Friday, September 16, 2011

Republican Peace Piper

Rep. Ron Paul
Ron Paul is the kind of presidential candidate the American people haven’t seen in a long time—one who’s dead serious about ending overseas military adventures. That’s a stance that is increasingly popular with disgruntled voters across the political spectrum, which could well spell trouble for President Obama. Activists on the left and the right are increasingly fed up with Obama’s military surge in Afghanistan and foot-dragging in getting the remaining troops home from Iraq.

At the Republican presidential candidates’ debate sponsored by CNN and the Tea Party Express in Tampa, Florida the other night, Paul drew a thunder roll of applause when he said: “We spend $1.5 trillion overseas in wars we don’t need to be in and we need to cut there. And then put this money back into our economy here.”

This kind of response is rattling the foreign policy establishment. With polls now showing that a majority of Republicans as well as Democrats and Independents want a drawdown of US forces from Afghanistan, one startled foreign policy analyst noted, “in the mid-August Republican presidential candidates’ debate in Ames, Iowa, one of the loudest applause lines was for isolationist Rep. Ron Paul’s demand to ‘bring our troops home.’”

Paul, the controversial, libertarian congressman from Texas, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam war, doesn’t just toss out applause lines. Like Eisenhower, who ended the war in Korea and spent his presidency reining in a rambunctious stable of warhorses, Paul is determined to spell out the fiscal and social consequences of allowing the military-industrial complex to rule the roost.

“We’re under great threat,” Paul continued during the Tampa debate, “because we occupy so many countries. We’re in 130 countries. We have 900 bases around the world. We’re going broke.”

He continued to press his point even when many in the audience began booing his contention that US military actions overseas stirred up a hornet’s nest of terrorist reactions. “We have to be honest with ourselves. What would we do if another country, say, China, did to us what we do to all those countries over there?” Paul said.

It’s hardly news that Ron Paul has been saying these kinds of things for years. “Opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more generally to U.S. military activity abroad, has been a cornerstone of Paul’s candidacy and sets him apart from the rest of the Republican field,” ABC News noted in a report on its website.

What’s changed is the sharp rise in public unease over the decade-long war the US launched in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by 19 young men from the Middle East on behalf of grievances that are still being hotly disputed.

“Two in three Americans, 65 percent, now want to reduce or withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, up dramatically from 39 percent in 2009, according to the new German Marshall Fund 2011 Transatlantic Trends survey,” noted a blog piece by Bruce Stokes that CNN reposted from YaleGlobal Online.

“A solid majority, 58 percent of Republicans, now want to see U.S. forces in Afghanistan reduced or withdrawn. Such sentiment is up a dramatic 36 percentage points since 2009, according to the GMF survey,” Stokes continued. “Disengagement is even more strongly supported by Democrats (70 percent) and Independents (66 percent), but their swing to that position is less pronounced. Backing for reduction or withdrawal is up 23 points among Independents and 24 points among Democrats since 2009.”

Ron Paul’s stance on military spending, or more likely the tanking poll numbers on public support for the Afghan war, stirred a Greek chorus of war weariness from two other Republican presidential candidates, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and Texas Governor Rick Perry. Here’s an amen moment in the Republican candidates’ otherwise contentious debate that the liberal Nation magazine ran approvingly on its website: 

Huntsman: We are ten years into this war.… America has given its all in Afghanistan. We have families who have given the ultimate sacrifice. And it’s to them that we offer our heartfelt salute and a deep sense of gratitude. But the time has come for us to get out of Afghanistan. We don’t need 100,000 troops in Afghanistan nation-building at a time when this nation needs to be built. We are of no value to the rest of the world if our core is crumbling, which it is in this country.

Perry: Well, I agree with Governor Huntsman when we talk about it’s time to bring our young men and women home and as soon and obviously as safely as we can. But it’s also really important for us to continue to have a presence there. And I think the entire conversation about, how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan, I don’t think so at this particular point in time. I think the best way for us to be able to impact that country is to make a transition to where that country’s military is going to be taking care of their people, bring our young men and women home.

Chances are that Obama, who successfully ran in 2008 on a platform of reforming the federal government, will face a Republican challenger next year pressing for real change in the war arena.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Peace Beat

 War drums began beating across America before the dust settled at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It’s an all-American tradition to march to the beat for military action, the fountain of flag waving excitement that produces legions of war correspondents, bugle-blaring headlines and armchair commandos in newsrooms.   

It is rare to hear that a drum-beat journalist felt, in retrospect, that rushing to war was perhaps a grave mistake. It’s almost historic, in fact, to see the reconsideration that Bill Keller, a top editor and columnist at the New York Times, published amid the flood of 9/11 commemorations on the 10th anniversary of that explosive spark of war the US expanded to places most Americans had barely heard of before.

“The world is well rid of Saddam Hussein. But knowing as we now do the exaggeration of Hussein’s threat, the cost in Iraqi and American lives and the fact that none of this great splurge has bought us confidence in Iraq’s future or advanced the cause of freedom elsewhere— I think Operation Iraqi Freedom was a monumental blunder,” Keller wrote in a New York Times Magazine article revealing his conversion from the war hawk club of liberals beating the drums for military invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Aside from this astonishing note of atonement, the bulk of the Times’ massive retrospective in the Sunday newspaper is essentially a monument to the US news media’s cheerleading for a decade of military blunders.

A major reason for this is that, for all the war correspondents and warrior-editors, there are few if any journalists assigned to cover waging peace.

Do editors at the Times and other mainstream news organizations ever travel outside military-oriented circles and see what groups such as September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Peace Action, Veterans For Peace or the US Institute of Peace are doing? Even small newspapers have a military affairs reporter. Does any news organization in America have a peace beat?

