The Peace Movement Today
I have been a member of a grassroots peace group for 25 years. We mobilized a teach-in and other activities against Gulf War One, had daily demonstrations against the bombing of Serbia, mobilized panels and demonstrations against the lead up to and perpetuation of the brutal war in Iraq, worked with Palestinian solidarity groups, and marched against proposed bombing of Syria in 2013. Our numbers have peaked and ebbed over this long period. Currently membership is less than ten, although many former and current members have been involved in a variety of other campaigns around such issues as Moral Mondays, Black Lives Matter, anti-Right-to-Work, BDS, and educational issues.
I am also a member of a socialist organization, which has had an active Peace and Solidarity Committee. Members have participated in the organization of United for Peace and Justice, helped mobilize large rallies in opposition to nuclear weapons, the war in Iraq, the bombing of Syria, and also in opposition to climate change and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Also members have worked in solidarity with the peoples of Cuba and Venezuela. But the range of activities, the numbers involved in peace activities, and the patterns of outreach in solidarity with other organizations which are part of the peace movement, have declined.
I write about my personal experience only to reflect on the peace movement at large. First, the history of peace movement solidarity has been intimately connected to anti-racist, pro-labor, women’s, and environmental struggles for decades. When Dr. King and Mohammed Ali connected the evils of Vietnam with racism and poverty at home proponents of peace and social and economic justice gained in strength.
Second, the relative strength in number, message, and organization of the peace movement has varied significantly over time. Since the onset of the Cold War peace and solidarity activities have been most vibrant during the Vietnam War, the wars against Central America, Gulf War One, the bombing of Serbia, the Iraq War, Israeli bombing of targets in Gaza, and threats of bombing Syria in 2013.
However, reflecting on activities I have some experience with and my perceptions of peace movement activities generally, my sense is that today the movement is dormant. Paradoxically, with expanding war and terrorism on the world stage, the spread of new high technology instruments of slaughter, the deconstruction of whole states and societies, the danger of the return to big power conflict, and continuing increases in military spending, the voices of the peace movement have been muted. This is a dilemma not only for peace but for justice, saving the environment, and ending racism and sexism. During this disturbing period in world history and an upcoming election in the United States, it is useful to step back and analyze “the time of day” on a worldwide basis: as to global class forces and their ideologies; contemporary techniques of empire and their consequences for the lives of billions; individual global crises; and where presidential candidates stand on issues of war and peace and foreign policy in general.
Then assessing the constellation of political capabilities of the peace movement in the context of the time of day, peace activists can better pose questions about what they/we should do next.
The Time of Day:
The Ruling Class Agenda for the United States Role in the World
From a Washington Post editorial, May 21, 2016:
HARDLY A day goes by without evidence that the liberal international order of the past seven decades is being eroded. China and Russia are attempting to fashion a world in their own illiberal image…This poses an enormous trial for the next U.S. president. We say trial because no matter who takes the Oval Office, it will demand courage and difficult decisions to save the liberal international order. As a new report from the Center for a New American Security points out, this order is worth saving, and it is worth reminding ourselves why: It generated unprecedented global prosperity, lifting billions of people out of poverty; democratic government, once rare, spread to more than 100 nations; and for seven decades there has been no cataclysmic war among the great powers. No wonder U.S. engagement with the world enjoyed a bipartisan consensus.
The Washington Post editorial quoted above clearly articulates the dominant view envisioned by US foreign policy elites for the years ahead: about global political economy, militarism, and ideology. It in effect constitutes a synthesis of the "neocon" and the "liberal interventionist" wings of the ruling class. First, it is inspired by the necessity of 21st century capitalism to defend neoliberal globalization: government for the rich, austerity for the many, and deregulation of trade, investment, and speculation. (Neoliberal globalization, the latest phase in the development of international capitalism is described in an important new book, Jerry Harris, Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Democracy, Clarity Press, 2016).
