doubt that this would even need ratification by the U.S. Senate–but with 60 Democratic Senators, such ratification should be pro forma.
  • Announce that the U.S. will “re-sign” the Treaty of Rome that authorized the creation of the International Criminal Court and will join the ICC instead of continuing the Bush-era attempts to evade the ICC’s jurisdiction.  Joining will require Senate confirmation, and some will balk out of fear that the ICC might attempt to try members of the Bush admin. for war crimes related to torture and rendition if the U.S. does not prosecute them, but Obama should take that risk.
  • Sign the International Treaty Banning Landmines.  The U.S. is one of the few democratic holdouts even though American Jody Williams (who won the Nobel for her efforts) founded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.  Even many famous generals around the globe support this since landmines are of limited military value in war, but continue to kill and maim civilians long after wars are officially over.
  • Sign the Treaty Against Child Soldiers.  Former Pres. Bush refused because he wanted the U.S. to still be able to have 17 year olds in the military–but out military will hardly crumble without them.  And this treaty gives some teeth to efforts to stop the kidnapping and forced induction of adolescent and pre-adolescent children into both government and rebel armies–most notoriously by the so-called “Lord’s Resistance Army” in Uganda.
  • Announce an increased pace of the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq.
  • Announce an end to use of the predator drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan because of the enormous loss of civilian life.
  • Deny General McChrystal’s request for additional troops in Afghanistan. Freeze at current levels while re-thinking Afghanistan–seeking a new way forward.
  • Announce that the U.S. will unilaterally reduce its nuclear weapons by 10% across the board. We need MUCH deeper cuts around the globe, but this unilateral step could jump-start the talks with Russia and show the world that you are serious about reversing the nuclear arms race. It could be a transforming initiative that invites similar moves on the part of others.

Beyond these steps, the way grows harder and must include cooperation from both Congress and international partners.  Grassroots peace and human rights organizations should do our part by supporting the actions the Obama administration takes for peace, praising them, and encouraging more and criticizing steps in the wrong direction.  Also, not waiting for governments or prizes, we need to continue our own, independent, actions for peace.

October 10, 2009 Posted by | foreign policy, human rights., Iran, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, peacemaking | 12 Comments

Urgent Action: Stop the March Toward War with Iran

Sen. Joe Liebermann (I-CT) is trying to push the U.S. toward war with Iran.  For nearly 2 years, there have been reports about the Bush administration’s push toward war with Iran.  Now, Liebermann, a Bush sycophant and Republican in all but name, is trying to sneak in an authorization for that war–even as he questioned Gen. Petraeus about the willingness to go to war with Iran.  The Kyl-Liebermann Amendment to FY 2008 Defense Authorization bill (which he is pressing for a vote on, today!) uses language that amounts to a declaration of war against Iran–and will certainly be interpreted as authorizing such by this president:

(3) that it should be the policy of the United States to combat,
contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing
influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of
Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its
indigenous Iraqi proxies

(4) to support the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of
United States national power in Iraq, including diplomatic, economic,
intelligence, and military instruments, in support of the policy
described in paragraph (3) with respect to the Government of the
Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies.

Call your Senators NOW and demand that they vote NO on this amendment.  The Capitol Switchboard number is 202-224-3121

If your Senators are hawkish, as mine are, don’t sound too dovish.  Emphasize that our troops are overextended in Afghanistan and Iraq and that we cannot afford a third war.  If your Senators are Democrats (or less hawkish Republicans than mine), remind them that Iran’s growing influence in Iraq is largely due to the Bush invasion of Iraq. Tell them to use aggressive diplomacy to end any nuclear program that Iran may have–as finally seems to be working with North Korea.

We must act now, friends, to avoid the authorization of another war.

UPDATE:  Strong opposition by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), Sen. Dick Durbin(D-IL) resulted in the removal of the worst language of that amendment. But it passed and is possibly still broad enough to be considered (at least by THIS administration) as authorization for war with Iran. Webb rightly called it a “wet dream” for Dick Cheney.  See here.

Even if Webb’s view is wrong, we still seem to be moving toward a war with Iran.  We went to war with Iraq when the administration first warned about WMDs (now we are warning about Iran’s nuclear program which may or may not be intended to produce weapons), then we demonized Iraq’s president, comparing him to Hitler.  We are doing the same with Iran’s Pres. Ahmadinejad–who IS a petty dictator and a kook, but we have to ask if the hatred being stirred in this country is a way of selling us on an upcoming war.  This is, after all, a nation Bush has called part of the Axis of Evil.  If we invade or bomb Iran, I’d bet real money that Bush and Cheney cite this Senate resolution as authorization.

