By Max Elbaum
It's not a very happy new year for the antiwar movement. The headline on Tom Engelhardt's latest Nation column says it all: "Why War Will Take No Holidays in 2010." The full piece - go to http://www.thenation.com/doc/20100111/engelhardt - presents the reasons why we are unlikely to see much progress toward peace in the next twelve months.
Yet between the lines there is another point: the work we do this year lays the crucial groundwork for breakthroughs in 2011 and beyond. That idea can and should spur heightened resolve to work hard, work smart, and come out of the upcoming difficult year in better shape than we are today.
AFGHANISTAN: "DOWNWARD SPIRAL" CANNOT BE HALTED
This perspective applies first to the Afghanistan war, where President Obama's escalation is now underway. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll indicates that this so-called "surge" is supported by 58% of the U.S. public. But for a large portion of that 58% such support is extremely thin, dependent on the hope that escalation will "show good results."
But it won't. Figures as highly placed as Thomas Johnson, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School and Thomas Mason, a retired Foreign Service officer previously assigned to a high post in Afghanistan, cut to the chase. "There isn't the slightest possibility that the course laid out by Barack Obama in his December 1 speech will halt or even slow the downward spiral toward defeat in Afghanistan," they write in Foreign Policy magazine.
For the full article, go to: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/12/10/sorry_obama_afghanistans_your_vietnam
In other words, Afghans will keep dying, U.S. troops will keep dying, huge amounts of money will continue to be spent, reports of Afghan government corruption will continue to surface, and the to-be-expected reports of "progress" from one general after another will ring more hollow with each passing month. In this context, an antiwar movement that consistently gets its message out there that this war is hopeless, wrong, costly, and heightens rather than reduces the threat of terrorism can make a difference. Step-by-step public opinion can be turned. And if creative ways are found to show how this resource-devouring war prevents addressing the economic hardships that are the front-burner issue for the country's majority (and the environmental crisis that is spurring so many youth to action), changed public sentiment can become a powerful political force.
(The same message needs to be sent regarding Iraq.. The end of 2011 is officially the deadline for the U.S. to totally withdraw, but that is far from a done deal. Witness the New York Times report on recent remarks by Robert Gates: "The defense secretary… expects that some U.S. forces might remain in an advisory capacity in Iraq after 2011. 'I wouldn't be surprised to see agreements between ourselves and the Iraqis that continue a train-equip-and-advise role beyond the end of 2011,' Mr. Gates said.")
ON GAZA WAR ANNIVERSARY,
ISRAEL THREATENS "HARSHER" ACTIONS
It is likely even more uphill to change U.S. policy in ways that would open the door to a just settlement to the Israel-Palestine conflict. On the ground Israel is ramping up land seizures and repression: its military shot and killed six Palestinians Dec. 27 and the next day its government announced the construction of nearly 700 new Jewish-only housing units in occupied East Jerusalem. And on the anniversary of its Gaza War - in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed - Israeli officials made no bones about what lies ahead. The New York Times reported Dec. 25 that "officials and experts familiar with the country’s military doctrine say that… Israel will likely find itself fighting another, similar kind of war. Only next time, some here suggest, Israel will apply more force. 'The next round will be different, but not in the way people think,' said Giora Eiland, a retired major general and former chief of Israel’s National Security Council. 'The only way to be successful is to take much harsher action.'
Washington nominally opposes expansion of Israeli settlements and discourages such militaristic threats. But there is no muscle behind periodic statements of disapproval. The cracks that have opened up recently in the 40-year-long "special relationship" between the U.S. and Israel so far are strictly at the level of words.
Turning those cracks into a material shift in policy requires building up sufficient grassroots political muscle to take on both longstanding Washington patterns and the Israel Lobby. This is tough to do in a country where pro-Israel messages pervade the media and other institutions which shape popular opinion. The latest Pew poll shows that, when asked who they sympathize with in the Israel-Palestine conflict, 51% of the public says Israel, 12% the Palestinians, and 4% both equally.
Daunting as that political balance is, there are countervailing trends that give advocates of human rights and Palestinian self-determination levers to work with. The level of Israeli brutality in its recent wars has given rise to international condemnation, in particular the Goldstone report detailing Israel's war crimes in last year's Gaza war. Among growing if (in the U.S.) still limited sectors the myth of Israel as a peace-loving democracy is being stripped away. Divisions within the Zionist camp that up until recently were almost solely intellectual have begun to translate into operative politics via such initiatives as J-Street, self-described as the "political arm of the pro-Israel pro-peace movement." The global campaign answering the call of Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is gaining momentum providing peace and solidarity activists with a tool for broad outreach, education and action.
Finally, the felt need among at least a large portion of the foreign policy establishment to recoup U.S. influence in the Middle East after the disasters of the Bush years is leading to some interesting things. Truths long obvious to most of the world have finally begun to sink in to at least a few high-level figures: specifically, the fact that blank-check U.S. backing for Israel is right at the pivot of the anger toward Washington that pervades the Arab and Muslim worlds. It is perhaps not accidental that in the Pew poll noted above members of the Council on Foreign Relations were markedly less pro-Israel than the U.S. population as whole. Only 26% of CFR members said they were more sympathetic to Israel (compared to 51%) and - though just 16% sided with the Palestinians (compared to the public's 12%) - the large figure of 41% said they sympathized with "both sides equally" (compared to only 4% of the general public).