Second, the Post vision of a New World Order is built upon a reconstituted United States military and economic hegemony that has been a central feature of policymaking at least since the end of World War II even though time after time it has suffered setbacks: from defeat in Vietnam, to radical decolonization across the Global South, and to the rise of competing poles of power in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and even Europe. In addition, despite recent setbacks, grassroots mass mobilizations against neoliberal globalization and austerity policies have risen everywhere, even in the United States. The Washington Post speaks to efforts to reassemble the same constellation of political forces, military resources, and concentrated wealth, that, if anything, is greater than at any time since the establishment of the US “permanent war economy” after the last World War.
Historian, Michael Stanley, in an essay entitled “‘We are Not Denmark’: Hillary Clinton and Liberal American Exceptionalism,” (Common Dreams, February 26, 2016) points to the ideological glue that is used by foreign policy elites, liberal and conservative, to justify the pursuit of neoliberal globalization and militarism; that is the reintroduction of the old idea of American Exceptionalism, which in various forms has been used by elites since the foundation of the Republic.
The modern version, borne in the context of continental and global expansion, serves to justify an imperial US role in the world. Along with posturing that the United States is somehow special and has much to offer the world, American Exceptionalism presumes the world has little to offer the United States. The only difference between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy is whether the exceptionalism still exists and must be maintained or has dissipated requiring the need to “make America great again.” Leaders of both parties, however, support the national security state, high military expenditures, and a global presence—military, economic, political, and cultural.
Techniques of Empire Today
Although the imperial agenda, and the ideological precepts justifying it, has remained the same for two hundred years the techniques of empire have changed as growing resistance at home and abroad and new technologies dictate. Changes in warfare, other violence, and imperial expansion include the following:
-Wars are internal much more than international and casualties are overwhelmingly civilian rather than military.
-The global presence of some form of the United States military is ubiquitous-between 700-and 1,000 military bases, in anywhere from 40 to 120 countries
- US military operations have been privatized. A 2010 Washington Post report found 1,911 intelligence contracting firms doing top secret work for 1,271 government organizations at over 10,000 sites. Ninety percent of such work is being done by 110 contractors.
-More “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” have been used to kill alleged enemies over the last eight years as the entire prior period of US military operations. Drones have come home as their use by the Dallas police recently showed.
-US agencies, such as the CIA, have been engaged in the increased use of assassinations and efforts to undermine governments. One report indicated that there are 13,000 assassination commandoes operating around the world.
-So-called “humanitarian assistance” is used to support United States policies in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. For example, a New York Times story reported that at least 40 American groups received $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade.
Some generalizations we can draw from the new techniques of war are the following:
-Imperial rule has become global.
-The Military/industrial complex has expanded beyond President Eisenhower’s wildest nightmares. Large sectors of military operations—from cooking and cleaning to killing—have been privatized.
-Military operations continue and expand without “boots on the ground.” Empires can kill with impunity.
Recently, Nick Turse and colleagues reported on data indicating that the United States has been engaged in secret military training of personnel in many countries, what they called ‘a shadowy network of U.S. programs that every year provides instruction and assistance to approximately 200,000 foreign soldiers, police, and other personnel.” (Douglas Gillison, Nick Turse, Moiz Syed, “How the U.S. Trains Killers Worldwide,” Portside, July 13, 2016).
Their report is worth further quoting:
“The data show training at no fewer than 471 locations in 120 countries….involving on the U.S. side, 150 defense agencies, civilian agencies, armed forces colleges, defense training centers, military units, private companies, and NGOs, as well as the National Guard forces of five states.” Perhaps most important for the peace movement is the following: Despite the fact that the Department of Defense alone has poured some $122 billion into such programs since 9/11, the breadth and content of this training network remain virtually unknown to most Americans.”
Impacts of 21st Century Imperialism
By any measure the pain and suffering brought by 21st century imperialism is staggering. US Labor Against the War recently reported that sources estimate 1.3 million people, mostly in the Middle East and South Asia, have died due to the war on terrorism initiated in 2001. They quote a research report that estimates that one million Iraqis have died since 2003 and an additional 220,000 citizens of Afghanistan and 80,000 from Pakistan. Other sources claim these figures are too conservative and remind us of the untold thousands upon thousands who have died directly from war and violence in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and elsewhere in the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa.
