What We Do Now

by DAVID CORTRIGHT (with responses from Phyllis Bennis and John Cavanagh, Bill Fletcher Jr. and Medea Benjamin)

The Nation [from the April 21, 2003 issue]

This article can be found on the web at http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20030421&s=cortright

Over the past six months, we've witnessed the emergence of a global antiwar movement so large it has seemed almost possible that US war plans could be stopped. But now that the war has begun, even without UN sanction, the antiwar movement is at a crossroads. Following is a forum in which David Cortright leads off a discussion on what the peace movement's goals should be now and in the longer term; his essay is followed by three responses--from Phyllis Bennis and John Cavanagh, Bill Fletcher Jr. and Medea Benjamin--The Editors

As the Bush Administration continues its illegal and unjust military invasion of Iraq, we must steel ourselves for the difficult days that lie ahead. We must also recognize that our work for peace has only just begun.

We should not retreat from our core criticisms of Bush's war or be intimidated into silence. This war was and is completely unnecessary. Iraq was being disarmed through peaceful diplomatic means. It made numerous concessions to UN demands and was in the process of destroying missiles and disclosing its weapons activities when the United States attacked. Unprovoked war against another country without the approval of the Security Council violates the UN Charter and is illegal under US and international law. Such a war can never be just.

The outbreak of war makes our work more important and necessary than ever. It creates enormous new challenges, but it also offers new opportunities. We must organize a broadly based campaign to address the causes and consequences of this war and to prevent such misguided adventures in the future.

We can start by recognizing the tremendous accomplishments of the past few months. We have created the largest, most broadly based peace movement in history--a movement that has engaged millions of people here and around the globe. Never before have US churches, from the Conference of Catholic Bishops to the National Council of Churches, spoken so resolutely against war. Never before have so many US trade unions supported the antiwar movement. In practically every sector of society--business executives, women's groups, environmentalists, artists, musicians, African- Americans, Latinos--a strong antiwar voice has emerged. Antiwar rallies and vigils have occurred in thousands of communities, and many cities have passed antiwar declarations.

The fact that this effort could not prevent war reflects not the weaknesses of our movement but the failures of American democracy and the entrenched power of US militarism. The Bush Administration has shown utter contempt for public opinion at home and abroad. It manipulated legitimate public concerns about terrorism to assert a false connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda and refused to tell the American people or Congress how much the invasion and occupation would cost until after the war was already under way.

Our short-term objectives will depend on how the war unfolds, whether it is a short, "successful" military campaign or becomes a drawn-out war of attrition with constant sniper or guerrilla attacks. We hope there will be few casualties, both for Iraqis and Americans, but we know that a quick victory will bolster the very policies we abhor. We urge our government to do everything possible to avoid unnecessary death and destruction. Our short-term political agenda should include the following demands and issues:

Our response to war and military occupation in Iraq must also include a longer-term vision of an alternative US security policy. The Bush Administration claims that the deadly nexus of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction requires a radical new foreign policy of military pre-emption and the unilateral assertion of American technological power. This is the policy being implemented in Iraq. We must offer an alternative vision, one that takes seriously the terrorism and proliferation threat but that provides a safer, less costly and ultimately more successful strategy for countering these dangers.

The outlines of our alternative strategy are visible in the policy proposals we have suggested in the current debate over Iraq. We support the disarmament of Iraq, North Korea and other nations regarded by the international community as potential proliferators. We favor vigorous UN weapons inspections to verify disarmament. We call on our government to work diplomatically through the UN Security Council. We endorse targeted sanctions (restrictions on the finances and travel of designated elites, and arms embargoes) and other means of containing recalcitrant states. We endorse lifting sanctions and providing incentives as means of inducing compliance. We support the international campaign against terrorism and urge greater cooperative efforts to prosecute and cut off the funding of those responsible for the September 11 attacks.

At the same time, we recognize that disarmament ultimately must be universal. The disarmament of Iraq must be tied to regional disarmament, which in turn must be linked to global disarmament. The double standard of the United States and other nuclear states, in which we propose to keep these deadliest of weapons indefinitely while denying them to the rest of the world, cannot endure. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968 was based on a bargain--the nuclear powers' agreeing to pursue disarmament in exchange for the rest of the world's renouncing the nuclear option. The longer the United States and its nuclear partners refuse their obligation to disarm, the greater the likelihood that the nonproliferation regime will collapse. The only true security against nuclear dangers is an enforceable ban on all nuclear weapons. Chemical and biological weapons are already banned. The far greater danger of nuclear weapons also must be subject to universal prohibition.

