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Entries tagged "anti-war movement"
February 15, 2013 · By Phyllis Bennis
Ten years ago people around the world rose up. In almost 800 cities across the globe, protesters filled the streets of capital cities and tiny villages, following the sun from Australia and New Zealand and the small Pacific islands, through the snowy steppes of North Asia and down across the South Asian peninsula, across Europe and down to the southern edge of Africa, then jumping the pond first to Latin America and then finally, last of all, to the United States.
And across the globe, the call came in scores of languages, “the world says no to war!” The cry “Not in Our Name” echoed from millions of voices. The Guinness Book of World Records said between 12 and 14 million people came out that day, the largest protest in the history of the world. It was, as the great British labor and peace activist and former MP Tony Benn described it to the million Londoners in the streets that day, “the first global demonstration, and its first cause is to prevent a war against Iraq.” What a concept — a global protest against a war that had not yet begun — the goal, to try to stop it.
It was an amazing moment — powerful enough that governments around the world, including the soon-famous “Uncommitted Six” in the Security Council, did the unthinkable: they too resisted pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom and said no to endorsing Bush’s war. Under ordinary circumstances, alone, U.S.-dependent and relatively weak countries like Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan could never have stood up to Washington. But these were not ordinary circumstances. The combination of diplomatic support from “Old Europe,” Germany and France who for their own reasons opposed the war, and popular pressure from thousands, millions, filling the streets of their capitals, allowed the Six to stand firm. The pressure was fierce. Chile was threatened with a U.S. refusal to ratify a U.S. free trade agreement seven years in the making. (The trade agreement was quite terrible, but the Chilean government was committed to it.) Guinea and Cameroon were threatened with loss of U.S. aid granted under the African Growth & Opportunity Act. Mexico faced the potential end of negotiations over immigration and the border. And yet they stood firm.
The day before the protests, February 14, the Security Council was called into session once again, this time at the foreign minister level, to hear the ostensibly final reports of the two UN weapons inspectors for Iraq. Many had anticipated that their reports would somehow wiggle around the truth, that they would say something Bush and Blair would grab to try to legitimize their spurious claims of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, that they would at least appear ambivalent enough for the U.S. to use their reports to justify war. But they refused to bend the truth, stating unequivocally that no such weapons had been found.
Following their reports, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin responded with an extraordinary call, reminding the world that “the United Nations must remain an instrument of peace, and not a tool for war.” In that usually staid, formal, rule-bound chamber, his call was answered with a roaring ovation beginning with Council staff and quickly engulfing the diplomats and foreign ministers themselves.
Security Council rejection was strong enough — enough governments said no — that the United Nations was able to do what its Charter requires, but what political pressure too often makes impossible: to stand against the scourge of war. On the morning of February 15, just hours before the massive rally began at the foot of the United Nations, the great actor-activist Harry Belafonte and I accompanied South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu to meet with then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan on behalf of the protesters. We were met by a police escort to cross what the New York Police Department had designated its “frozen zone” — not in reference to the bitter 18 degrees or the biting wind whipping in from the East River, but the forcibly deserted streets directly in front of UN headquarters. In the secretary-general’s office on the 38th floor of the United Nations, Bishop Tutu opened the meeting, looking at Kofi across the table and said, “We are here today on behalf of those people marching in 665 cities all around the world. And we are here to tell you, that those people marching in all those cities around the world, we claim the United Nations as our own. We claim it in the name of our global mobilization for peace.”
It was an incredible moment. And while we weren't able to prevent that war, that global mobilization, that pulled governments and the United Nations into a trajectory of resistance shaped and led by global movements, created what the New York Times the next day called "the second super-power.”
Mid-way through the marathon New York rally, a brief Associated Press story came over the wires: “Rattled by an outpouring of international anti-war sentiment, the United States and Britain began reworking a draft resolution….Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the final product may be a softer text that does not explicitly call for war.” Faced with a global challenge to their desperate struggle for UN and global legitimacy, Bush and Blair threw in the towel.
Our movement changed history. While we did not prevent the Iraq war, the protests proved its clear illegality, demonstrated the isolation of the Bush administration policies, helped prevent war in Iran, and inspired a generation of activists. February 15 set the terms for what “global mobilizations” could accomplish. Eight years later some of the Cairo activists, embarrassed at the relatively small size of their protest on February 15, 2003, would go on to help lead Egypt's Arab Spring. Occupy protesters would reference February 15 and its international context. Spain’s indignados and others protesting austerity and inequality could see February 15 as a model of moving from national to global protest.