These figures, of course, address deaths directly attributed to war and terrorism but do not include economic sanctions, massive flight of peoples from war zones, persecution by authoritarian regimes, environmental devastation and drone strikes and assassinations. Large areas of the globe, centered in the Middle East and North Africa are ungovernable with foreign intervention and anomic domestic violence on the rise. In a troubling essay by Patrick Cockburn the author asserts that:
“We live in an age of disintegration. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Across the vast swath of territory between Pakistan and Nigeria, there are at least seven ongoing wars-in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and South Sudan. These conflicts are extraordinarily destructive. They are tearing apart the countries in which they are taking place in ways that make it doubtful they will ever recover.” (Patrick Cockburn, “The Age of Disintegration: Neoliberalism, Interventionism, the Resource Curse, and a Fragmenting World,” The Unz Review: Mobile, June 28, 2016).
Cockburn suggests that this fragmentation has core features: no winners and losers, deconstruction of states, massive population upheavals and migrations, religious fundamentalism replacing socialist and/or nationalist politics, and outside interventions. The Global South project Vijay Prashad described so well in The Darker Nations has been superseded by a competing fundamentalist projects.
NATO/Ukraine/New Cold War
Recently leaders of the 28 NATO countries met in summit in Poland to reaffirm their commitment to the military alliance that was established in 1949 for the sole purpose of protecting the European continent from any possible Soviet military intervention. With the collapse of the former Soviet Union, rather than dissolving, NATO took on the task of policing the world for neoliberal globalization and the states ‘victorious” in the Cold War. NATO was the official operational arm of military operations in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the military force that would destroy the Gaddafi regime in Libya.
After the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, NATO incorporated the states in Eastern Europe that had been affiliated with it. Now Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic States are the frontline in the ongoing hostilities with Russia. They and western financiers from Ukraine, with substantial assistance from the United States, engineered the coup that ousted a corrupt but elected President in Ukraine. This set off an ongoing civil war between those in the population who want to continue ties to Russia and others who want Ukraine to join the European Union and NATO. The instability in Kiev was orchestrated by high US state department officials who advocate a New Cold War with Russia.
At the NATO summit it was agreed to establish four battalion-sized “battle groups” in Poland and the Baltic states. To use the language of the Cold War, this small force could serve as a “trip wire” that could precipitate an “incident” and a major war with Russia. NATO agreed to bolster the Ukraine military. The alliance would commit to establishing a controversial missile defense system in Eastern Europe. And NATO countries promised to spend two percent of their budgets on the military. The continued commitment of the United States was affirmed by President Obama.
The Asian Pivot
In 2011, US spokespersons announced that the country would shift resources and attention to Asia from the Middle East, an area with demanding security and economic interests. Although US/Chinese dialogue continues the United States has criticized China’s repositioning of what it regards as its possessions in the South China Sea. The United States has expanded military relations with Vietnam, reestablished military bases in the Philippines, and has generally avoided criticizing efforts by ruling Japanese politicians to revise their constitution to allow for a full-scale remilitarization. The United States has threatened North Korea over their military maneuvers and has bolstered the South Korean military. On the economic front the United States has been instrumental in building support for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) to challenge Chinese economic hegemony in the region. With a growing US presence the possibility of a New Cold War in Asia becomes a possibility.
The Middle East
Most American politicians express their belief that the US must maintain a special relationship with the state of Israel. One of the few active mobilizations for peace today is the worldwide campaign to demand governments, corporations, and other institutions boycott, and divest holdings in what is regarded as an apartheid state, Israel, which oppresses its Arab population and those living in the Occupied Territories. The campaign is so effective that along with national politicians, governors and state legislatures have taken stands against the BDS campaign.