A global prohibition against all weapons of mass destruction is the best protection against the danger of terrorists' acquiring and using them. In effect, the disarmament obligations being imposed on Iraq must be applied to the entire world. All nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and long-range missiles should be banned everywhere, by all nations. This is the path to a safer and more secure future.

Of course, a ban on weapons of mass destruction would be meaningless without robust means of verifying and enforcing such prohibitions. A world of disarmament will require much stronger mechanisms of monitoring and enforcement than now exist. The policies we have supported for the peaceful disarmament of Iraq-- rigorous inspections, targeted sanctions and multilateral coercive diplomacy--can and should be applied universally to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction. The UN weapons-inspection capability should be increased a hundredfold and deployed throughout the world to monitor and verify the universal ban on weapons of mass destruction. Nations that refuse to comply with verified disarmament requirements should be subjected to targeted sanctions and coercive diplomatic pressures from the UN and other regional security organizations. Nations that cooperate with disarmament mandates should receive inducements in the form of economic assistance, trade and technology preferences, and security assurances. These policy tools, combined with a serious commitment to sustainable economic development for developing nations, are viable means for helping to assure international compliance with a global disarmament mandate.

This is not a pacifist vision that eschews all uses of military force. The threat of force is sometimes a necessary component of coercive diplomacy. In some circumstances the actual use of force--ideally in a targeted and narrow fashion, with authorization from the UN Security Council or regional security bodies-- may be necessary. In contrast with the policy of the Bush Administration, however, the proposed approach would allow the threat or use of force only as a last resort, when all other peaceful diplomatic means have been exhausted, and only with the explicit authorization of the Security Council or regional security organizations. In no circumstance would the United States or any other nation have the right to mount a military invasion to overthrow another government for the ostensible purpose of achieving disarmament. Rather, the United States would respect the Charter of the UN and would strive to achieve disarmament and settle the differences among nations through peaceful diplomatic means.

Our immediate challenge in implementing these short- and long-term objectives is to change the political direction and leadership of the United States. In the upcoming political debates we must devote our energies to building support for our alternative foreign-policy vision and creating a mass political constituency that can hold candidates accountable to this vision. Our chances of preventing future military disasters depend in the short run on removing the Bush Administration from office and electing a new political leadership dedicated to international cooperation and peace. This is a formidable political challenge. It will be extremely difficult to accomplish by November 2004. We must begin to organize for this challenge now, however, and we must remain committed to this objective into the future, planning now for the additional election cycles that will probably be necessary to realize our goals. We must also recognize the enormity of the challenge we face in diminishing the unelected power of the national security establishment, which functions as a shadow government regardless of who is in office. These great challenges will be met only by a sustained, massive citizens' movement dedicated to the long-term challenge of fundamentally reshaping America's role in the world. The work begins now, as the military invasion of Iraq continues. We have no time to mourn. A lifetime of organizing and education lies ahead.

Response 1


[from the April 21, 2003 issue]

This article can be found on the web at http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20030421&s=bennis

David Cortright has laid out many aspects of an agenda to help the US peace movement move from the immediate work of trying to stop this war, to continuing to broaden the reach of our movement into new constituencies.

We would like to add some thoughts on the challenges we face in also trying to create a comprehensive agenda for a global peace movement at the same time that we broaden the US part of that movement. First, on the domestic front, we would supplement Cortright's ideas with a justice agenda such as that articulated in the United for Peace and Justice campaigns and in the many city council debates in the 162 cities that have passed resolutions against the war.

Here two issues are paramount: protecting civil liberties, particularly involving the attacks on Arabs and other immigrant communities, and the broader threat to all of our constitutional rights; and shifting national priorities from the bloated military to meet domestic needs--especially at a time of city and state budget crises. In both these arenas, maintaining the link between the war drive and its domestic consequences has been critical in mobilizing important constituencies, particularly in communities of color, and thus helping to integrate the long-segregated US peace movements.