Nothing in the fight for Palestinian rights ever comes easy. But even small steps forward here in the country that is Israel's main international backer reverberate in Palestine and across the globe.
HONDURAS' AGONY AND WASHINGTON'S DISGRACE
Blood is flowing in Honduras. And much of it is on Washington's hands. U.S. recognition of the illegal Nov. 29 "elections" served as the green light for the coup-makers who ousted President Manuel Zelaya in August to crack down hard on the popular movements demanding restoration of Honduran democracy. Five anti-coup organizers were gunned down death-squad style December 7. The decapitated body of a member of the Resistance Front against the Coup was discovered December 11 six days after he had been detained by five people wearing uniforms of Honduras' National Criminal Investigation Division. Two members of the Unified Peasant Movement were kidnapped December 14 and official arrest warrants were then issued for many more. There have been a number of gruesome killings of Honduran LGBT activists and members of the LGBT community. Human rights groups warn that this kind of repression is intensifying as the coup-makers attempt to solidify their grip on power. Honduras' popular movement, which mobilized courageously and expanded its base between the July coup and the November "election" farce, is readjusting to new conditions, preparing to operate in what are likely to be all but martial law conditions.
The coup, the repression and the U.S. have regional significance. Washington's support for an illegal seizure of power and look-the-other-way stance toward repressive acts that elsewhere (in Iran, say) would bring howls of official outrage were messages to an entire continent. Latin America has been moving leftward: across the region left of center forces have been gaining ground, winning governmental power, moving in ways that go around Washington toward regional cooperation and expanded economic relationships with other countries in the global South. The combination of the vigor of Latin American grassroots movements and the U.S, being preoccupied with war and defeat in the Middle East has driven this leftward motion a lot farther than most of the U.S. elite are willing to tolerate. So the signal is sent in Honduran blood: this far and no further. It's an attempt to intimidate the popular movements and the left who have been on the rise, embolden the right-wing oligarchs and their military allies who have been on the defensive.
But too much has changed for Washington to get its way without a much bigger fight. Most Latin American governments have stayed firm and refused to recognize the Honduran coup regime. Popular movements - first and foremost in Honduras itself - are stepping up rather than stepping back, if anything pushed toward greater determination and radicalism by Washington's reversion to old-style Yankee imperial behavior. A sector of the elite in Washington is anxious about joining the battle on defense-of-coup terms, not at all certain that an overextended U.S. behemoth can prevail with that kind of approach in the region of the world where progressive popular movements have the greatest strength. So here too the battle within the U.S., the fight for public opinion and the fight over policy, is a key terrain for peace and solidarity activists.
To follow events in Honduras and get up-to-date bulletins and action alerts, go to http://www.quixote.org/Honduras An excellent eyewitness report on what really took place during the coup-organized election in November - and its implications - is by Lisa Sullivan. You can find it at: http://www.quixote.org/blog/elections-honduras-whitewashing-path-past-horrors
INITIATIVES YOU MAY HAVE MISSED
Last month's column noted that the antiwar movement is in a period of building/rebuilding capacity for the long haul tasks ahead. It stressed that accomplishing this required "nurturing, expanding and eventually galvanizing-into-action the currently passive but widespread antiwar sentiment in communities most impacted by war and militarism." Month in Review will close out 2009 by flagging a few noteworthy efforts underway that contribute to that task which might have slipped under your radar screen.
Project YANO, the San Diego-based Project on Youth and Non-Military Alternatives, sends veterans to youth groups and local schools to speak about the realities of military life and war. With a focus on youth in low-income communities and communities of color and a comprehensive anti-militarist approach, Project YANO combines making an immediate difference in people's lives with building an antiwar, anti-militarist base for the long haul. You can find out more about Project YANO at http://www.projectyano.org/ and read an interview with key Project members Rick Jahnkow and Jorge Mariscal at: http://www.war-times.org/articles/WT_projectyano.htm
Since its founding in November 2002, Military Families Speak Out has played a crucial role in bringing antiwar perspectives to a sector of society directly impacted by the horrors of war but not easily reached by many other peace organizations. MFSO has also been a stalwart in amplifying the voices of military families in the larger antiwar movement and making that movement more effective (and aware) in the process. Today MFSO faces extreme financial strain due to the combination of recession and the new challenge facing co-founders Charley Richardson and Nancy Lessin. Charley is battling an advanced, aggressive cancer and he and Nancy have had to pull back from MFSO activity to take on this difficult personal struggle. War Times joins friends across the country in paying tribute to Charley and urging readers to make what donation you can to the Charley Richardson Legacy Fund established to put MFSO on a firm foundation. You can find full information and donate at http://mfsotribute.org/
Finally, an innovative new project, Dialogues Against Militarism, has been launched to build links between - and share the stores of - military resisters from the U.S., individuals who have refused to serve in the Israeli military, and Palestinians struggling for peace and self-determination. DAM's first delegation to Israel/Palestine, consisting of U.S. military veterans, conscientious objectors and war resisters as well as other social justice activists has just returned and begun to share their stories and experiences. You can read some of these and find out more about DAM's work at http://againstmilitarism.org/index.php
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