The glaring lack of coverage of peace groups’ actions spurred a special report earlier this year by the Nieman Watchdog website of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

“Antiwar activists repeatedly stage dramatic acts of civil disobedience in the United States but are almost entirely ignored by mainstream print and broadcast news organizations. During the Vietnam era, press coverage of the fighting and opposition to it at home helped turn public opinion against the war. This time around lack of homefront coverage may be helping keep military involvement continue on and on,” wrote John Hanrahan, a former Washington Post reporter.

“By ignoring antiwar protests almost totally, editors are treating opposition to the ongoing war in Afghanistan much as they handled the run-up to the war in Iraq: They are missing an important story and contributing to the perception that there is no visible opposition to the U.S. wars and ever-growing military budgets, even as polls show overwhelming support for early U.S. military withdrawal,” Hanrahan continued.

Among the examples of non-coverage of significant events that Hanrahan cites is this:

“Last December 16, in a demonstration organized by Veterans for Peace, 500 or more people gathered outside the White House, as snow was falling, to protest the war and to support Wikileaks and accused leaker PFC Bradley Manning. As Nieman Watchdog reported in a previous piece in this series, there were 131 arrests – including a sizable number of veterans of current and past wars – for nonviolent acts of civil disobedience. (This was the most arrests at the White House at any point in 2010.) One of the arrestees had chained himself to the White House fence and another to a lamppost. Additional newsworthy factors: Among those arrested were the nation’s most famous whistleblower (Daniel Ellsberg); a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter (Chris Hedges, the former long-time war correspondent for The New York Times); a much-praised FBI whistleblower (Coleen Rowley); a former CIA analyst who used to prepare daily presidential briefings (Ray McGovern), among others. Additionally, the demonstration seemed newsworthy because it coincided with both the release of the Pentagon’s latest progress report on Afghanistan to President Obama and the results of a new ABC/Washington Post poll in which 60 percent of Americans responded that the Afghanistan war had not been ‘worth fighting.’

“The event was covered by The Huffington Post, the Socialist Worker, OpEd News, in Oregon, and the Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald, but was ignored by The Washington Post, The New York Times and almost all other mainstream media,” Hanrahan found.
Veterans For Peace protest at White House

 As the Nieman report notes, there’s been a colossal failure of balance in coverage of what’s going on in the world. It’s a cultural failure, as well.       

“It’s been a decade since 9/11, time enough to let go and shift the way we approach our decisions about war, right?  One might think so, but … I’m beginning to question if and when we will choose to let go and imagine a new way forward,” notes James A. Moad II, an Air Force officer whose career as an airline pilot was diverted to military missions by the long war. 

“Like most Americans of drinking age, that September day is seared into my subconscious,” he continued. “As a young commercial pilot back then, I can still remember my own nightmares as I imagined what took place in those cockpits, thinking about an old pilot buddy who’d been murdered there, and more than anything, the feeling of insecurity reverberating out from the rubble of those two towers like great clouds obscuring the future and limiting us, blotting out the imagination necessary to see beyond the anger and destruction.”

Moad’s incisive comments were not conveyed in the New York Times’ galaxy of 9/11 reminiscences, but in a War, Literature & The Arts Blog that he administers.

The internet and community-oriented newspapers provide a vital forum for many voices with a different perspective than the usual sources featured in the national news media.

"One of the outcomes of 9/11 is we need to make the decision about what kind of society we want to be," Andrea Leblanc, whose husband Robert died on United Flight 175 when it smashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center, told a local newspaper in New Hampshire, Foster’s Daily Democrat. "What do we want to teach our kids? The story isn't about the fact that for 10 years I've been a widow. It's about the real cost of 9/11. I think this country squandered its moral authority. To me, it's all about peace; what societies are doing to either move toward or away from conflict."  

Leblanc credited fellow 9/11 survivors with providing a compassionate, activist community of support for her anguish.

“An eye opening thing for Andrea through her involvement with September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows is the people all over the world who are reaching across borders to converse and share with other cultures,” Foster’s reporter Jennifer Keefe wrote. “She noted the numerous women's networks in Afghanistan and youth networks that reach out via Skype to hold conferences with other youths to talk about love and understanding. The groups and organizations dedicated to forming unity and speaking out in the wake of 9/11 are not in short supply, and demonstrate each day there is a compassion across borders that breaches even the deadliest of wars.”

It’s not hard to find these stories. In Philadelphia, PA, CNN filmed a Saturday night crowd at World CafĂ© Live drawn to an evening celebrating peace and ice cream. “Philadelphia-based Christian author and activist Shane Claiborne partnered with Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, to raise public awareness about federal military spending,” noted CNN’s website report.

“The evening started off on a somber note with Cohen pouring 10,000 BB gun pellets into a metal container to illustrate the power of the United States’ nuclear arsenal in front of a stunned audience. ‘It’s that kind of overkill mentality that drives an out-of-control Pentagon budget,’ he said.” Another part of his demonstration is a tall stack of oreo cookies looming over tiny piles of cookies representing the military vs. everything else in the federal budget’s priorities.

Winding up the evening, Cohen said: “If we’re going to have fewer bombs and more ice cream, we need to shift our budget to what helps people live instead of killing people.”    

The ice cream business maven has traveled the nation and partnered with community activists, business executives, war veterans and many others to present a stunning critique of military spending overseas while the home front economy crumbled. I first saw his BB and cookie demonstration at a journalists’ conference in Vermont five years ago. Video versions from presentations around the country are all over YouTube.    

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Jan Barry is an award-winning investigative journalist. He has been a peace advocate since resigning from the US Military Academy after serving an Army tour in Vietnam.