Once again the American peace movement faces the threat of war. In the 1960s and 1970s it was Vietnam, in the 1980s Central America and the nuclear threat, and now it is Arabia. This dangerous moment calls for a major change of direction for peace and anti-intervention forces. Activities underway before the crisis — the peace dividend campaign, redefining global security — have been sidetracked. Everything now depends on the outcome of the crisis in the Middle East.
Although press coverage has been scant, many groups in cities across the country have already begun organizing, and a growing movement is emerging. Most groups are united around five political demands:
• No offensive US military strike.
• Halt the military buildup.
• Bring US troops home.
• Pursue a negotiated solution.
• Develop an environmentally sound national energy policy.
The majority of groups have also condemned the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and see the United Nations — imperfect as it may be — as the proper forum for international condemnation and embargo of Iraq and for a negotiated solution. Some groups, particularly those that work on the Palestine issue, stress that getting US troops out of the region is only the first step: Resolution of the Iraq-Kuwait crisis must be tied to a settlement of the other crises in the region — continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, southern Lebanon and the Golan Heights, and Syria’s military control of Lebanon.
Our immediate task is to create political opposition to an offensive strike by American forces. This is extremely urgent: The White House may be making its decision as we write. Public opinion is on our side: A poll conducted in September for Americans Talk Security, for example, showed while seven out of ten people supported Bush’s goals in the Persian Gulf, nine out of ten said they did not want the US to start a war. Staying the hand of attack is thus likely to have wide support.
For the long term, a massive education effort is necessary to inform Americans of the true costs and risks of a heavily militarized US foreign policy, and to suggest more productive approaches. As the risks, financial burdens and personal hardships of US policy mount, the “rally around the flag” atmosphere will give way to greater questioning. We must be ready with a campaign that can guide people toward a negotiated solution in this crisis and others that will no doubt erupt in the future.
During the Vietnam War, the teach-in movement was a valuable tool to raise public awareness and build opposition to US policy. We need a similar effort now. We must educate Americans about the history of the region and of US plans to intervene there, the role of the United Nations, the dangers of a military solution and the resources for Arab peacemaking. Teach-ins could highlight connections between sending Americans to “fight for oil” and our energy-wasteful, gas-guzzling American economy. The staggering costs of military intervention — more than $1 billion a month and climbing — plus the dashing of hopes for a peace dividend must be brought home to people. They must be connected to the looming recession and the deepening financial crises of low-income Americans. Many African-Americans have already figured out these connections: A Wall Street Journal poll showed 74 percent of whites supporting Bush’s military deployment, compared to only 41 percent of African-Americans. By including economic and environmental considerations in our approach to the crisis, the movement can build a broad-based political coalition for an alternative policy.
The peace movement must also reach out to the men and women in the armed services and reserves, many of whom have joined the military to get a job or educational training and never expected or wanted to fight. African-Americans make up a disproportionate number of these troops: They are 12 percent of the US population, but comprise approximately one third of the ground troops in Saudi Arabia. The best way to support these soldiers is to ensure that no more troops are sent and that those already there are brought home. Many groups, such as the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, are working to ensure that military counseling is available for enlisted people and their families.
During the Vietnam era, anti-war soldiers and veterans, myself included, became an important force in the movement to end the war. The same can be true again, if activists reach out with understanding.
As in every crisis, this one brings opportunity. Out of the present conflict perhaps the people of the United States can gain confidence in collective security through regional peacekeeping forces and the UN. Defusing this crisis through negotiations could give new impetus to negotiations on the Israel-Palestine conflict. And an environmentally sound national energy policy might finally become a political reality. These are difficult challenges, ones that can only be realized by a massive campaign to reverse the US military deployment in the Middle East and build support for a negotiated solution for the conflicts affecting the whole region.