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Millions of us have marched and protested in recent weeks against the divisive and dangerous policies of the Trump administration. The Women’s March of January 21 brought more than 700,000 people to Washington and sparked protests all across the country. More than four million people participated in demonstrations that day, making it the largest protest action in U.S. history. Since then there have been countless rallies and protests at airports and in town squares against the administration’s immigration ban, and a growing number of actions at Congressional offices to prevent the gutting of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The concerns of this new progressive movement are many—human rights, social justice, religious tolerance, climate care, peace, women’s rights—but the unifying goal is a desire to roll back the extremist agenda of the new administration. This is a goal that many Americans support. The President’s approval ratings are historically low, and with every new Executive Order or tweet he seems to alienate more people. Opposition groups are gaining members and financial support. The ACLU received a record $24 million in contributions in one weekend after the immigration ban was announced.

The strategic mission of the movement in the months ahead is to continue building opposition to the administration’s policies and to drive a wedge between the White House and Congressional Republicans.

Already we’ve seen some successes. Federal judges have temporarily blocked the immigration ban. Green card holders won’t be prevented from returning to the U.S., and Iraqis who served as translators for American forces will be exempted from the ban. Proposed executive orders to reopen CIA ‘black sites’ and authorize discrimination against women and LGBTQ people in the name of ‘religious freedom’ have been shelved for now.

Splits have started to appear in Republican ranks. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham and other Republican leaders have criticized the Muslim immigration ban. Republican members of Congress are nervous about the backlash they will face if they pull the rug out from under the 20 million people who gained health coverage through the ACA.

Achieving further success will require maintaining the peaceful spirit and demeanor of the Women’s March and avoiding actions that could turn away those we seek to attract.

We need to apply the lessons of empirical research on civil resistance. Nonviolent movements are more effective than violent campaigns. Political success comes from building mass participation and inducing loyalty shifts among the adversary’s supporters. Tactics are effective to the degree that they draw large numbers of people to the cause and undermine the legitimacy and moral authority of the opponent.

This is not a time for the kind of anarchist action that occurred in Berkeley last week. Using fire bombs and throwing fire crackers at police feeds the Trump narrative and damages the credibility of the progressive movement. They alienate people who might otherwise support the movement. Studies show that violent action often provokes government repression and can be counterproductive politically. The same is true today.

This is not to say that disruption and civil disobedience will have no place in the current struggle. Social change often requires disrupting business as usual and generating what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called “creative tension.” If the Trump administration starts to come after the undocumented, many of us will put our bodies on the line and engage in nonviolent civil disobedience. If federal authorities want to detain or deport our neighbors, they will have to arrest us first.

As we resist the Trump agenda we should maintain nonviolent discipline and a sense of respect and caring for others. Our goal is to protect the vulnerable, and we should act in the spirit of charity and love that is appropriate to that purpose. We must attract ever larger numbers of people to our cause and build the social force and political support necessary to stop the Trump onslaught.

Preparing for the Storm

More than five weeks after the political tsunami and many of are still living in a state of denial.

It’s understandable and even commendable in one sense: we must never accept Trump and the hatred and bigotry for which he stands as normal.

We must never consent to our democracy being subverted by a foreign power, to a government run by those who reject science and disdain the poor and needy.

Yet we also need to be realistic and must prepare ourselves for the ordeal that lies ahead.

Think of it this way. A giant destructive storm looms on the horizon and is about to come crashing into our lives. We must batten down the hatches and prepare to protect ourselves and the most vulnerable.

We don’t know the exact shape of the disaster that awaits, but we know enough from what Trump has said and some of the people he has appointed to anticipate the dangers we likely face:

  • Deportations of refugees and immigrants and the further scapegoating of Muslims and people of color,
  • Renunciation of the Paris climate pact and the gutting of emission standards and renewable energy programs,
  • Decimation of the Affordable Care Act and attempts to undermine Medicare,
  • Major tax cuts for the wealthy combined with cuts in vital social spending.

To meet these and other challenges coordinated action will be necessary among national social action organizations and coalitions. Movements for change will need to cooperate as never before to facilitate effective action and strategic messaging on campaigns to protect the vulnerable and defend the environment.

It is time for resistance, for acts of radical, even revolutionary, patriotism. We need to re-think our priorities and put our bodies and souls on the line. Business as usual is no longer an option.

