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NEW MOMENT, NEW MOVEMENT: Ideas about Antiwar, Antimilitarist Strategies for the Years Ahead

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As the global and U.S. political landscape shifts, a new round of strategic discussion is taking place in many sectors of the antiwar movement. Below are the key assessment points and questions used by War Times to kick off our collective’s effort to (1) take stock of the current volatile moment and (2) look for effective paths forward. The third part of this discussion paper is a short essay on antimilitarist strategies by War Timer Lynn Koh that expresses some of what we felt were the most useful ideas coming out of our deliberations

As the global and U.S. political landscape shifts, a new round of strategic discussion is taking place in many sectors of the antiwar movement. Below are the key assessment points and questions used by War Times to kick off our collective’s effort to (1) take stock of the current volatile moment and (2) look for effective paths forward. The third part of this discussion paper is a short essay on antimilitarist strategies by War Timer Lynn Koh that expresses some of what we felt were the most useful ideas coming out of our deliberations. We are sharing this material in hopes of pushing forward a much-needed dialogue not only among activists who are focused mainly on antiwar and international solidarity efforts, but also with grassroots organizers whose work is mainly in other movements but who see the importance of making opposition to war, empire and militarism an integral part of a revitalized U.S. progressive movement. –Max Elbaum, Francesca Fiorentini, Rebecca Gordon, Hany Khalil and Lynn Koh for War Times

1. Taking stock of the big picture: What can we expect on the war/peace/militarism front in the post-Iraq War, new-U.S.-military-doctrine, continuing-Great-Recession years ahead?

The U.S. is an empire in decline. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars, intended to be the first steps in securing a whole new level of U.S. global hegemony (and right-wing rule at home) instead over-stretched Washington militarily, financially and politically and accelerated the empire’s downward trend. In the wake of these wars and the 2008 financial-then-economic crisis, the U.S. elite is adjusting its strategies to maximize U.S. clout in the period ahead.

The elite is united on the maintenance of U.S. military superiority over all rivals (combined) and the willingness to employ force and threats of force as a key part of its global arsenal. But it is badly divided over how adventurous to be in waging war (especially regarding deployment of ground combat troops) and how unilateral to be. The new military doctrine initiated by Obama, which stresses “rebalancing” toward Asia and use of drones and special operations over deployment of ground troops represents the “realist” strategy for the next stage. The Neocon faction, now out of power, wants much more aggressive use of force particularly in the Middle East; and their crusade is bolstered by the fact that a significant swatch of the white population has embraced a racist ‘clash of civilizations’ zealotry which sees white Christian-Jewish civilization pitted against a whole range of dangerous anti-American, anti-Western Civilization, anti-Israel “others” ranging from Al-Qaeda to Obama.

Under these circumstances, “low level” wars, expansion of military bases and threats against other countries (in Africa and Latin America as well as in the Asia/the Pacific region and the Middle East) will likely be constant features of the decades ahead. And there will be a near-constant danger of larger scale wars pushed by the far right as well. The kind of push is taking place right now with the right’s crusade for an attack on Iran.

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Simultaneously, the military-industrial complex and the militarist approaches to human relations it advocates will buttress regressive policies and structures on all fronts of social struggle. Military spending and militarist hostility to “enemies” drain resources from social programs; bolster the elite’s austerity-for-the-masses program; distort the economy generally; foster racist, anti-immigrant and sexist views and practices; are key excuses to curtail civil liberties, and are a major force in continuing dependence on fossil fuels and threatening environmental disaster. In other words, militarism as both an institutional reality and set of ideas is an obstacle not only to peaceful relations among nations and peoples but to all social progress.

Questions: What do things look like on the war/peace/militarism front over the next 5-10 years? What impact will the 2012 election campaign, and its potential outcomes, have on what lies ahead?


Bob Wing, The Arab Spring and the Changing Dynamics of Global Struggle

Max Elbaum, Fighting for Peace Against an Empire in Decline

Tom Hayden, End to Long War Doctrine?

2.  Antiwar/antimilitarist strategies for the period ahead: What kind of strategies and work priorities will most advance antiwar/anti-militarism goals going forward? Where are existing forces in relation to that kind of work? What is our take on public sentiment?

