Peace "Talks" While Wars Walk

By Clare Bayard
November, 2010

Month in Review November 2010 (ESPAÑOL)

By Clare Bayard
Government leaders made headlines this month with summits and meetings full of talk about peace and global cooperation.
The reality on the ground is war.
This disconnect was glaring even before the latest Wikileaks exposed fresh details of how heads of state routinely make feel-good statements in public, while making outrageous plans when they think no one is listening.
The NATO summit in Lisbon, considered one of the most significant in the alliance's history, talked about peace and security. But the decisions made point towards expanded wars and more bloodshed. NATO leaders agreed to be definitely indefinite about a supposed 2014 date for withdrawal from Afghanistan, while setting neither limits nor measurable accountability for themselves. The alliance adopted a 10-year “strategic concept” that reaffirms an endless "Global War on Terror"; set no geographic limits in its determination to act against “new threats to the safety of our citizens”; and committed NATO to remain nuclear-armed. The expanded U.S.-dominated NATO is gathering steam to solidify its role as the primary global organizer of military aggression.
Afghanistan "peace talks" topped the disbelief meter this month. It was the New York Times, not the Onion, that revealed as an imposter the supposed senior Taliban leader who the U.S. was paying to negotiate with Washington, NATO, and Karzai.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's participation in peace talks with the Palestinians is equally preposterous. He refuses to agree to a 90-day partial settlement freeze, even while the Obama administration offers an unprecedented political and military package.

Presidents Obama and Medvedev after signing the new START treaty. Will the Republicans permit ratification?

Previous talks with Russia had produced a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) which would reduce nuclear stockpiles by about 30%. But, under pressure from "just-say-no" Republicans, Obama has already agreed to spending increases for U.S. nuclear "modernization" as the price for Republicans even considering a ratification vote. Arms reduction is the headline, but deeper commitment to U.S. nukes is the bottom line. Obama's recent talks in India about friendship and cooperation, meanwhile, were a thinly veiled arms sale.
And regarding the recent outbreak of shelling in Korea, the media and military posture and maneuver, but won't touch the type of diplomacy that, as pointed out in a recent Op-Ed by former President Jimmy Carter, could actually defuse this volatile battlefront.

