Repeal of Don’t Ask Don't Tell, New StartThere's been a few pieces of good news as this year draws down. The repeal of Don’t Ask Don't Tell sets an important marker in the struggle to end official homophobia and anti-gay discrimination in the U.S. That's huge. (And an Obama campaign promise realized — that's huge too.) And the passage of New Start means at least a symbolic gesture towards Obama’s claimed vision of a nuclear-free world.
But in most ways, this year has been a really hard one.
Talking Points -- By Phyllis Bennis
In Afghanistan the latest "review process" resulted — surprise, surprise! — with the announcement that the U.S./NATO occupation will continue at least until 2014. Another four years of war, death, and devastation for the people of Afghanistan as well as for the young U.S. soldiers drafted by poverty and lack of opportunity and sent to kill and die there in escalating numbers.
Oh, that earlier promise of July 2011 as the pull-out date? That one was always at least partially a sham — designed to pacify Obama's powerfully anti-war base, the language even when first announced was a carefully ambiguous version of "July 2011 will start a process to determine whether conditions might allow preparation for beginning consideration of when the partial transfer of control to Afghan forces might allow for a partial withdrawal of a few U.S. troops…"
This time around the Obama administration continued their pattern of claiming success regardless of the situation on the ground. If violence rises, as it has so dramatically this year (with over 2,500 Afghan civilians killed so far, and almost 700 U.S./NATO troops) it's because "we're taking the fight to the enemy." If violence drops, it's because "our strategy is winning."
This is a war we cannot "win" and we cannot afford. In 2011 we're going to have to take our anti-war fight to different places too — specifically, with the new Congress even less likely to respond to the 60% of people in this country who now believe the war in Afghanistan "is not worth fighting." We're going to have to broaden our targets to new and different centers of power. That means working locally to get "Cities for Peace"-style anti-war resolutions in city councils and mayors' resolutions, moves in state assemblies to demand the return of state funds and National Guard contingents, and much more.
On Israel-Palestine, we had the announcement that the Obama administration has abandoned its already-failed effort for an Israeli settlement "freeze." That's not going to change much (if you didn't get a chance to see it before, my discussion of this issue on al-Jazeera a couple of weeks ago might be interesting). When The Washington Posteditorialized against U.S. aid to Egypt, claiming all such aid should be linked to human rights, and criticizing how Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak was rude to President Obama, I got this letter published in the Post:
A Double Standard on Middle East Aid
December 3, 2010
The Post editorial board is absolutely right that the Obama administration should consider the $1 billion a year in U.S. aid to Egypt in the context of Egypt's domestic repression and the role of its military, and that Congress should "link military funds to human rights, as it has for several democracies that are U.S. allies" ["Mr. Mubarak vs. Mr. Obama," editorial, Nov. 27]. And yes, President Obama should "make it clear that he will not be dismissed or pushed around" by regional leaders.
Shall I assume The Post's next lead editorial will say the same thing about the $3 billion in military aid (and potentially $3 billion more in "incentives") that the Obama administration will give to Israel this year?
Phyllis Bennis, Washington
Beyond Israel-Palestine, there have been some interesting developments in these last weeks. The Wikileaks "Cablegate" documents, a new trove of State Department correspondence from, to, between, and about U.S. diplomats, their Washington superiors and a host of global leaders, continues to provide new glimpses of how, sadly, U.S. diplomacy continues to be used in the interest of war, not to find ways of preventing wars.
My Wikileaks piece in The Huffington Post was titled "War, Diplomacy, and the Search for Ban ki-Moon's Toothbrush."
Let's start with what the WikiLeakstrove of diplomatic cables is not. It's not a collection of documents whose release will undermine all potential for solving global problems through diplomacy rather than war. It's not a set of shocking revelations of positions or opinions that completely reverse our understanding of global issues. And it's not a bunch of documents providing nothing but new justifications for going to war against Iran.
What it is is two things. First, it is an ineffably sad body of evidence that President Obama's promise to engage with the world in a whole new way still remains unfulfilled, and that continuity, rather than change, still shapes the Obama administration's foreign policy. And second, it is an orchard of exposés over-ripe for cherry-picking.
And cherry-picking they are. If you watched only Fox News or some of the outraged-but-gleeful mainstream pundits, you would believe that all the documents prove the dangers of Iran's nuclear program and world-wide support for a military attack on Iran. If you read only the Israeli press, you would think the documents provide irrefutable proof that "the entire world is panicked over the Iranian nuclear program."
Certainly this first batch of Cablegate includes some seemingly startling remarks on Iran -- the king of Saudi Arabia calling on the U.S. to "cut off the head" of the Iranian "snake," the leaders of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates supporting more aggressive U.S. action against Iran. But those positions are not in fact new. Arab leaders have longstanding hostile relations with Iran; virtually every Arab government supported Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. The significance of the new documents lies far more in their secrecy -- demonstrating once again the huge chasm between the U.S.-armed and U.S.-backed Arab leaders, and the views of the people over whom they rule ... .
And at IPS we held at four-part panel discussion on Wikileaks, with my colleagues Emira Woods, Sanho Tree, and Daphne Wysham. We included some assessments of the value and limitations of the leaks, as well as some of what we can learn from Cablegate about U.S. policy in the Middle East, Africa, and global climate change.
One other place you can join me. On Sunday, January 2nd starting at 12 noon est. I'll be featured on a three-hour BookTV special on C-Span. The program is "In Depth," and we talk about all the books I've ever written, and the issues those books examine: Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, the United Nations, U.S. foreign policy…and more. It's a call-in show, so please tune in and CALL IN too!
And of course, I remain grateful for all of your support and solidarity. To those who have contributed to help my New Internationalism Project continue it's vital work, my deepest thanks. For anyone still able to do so, please give what you can.
And have a fabulous holiday season, with joy and some time with family and friends to prepare for what lies ahead.
Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and co-author with David Wildman of the new Ending the U.S. War in Afghanistan: A Primer.