The large antiwar movement that surged in 2002-2006, mainly in response to the Iraq War, has ebbed. A significant but not huge number of groups and activists have continued to make antiwar efforts a main (or at least important) aspect of their work. Most have adjusted their approaches given changed conditions: the official end of the Iraq War, and economic issues/social austerity replacing war/peace as the main axis of progressive activism and the main political issue for the population at large. Action campaigns and educational work on specific U.S. wars and war threats (Iran, Afghanistan, etc.) and key solidarity efforts (especially with Palestine) continue. But these are in a new context, where there is special emphasis on figuring out ways to make pro-peace perspectives and actions an integral part of popular movements and coalitions that are driven mainly by economic or other “domestic” issues. “Move the Money” efforts are one important approach folks are utilizing to try to accomplish this. Likewise, there is a new emphasis on peace activists supporting other movements in an ongoing way and, through ties built, over time working with others to embrace issues of war/peace. These practical shifts are paralleled and informed by a perspective that targets not just specific U.S. wars but U.S. militarism more generally.

The current state of public opinion provides a good deal to build on in conducting this kind of work. Substantial majorities have come round to the view that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are/were “not worth the cost in blood and treasure.” The leadership of most large liberal-to-progressive organizations (as opposed to the liberal elite) now takes at least a nominal antiwar, cut-the-military-budget position, as does the Progressive Caucus in Congress. Even within the right there is skepticism and division about the Neocon all-war, all-the-time crusade: Ron Paul has won support for his brand of conservative isolationism; and sectors of the right that reject Paul as “soft” on U.S. enemies are dubious about paying for large-scale wars and skeptical about sending large numbers of U.S. troops to fight elsewhere. Of particular immediate importance, public opinion has swung substantially against continuing the war in Afghanistan, where the U.S./NATO position is rapidly unraveling in front of the eyes of the whole world.

Still, these pluses do not yet translate into the clout needed to halt U.S. interventions much less roll back the military industrial complex. Much antiwar sentiment is at this point passive: it does not translate into large-scale activity, either direct action or as key factor in deciding who to vote for or holding elected officials who run on some kind of peace platform accountable to a consistent antiwar stance. Most progressive organizations not focused on war/peace do not prioritize antiwar anti-militarist education or action, and often the leaderships are hesitant or even unwilling to allow this issue to be flagged in the course of their other (urgent) campaigns. And within the constituencies that are against wars with U.S. combat troops and in favor of cutting military spending, there is still a lot of work to do to get large numbers to oppose drone killings and covert actions; and the connections between war-making abroad and a host of injustices and inequities at home are not prominent in the thinking of millions. Meanwhile the right-wing isolationists do almost nothing to oppose U.S. wars and militarism other than campaign for Ron Paul (who will soon throw his weight behind a Republican hawk in the 2012 election).

This landscape implies several important tasks for antiwar anti-militarist activists:

*Work to strengthen commitment, energy, unity and analytic/strategic acuity within the ranks of those who focus on war/peace issues. A core of energetic activists and groups that prioritize antiwar, antimilitarist and international solidarity activism over the long term, and carry the lessons of each “flow” period through times of relative ebb, is a critical element in the U.S. progressive movement’s capacity  to beat back the war-makers and military-industrial complex.

*Keep war/peace/militarism issues in front of progressive leaders and activists whose focus is on other fronts of struggle, constantly drawing linkages and showing how war and militarism prevents the realization of their goals while supporting other movements’ efforts on their own terms.

*Beyond the activist ranks, conduct the kind of education work that expands the numbers who oppose war and militarism and embrace an internationalist vision, especially in the constituencies that are key to building a muscle for peace and justice: communities of color, labor, youth, and women.

*Find “pressure points” where actions can be taken that engage the immediate issues on the war/peace agenda and make a difference in their outcomes.  Right now, halting the drive for a war against Iran, and work to end U.S. blank check support for Israel, are key focal points where a lot is at stake and also where catastrophic events can be headed off and gains can be made. Down the road other such focal points might arise: perhaps opposing an AFRICOM-centered military adventure in Africa, mobilizing against a U.S.-backed coup in Latin America, or weighing in to help put nuclear disarmament back at the top of the international agenda, etc.

