1. Victories that are only partial are not fictional.
When a ruler, like Biden, finally announces the end of a war, like the war on Yemen, it is as important to recognize what it does mean as what it doesn’t. It doesn’t mean the U.S. military and U.S.-made weapons will vanish from the region or be replaced by actual aid or reparations (as opposed to “lethal aid” — a product that’s usually high on people’s Christmas lists only for other people). It does not mean we’ll see U.S. support for the rule of law and the prosecution of the worst crimes on earth, or encouragement for nonviolent movements for democracy. It apparently does not mean an end to providing information to the Saudi military on whom to kill where. It apparently does not mean the immediate lifting of the blockade on Yemen.
But it does mean that, if we keep up and increase the pressure from the U.S. public, from activists around the globe, from people putting their bodies in front of weapons shipments, from labor unions and governments cutting off weapons shipments, from media outlets compelled to care, from the U.S. Congress forced to follow through, from cities passing resolutions, from cities and institutions divesting from weapons, from institutions shamed into dropping their funding by warmongering dictatorships (did you see Bernie Sanders yesterday denouncing Neera Tanden’s corporate funding, and Republicans defending it? what if he had mentioned UAE funding?) — if we increase that pressure then almost certainly some weapons deals will be delayed if not stopped forever (in fact, they already have been), some types of U.S. military participation in the war will cease, and potentially — by protesting all ongoing militarism as evidence of a broken promise — we’ll get more than Biden, Blinken, and the Blob intend.
On a webinar earlier today, Congressman Ro Khanna said that he believed the announcement of an end to offensive war meant that the U.S. military could not participate in bombing or sending missiles into Yemen at all, but only in protecting civilians within Saudi Arabia.
(Why the United States should get to admit it’s engaged in offensive, aka aggressive wars, as a means of fudging what exactly it means to end them is a question worth taking on.)
Khanna said that he believed certain members of the National Security Council would have to be vigilantly watched to keep them from redefining defensive as offensive. He suggested that the people he was most worried about were not National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan or Secretary of State Antony Blinken. I expect that there will be efforts made to continue blowing people up with missiles and traumatizing people with drones under the guise of “combatting terrorism” as somehow separate from the war. If there is to be any discussion of the role that a “successful drone war” played in creating the current horror, or any apologizing for anything, that will have to be driven forward by us.
But what’s just happened is progress, and it’s a new and different sort of progress, but it’s not the first victory for opponents of war. Each time that activism has helped prevent a war on Iran, the U.S. government has failed to become a force for peace in the world, but lives have been saved. When a major escalation of the war on Syria was prevented seven years ago, the war didn’t end, but lives were saved. When the world prevented the UN from authorizing war on Iraq, the war still happened, but it was illegal and shameful, it was partially restrained, new wars were discouraged, and new nonviolent movements were encouraged. The risk of nuclear apocalypse is now greater than ever, but without activist victories over the decades, there quite likely would be nobody around anymore to lament all of our shortcomings.
2. Obsession with the character of individual politicians is of zero value.
Hunting among politicians for model human beings to praise, tell children to emulate, and devote oneself to supporting across the board is like hunting for meaning in a speech by a Trump defense lawyer. Hunting among politicians for evil demons to condemn the very existence of — or declare to be worthless pieces of garbage as Stephen Colbert did yesterday in a critique of fascism that seemed to rather miss the point — is equally hopeless. Elected officials are not your friends and enemies should not exist outside of cartoons.
When I told someone this week that Congressman Raskin made a good speech they replied “No, he didn’t. He made a horrible, dishonest, warmongering Russiagate speech a few years ago.” Now, I know this is highly complicated, but believe it or not, the same guy did indeed do both horrible and commendable things, and every single other elected official ever has done so too.
So, when I say that our progress on ending the war on Yemen is a victory, I’m not swayed by the response “Nuh-uh, Biden doesn’t really care about peace and is moving toward war on Iran (or Russia or fill in the blank).” The fact that Biden is not a peace activist is the point. Getting a peace activist to take steps toward peace is no victory at all. The interest of a peace activist should not be principally in avoiding having standers by call you a sucker. It should be in gaining power to achieve peace.