Next to the historic US ties to Israel, most analysts see the deconstruction of the Middle East that Cockburn wrote about as a direct result of the Iraq war initiated in 2003. Over the next decade, Syria, Libya, Yemen and other countries have been torn apart by civil war fueled by western, primarily US, intervention, continuing US support of Saudi Arabian militarism, and the fractionalization of states in the region, most recently Turkey.
This ten year war on the Middle East has created a growing terrorist response directed at western targets and an ideological campaign, including calls to violence, against all the traditional imperial powers who dominated the region for one hundred years. As Cockburn suggested, with the successful United States and European war on radical nationalism in the region since the onset of the Cold War, secularism has been replaced by religious fundamentalism as the dominant ideological force in the region.
With this as a backdrop, the United States response to violence is stepped up high-tech killing justified by a public campaign that demonizes Muslim people in the United States and everywhere in the world.
Nick Turse reports on the growing US military presence on the African continent. A special command structure, AFRICOM, was established in 2008 to oversee US security interests on the continent. Initially, Turse reports, the Pentagon claimed that it had one larger base, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. But enterprising researchers have discovered that the US military has a dense network of “cooperative security outposts,” bases and other sites of military presence, at least 60 across the continent, in 34 countries. The US has defense attaches in 38 countries.
An Oxford researcher was quoted by Turse on the new oversite of the African continent.
“AFRICOM, as a new command, is basically a laboratory for a different kind of warfare and a different way of posturing forces….Apart from Djibouti, there’s no significant stockpiling of troops, equipment, or even aircraft. There are a myriad of ‘lily pads’ or small forward operating bases…so you can spread out even a small number of forces over a very large area and concentrate those forces quite quickly when necessary” (Nick Turse, “America’s Empire of African Bases,” TomDispatch.com, November 17, 2015).
United States foreign policy toward Latin America has taken a variety of forms since the onset of the 21st century. The United States, in the older mold, encouraged and assisted in the failed military coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002 and gave at least quiescent support to the military overthrow of Honduran President Zelaya in 2009. At the same time the United States has curried the favor of upper class opponents of the regimes transformed by the Bolivarian Revolution: Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Two larger countries Argentina and Brazil have experienced domestic political turmoil in recent years, to some extent driven by internecine politics and corruption. The United States, in all these cases have networked with opposition political forces, sometimes encouraging countries like Brazil and Venezuela to launch votes of no confidence or impeachment proceedings against governments that have stood against the US neoliberal economic agenda. Some have referred to the new US strategy in the region as one of creating “silent coups.”
The influence of the United States has weakened since the onset of the Bolivarian Revolution and the distain Latin Americans hold toward the United States because of its long-standing efforts to isolate Cuba. President Obama in collaboration with President Castro announced a new opening of relations between the two countries in December, 2014 and ever since US economic constraints on travel, trade, and investment have been reduced (although the blockade remains). What remains similar to past US policy toward Cuba, however, are the stated aims of the new relationship: the promotion of democracy and markets. It was no mere coincidence that President Obama visited Cuba in March, 2016 and then flew to Argentina to negotiate with the newly elected neoliberal President Macri of Argentina.
The Idea of the Deep State
The contradiction that still needs an explanation is the fact that for the most part the American people oppose wars and intervention. This is particularly so in the twenty-first century when so much pain and suffering has been caused by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008 Americans elected Barack Obama, in part because he had opposed the war in Iraq and had called for a new American foreign policy based on respect for other nations and peoples. He promised to use diplomacy not war as the primary tool of international relations and in some instances has tried to do that. He probably wanted to end the two awful wars and show some respect for others, even while promoting a neoliberal global agenda in a world of diverse centers of power and wealth. But why have Obama’s cautious efforts to promote United States economic and political interests been contradicted by the patterns of interventionism and the rhetoric of military globalization so common over the last few years?
The answer can be found in a variety of explanations of United States imperialism including what Mike Lofgren calls the “deep state.” Lofgren defines the “deep state” as “… a hybrid association of elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern the United States without reference to the consent of the governed as expressed through the formal political process.” (Mike Lofgren, “Anatomy of the ‘Deep State’: Hiding in Plain Sight,” Online University of the Left, February 23, 2014). Others have examined invisible power structures, including class, that rule America (from C. W. Mills’ classic The Power Elite, Oxford University Press, 2000 to Robert Perrucci, Earl Wysong, and David Wright, The New Class Society: Goodbye American Dream? Rowman and Littlefield, 2013).