*Finally, there is the key strategic task of interacting effectively with the motion currently underway toward reconstructing a dynamic and durable multi-issue, multi-sector U.S. progressive movement.  Right now we observe a host of different social forces moving (at different paces and with different degrees of commitment and energy) toward constructing the kind of mass-based, durable jobs-justice-environmental protection-peace bloc that could become a serious force in U.S. politics. Activists and groups that focus on ending U.S. wars face the challenges of doing what we can to help such a bloc come into being and working to make sure that demands to end wars and militarism are an integral part of its program, texture and political culture.  This key strategic point is elaborated upon in some detail in the essay by Lynn Koh which follows.

Questions: What do we think of the shift from an “antiwar” framework to an “antiwar/anti-militarism” framework to provide guidance to our efforts in the period ahead? What are different groups in the peace movement doing, what work do we think is most promising? (What do we assess are prospects for building a powerful progressive current in U.S. politics that includes an end to wars and shift away from militarism in its core outlook and actions?


Clare Bayard, Demilitarization as Rehumanization:

New Priorities Network website

3. PATHS FORWARD FOR ANTIWAR ORGANIZERS: Making Antiwar Politics Integral to a New Progressive Alliance –Lynn Koh, War Times/Tiempo de Guerras

For some time, the antiwar movement has been struggling to find its political bearings, as street demonstrations decrease in size and frequency.  Obama’s election, the Great Recession, the explosion of the Occupy movement, as well as the noxious Republican primary campaign, have created a markedly different political terrain.  This essay is intended as a contribution to the debate over the antiwar movement’s strategic direction, and its significance for progressive politics in the U.S.

A look back at the last decade of the antiwar movement[1] helps us understand the challenges and tasks before us.  In the long stretch from 2001 to 2008, what now stands out is what all movement activists then took for granted – that we had a central political demand immediately comprehensible to those within our orbit, as well as the general public.  We wanted to stop the wars, end the wars, and then end the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.  The sides were clearly defined, and we were focused on winning public opinion over to our side.

While antiwar organizing involved diverse constituencies and practices, most antiwar groups converged in efforts to mobilize as many opponents of the wars as possible in street actions and other public demonstrations across the country.  The immense protests of 2003 made a deep impression on me; it was the first time I felt part of a group so massive as to constitute – so I thought – an historical subject.  After a period of disorientation brought about by Bush’s decision to invade in the face of active global opposition, there followed a 500,000 person protest at the 2004 RNC under the banner of ‘The world says no to the Bush Agenda’, and in 2006 UFPJ worked with Rainbow/Push, NOW, and environmental groups to organize a 200,000+ peace-and-social-justice march in NYC.  No other movement was able to put hundreds of thousands of people into the streets during the entire span of the Bush administration, or to draw in mainstream liberal organizations as well as staunchly progressive outfits, and these large demonstrations served as a focal point for the national movement.

In 2005, we experienced a turning point in public opinion and mainstream press coverage of the occupations.  When the invasion of Iraq started in 2003, 75% of the public supported it.  But after Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, and the intensification of sectarian violence, antiwar sentiment surged.  The Bush administration’s criminal neglect of the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita generated the widespread feeling that desperately needed human resources and finances were funneled into an unnecessary war.  The question of war and peace was at the center of the overall progressive political motion, which mainly took the form of an anti-Bush front.

At the same time, the deepening of outrage against the occupations fueled innovative and inspiring community-based organizing linked to the national antiwar movement.  Of these, I am most familiar with counter-recruitment efforts, which I covered for War Times when I first joined the collective.  In schools across the country, students and veterans, community activists and peace organizers joined to organize military-free zones or to provide an honest description of the military experience.  While these efforts in some cases pre-dated the 2001 antiwar-movement, they were undoubtedly buoyed by the increased momentum and consciousness from 2005 on.  The 2006 Military Out of Our Schools conference in Berkeley, California was a high-water mark in this sector.

During this upsurge, the antiwar movement achieved significant political results – it was able to raise the question of war funding repeatedly in Congress, undercut the credibility of the Neoconservatives, slowed down recruitment into the military, and drove the n