We would also propose broadening our agenda now to reflect the reality of our emerging worldwide peace and justice movement. Especially since the globally coordinated peace actions in more than 600 cities around the world on February 15, the international character of our movement has been strengthened. Virtually everywhere around the world, peace forces are clear that this war is not about weapons of mass destruction or democratization, and that the issue is not simply war in Iraq today but the Bush Administration's reckless drive for empire and power. Building our ties with other parts of this international mobilization will help strengthen our own movement's "anti-empire" identity--such as including our government on the list of identified proliferators.

It is also fascinating to note that in France, Germany, Italy, Brazil, the Philippines and many other countries (more than in the United States), the peace movements are made up of largely the same forces as the anti- corporate globalization or global justice movements, and, while demanding peace, they are pressing for a more equitable, just and sustainable global order.

It will take some time for a unifying agenda for the "global peace movement" to emerge, but in addition to the excellent universal disarmament agenda that Cortright lays out, it might include the following:


[from the April 21, 2003 issue]

This article can be found on the web at http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20030421&s=fletcher

The war is just two weeks old, yet the Bush Administration has accomplished the unprecedented isolation of the United States worldwide, even from several of its historic allies. This is not a matter of poor public relations but the result of widespread opposition to US foreign policy objectives. For the masses in the streets, this illegal and aggressive war defies credibility. The right is now trying to twist patriotism into a hammer against the antiwar movement, and I think Cortright is too cautious in his response. We must continue the pressure to end the fighting, and insist that opposition to this war does not reflect a failure to support the US troops but the opposite: We support them by calling for their immediate return home. By far the biggest challenge for the antiwar movement will be to expand our horizons to oppose the full measure of the Bush Administration's new National Security Strategy. That Saddam Hussein's regime is so unpopular in Iraq and around the world has made implementing the first stages of this pre-emptive war doctrine easier. While the Administration clearly hopes that a successful invasion and occupation of Iraq will allow it to reshape regimes elsewhere, the US antiwar movement must connect the madness and immorality of the current invasion with this Administration's new doctrine of empire. With all this in mind, the US antiwar movement needs to advance the following program:

Response 3


[from the April 21, 2003 issue]

This article can be found on the web at http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20030421&s=benjamin

I find David Cortright's call useful but limiting. The most exciting aspect of the antiwar organizing has been its global reach. While in the anticorporate globalization movement we had already formed impressive ties with grassroots movements overseas, antiwar organizing has given us the opportunity to expand geographically to areas such as the Middle East, where we had less- developed contacts; to multiply our ranks with a dazzling array of new sectors, from city councils to women's and civil rights organizations such as NOW and the NAACP; and, most important, to merge the peace movement with the movement to fight corporate- dominated globalization.

How do we build on this momentum? Organize, organize, organize. Let's organize more World Social Forums where we gather physically to meet and strategize. Let's send grassroots teams to the world's hot spots--North and South Korea, Iran, Syria-- to link up with appropriate local and regional groups to prevent the next war, instead of sending human shields at the eleventh hour.

Let's start a global campaign to democratize the UN by giving power to the General Assembly instead of the Security Council. Let's channel the bursting anti-American sentiment overseas into targeted boycotts against corporations profiting from war.

Let's launch global, grassroots campaigns to get the United States to sign on to international treaties and institutions such as the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Protocol. Working with local communities where US troops are based, let's start a Bring All the Troops Home campaign to stop the expansion of US bases and start dismantling some of the hundreds of existing bases overseas.

Here at home, our greatest challenge is to make sure that our antiwar coalitions don't fall apart after the immediate crisis ends. This will involve linking opposition to the war to urgent domestic crises: teaming up with folks fighting service cuts to oppose the way military spending robs our schools, hospitals and housing programs; making common cause with immigrant and ethnic groups that have found themselves under attack in the wake of September 11; and working together with libertarians and conservatives to counter the erosion of our civil liberties.

And while Cortright is right that we must organize to get Bush out of power in 2004, let's realize that the two-party system is not working, that the Democratic leadership has blood on its hands for sanctioning this war and that we must build a multi-party system--opening the space for truly progressive parties such as the Greens--for democracy to take root in this country.

The past six months of frenetic organizing have taught us that we are indeed a formidable global force. It is through strengthening this global movement for peace and justice--a movement never before seen--that we can bring about sweeping changes in who makes decisions for our global community and in whose interests those decisions are made. It is through flexing the muscle of the new superpower--world public opinion--that we can, in the long term, challenge the dominant corporate and military powers that dragged us into this bloody war.