3. Political parties are not teams but prisons.
Another great source of time and energy, after ceasing the hunt for the Good and Evil politicians is the abandonment of identification with political parties. The two big parties in the United States are very different but both largely bought off, both dedicated to a government that is first and foremost a war machine with the majority of discretionary spending devoted to war every year, with the United States leading the world in weapons dealing and war making, and with virtually no discussion or debate. Election campaigns almost ignore the existence of the main thing elected officials do. When Senator Sanders asked Neera Tanden about her past corporate funding, the remarkable thing wasn’t the failure to mention her funding by a foreign dictatorship, it was asking anything about her past at all — which, of course, did not include her support for making Libya pay for the privilege of being bombed. Nominees for foreign policy positions are asked almost nothing about the past and primarily about their willingness to support hostility toward China. On this there is bipartisan harmony. That officials are organized into parties does not mean that you have to be. You should remain free to demand exactly what you want, praise all steps toward it, and condemn all steps away from it.
4. Occupation does not bring peace.
The U.S. military and its sidekick obedient puppy nations have been bringing peace to Afghanistan for almost 2 decades, not counting all the damage done prior. There have been ups and downs but generally worsening, usually worsening at times of troop increases, usually worsening at times of bombing increases.
Since before some participants in the war on Afghanistan were born, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan has been saying that things would be bad and possibly worse when the U.S. got out, but that the longer it took to get out the worse that hell would be.
A new book by Séverine Autesserre called The Frontlines of Peace makes the case that the most successful peacebuilding usually involves organizing local residents to lead their own efforts to counter recruitment and resolve conflicts. The work of unarmed peacekeepers around the globe shows huge potential. If Afghanistan is ever going to have peace, it’s going to have to start with getting the troops and the weapons out. The top supplier of weapons and even a top supplier of funding to all sides, including the Taliban, has often been the United States. Afghanistan does not manufacture weapons of war.
5. Demilitarization is not abandonment.
There are 32 million people in Afghanistan, most of whom have yet to hear about 9-11, and a significant percentage of whom were not alive in 2001. You could give them each, including children and drug lords, a $2,000 survival check for 6.4% of the trillion dollars dumped annually into the U.S. military, or a tiny fraction of the many trillions squandered and wasted — or the countless trillions in damage done, by this endless war. I’m not saying you should or that anyone will. Just ceasing to do harm is a dream. But if you wanted to not “abandon” Afghanistan, there are ways to engage with a place other than bombing it.
But let’s end the pretense that the U.S. military is after some sort of humanitarian good. Of the 50 most oppressive governments on earth, 96% of them are armed and/or trained and/or funded by the U.S. military. On that list are U.S. partners in the war on Yemen, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt. On that list is Bahrain, now 10 years out from the crackdown on its uprising — Join a webinar tomorrow!
6. Victories are global and local.
The European Parliament today followed up on the U.S. action by opposing weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE. Germany had done this on Saudi Arabia and proposed it for other countries.
Afghanistan is a war with numerous nations playing at least token roles through NATO that can be pressured to remove their troops. And doing so will impact the United States.
This is a global movement. It is also a local one, with local groups and city councils pressuring national officials.
Passing local resolutions and laws against wars and on related topics like demilitarizing police and divesting from weapons helps in many ways. Join a webinar tomorrow on demilitarizing Portland Oregon.
7. Congress matters.
Biden did what he did on Yemen because if he hadn’t Congress would have. Congress would have because people who compelled Congress to do it two years ago would have compelled Congress again. This matters because it is relatively easier — though still outrageously difficult — to move Congress to answer majority demands.
Now that Congress does not have to end the war on Yemen again, at least not in the way that it did before, it should move onto the next war on the list, which should be Afghanistan. It should also start moving money out of military spending and into addressing actual crises. Ending wars should be yet another reason for reducing military spending.
The caucus being formed on this topic should be used, but joining it should count for little in the absence of a credible commitment to vote against military funding that does not move at least 10% out.
8. War Powers Resolution matters.
It matters that Congress finally, for the first time, used the War Powers Resolution of 1973. Doing so hurts campaigns to further weaken that law. Doing so strengthens campaigns to get it used again, on Afghanistan, on Syria, on Iraq, on Libya, on the dozens of smaller U.S. military operations around the world.
9. Weapons sales matter.
It matters that ending the war on Yemen prominently includes ending weapons sales. This should be expanded and continued, possibly including through Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s bill to Stop Arming Human Rights Abusers.
10. Bases matter.
These wars are also about bases. Closing bases in Afghanistan should be a model for closing bases in dozens of other countries. Closing bases as expensive instigators of wars should be a prominent part of moving funding out of militarism.
This post was originally published on CounterPunch.org.