In New York City on that singular afternoon, some of the speakers had particular resonance for those shivering in the monumental crowd. Harry Belafonte, veteran of so many of the progressive struggles of the last three-quarters of a century, called out to the rising U.S. movement against war and empire, reminding us that our movement could change the world, and that the world was counting on us to do so. “The world has sat with tremendous anxiety, in great fear that we did not exist,” he said. “But America is a vast and diverse country, and we are part of the greater truth that makes our nation. We stand for peace, for the truth of what is at the heart of the American people. We WILL make a difference – that is the message that we send out to the world today.”
Belafonte was followed by his close friend and fellow activist-actor Danny Glover, who spoke of earlier heroes, of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, and of the great Paul Robeson on whose shoulders we still stand. And then he shouted “We stand here today because our right to dissent, and our right to participate in a real democracy has been hijacked by those who call for war. We stand here at this threshold of history, and we say to the world, ‘Not in Our Name’! ‘Not in Our Name!’” The huge crowd, shivering in the icy wind, took up the cry, and “Not in our Name! Not in Our Name!” echoed through the New York streets.
Our obligation as the second super-power remains in place. Now what we need is a strategy to engage with power, to challenge once again the reconfigured but remaining first super-power. That commitment remains.
Phyllis Bennis’ book, Challenging Empire: How People, Governments and the UN Defy U.S. Power, with Foreword by Danny Glover, is on the legacy of the February 15 protests. She was on the steering committee of the United for Peace & Justice coalition helping to build February 15, 2003.
July 26, 2010 · By Phyllis Bennis
I wrote an assessment of last week’s meeting in Kabul on Friday, before news had, ahem, leaked of Wikileaks' extraordinary new trove of documents, the Pentagon Papers: Afghanistan. I think the earlier piece is still useful.
But first, a couple of quick thoughts on the Wikileaks documents. There will be much more to come, as we find the time to dig through the reports.
This set of documents is unquestionably an important first history of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Of course, mistakes will be found — but these are reports of military leaders to others in the military. This is where they tell the truth. It's significant that the Obama administration has carefully avoided claiming the reports aren't accurate. Instead, they're claiming that disclosure of the reports somehow endangers U.S. troops while at the same time disparaging the documents as having no new information. There's no way these reports will endanger the troops — Afghans and Pakistanis clearly know far better than we do what U.S./NATO forces are actually doing in their countries.
What the leaks will do is stoke even greater global anger around the world, as evidence comes to those who didn’t know firsthand what the U.S./NATO occupation means for Afghans and Pakistanis. That will certainly mean rising anger toward U.S. policy and Americans as a whole. But more importantly, it will spur enormous antiwar activity in places like Europe, Canada, Australia, and Turkey. And that means greater pressure on those governments now providing troops for the war in Afghanistan — and on the Obama administration to end the war.
There is no evidence yet of a new smoking gun among the documents. But taken as a whole, the documents provide a collective arsenal of evidence of a brutal war that never did have a chance to succeed — and evidence of two administrations of a government determined to mislead its own people and the rest of the world.
The documents indicate significant shifts in the nature of how the war is being fought, with documentation of escalating Special Forces operations and drone attacks. The Pentagon's "nation-building" efforts are failing in places like Marja, last spring’s poster-city of a U.S.-backed government-in-a-box.The handpicked mayor-in-a-box, who spent most of the last 15 years living in Germany, is so unpopular that he has to be ferried into town on military helicopters for occasional meetings and then quickly whisked away.
So perhaps it isn't surprising that the new documents describe activities like those of Task Force 373, a death-squad that goes after identified individuals on a kill-or-capture list. No trial, of course. And if drones are called in to do more of the dirty work so U.S. troops are not at risk, and more Afghan or Pakistani civilians are killed as a result — well, that’s just part of the cost of war.
The documents include evidence of civilian deaths never reported in the press, many of them probably never even mentioned or asked about in the virtually nonexistent congressional oversight of the years documented in these reports. They detail massive levels of corruption, extortion, and constant violence inflicted on Afghan civilians by the U.S.-backed, U.S.-trained and U.S.-funded militias known as the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.
And they demonstrate, again, the continuing links between Pakistan’s top military intelligence agency, the ISI, and the top leadership of the Taliban — despite claims by Secretary of State Clinton and others in the Obama administration that Pakistan is a reliable U.S. ally that just needs to work a little harder on going after terrorists. Ironically, the Obama administration’s answer to the documents repeats the effort to blur the very distinct organizations known as the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban into a generic presence in Pakistan known as “the terrorists” or “the Taliban.”
The Wikileaks documents provide a treasure trove of evidence — of what we already knew. This war has already failed. Every death, of civilian and soldier, is needless. The cost of this occupation and this war — in Afghan blood, in U.S. and NATO military blood, in billions of dollars needed for jobs at home and real reconstruction in Afghanistan and elsewhere — is too high.
We need to stop the funding now, bring the troops and contractors home, support regional diplomacy, and begin the long effort of repaying our huge debt to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.