This is an exciting time for the anti-war movement, but also a time to not drop the ball. Support for the war in Afghanistan has been driven down to 34% thanks to peace activist education and opposition, which could be anyone who cares enough to send an informative email to his or her pro-war relative. But how low must it get before Congress stops passing budgets in support of continued military operations? The problem is that the disapproving yet relatively uninformed public is not making the link between the wars and their own representatives, and Obama, without whom the wars could not continue.
Look around you. How many people that you know or work with will roll their eyes and say "What are we even doing there? We should get out" – when asked about our military presence in Afghanistan. How many of these same people, asked about their congressmembers, will say, "he seems like a good guy." An appalling number of Democratic congressmen with purportedly liberal credentials, at least in the eyes of many in their districts, voted for the largest Pentagon budget in history, without debate, last Dec. 17, which passed 341 – 43, and of course will wind up supporting continued military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Among the Democrats voting for war were Rangel, McGovern, and Tonko. Among the few Republicans voting against were Ron Paul and Jeff Flake.
I have also spoken to peace-minded people, Quakers for heavens' sake, who still think Obama is relatively liberal, and have no idea that he has claimed authority to keep a list of Americans to be killed on sight, without a trial. That one always gets them.
The anti-war movement is a little like an electric circuit not making that last connection. It's time to take it, not to the street, but to the doors. We've taken it about as far as we can on the Internet. Fantasy football, the AOL Dancing with the Stars fan page, online poker, and that's about it for a lot of America. Many are not on the peace listserves or read HuffPo. But that doesn't mean they don't care, or wouldn't be surprised at their congressmember's vote.
The goal now for Afghanistan should be to continue to push for troops out, while creating conditions which will prevent civil war once we are gone. This is not difficult, and in fact it's much easier and much, much cheaper than continuing offensive military operations. That is not to say that it is not difficult on the part of Afghans, but they are used to things being difficult. They have been ready to rebuild their country for ten years now. The difficulty is generating the political will to shift Congress, and Obama, away from military operations which exacerbate the problems. The problem with Obama's rhetoric is he says we have "limited goals," and don't do "nation-building," then we go and spend enough to build 20 nations, in military expenditures. Afghans don't want us to build their nation. They want a fighting chance to build their own, with their own hands.
Since the release of the Tierney report, the American public seems to understand better than ever that offensive military operations are a futile exercise in self-defeat. The Pentagon has adopted a de-facto policy paying the Taliban for safe passage of military supply convoys, to the extent that we are probably the biggest funders of the Taliban. Americans still recognize black absurdity when they see it. As well, our new friends at Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers have informed us in direct testimony that our military presence is leading many to join the Taliban in order to fight the foreigners and are thereby being radicalized. They told us Afghans initially welcomed the American presence and looked forward to rebuilding their country, but got only night raids, drone attacks. They got showcase "clear and hold" military operations in which some Afghan will choose to stay and fight, and others will simply hide their weapons.
In driving it home, and translating low approval numbers for the war in Afghanistan into congressional action, we can:
— Get off the Internet, use it mostly as a support tool, and take it door-to-door to neighborhoods. DOWNLOAD THIS MS WORD FLYER AND TAYLOR IT TO THE DISTRICT. Every political candidate knows that if you want to win, you have to go door-to-door. Placing a fact sheet with a request to call their congressmember in between a screen door and a door jam, or leaving a few in an apartment building, is 100 times more powerful than spamming an email list of people who already agree with news items. Peace committees could identify key congressmembers in their state and devote weekends to distributing flyers. Hitting an address means you know exactly who that person's congressman is, and that the staff will take that constituent's call seriously. Many people barely know there are 2 wars going on, and they certainly don't know what they are paying for them. If you want to knock on doors and have a word and say, "Kansas Peace Committee's latest fact sheet for you," or whatever, "please call Congressman Schmoe," you will be twice as effective. You might make a new friends, or create a new activist.