The roots of analyses like those above are that power to make critical decisions reside not in the superstructure of the political process; the place were competitive games are played for all to see, but in powerful institutions embedded in society that can make decisions without requiring popular approval. Over and over again, the “deep state” apparatus has led the American people into war or covert interventions that destroyed the rights of people in other countries to solve their own problems. In the end these hidden institutions have involved the United States in death and destruction all across the globe.
So Where Does the Peace Movement Go From Here?
Analyses of what is wrong are easier to develop than thinking through ways to respond. This essay opened with a dilemma; a broken peace movement locally and nationally. It then argued that the foreign policy elites have a hegemonic vision of the role of the United States in the world today and tomorrow. And they have at their disposal 21st century military technologies to maintain their power in the world. The consequences of force and intervention have been horrific for billions of people.
Having outlined the scope of the problem, we have briefly described current US foreign policy “trouble-spots:” Russia and Eastern Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.
Phyllis Bennis has written about the inadequacy of US mainstream responses to the problems the United States faces in the world today. Her assessment of the recently constructed Democratic Party platform illustrates that even the more liberal elements in the political process call for continued reliance on military means to solve festering problems. The DNC still insists that the United States must remain the number one military power in the world. The DNC still ignores the complexities of the causes of violence and hatred in the Middle East. And Phyllis Bennis argues that a serious even-handed approach to the conflict in Palestine is central to the instability in the region. Only the BDS movement today exemplifies the militancy and global solidarity that a revitalized peace movement must develop.
As Bennis wrote:
“An anti-war position, in the broadest sense of reducing military budgets, calling for diplomacy over war, condemning the ‘inevitable’ civilian casualties, calling out how military assaults create rather than destroy terrorism…these are enormously unifying principles among progressives….movements matter.” (Phyllis Bennis, “What the Democratic Party Platform Tells Us About Where We Are on War,” Portside, July 8, 2016).
Approaches the peace movement can take in the near term include the following:
1.Develop a theory, a conceptual scheme about the multiplicity of connected issues that affect peoples lives linking economics, politics, militarism, and culture. Think about a diamond shaped figure. At the base is an economic system, at this point in time finance capitalism. Above the base at the two side points are militarism on one side and racism and sexism on the other. At the top add destruction of nature. Conceptualizing the war problem in this way we begin to see the connections between the 21st century state of capitalism as a global system and war, racism, sexism, and environmental destruction.
2.Use the theory or schema to develop an educational program that begins with efforts to understand the fundamentals of the war system (direct and structural violence as peace researchers put it). Use the schema as programs on specific issues are prepared. Always relate the specific issue at hand: Israel/Palestine, Ukraine, undermining regimes in Latin America for example, to the diamond.
3.Participate in grassroots organizing in solidarity with others, always linking issues to the war/peace paradigm. One error participants in the various Moral Mondays campaigns have made is to accede to the idea that Moral Mondays should only be about state legislative issues, not national or international ones. And work to network with peace groups all across the nation to rebuild the national peace movement that so effectively fought against war and imperialism in the past.
4.Engage in global solidarity. The analysis above has emphasized the forces of global hegemony, or imperialism. It is critical to be aware of and support the grassroots ferment that is occurring all across the globe; from Arab Spring; to the Bolivarian Revolution; to anti-austerity campaigns in Greece, Spain, Quebec, and elsewhere, and the broadening climate change movement that encompasses the globe.
The tasks of a 21st century peace movement are not different from those of the past. They involve education, organization, and agitation. With the growth of worldwide resistance to neoliberal globalization, austerity, racism, sexism, and destruction of nature, it seems natural to incorporate concerns for peace and the right to national and personal self-determination to the budding radical movements of our day.