September 27, 2007 Posted by | Iran, peacemaking | Comments Off on Urgent Action: Stop the March Toward War with Iran

Cheney Pushing Bush to Attack Iran

What will it take for the cowards in Congress to do their Constitutional duty and impeach and remove the most lawless president and VP this nation has ever known?  According to a report in UK’s The Guardian, Cheney’s “attack Iran” advice, which had been pushed aside for the (relatively) calmer wisdom of Sec. of State Condaleeza Rice, is now gaining ground since Bush is unwilling to leave office with “the situation unresolved?” Presumably, he means that wants no chance of a nuclear armed Iran, but the success of shutting down North Korea’s program shows the way forward–peacemaking.  Attacking Iran could only happen with bombing, since all our ground troops are tied up in Iraq and Iran–and this would further inflame the Middle East and further endanger the U.S. and the world.

Of course, such an attack on a sovereign nation would also be illegal, but that has never stopped this administration.  The only way they can be stopped is to remove them–and turn them over to the courts for criminal charges. (HT: Bruce Prescott for alerting me to the Guardian article.)

July 16, 2007 Posted by | Iran, peacemaking | 2 Comments

Pelosi and Reid Fold Like Spineless Jellyfish

Whatever else one thinks about the Republican Party, at least the GOP usually sticks to its “principles.” Most of the Democratic leadership, however, is completely spineless. Case in point:  Betraying the voters that put them in power to stop the war in Iraq, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have just announced support for a “compromise” bill funding the Iraq War.  Even the kept and tame U.S. media are calling this a complete capitulation to Bush:  the newly proposed bill has no timeline for withdrawal, only “suggestions” for benchmarks, and the only consequences for missing these benchmarks is cutting off reconstruction money, while the war funding continues! This is everything Bush asked for and it funds the war to the tune of a billion per week.

I called my Congressman and urged him to vote against this stupid bill no matter what Pelosi says. Then I emailed Pelosi and Reid and told them what I thought of this idiocy–I was not profane, but I was blunt. They need to hear straight talk from citizens and be reminded that they work for us and we put them in charge to END the war, not keep funding it.  For crying out loud: the rant used to be that the Democrats are completely poll-driven, but now they can’t even seem to read polls: 3/4 of the U.S. wants the troops home by the end of the year, but Bush is already responding to this “compromise” by promising to double troop size in Iraq(from where??) by Christmas!! 

The strategy was simple but effective: Keep sending Bush funding bills that you knew he’d veto. By the end of June, he’d have to start pulling back troops without more money. Don’t send him a funding bill that he can sign and continue the War!

If you are a U.S. citizen, I urge you to call and email Congress and tell them NOT to vote for this war.  Then, if you are a registered Democrat, go to Democrats.com sign this pledge not to vote for any candidate in ’08 who voted to keep funding the war!  Democrats.com, along with major peace groups, is launching a campaign to put real anti-war challengers in every ’08 primary campaign where an incumbent Democrat voted to keep funding the war.  I hope some progressive Republicans (there must still be some left) will launch a similar campaign.  It’s time to remind BOTH major parties that peace voters cannot be ignored. 

May 23, 2007 Posted by | foreign policy, Iran, Iraq, U.S. politics | 7 Comments

Israel Seeks U.S. Permission to Bomb Iran’s Nuclear Sites

The London Daily Telegraph reports that Israel is seeking U.S. permission to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites (which may be for a nuclear weapons program or may be peaceful as Iran claims). Notice that Israel is not seeking permission from the UN Security Council as international law demands, but from the U.S.–a move which is bound to be interpreted in the Middle East through the longstanding Arab claim that Israel is just an outpost of Western imperialism (even if the U.S. answer is “no”). This comes at a time when U.S. claims of intelligence against Iran is being debunked, but U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney is warning Iran that “all options are on the table,” identical language to that used in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.An Iran armed with nuclear weapons WOULD be very dangerous, but war is not the way to prevent this. The U.S. needs to call a Middle East Peace Summit in a moderate nation such as Egypt or Jordan and deal with all regional issues. It also needs to pressure Israel to abandon its own (revealed-but-never-declared) nuclear weapons (estimated to be around 200 warheads) as the way to a nuclear-free Middle East.Tell President Bush and Vice President Cheney to quit threatening Iran with war and NOT to greenlight bombing requests for Israel. Register your disapproval with the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Write letters to your local paper urging negotiations, not war, with Iran.