— Keep hammering the Tierney report, which is hard to dismiss because it is authored by a congressional subcommittee which interviewed dozens of witnesses in Dubai, including contracting officers of the 484th Joint Movement Control Battalion. The committee gathered over 25,000 pages of documents. The report is entitled "Warlord, Inc."
— Put a price tag on it, Americans need "sticker shock." When we talk about how many billions or trillions are spent on the wars, these are just numbers with lots of zeros. Put it into personal terms: the minimum cost of the Iraq occupation alone is $50,000 per every family of four over 9 years, or $5 TRILLION according to Nobel economist Joe Stiglitz. Now what could you do with $50,000 right now? Pay off a mortgage? Make sure your kids finish college? (Even state college is expensive now.) Get re-trained?
— Make it clear there is a better way. The best kept secret for what works in Afghanistan is the National Solidarity Program (NSP,) run by an Afghan ministry which is relatively independent of the Karzai government and audited regularly by the World Bank. What makes the NSP work so well is, first, its dedicated Afghan staff, and second, its model of development which empowers villagers to choose their own projects. Last and perhaps most importantly, projects tend to be labor intensive and all labor is hired locally. Projects could be clearing a canal, improving a dirt road with gravel, digging irrigation trenches, building a stone wall for controlling livestock. A Canadian government audit called the ministry which runs the NSP one of "the least corrupt institutions despite the big sums of money it handled."
There are at least 10,000 projects on the drawing boards at the NSP which are not proceeding for lack of funding. An appropriation which is the equivalent to what we spend on the military in about two weeks, $4 billion, from USAID to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, an account of the World Bank which funnels funds down to the Afghan ministry, would insure that the program could expand and hire hundreds of thousands of Afghans over the next 2 years. Greg Mortensen who wrote "Three Cups of Tea" confirmed ""Aid can be done anywhere, including where Taliban are. But it’s imperative the elders are consulted, and that the development staff is all local, with no foreigners."
– Answer Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers' call for help in organizing their Global Conference Calls for Peace, the next one of which is March 19. They have also called for help in "getting international support for a developing Afghan non-military solution to be put on the table, and tapping on the non-violent resistance of world public opinion." Contact thepeoplesjourney – AT – gmail – DOT – com, or contact – AT – ourjourneytosmile – DOT – com
– Put in a programming request at the public access TV station in your town to schedule runs of the 30 minute independent documentary "Afghan Peace Plan" which is free and downloadable in the proper format for access television (MPEG2).
This up-close look at Afghans looking for work gives Afghans a human face beyond media scare tactics and stereotypes.
Poverty and hunger, as the amazing young people of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers told us, are among the true "roots" of the insurgency that we can do something about. The US has never properly addressed these but instead has mostly enriched American contractors and their subsidiaries. Infant mortality remains one of the highest in the world, most children are malnourished or underweight, unemployment is over 40%, and the Taliban is always willing to hire, probably with US taxpayer dollars, new fighters for $10 a day.
This is the key to avoiding civil war when American troops are gone. By diluting the economic leverage of armed gangs whether they call themselves Taliban or not, we can give young men the option of not choosing a side. This means clearing canals, rebuilding irrigation ways, repairing or razing shelled-out buildings, filling crater-sized potholes with dirt and gravel, and a thousands things you can't imagine until you've seen the place. For a two-year "mini-Marshall Plan," at a million dollars a year per US soldier, you could put 4,000 of the 100,000 we have there now on planes home and it would be paid for.
Connecting sky-high public disapproval rates for the war with faces and names in Congress will impose political costs. Congressional offices expect calls from the "usual suspect" activists in their districts on the eve of each war funds vote, but obviously they have calculated this number to be acceptable. Calls from new voices, never-before active constituents, and even new possible challengers will be noted in the political calculus.
The bottom line is, for all their recalcitrance, congressmembers genuinely like their big offices, their special passes which get them onto private elevators and dining areas in the nation's most beautifully-appointed buildings. They don't want to lose these if they can help it.
DOOR-TO-DOOR ANTI-WAR FLYER FOR PRINTING AND ACTIVIST TOOLKIT