The Afghanistan War leaves many more well-intentioned Americans confused than did the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Although a majority believes that the occupation is unsustainable and the nation-building mission a pipe dream (or smokescreen), ambivalence about withdrawal means there is a lack of substantial pressure on the administration to get out. Under fire from the military brass and Neocon right, the administration is getting in deeper than ever.
At the Lisbon summit, Washington led the charge to sign NATO up for indefinite war. Dissent from European countries facing massively antiwar publics was over-ridden; the once promoted 2011 date to "begin a drawdown of U.S. troops" was backburnered. Even the 2014 "transition to Afghan forces" was declared little more than a lukewarm target.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen clarified: “We will stay after transition in a supporting role” if Afghanistan's own security is not deemed sufficient. NATO's capacity (not to mention its right) to evaluate Afghan security is questionable. At the last NATO meeting, the EU had marked for review issues of Afghanistan's internal stability - governmental corruption and legitimacy, training and policy of internal forces. But these were relegated to the scrap heap at this year's summit.
On the ground military operations are intensifying. The past few months have seen an increase in night raids around Kandahar, modeled on the unsuccessful counterinsurgency strategy used in Marjah last winter. The bulldozing of family homes is uprooting farmers, who must migrate into the slums of Kandahar looking for work. The internal displacement that always accompanies war is one of the less charted impacts of occupation. While numbers have been generated for Iraq, hardly any discussion of the U.S. counterinsurgency's impact on Afghan civilians makes the media.
The intolerable level of destruction has created enough domestic pressure to prompt increasing public protests from Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Speaking about the social impacts of U.S. night raids, Karzai recently stated "The raids are a problem always. They have to go away.”
U.S. and NATO Commander General David Petraeus’ plan to “win hearts and minds” - through scorched earth campaigns - is a cynical front that is pushing more Afghans towards the Taliban. Most are not even aware of the official reason foreign troops are in their country to begin with. Supposedly the U.S. is fighting al-Qaeda. But - besides the fact that most of what remains of al-Qaeda is no longer in Afghanistan - a recent survey shows that among Afghan residents in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, 92 percent of the 1,000 men interviewed had never heard of the 9/11 attacks.
Karzai's hot-and-cold stance toward his U.S. backers is a wild card. He said last year that the U.S. “should and could" draw down its forces next year and pressed for full Afghan security control by 2014. In a private meeting during the summit Petraeus is reported to have rebuffed Karzai's requests to end the aggressive night raids and drone strikes. Some observers now argue that Karzai is making his priority a settlement with the Taliban and no longer supports the U.S.-led “War on Terror,” which could spell new explosions and crises ahead.
NATO also fell in line behind the U.S. on retaining nuclear weapons. The BBC reported that “the alliance would seek to 'create the conditions' for a world without nuclear weapons, but until that goal was in sight would remain a nuclear-armed organization. That decision will see U.S. nuclear weapons remain in Europe despite calls from Germany and some other members for Obama to pull them out.”
Courted heavily by Obama, Russia formally expanded its role in Afghanistan and cooperation with NATO at the summit. How much that trend will continue depends in large part on whether or not the START Treaty negotiated by Russian President Medvedev and Obama will win Senate ratification. Senator Jon Kyl, chief Republican negotiator on the treaty, wants to delay the vote until the new Congress convenes. Kyl is holding ratification hostage, demanding a White House commitment to invest in new generations of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, an administration which had previously talked up nuclear disarmament is moving quickly in the other direction.
On his recent trip to New York City, Netanyahu reached a verbal agreement with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that even stunned former CIA counter-terrorism director Robert Grenier. Grenier told al-Jazeera, “After witnessing U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians for over 30 years, I had thought I was beyond shock. This development, however, is breathtaking.”
The details of Clinton and Netanyahu's agreement have not been officially confirmed. Apparently Clinton promised that the U.S. would block any U.N. recognition of Palestinian nationhood not okayed by Israel, and also prevent any investigation of Israeli nukes or revival of the Goldstone Report. Washington also committed to stronger sanctions against Iran and Syria. Clinton offered additional military carrots: increasing the stockpiles in Israel of U.S. weapons; $3 billion in brand new warplanes, and agreement to permanent Israeli troops along the eastern border (the Jordan Valley) of any future Palestinian state.
Even Grenier, hardly a champion of Palestinian liberation, assesses: “In effect, along with a whole string of additional commitments, including some potentially far-reaching security guarantees which it is apparently afraid to reveal publicly, the Obama administration is willing to permanently cast aside a policy of some 40 years' duration, under which the U.S. has at least nominally labeled Israeli settlements on occupied territory as 'obstacles to peace.' All this in return for a highly conditional settlement pause which will permit Netanyahu to pocket what the U.S. has given him, simply wait three months without making any good-faith effort at compromise, and know in the end that Israel will never again have to suffer the U.S.' annoying complaints about illegal settlements.”
Reports of illegal settlement expansion are so frequent, to those paying attention to any news outside the U.S. mainstream media lockdown, that it is important to name villages and take a moment to remember what is really happening in the West Bank. Last week Israeli settlers illegally confiscated land from farmers who live in the villages of Yatma and As-Sawiya, south of Nablus. This land is being annexed to expand the Rechalim settlement. This is the story constantly playing out throughout the occupied territories.
At the same time, thousands of settlers, including a large number of teenagers who had the day off school, demonstrated in Jerusalem against any hint of a settlement freeze. This continues the settlers' “price tag” campaign, which has included attacking Palestinian children and adults and burning mosques and schools. The U.S. has halfheartedly suggested that a 90-day partial construction freeze might restart “peace talks,” which Abbas suspended when the last partial freeze expired two months ago. Abbas has clearly said that he rejects any freeze that excludes East Jerusalem, an epicenter of illegal settler expansion bolstered by home demolitions and evictions of dozens of Palestinian families. East Jerusalem is a core demand uniting Palestinians across the political spectrum, and is one of primary battlefields in the Israeli struggle for demographics. Netanyahu shows no indication of relenting on East Jerusalem ethnic cleansing, knowing this is an absolute deal-breaker.
On Obama's photo-op-eriffic visit to India he was accompanied by 250 business executives. The trade agenda included a deal to be signed by the end of the year for $10 billion in jet fighters. Vijay Prashad observes: “India is the world’s largest importer of weaponry, and the U.S. has been very keen to sell as much weaponry as possible… One of the reasons is some of the Indian armaments are coming to a point where they’ll need either retrofitting or to be substituted. Previously, India used to buy from Russia and from Europe… this is perhaps a $50 to $60 billion market, already twice what the U.S. and India do in trade.”
This deal takes place as U.S. policy-makers talk increasingly about aligning with other Asian countries to contain the rising power of China. At the same time, U.S. military expansion into Africa, the stage of an accelerating tug-of-war between China and the U.S., continues overtly and through proxies.
In the midst of all this, several South Koreans were killed by artillery shells from the North in one of the worst outbreaks of violence since the armistice 57 years ago. A new round of North-Korea-is-simply-evil hysteria immediately gripped the U.S. punditry and Washington moved quickly to show solidarity with its South Korean ally. One establishment voice cut through the bombast, looking at the facts behind the situation and a way out. In a Washington Post op-ed November 24, former President Jimmy Carter wrote:

“Pyongyang has sent a consistent message that during direct talks with the U.S. it is ready to conclude an agreement to end its nuclear programs, put them all under IAEA inspection and conclude a permanent peace treaty to replace the "temporary" cease-fire of 1953. We should consider responding to this offer. The unfortunate alternative is for North Koreans to take whatever actions they consider necessary to defend themselves from what they claim to fear most: a military attack supported by the U.S., along with efforts to change the political regime."

To counter these dangerous U.S. policies, peace and justice activists are moving beyond talking. Grassroots demilitarization activists protested NATO's war-making plans at a Counter-Summit which included civil disobedience. Forty-five people were arrested blockading an entrance to the NATO gathering; 168 others from France, Sweden, Finland and Spain, including many conscientious objectors, had been blocked at the border due to a temporary suspension of EU human rights agreements. Germany also saw its largest ever direct action blockade of the nuclear “Castor-transport” train, building on decades of mass civil disobediences in Gorleben.
During the summit, thousands also rallied in London to protest the Afghanistan War. The action was led by British military families. London's conservative mayor warned George Bush that should he tour his memoir in Europe, he could expect antiwar riots at book signings, and possible arrest as a war criminal.
While Obama was in India, 400 survivors of the 1984 Bhopal chemical leak protested outside Parliament. They demanded the U.S. President call to account Dow Chemical and Union Carbide for their continued flaunting of international and local law and unwillingness to take their full responsibility for the disaster.
Here in the U.S., the peace movement is still in a process of rebuilding and readjusting to the rapidly changing landscape of a new Congress even more hawkish than the last and an administration shifting rightwards on virtually every foreign policy front. A variety of creative actions and new campaigns are providing examples and directions for the new waves of protest required.

Palestine Solidarity: Top Israeli war criminals can no longer tour the U.S. without being publicly shouted down at their well-paid gigs. In New Orleans this month, a talk by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was crashed and disrupted by a group of young Jews presenting their message that occupation, loyalty oaths and similar policies delegitimize Israel. Here's the video:

Caterpillar, the target of a seven-year boycott for use of its bulldozers in illegal home demolitions in Palestine, was successfully pressured to suspend the delivery of $50 million in equipment during the trial concerning the killing of Rachel Corrie in 2003 by one of their machines.

The tactic of guerrilla dance parties set to rewritten popular songs, using new social media like Youtube as a pathway to disseminating “viral videos,” is spreading among social justice and particularly Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists around the world. This fall, Philadelphia BDS activists performed a popular Lady Gaga song in a grocery store with lyrics about boycotting Sabra hummus:

Bay Area activists launched a Hewlett-Packard boycott with a dance flashmob in several office supply chains with help from Aretha Franklin:

And Israeli BDS activists protest-serenaded the boycott-breaking South African opera, which played Tel Aviv despite Archbishop Desmond Tutu's condemnation.

"Move the Money" and Operation Recovery: Amid the economic downturn, the cost of foreign wars is an ever more prominent issue (even for some conservatives). Peace activists are attempting to tap the potential here by reaching out broadly with new campaigns and coalitions to "move the money." And in the world of veteran and G.I. resistance organizing, groups including Iraq Veterans Against the War are intensifying deliberate national work to lift up the true costs of war. IVAW's Operation Recovery: End the Deployment of Traumatized Troops launched on the October 7 anniversary of the Afghanistan War, has gained steam with a variety of teach-ins, street and military base outreach activities, art events, and organizing meetings on Veterans Day. Additionally, two veteran-led efforts focused on reparations to Iraq continue. IVAW's Reparations Committee, along with U.S. Labor Against the War, launched a fundraising drive this month. And another reparations project, initiated by IVAW members who spoke out in the wake of the Wikileaked “Collateral Murder” video featuring their company, are developing with civilian allies a partnership with Iraqi Health Now to move resources directly to Iraqis.

No administration - Obama's or any other - will surrender any positions of imperial power without unstoppable grassroots pressure. Building such pressure requires not just creativity and dedication, but ways to "get to scale" - that is, involve millions. Solidarity between growing grassroots peoples' movements, centering justice-based values, are the best hope for security and survival.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

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