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Archive for the ‘Nonviolence’ Category

Amidst the darkness of Washington politics, a recent bright spot was the letter to Congress signed by more than 120 former senior military officers urging support for diplomacy and development. The letter is an encouraging sign of the growing recognition within the military of the need for greater civilian efforts to achieve international security. Hopefully it will help to counter the Trump administration’s dangerous proposal to slash State Department and USAID funding by 37 per cent.

The signers of the letter are three and four star generals and admirals, representing all branches of the military. Their letter expresses “our strong conviction that elevating and strengthening diplomacy and development alongside defense are critical to keeping America safe.” The United States faces many challenges that “do not have military solutions,” the signers note.  Referring to the State Department, USAID, the Millennium Development Corporation and the Peace Corps, the letter states that the military “needs strong civilian partners in the battle against the drivers of extremism– lack of opportunity, insecurity, injustice, and hopelessness.” The signers urge adequate funding of the government’s International Affairs Budget and conclude, “Now is not the time to retreat.”

This statement from former commanders is an affirmation of what Lisa Schirch and many others in the peacebuilding community have been saying for decades. Genuine human security requires diplomacy and development in addition to defense. Diplomatic dialogue can reduce political tensions and help nations and groups settle their differences without violence. Conflict prevention is primarily a civilian task, built on sound economic and social foundations, rooted in systems of inclusive and accountable governance.

From the military standpoint this is a matter of self-interest. Officers know that military means alone cannot defeat terrorist insurgency. They do not want to risk the lives of their soldiers on impossible missions.

What good will it do, for example, if ISIS is driven out of Mosul, but there are no diplomatic efforts to address the needs of aggrieved Sunni communities and no help is available for the massive reconstruction efforts needed to restore shattered local economies?

Military commanders know that bringing greater stability and security to troubled regions requires greater State Department capabilities and well-funded development programs that are coordinated with private sector engagement to create jobs and economic opportunity.

The military gets the message. Now we need to try to drive home that message to the political establishment of Washington.

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On the strategy against ISIS

This week President Trump will receive a preliminary plan from the Pentagon for defeating ISIS. Early indications are that the strategy will focus mostly on military options and may include a proposal for sending additional U.S. troops into Syria. More air strikes in Iraq and Syria are also likely to be included. Meanwhile President Trump has ordered a “massive rebuilding” of the military, and the Republican majority in Congress is preparing a Pentagon budget boost.

On the campaign trail candidate Trump was skeptical of military solutions in the Middle East, but as President he seems to be following the same failed policies of his predecessors. After more than 15 years of the ‘war on terror’, we should know by now that this fight cannot be won by military means. “We cannot kill our way out of this war,” said the chief of Air Force intelligence recently.

The challenge of defeating ISIS and related groups requires a different approach and wider set of policies. Instead of relying on the military for advice, the President should convene a broader group, including civilian peacebuilding and governance experts, to develop a holistic strategy that addresses the underlying causes of terrorist violence.

Empirical evidence confirms that war is not an effective means of countering terrorist organizations. A 2008 RAND Corporation study shows that terrorist groups usually end through political processes and effective law enforcement, not the use of military force. An examination of 268 terrorist organizations that ended after a period of nearly forty years found that the primary factors accounting for their demise were participation in political processes (43 percent) and effective policing (40 percent). Military force accounted for the end of terrorist groups in only 7 percent of the cases examined.

Alternative strategies for countering terrorist violence are well known and have been articulated by the United Nations and many other organizations. The core requirement is an accurate assessment of the political roots of the conflict. In the case of the struggle against ISIS, the problem is not that Sunni Arabs ‘hate America’ (many of them joined with the U.S. in battling al Qaida in the 2006 Iraq Awakening), but rather that they have been suppressed and marginalized by political leaders in Baghdad and Damascus. The solution is to work for equitable political power sharing arrangements in both countries.

Success in the struggle against extremism also requires greater efforts to build effective and accountable institutions of governance. Regimes in the region are deeply corrupt, lack the capacity to deliver basic goods and services, and offer few if any avenues for citizen participation. The U.S. military has long recognized that the political function is key to effective counterinsurgency. The priority task is to help local governments build accountable institutions of governance that ameliorate social grievances and provide pathways for political inclusion and participation to all major stakeholders. These are long-term challenges that require sustained international support for good governance and economic and social development.

An emphasis on addressing grievances and improving governance does not obviate the need for security protection. International police and intelligence operations are essential for preventing terrorist plots. Cooperative policing between the United States and other countries has successfully interdicted many plots, saving thousands of lives. International sanctions and financial restrictions are also helping to isolate and weaken terrorist networks.

The strategic framework against ISIS requires a two-level approach: preventive measures that ameliorate the grievances and conditions that give rise to terrorism, and protective efforts to guard against attacks. If the President is serious about defeating ISIS he will need a bigger toolkit and a new approach that emphasizes political solutions and police protection more than the use of military force.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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From Mourning to Mobilization

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.

 

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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.

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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!

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