Cross-posted from Mainstream Baptists.
UPDATE: Seymour Hersch, the veteran investigative reporter and owner of The New Yorker, is reporting a definite U.S. contingency plan to bomb Iran. See the Reuter’s release here. However, London’s Sunday Times is reporting that several U. S. Generals are planning public resignations in protest if such an attack occurs. Good for them. Public resignations and similar rejections of honors (quitting elite organizations or clubs, returning medals or diplomas,etc.) is a time honored form of nonviolent protest. (It is not a form of nonviolent coercion or intervention, just protest.) If the right people do it, it can rouse the populace. I called for such actions in the run-up to the Iraq war (because plenty of generals were against that in 2002!), but it goes against the habit of military obedience. It has taken these four years of disaster in Iraq to make such an action a real possibility. All the more reason for the rest of us to stand by these generals and continue our calls to Congress, the White House, and letters to local papers against such an attack on Iran. Citizen action can stop a war against a recalcitrant president–but it takes real effort. The time to act is now.

February 24, 2007 Posted by | Iran, Israel, just peacemaking | Comments Off on Israel Seeks U.S. Permission to Bomb Iran’s Nuclear Sites

Karl Rove Received 2003 Iranian Peace Proposal

So, not only then-National Security Advisor Rice, but “Bush’s Brain,” Karl Rove, received the 2003 Iranian peace proposal that would have ended Iran’s nuclear ambitions, recognized Israel’s right to exist and cooperated with the U.S. in stopping terrorists. Witholding that proposal may count as treason. It certainly counts as stupid. But as Mark Weisbro and Robert Naiman show, that missed opportunity in 2003 means that there is every reason NOW to talk to Iran directly, rather than beat the drums of war. Yes, Iran’s president has changed from the moderate Khatami to the horrible hardliner Ahmadinejad (who is very disliked and will probably lose re-election). But the Iranian “decider” is still Ayatollah Khameini who signed the cover letter of the 2003 proposal. Call the White House (202-456-1414) and urge direct talks. Call your Congressional Representatives and Senators and urge them to block all funding for expanding the Iraq war to Iran (1-800-839-5276). Write the editors of your local papers and demand direct U.S.-Iranian talks, NOW.

February 18, 2007 Posted by | foreign policy, Iran | 1 Comment

Chair of Joint Chiefs Denies that Iranian Govt. is Smuggling Weapons to Iraqi Insurgents

Because the Bush administration fudged, exaggerated, and sometimes outright created false intelligence in its 2002 case for the invasion of Iraq (March 2003), both members of Congress, the public, and even the once-subservient media are skeptical about the Bush admin.’s hostile attitude toward Iran. (I almost wrote “skeptical about its case for war with Iran, ” but, of course, the admin. denies that it is building a case for war with Iran, just as it denied for months before the Iraq invasion that it wanted war–even as it was putting troops in place. We don’t have the troops available for invading Iran, but hawks within the admin. look as if they are advocating bombing selected Iranian targets!) When the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff denies a major portion of the administration’s case, I would say that skepticism is justified. Lying comes second nature to this administration and they have repeatedly shown that they expect the public to believe whatever they say and to fall in line.

Update: Flynt Leverett, a former aide to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice back when she was National Security Advisor, claims that she misled Congress about a 2003 offer from Iran to make peace with the U.S.–an offer as significant as the 1972 breakthrough between China and the U.S.! The proposal from Tehran included offers to shelve Iran’s nuclear ambitions, to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and to quit sheltering anti-Israeli militants. It included a cover letter signed by then-president Mohammed Khatami and supreme Ayotollah Ali Khameini. Rice denies she ever saw this memo, but I believe Leverett who says she couldn’t sell it to the White House. This administration needs to keep blaming Iran for its failures in Iraq and for its preemptive war policies instead of peacemaking. But whether or not Rice ever saw the memo, its existence means that war with Iran is not inevitable and that we as citizens should DEMAND direct negotiations with Iran and demand that Congress refuse to authorize war with Iran. The Congressional switchboard is 1-800-839-5276 or 202-224-3121. The White House Comment Line is 202-456-1111. Let them hear from you, today!

February 15, 2007 Posted by | foreign policy, Iran | 6 Comments