THINKING FOR OURSELVES
Moving Toward Peace
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, April 10, 2009
More often than not, checking the news every day has become bearable. President Obama gets so many things right. He has declared that the U.S. will not torture people. He has ordered the closure of Guantanamo and of hidden prisons around the world. He is lifting travel restrictions so that Cuban-Americans can visit family. He brought Captain Phillips home unharmed. He has even said the economy is showing “glimmers of hope.”
A recent Gallup poll said more than two-thirds of Americans have a fair amount of confidence in President Obama’s decisions. Even the first dog is making a splash, albeit not the shelter hound we had been promised. It is such a relief to have a national leader who is both intelligent and humane.
Given how much is good about this new administration, the magnitude of the crisis we face, and his brief time in office, most of us are reluctant to jump too hard on the new President and his team. There is no question that he has opened up a new political space and brought forward exciting new energy.
Yet with each passing day, it is becoming clear that there are two fundamental issues that threaten an end to the possibilities and promise of this moment.
The first has to do with war and peace. Certainly, President Obama has already proven himself to be more open to dialogue and diplomacy, and less likely than his predecessor to jump to the overwhelming use of firepower to get his way. But on the deepest level, the President believes that the use of force represents reasonable and wise action. He believes that while might may not make right, it can create the conditions for right to emerge
This past week he announced the decision to send an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan. The last time this was tried, it was a complete disaster, turning more of the country against us.
In the spring of 2005 the NATO command in southern Afghanistan argued that quadrupling the number of allied troops in Helmand Province would spell the end of the Taliban. But as one former British Foreign Service officer, Rory Stewart, was reported as saying, “When the decision to increase the number of troops in 2005 was made, there was no insurgency.” But the increased civilian causalities, the inevitable result of such increased military action, ignited a resistance movement. In 2005 the Taliban controlled 54% of the country. Today it is closer to 72% and even Kabul is not safe from their attacks.
It is illusion to think that additional troops will matter. This is the primary reason why President Obama left the G-20 meetings without any support from our allies for increasing troops in Afghanistan. Most NATO nations have already concluded Afghanistan is not a winnable war. And while President Obama has shown signs of wanting to engage regional powers, including Iran, the increase in the military commitment will only harden resistance.
Related to the “might makes the conditions for right” philosophy is the oft-repeated promise of the President to restore the middle class to prosperity, based on a greener, more ecologically sound economy. Yet this middle class lifestyle for most Americans was achieved by impoverishing much of the rest of the world. Since the end of WWII we have taken more than our share of the resources of the earth, often by force. If we are to really become a people of peace, we will need to do more than talk to our enemies. We will need to confront ourselves and the ways we have been living at the expense of other people and places.