In times of severe social stress, extraordinary measures are necessary. Civil disobedience has a noble tradition in this country and we may need to embrace it again now. We are called to follow the example and words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in defying unjust policies through disciplined nonviolent resistance.

The specific strategies and tactics for defending against the onslaught will emerge in the coming weeks. For now we need to start preparing ourselves to be ready to weather the whirlwind.

Students here at Notre Dame and at other campuses have reacted to Trump’s victory with anguish and despair. I’ve urged them not to give up hope.

It is natural to mourn and grieve after such a devastating setback. Many students and faculty have shed tears, especially women. All of us are in shock at the seeming triumph of intolerance and mysogeny, and what this may mean for our efforts to build peace, human rights and gender equality.

On my way to class yesterday I encountered a demonstration the students organized right outside the main classroom building. Suddenly my mood shifted, and I gladly joined in. ‘Love trumps hate.’ We shouted. ‘We stand for the undocumented, for the poor, for women …’ The action went on for hours. It was so uplifting to feel our power together.

While the election loss was huge, it’s important to remember that Clinton actually won the popular vote. What does it say about our political system when for the second time in the last 16 years a candidate lost the election despite getting more votes? When billions of dollars of secretive funding pollute the airwaves with negative advertising?

We have to find a way to cure our corrupt and dysfunctional political system. We also must continue fighting campaigns for the rights of immigrants, for gender equality, for peace and economic justice.

There have been depressing times in the past. I remember the despair many of us felt when Reagan was elected. But the reckless statements that emerged from his administration (‘prevailing’ in a nuclear war, confronting the ‘evil empire’) sparked public alarm, and a massive social movement emerged to freeze and reverse the arms race. Groups like SANE experienced rapid growth in membership and public support. Parallel movements emerged in Europe and around the world. Our efforts eventually helped to constrain the arms race and end the cold war.

These are scary and uncertain times, but this can also be a moment when campaigns for justice and peace grow and expand. There is both need and opportunity for strengthening our movements. It’s time to wipe away the tears and get to work on organizing for change.

 

In June the influential Center for New American Security (CNAS) issued a report that urges greater U.S. military involvement in Syria to defeat ISIS and bolster Syrian opposition groups. The report calls for more American bombing, the deployment of additional U.S. troops on the ground, the creation of so-called ‘no-bombing’ zones in rebel-held territory, and a range of other coercive military measures that would significantly increase the scale of U.S. involvement.

Also in June a group of more than 50 U.S. diplomats used the State Department’s ‘dissent channel’ to issue a public appeal for U.S. air strikes against the government of Syria, arguing that attacks against the Assad regime would help to achieve a diplomatic settlement.

Several of those advocating greater military involvement in Syria are senior advisers to Hilary Clinton, including former Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, who chaired the CNAS task force. If Clinton wins the presidency she will face significant pressure to deepen American military intervention in Syria.

I agree that the United States should do more to try to end the war in Syria and reduce the threat from ISIS and violent extremist groups, but greater American military intervention is not the answer. The proposed plans for more bombing and troop deployments would create more war in the region not less. It would increase the risk of military confrontation with Russia, lead to more American casualties, and could escalate into another major U.S. land war in the Middle East.

Alternative approaches are available, and they need to be pursued vigorously to help resolve the crises in the region and isolate ISIS and violent extremist groups.

Rather than plunging more deeply into the war in Syria, the United States should:

  • place much greater emphasis on seeking diplomatic solutions, partnering with Russia and states in the region to revive and strengthen local ceasefires and create political solutions,
  • continue and intensify efforts to impose sanctions on ISIS and block the flow of foreign fighters into Syria,
  • support local groups in the region that are pursuing peacebuilding dialogue and nonviolent solutions,
  • increase humanitarian assistance and accept refugees fleeing the conflict.

Current diplomatic efforts under the auspices of the United Nations should be sustained and strengthened, despite the many setbacks to the process. The United States should partner directly with Russia, Iran, Turkey and other neighboring states to revive and strengthen local ceasefires and create a long-term plan for political transition and more inclusive governance in Syria. Iran should be invited to co-chair the diplomatic process and asked to use its extensive leverage with Syria and Iraq to facilitate diplomatic and political solutions.

UN Security Council Resolution 2253 adopted last December requires states to criminalize support for ISIS and take vigorous measures to prevent their nationals from traveling to fight with the terrorist group and its affiliates. Greater efforts are needed to implement these measures and stem the flow of foreign fighters into Syria.

Many local groups in Syria are utilizing nonviolent methods to oppose ISIS and pursue peacebuilding dialogues and reconciliation efforts. Maria Stephan of the U.S. Institute of Peace has proposed a range of options for using civil resistance to defeat ISIS. These efforts by Syrian women, youth and religious leaders need international support. They will become critically important when the fighting eventually diminishes and communities face the grueling challenge of rebuilding and learning to live together again.

The United States has been a leader in international humanitarian assistance for the migrants fleeing the fighting in Syria and Iraq. These efforts should be continued and expanded. Washington must also follow the lead of Germany in accepting a greater number of war refugees into the United States and providing assistance for local governments and religious and community groups that wish to house and support the refugees.

It is also necessary to support longer term efforts to resolve the underlying political grievances in Syria and Iraq that have driven so many people to pick up arms and resort to violent extremist methods. This will require more inclusive and accountable governance across the region and greater efforts to enhance economic and political opportunity for all.

If we want to prevent more war, we have to show that peace is the better way.

The release last week in London of the Chilcot Committee report is a welcome reminder of the lies and deception that led to the war in Iraq. In a report of some 2.6 million words, more than seven years in the making, the Iraq Inquiry Committee came to the following conclusions:

  • the supposed intelligence used to justify the war was flawed,
  • Iraq in 2003 did not pose a threat to international security, and
  • the moral and legal case for war was highly questionable.

No surprise in any of this, but it is important to focus on the results of the British inquiry and to ask whether such study should be conducted in this country.

Many of us who attempted to prevent the war in the months before the 2003 invasion made many of the same arguments as the Chilcot report. The Sanctions and Security Project of the Fourth Freedom Forum and the Kroc Institute produced a series of research studies, assessing official reports of UN weapons inspectors and the impacts of sanctions in Iraq, to document the following:

  • UN weapons inspectors during the 1990s systematically dismantled Iraq’s nuclear weapons program and its chemical weapons and ballistic missile programs, and found no evidence of those weapons being rebuilt.
  • When UN inspectors returned to Iraq in 2002, after being removed in 1998, they conducted more than 400 inspections in all known weapons sites. They found no evidence of any nuclear weapons development. The head of the IAEA told the UN Security Council in January 2003 “no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear or nuclear-related activities has been detected.”
  • The UN oil embargo and trade sanctions on Iraq reduced the government’s earnings by more than 90 percent, leading to a drop in Iraqi military spending from $22.5 billion in 1990 to $1.2 billion in the late 1990s. Sanctions blocked Iraqi attempts to import weapons-related goods.

These and many other facts about the lack of justification for war were plainly available at the time and could be easily compiled now to produce a U.S. version of the Chilcot report. Such a report would confirm what almost everyone now concedes: the United States and Britain engaged in an unnecessary and unjustified military attack against another country. By invading Iraq without UN Security Council authorization they violated international law.

No U.S. government agency will support an inquiry into these inconvenient truths, so perhaps a team of independent scholars and former officials should be formed to produce a version of the Chilcot report on this side of the Atlantic. The goal would be to learn the lessons of the war and prevent such disasters in the future. The suggested title: Never Again!

Visiting Israel Palestine is a sobering experience for a scholar of peace. The ubiquitous Wall of separation, the constant sense of insecurity and fear, knowing as we walk through Jerusalem’s Damascus gate for example that a number of fatal shootings and attacks have occurred there recently. The pervasive military presence in Israel, the 20-somethings in uniform carrying Uzis in train stations and malls, troops on duty in so many public places and check points.

Our sympathies naturally lie with the Palestinians, whose land has been stolen historically, with settlers encroaching ever more, their right to statehood denied, the West Bank under military occupation, their communities walled off and isolated, transportation disrupted, with drastically lower living standards and access to water and sanitation.

But I also sympathize with Israel, which has the right to exist, and to be safe from invasion by neighbors and terrorist attacks against civilians. Israel is a prosperous democratic country, but its success is built on the back of Palestinian suffering. It is tragic that a people who suffered so much from separation in the past should now feel compelled to impose it upon another.

The political situation seems hopeless and is getting worse. Several interlocutors predicted an explosion in the coming months. Hardliners are gaining ground in the Israeli government and Knesset. Hamas retains its grip in Gaza and belief in terrorist methods. It praised as ‘heroic’ the fatal shooting of civilians in a Tel Aviv restaurant this past week.

In this bleak setting it’s hard to have any hope or sense of a solution, but a few facts seem indisputable.

For the Palestinians there can be no military solution. The resort to violence and terrorism only makes matters worse. In the 1980s and during the first mostly nonviolent intifada there was some hope for improvement. Then came the second intifada and the killing of more than 800 Israeli civilians, leading to the Wall and increased militarization. No just cause is gained through the killing of innocent people in cafes.

Israel’s security is based on an unsustainable foundation of oppression. The occupation of the West Bank and the building of settlements in Palestinian territory is a violation of international law.  Israel can never be truly free and secure without justice for the Palestinians.

The core parties to the dispute—Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas—remain light years apart in their positions and show no interest in negotiating a genuine settlement.  The Oslo framework has collapsed and a two-state solution seems ever more distant, made less relevant daily by Israeli facts on the ground and the re-engineered landscape of enclosed Palestinian ‘bantustans.’

In light of these facts, or so they seem to me, initiatives for change are needed from the outside. These could take several forms, all aimed at encouraging reconciliation. The US and EU could use their diplomacy, international aid, security assistance and other policy instruments to orient Israel away from occupation and settlements toward compliance with international law. They could also engage with the Palestinians to find achievable political solutions that assure their dignity and freedom as a people within the context of the same rights for Israelis.

Civil society must play a role. Especially important are the international solidarity programs that have been created by religious groups and NGOs to accompany and protect Palestinians at check points in Hebron and other sites of Israeli and settler abuse. These programs should be supported and expanded to bring into the West Bank and eventually Gaza the presence of ever growing numbers of international observers and peace builders from global civil society.

In the United States we bear a heavy burden. It is our government more than any other which sanctions, funds and arms Israeli crimes and thereby upholds the cruel separation and oppression of the Palestinian people. Israel is on a reckless path, and it needs tough love to come to its senses. The Palestinians too are in bad shape with corruption in Ramallah and militancy in Gaza. They also need our help.

For civil society our duty is to organize politically in support of a policy for Israel Palestine that helps the parties find a way of living together, two peoples in one land, free from violence, fear and oppression.

Hats off to Joe Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund, for his brilliant take down of David Samuels’ recent New York Times Magazine article and attack against the Iran nuclear deal.  Cirincione counters Samuels’ distortions about the negotiated agreement and shows the importance of defending it against those who would tear it up.

Samuels’ article is mostly about Ben Rhodes, the influential speech writer and communications guru in the National Security Council who has helped to shape President Obama’s thinking on foreign policy over the past seven years. Rhodes also played an important role in winning support for the Iran deal. When the official implementation process began earlier this year many of us hailed the agreement as a triumph of diplomacy over war.

Not Samuels. He portrays it as a White House propaganda coup engineered by Rhodes and a step toward U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. As Cirincione writes, the Samuels critique is “utter nonsense.”

So far the agreement has produced positive benefits. Iran has removed two-thirds of its uranium enrichment capacity, shipped almost all of its enriched uranium fuel out of the country, completely dismantled its plutonium production reactor, and accepted “an airtight inspection regime tougher than any ever negotiated.” In return the U.S. and the European Union have lifted nuclear-related sanctions. As long as the deal remains in force and implementation continues, Iran cannot develop a nuclear weapon.

The expectation of this outcome is why hundreds of retired generals and admirals, former diplomats, nonproliferation experts, scientists and religious leaders endorsed the Iran deal. Several Israeli former military and intelligence leaders and former U.S. ambassadors to Israel also supported the agreement.

The Ploughshares Fund, the Iran Project, the National Iranian American Council, the Arms Control Association, the Win Without War coalition and many other progressive foreign policy groups in the U.S. mounted substantial educational and advocacy efforts in support of the agreement.

The debate generated by the Samuels article reminds us that in the policy world we must not only fight to achieve victories but also work to defend those victories against counterattack. Right wing political forces in Israel and the U.S. have not abandoned their opposition to the Iran deal. They are continuing to mobilize against it. The opponents of diplomacy want to turn back the clock toward a policy of greater confrontation with Iran.

Diplomacy worked in limiting Iran’s nuclear program. That important accomplishment needs to be understood and defended, so that diplomacy can be applied again in other settings as a viable alternative to war.